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Vine’s Stars Are The Best Part, And Now You Can Follow Whole Channels Of Them


Making funny, artful, or interesting Vines is tough, but the 6-second video app has spawned a whole community of amazing creators. With today’s iOS update (out soon), Vine is shining more light on them by letting you follow entire channels like Comedy or Music to get the best editor-picked Vines in your main feed. The app is also now optimized for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and videos you shoot outside Vine can be instantly shared to it with the new iOS 8 sharing extensions.

Before, users had to open up Vine and upload a video before they could share. With the update, you’ll be able to record a video, press the little Send To button, and after choosing Vine as your preferred platform from the sharing extensions, Vine will automatically load up the video in the Trim and Crop screen of the app.

What really matters, though, is the new channel follow button. Previously, you either followed specific creators, or browsed the channels in the Discover section. The Comedy channel has actually become my (Josh’s) favorite source of content anywhere on the Internet. It’s filled with silly sight gags, hilarious video remixes, crazy soliloquies, and has become a breeding ground for web-wide memes. I’ve embedded in this post some of the best Vines I discovered in the Comedy channel. [Disclosure: Some Vine creators monetize through sponsorships negotiated by Niche, which was co-founded by Josh Constine's cousin Darren Lachtman.]

The friction is that each time I want to watch Comedy, I have to actively go through a few clicks to reach the buried channel. And since each channel features around 200 top Vines, the algorithms that sort them sometimes let in content that’s not up to snuff.

With the channel follow button, you could just follow the Comedy channel, and the best Vines handpicked by the editors will show up amongst ones from friends and creators you follow directly. That makes Vine easier to browse, more accessible for casual users, and it could help Vine feel less like “star creators with millions of followers over here, and mere peasants with a few dozen followers over there”.

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Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane Reminds Startups That Luck Takes A Lot Of Work


“Being lucky is just so much work,” Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane told our co-editor Alexia Tsotsis during a fireside chat at TechCrunch Disrupt London today. As a startup, you always have to try to embrace luck, Svane argued when asked about what role luck plays in the life of a new company. “As an early startup, there is no way around trying to open all the doors,” he said — and that’s exhausting work.

Svane would know, because while Zendesk has been a huge success — and went public earlier this year — his first company, which was aptly named “Caput,” went bust after the first bubble. “We had a fantastic time and sold software all over Europe,” he said. “But once the bubble burst we lost almost all our customers.” He hit rock bottom when one of his employees died the night before he was about to lay off most of his employees. But when you run a startup, you also have to know when to quit “before you burn all your bridges to make your startup work.”

One of the employees he had to let go at that point, by the way, was Ruby on Rails inventor David Heinemeier Hansson.

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With Zendesk, Svane clearly hit his stride, though. Here at TechCrunch, however, we missed our chance to play a role in this success because Zendesk was actually rejected from the first Startup Battlefield in 2008.  “We got a bit down the process but were basically rejected,” Svane told Tsotsis. “We were sitting in this small loft in copenhagen and trying to do these conference calls where we could pitch the company. And one day we pitched Jason Calacanis. And he was: ‘So what? You built a helpdesk with an RSS feed.’” Still he admits that the team wasn’t very good at pitching back then.

As for taking his company public, Svane noted how it’s the right step for a company that has a natural path to continue and grow its market. “But you should never do it before you are ready. It’s an immense amount of work,” he warned. You also shouldn’t even try to time when you go public. “You should optimize for the right time for you to go public. Maybe there will be a correction, but the stock market always goes up and goes down,” he said. “You have to focus on your company, your stock and your performance.”

Talking a bit more about the past of the company, Svane also noted how he felt dirty when he was taking money from others. But not for the reason you would expect. “When you take the money, you feel a little bit dirty. You have this great vision and then it’s just about dollars,” he said.

You can watch the full interview below:

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Staples Becomes The Latest Retailer Affected By A Payment Card Data Breach


If you’ve shopped at a major retailer in the U.S., chances are your payment card data has been stolen at some point. Today, it appears you may be able to add Staples to the growing list of retailers who have discovered fraudulent activity related to a data breach in their stores. In Staples’ case, however, the company is currently investigating a “potential issue” in select locations in the Northeastern U.S.

The news was first reported by Brian Krebs, the security expert who broke the story of Target’s credit card breach which ended up affecting up to 110 million consumers, thanks to the timing of the breach which involved going after customer’s payment card and personal information during the busy holiday shopping season.

It’s unclear at this time how large the Staples breach may turn out to be compared with other attacks, but it initially sounds as if it may be smaller in scale.

According to Krebs’ blog post on the matter, “it appears likely that fraudsters have succeeded in stealing customer card data from some subset of Staples locations, including seven Staples stores in Pennsylvania, at least three in New York City, and another in New Jersey,” he writes, citing over a half-dozen sources at East Coast banks.

That would indicate that Staples breach may be smaller than others, given that the company operates over 1,800 U.S. stores, and it’s looking into just a handful.

The fraudulent activity was actually detected at non-Staples stores, says Krebs, which suggests that thieves used malware to steal the payment card info to create and use counterfeit cards.

Staples now joins a long list of retailers whose systems have come under attack over the years. One of the largest was the 2009 attack on card processor Heartland Payment Systems which saw thieves stealing an estimated 130 million credit cards. Before that, in 2007, crooks stole 90 million cards from TJX (parent company of T.J. Maxx).

But more recently, the attacks have continued. In addition to Target, major retailers affected by breaches have included Home Depot, which saw 56 million cards compromised over a 5-month period – bigger than the attack on Target. (Only 40 million credit and debit cards were breached at Target, but 70 million more had their personal information stolen.) Nieman Marcus was another big name in recent breaches, though fewer were affected – about 1.1. million credit cards were compromised, the retailer said. Grocer Supervalu Inc. and Asian restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s also reported attacks in recent months.

Staples says it’s working with law enforcement, but isn’t providing additional information beyond confirmation of the investigation at this time.

A spokesperson for Staples provided the company’s official statement (see below) when questioned for more information:

Staples is in the process of investigating a potential issue involving credit card data and has contacted law enforcement. We take the protection of customer information very seriously, and are working to resolve the situation. If Staples discovers an issue, it is important to note that customers are not responsible for any fraudulent activity on their credit cards that is reported on a timely basis.

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Google Updates Play Music With Songza-Style Functionality


For the first time since acquiring Songza this summer, Google is integrating the technology into its Google Play Music service. The updated service gives you access to expertly curated playlists based around date, time, weather, and what Google thinks you might be up to.

Starting today, Play Music users will be able to access thousands of differently expertly curated playlists that are suited to specific moods, activities, or date and time. Users also have the option to download the playlists for offline listening, which is functionality that Songza didn’t offer as a standalone company.

Another new feature is the ability to see the next song on the playlist, as well as the ability to add, remove, or re-order the playlist to suit your particular interests. Play Music, with the help of Songza,

A bit like iTunes Radio, the Play Music app with Songza integration will also allow you to create a new station based on any song in the mix.

Of course, users can also search for various stations based on a particular activity or by the name of the station.

Additionally, Play Music now has a redesigned “Listen Now” section that will help users discover new music, with cards showing recently played music, new releases that might be of interest to you, and other radio stations based on what you’ve loved in the past.

The updated Play Music app (with Songza tech built right in) is available for all Play Music users in the United States and Canada. The new “Listen Now” product is available in all 45 countries where Play Music is available.

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On The Heels Of Apple Pay, Jumio Launches A Card-Scanning Mobile Checkout Product For Retailers’ iOS And Android Apps


Computer vision startup Jumio, best known for its payment card and ID-scanning technologies which allow end users to hold up their cards to a mobile device’s camera to simplify the process of entering in that data on small screens, is rolling out a new product today designed to improve the mobile checkout experience for retailers. Called “BAM Checkout,” the product is the company’s response of sorts to the looming threat that is Apple Pay. With BAM, e-commerce shoppers hold up their payment card then their driver’s license to automatically populate the checkout fields within a retailer’s mobile application.

The process takes advantage of the technology Jumio has already built, but in a new way. While before, retailers may have used the credit card scanning option to speed up that portion of the checkout process, adding the driver’s license into the flow aims to simplify things further, and also allows the merchant to cross-check the customer’s name on both cards, plus alert the merchant to any differences between the two.

Jumio, which today touts on its homepage a number of customers, including Airbnb, United, Kickstarter, Ridejoy, Gyft, Wallaby, Gopago, Western Union, YouWin, PokerStars, Skimm, World Remit and more, says that BAM Checkout is already being adopted by several of its clients, but these implementations have yet to go live and Jumio is not permitted to disclose their names.

On the backend, Jumio invokes scans from its separate SDK products, and clients pay a flat monthly fee based on an annual contract that correlates to their expected volume. The pricing for BAM, meanwhile, remains the same as for the credit-card scanning technology involved with Netswipe – in other words, Jumio is rolling out two technologies for the same price as what it used to charge for one.

Jumio’s product launch comes at a time when Apple’s payment technology, Apple Pay, has gone live not only for real-world purchases at point-of-sale, but also for buying things within mobile applications – like order-ahead food purchases, an Uber, or a product sold by an e-commerce retailer. Apple Pay now directly cuts into Jumio’s potential customer base, as it allows Apple device owners to pay for goods and services using the information they already have on file with their Apple account, no additional scanning steps necessary.

And arguably, a press of a finger to the Touch ID sensor on a smartphone or iPad is a much simpler process than having to hold up your cards to your smartphone’s camera each time you want to pay. Instead, such scanning technology is now commonly used for the initial loading of cards into a payment system – for instance, Apple uses card-scanning to add payment cards to Apple Pay. And PayPal-acquired Jumio competitor now offers scanning technology in PayPal Android and iOS SDKs.

But while Jumio is clearly threatened by Apple Pay, running “industry news” reports on its site that question Apple Pay’s potential, and even its security, its technology could still prove useful to an Apple rival that wants to build its own fingerprint scanning technology for use with mobile payments. Instead of having to build their own card-scanning computer vision tech in house, they could snatch up Jumio the way PayPal snagged

Additionally, while changing payment standards involving tokenization will have consumers moving away from needing a physical card to pay online or on mobile, Jumio’s ID verification technology provides another point of interest for a would be acquirer, if it came to that. (Jumio has raised nearly $37 million in funding.).

In the meantime, because Jumio’s BAM Checkout product works across both iOS and Android, it could make sense for retailers looking for a cross-platform solution. BAM Checkout works today with all major credit cards including Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Diners Club, JCB, Union Pay and Discover in both the U.S. and U.K.

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Yahoo Beats In Q3 With Revenue Of $1.09B, EPS Of $0.52


With all eyes on what Yahoo will do with its $5 billion+ in Alibaba cash, Yahoo today reported its Q3 earnings after the close of trading, with sales of $1.09 billion excluding traffic acquisition costs and non-GAAP earnings per share of $0.52. Revenues including acquisition costs were $1.15 billion. Yahoo’s stock was up 3% in after-hours trading, following this news.

Analysts were expecting on average non-GAAP earnings per share of $0.30 on ex-TAC sales of $1.04 billion, making this a solid beat of estimates.

“We had a good, solid third quarter. We delivered $1.094 billion in revenue ex-TAC and $1.148 billion in GAAP revenue. This represents 1% growth in revenue ex-TAC and 1% growth in GAAP revenue. We achieved this revenue growth through strong growth in our new areas of investment – mobile, social, native and video – despite industry headwinds in some of our large, legacy businesses,” said Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo in the release.

“I am also pleased to report today that our revenue in mobile is now material. In Q3, we saw mobile revenues in excess of $200 million on a GAAP basis. Further, we estimate that our gross revenues in mobile will exceed $1.2 billion in revenue this year. We have invested deeply in mobile and we are seeing those investments pay off. Not only are our mobile products attracting praise and engagement from users and industry awards, they are generating meaningful revenue for Yahoo.”

Display revenue was $447 million for the third quarter of 2014, down 5% compared to $470 million for the third quarter of 2013, but search revenue – $452 million in the quarter – was up 4%. Meanwhile, the number of ads sold increased approximately 24% compared to the third quarter of 2013. Price-per-Ad decreased approximately 24% compared to the third quarter of 2013.

It’s also important to note that the EPS figure includes the Alibaba cash – without the sale, the EPS figure would have been lower – in fact, it would have been a lackluster performance. Search revenues were up, but they’re smaller than ads.

Also worth noting: Yahoo has $12 billion in cash now.

GAAP net earnings per diluted share was $6.70 in the third quarter of 2014 (which included the gain from sale of Alibaba Group shares of $6.27 per diluted share), compared to $0.28 in the third quarter of 2013. Non-GAAP net earnings per diluted share was $0.52 for the third quarter of 2014, compared to $0.34 in the third quarter of 2013.

Yahoo has had a mixed year so far when it has come to its quarterly results. In the last quarter (Q2) the company missed on both sales and earnings. In Q1 it beat analysts’ expectations but was flat in key areas like display ad sales. In Q3 a year ago, Yahoo had earnings per share of $0.33, and sales that were 3.3% higher at $1.08 billion.

That, combined with the cash it has picked up by way of the Alibaba IPO, has led to a lot of conversation about what Yahoo will do next.

The WSJ reported this weekend that today’s earnings could prove to be a crucial moment for the company. Its sources said that CEO Marissa Mayer will use the company’s earnings as a moment to set out her future strategy for the company, specifically in relation to how it proposes to use the Alibaba cash. The sale of part of Yahoo’s shares in the Chinese e-commerce company have netted Yahoo over $5 billion, and that has prompted some of Yahoo’s more vocal investors to demand more direction and change at the company.

Investors like Starboard Value have suggested that a merger with AOL (owner of TechCrunch) could be one move to grow Yahoo’s scale. But the WSJ’s sources say that Mayer will likely take a different route: to focus more on acquisitions that give the company a bigger product push, and more possibilities to generate revenue. That would be in contrast to a large part of Yahoo’s acquisitions up to now, which have been heavy on acquihires to build Yahoo’s talent.

In keeping with that, we have heard from sources that Yahoo has been in talks to acquire BrightRoll for around $700 million, which would make it the latest in a string of acquisitions, and one of the biggest. The news sent Yahoo’s stock up in mid-day trading.

We’ll be dialing into the call to hear whether Yahoo gives out any more details on any of the above.

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