Blackberry’s Open Letter, LetsLunch, Flickr’s “New Photo Experience”, and Boston’s Weekend Festivals

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Top Story: Blackberry’s Open Letter to the Public

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Four years ago, Blackberry had 51% of the smartphone market in North America, according to research firm Gartner. As Apple took over the mobile industry and Samsung swooped up right behind, Blackberry swiftly dropped off the mobile industry leaderboard as it failed to keep up. Amidst constant news of iOS and Android updates and battles, Blackberry crept deeper and deeper in the recesses of our mobile minds.

 

After years of dwindling sales culminating up to a $1 billion quarterly loss, Blackberry announced that it was up for sale. Concerns about the company grew when it announced plans to cut up to 40% of its workforce in an effort to reduce expenses by 50%. This means more than 7,000 employees since 2011, as reported by The Globe and Mail.

 

This past Tuesday, Blackberry placed an open letter to its customers in 30 newspapers across nine countries to address its future.

 

“You’ve no doubt seen the headlines about BlackBerry. You’re probably wondering what they mean for you as one of the tens of millions of users who count on BlackBerry every single day,” the ad begins. “We have one important message for you: You can continue to count on BlackBerry.”

 

Hoping to divert the course of conversation from impending doom to the glory days, the ad urges everyone to recognize that it remains the company with the best in class productivity tool, security, enterprise mobility management, and mobile social network.

 

Blackberry is now juggling a number of options with a conditional $4.7 billion purchase offer from Fairfax Financial Holdings of Toronto, a possible buyout from its two founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin, a non-disclosure agreement with both computer manufacturing giant Lenovo and private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management among others.

 

While the ad seemed to have lifted some people’s outlook on the future of Blackberry, others remain coldly wary. Read the full ad here.

 

What did you think of the ad?

 

Tool of the Week: LetsLunch

lets_lunchLet’s face it – networking can seem daunting, or at least awkward to the best of us. It takes a certain level of fearlessness to walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation with substance. That fearlessness may not come as easily as it does to the next person, but networking can make all the difference between where you are and where you want to be.

 

A few years ago, Founder and CEO of Silicon Valley startup LetsLunch Syed Shuttari was looking for a career change after working the same corporate job for five years. He started grabbing lunch with people in the area when he came up with the idea for a social network centered on connecting lunch partners. Launched in 2010, LetsLunch now coordinates more than 3,000 lunches per month.

 

LetsLunch works with restaurants to send a networking groups their way. When an expert hosts a paid lunch, LetsLunch receives 15% of the check.

 

“A lot of people find networking awkward,” says Shuttari about the pressure inherent in large-scale networking events, with anywhere from dozens to thousands of participants. “But why not just meet those same people for a normal day-to-day activity like lunch?”

 

Would you want to network with a stranger over lunch?

 

Under the Radar: Flickr’s “New Photo Experience”

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Flickr surges forward on a redesign spree with the latest “new photo experience,” an effort to put the focus back on the images. Before, Flickr displayed each image bounded by a black box overlaying your screen and you would have to scroll down to find the comments and details. With the goal of making the images in your photostream as large as possible, the rest of the interface has been stripped down, pushing details off to a column to the right of the screen.

 

“With the new photo experience the image is about 25% bigger than on the previous photo page,” Flickr said in a blog post. “You’ll see more pixels, get a cleaner view without any elements on the top or the bottom of the screen, so that photos can really be the center point.”

 

To preview this fresh layout, just hit the “Try Our New Photo Experience” button when you find an image you would like to view. Currently in preview mode, the new layout will become standard later this year. What do you think?

 

Around the Hub: Weekend Festivals

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Celebrating the power of words and promoting a culture of reading, the Boston Book Festival takes over Copley Square for its fifth year. Beginning yesterday, free seminars, workshops, readings, and signings were held throughout Copley and its surrounding areas.

  • Where: Copley Square
  • When: Today through Sunday
  • Time: 10:15 a.m. 7 p.m.
  • Admission: Free, apart from a number of ticketed events

 

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It’s that time of year again. The 49th Head of The Charles Regatta returns to Boston, attracting some 300,000 spectators lining the banks of the river to cheer on 9,000 rowers from around the world. The largest of its kind, this massive event encompasses over 60 feats of competition. The regatta kicks off with Men’s Senior Veteran Singles and concludes with Women’s Lightweight Eights. The most intense races will be the Championship Fours and Eights on Sunday, October 20 from 2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The Head of the Charles website has an interactive overview map complete with shuttle stops, boathouses, and key locations for download free.

  • Where: Along The Charles River
  • When: This Saturday and Sunday
  • Time: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Admission: Free, but get there early if you want to get a good spot.

 

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If you’re looking to get-away from the city for a bit, the 13th annual Wellfleet OysterFest just may hit the spot. This annual celebration of the local shellfishing industry brings together 75 artisans, 16 food vendors, 12 raw bars and 13 community organizations, along with live music performed by Crabgrass, Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys, The Rip It Ups, Link Montana and The Incredible Casuals. The festival also boasts a family fun area including crafts, moonbounces, face-painting and more, educational programs about shellfishermen, culinary programs and book signings, recreational activities including oyster reef tours and a skateboard competition, and the Annual Oyster Shuck-Off competition.

  • Where: Wellfleet, Cape Cod
  • When: This Saturday and Sunday
  • Time: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Admission: $5 for a one day ticket or $8 for a two pass. Children 12 and under are free. Tickets here.

What are your plans this weekend?

Water on Mars, JumpCam, YouTube integrates Google+, Manicube moves up to Boston

Top Story: Curiosity Discovers Water in Martian Soil

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That’s right – there is water on Mars. After just a little over a year since Curiosity landed on the red planet charged with the task of answering whether the planet could have once sheltered life, the rover scooped up soil samples made up of about 2% water along with significant traces of carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur compounds.

 

It’s widely accepted by the scientific community that Mars was once home to large bodies of water and this isn’t the first time water has been suspected to exist on Mars. Just a few months ago in June, Curiosity found a rock sample with clay that could only be formed in neutral water, meaning water had to have existed on Mars before. However, this discovery is significant because it tells us that water exists on Mars not just before, but currently.

 

“We tend to think of Mars as this dry place—to find water fairly easy to get out of the soil at the surface was exciting to me,” Laurie Leshin, dean of science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told The Guardian. “When we send people, they could scoop up the soil anywhere on the surface, heat it just a bit, and obtain water.”

 

What should Curiosity look for now? What will be the next step for researchers?

 

Tool of the Week: JumpCam

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Two years ago, JumpCam founder David Stewart was the best man in a cruise-ship wedding when he found himself frustrated by how difficult it was to consolidate video footage from multiple individuals to create one comprehensive film. Everyone had a camera phone to capture their favorite moments from their point of view, but getting everyone to upload their videos into a single space was more work than anticipated.

 

There has to be an easier way. Enter JumpCam, a mobile app that makes collaborative videos a snap. The owner of the video decides who can add clips (up to 30 and less than 10 seconds each) and whether new clips are automatically or manually edited into the video.

 

“People were excited about using it for things we hadn’t anticipated,” said Stewart. “We’ve had a band that allowed its fans to create a music video, and comedians all riffing around the same idea, like ‘world’s worst date lines.”

 

Having raised $2.7 million in funding last fall from Trinity Ventures and Google Ventures among several other angel investors, JumpCam launched on iOS yesterday with plans to move to Android in a couple weeks.

 

Would you use it? What event would you use it for?

 

Under the Radar: YouTube Requires Google+ Account to Comment

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One of the biggest user complaints about YouTube is the prevalence of abuse and spam in the comment section. As the years went by, trollers kept trolling with hardly any retribution from the world’s largest video-sharing platform. Well, the pressure to set up more defenses against spam has been heard. YouTube’s new commenting system requires you to link your Google+ account to your YouTube account.

 

Not only will individuals have to integrate their accounts in order to access full functionality on YouTube, but brands will have to as well.

 

This integration of YouTube and Google+ means that YouTube will know  your full name, comments made by the creator of the video will show higher in the comments, and users can make comments private to selected individuals if they so choose. YouTube will also push up comments from people in your Google+ circles.

 

In YouTube’s blog post on Tuesday, it asks:

Quick taste test. Let’s say you’re watching a video from Justin Timberlake. What type of video comment would be awesome to see: one from JT himself, one from people you care about who love the video…or one from just the last random person to stop by?

Whose comments would you want to read? Will deeper integration between the two platforms inject civility into the comment section?

 

Around the Hub: Manicube Ships Up to Boston

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Makeup mogul Katina Mountanos often found herself running to meetings with the beauty industry’s biggest brand names (think Bobbi Brown) with less than perfect nails. With long work hours leaving her hardly time for regular nail appointments and the recollection of in-office shoe-shines offered to her former colleagues at Citigroup, Mountanos teamed up with fellow Harvard business school grad Elizabeth Whitman to find a solution.

 

The result? Manicube, a startup on a mission “to make working women’s lives easier.” Manicube offers in-office, 15-minute manicures for $15 or a men’s “clip and clean” for $12. Rather than going out to get a manicure, the manicure comes to you.

 

Based in Manhattan, Manicube is coming to Boston next month. Why Boston?

“When we compared Boston to New York, we found that there were fewer nail salons in Boston, and that the average price of a manicure is about $4 higher than New York,” says Whitman. Both founders were in town last week to interview manicurists, prepare office managers, and book appointments with local companies.

 

Appointments are booked online and can be paid for online or at the office.

 

Will you bring Manicube to your office?

 

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Bitcoins, Facebook Emoticons, Honey, and the Boston Marathon

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Top Story: Bitcoin – Currency of the Future?

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As young entrepreneurs, we’re no strangers to the digital space. But how would you feel about paying for everything with digital currency? Nope, we’re not talking about one connected to your credit card, but rather Bitcoin (BTC), a digital only, free-standing currency.

Since its inception in 2009, Bitcoin has been creating or “mining” digital currencies to be used via computers and smartphones for peer-to-peer transactions. Though it has a turbulent history, Bitcoin is famous for being a decentralized internet currency, meaning that funds are transacted directly from one person to another without the use of a bank, credit union, or clearing house.

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Your dreams of swimming in gold like Scrooge McDuck are no longer plausible with Bitcoin.

Because Bitcoin requires no banking authority, your account can never be frozen. Bitcoin currency can be used anywhere in the world and has few processing fees attached to it. Additionally, there is no limit to how much you can spend, how many transactions you can make, or how many times you can view your account without incurring a fee. Your Bitcoins are stored in an online wallet, providing easy access to your funds and transactions. Bitcoins can also be exchanged for fiat currency, such as USD, Euros, Yen, and more!

Sounds great, right? Not exactly. The Bitcoin Project is extremely experimental in nature and has its shortcomings. A major problem for Bitcoin is the anonymity of its users. The open-source service has vague guidelines, and is not anonymous for consumers. The safety of your funds is also a major concern as servicing apps are consistently at the hands of hackers. Bitcoin suggests backing up your wallet and not investing your savings into the system as exchange rates can plummet or skyrocket at any time, similar to the value of gold.

Bitcoin in general has no intrinsic value, and its worth is entirely dependent on their users’ willingness to use the currency. Though Bitcoin will save you banking fees, it is not an official currency, and many jurisdictions still require that you pay government taxes against their value. Furthermore, all transactions made with Bitcoin are completely irreversible.

Want to learn more? See an explanation here and learn more about the service on the official site.

 

Under the Radar: Facebook Becomes More Emotional

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Finally, the update we’ve all been waiting for: Facebook lets us share our feelings with emoticons and share our behavior with emojis. Soon to appear under everyone’s status update box, a new feature that gives users a choice of 200 different emoticons and emojis that express mood and behavior to tag onto their update. The emoticon list includes standard presets like “wonderful,” “happy,” “loved,” as well as not-so-standard presets like “fresh,” “lost,” “meh,” and “guilty.” The behavior drop-down consists of various categories including drinking, watching, and eating.

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Why tag a mood or behavior onto your status? Like tagging your friends and family in your photos, tagging your mood and behavior in your status update allows users and brands to connect with you more directly.

What does this mean for business? Allowing users to tag their behavior onto their status gives brands the opportunity to connect with those that are posting about their products and services. The process of curating content users are posting on Facebook about your brand is that much simpler.

What do you think of this new feature? Will you use it?

 

Tool of the Week: Honey Offers Up Sweet Savings

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With more and more people shopping online and endless websites at their fingertips, people are faced with the ever-present fear at the checkout page of there being a better deal out there. Ecommerce startup Honey wants to help alleviate that lingering anxiety by canvasing the internet for discounts on the products users are looking at. Honey is a Chrome extension that, once downloaded, places a “Find Savings” button on the checkout page of online shops. It will search for available coupons without redirecting to another site, saving users money and hassle.

“Honey was created to solve a problem that we have all been dealing with for the past 10-15 years,” said founder Ryan Hudson in an email. “Honey is unique because of its design philosophy — the product was designed to add value when users need it most. We loved the idea of creating a shopping companion that helped you only when you needed it, which is very different than most plug-ins, which are often ever-present.”

While there are plenty of tools and services that aim to help users save money both on and offline, Honey is a great option if you’re looking to try out a new coupon clipping tool.

Have you tried others? What do you think?

 

Around the Hub: Marathon Madness

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For anyone who has been in Boston around marathon time, you know the kind of fervor that sweeps over the city unparalleled by almost any event in the city, apart from St. Patrick’s Day. Hundreds of thousands of people are swept up into the uncontainable energy of strength, inspiration, and support. For the past 117 years, floods of people get up at the crack of dawn to participate in one of the world’s best-known road races and oldest annual marathon. Whether running or celebrating those who have chosen to run, the Boston Marathon is the spectacle of the season.

Here are some resources to help you make the most of your marathon weekend:

Travel: As you may have gathered, while streets along the marathon route will be closed to traffic on Monday, several streets in the city will be closing to traffic much earlier. For the full list of road closings, click here.

Dining: There’s only one dining option worthy of marathon weekend: carbs. Lots of it. Good thing Boston’s North End has some of the best Italian around. Even better, restaurants are offering specials sure to give you all the fuel you need to excel. Check out our list of the not-to-be-missed marathon spots.

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Location: What’s the best place to watch the marathon? That depends on who you ask, but most veterans agree on the top three: Wellesley’s Scream Tunnel, Copley Square’s Finish Line, and Boston College’s Heartbreak Hill. We’ll let you decide which gets top spot. Take a look at this article if you need more convincing.

Will you get in on the Boston Marathon action this weekend?h

MassInno 19 – Content Curation, Wine and Video Games

I recently attended MassInno 19. The brainchild of Bobby Carlton (Carlton PR & Marketing) and Dan Englander (High Rock Media), this free monthly product launch event relies on social media to connect and gain exposure for the most innovative Boston startups. The energy in the room was great- lots of give and take between entrepreneurs and expert advisors. The food and drink was lacking- probably the only negative to making the event absolutely free for everyone. The good news is that there are lots of sponsorship opportunities for brands willing to help!

Any startup can submit its product to be considered for selection to present to the crowd. Popular vote decides which lucky companies get the opportunity. Tip to presenters: take the time to practice your pitch. I know the fear of the blow horn haunts you, but when you speak too fast or hold the mike too far away you quickly lose the room. That said, last night’s event featured some wonderful companies including:

HiveFire – A personal favorite (disclosure- I beta tested for them). HiveFire’s CEO Pawan Deshpande (pictured above) developed this content curation solution to help companies quickly and easily establish topic-specific resource portals. The sites are a valuable tool for marketers running thought leadership campaigns.

Second Glass — Catering to anyone who loves to drink wine, this company just launched a beta site to help you remember which wines you loved and which you hated. If you’re like me, then you enjoy a wine in a restaurant and plan to hunt for it at your local wine shop later, but rarely have success doing so. Second Glass is our new problem solver!

JoyTunes – A MassChallenge finalist, this video game makes learning how to play a real musical instrument fun and easy (at least it looked like it in the demo, which got a lot of laughs when the user showed us how the birdie on the screen drops a doo-doo, if you miss a note when you’re playing).

For videos of the presenters, see the MassInno 19 follow up blog post. Did you attend MassInno before? Share with us your thoughts on the event and the companies participating!