Friday, September 6, 2013

Twitter's Bulk Follow Clampdown Could Claim Another Victim, Follow/Unfollow Service ManageFlitter

Among the more recent changes afoot at Twitter, the company recently announced that it would no longer allow third parties to use Twitter’s API for bulk-following or unfollowing Twitter accounts — spammy behavior, by many estimates. Now, a developer who has built a product based on this feature is crying foul, saying that his application, called ManageFlitter, is not spammy, but an example of the kinds of marketing services that Twitter has been encouraging on its platform. The situation is reminiscent of how other apps have fallen at the Twitter API hurdle when it’s turned out to be too tricky to change to meet new rules. With these changes aimed specifically at doing away with spammers, this time around, the developer is claiming that he’s actually one of the good guys who has just fallen through the cracks. Ironically, this is not the first time the ManageFlitter has fallen afoul of Twitter policy. The same thing happened to it over three years ago, when it was called ManageTwitter. Back then, it found a workaround. For those of you who are not familiar with the service, ManageFlitter is an enterprise-style app that helps brands, high-profile people, and Twitter power users build their lists of followers and then offer analytics services to tweet to them more effectively. In addition to bulk following and unfollowing, which are the core features of the service, customers can also figure out when people are most active and therefore the best time to send tweets to them. It’s approaching 2 million customers at the moment, some taking its free service, and some paying for its Business ($49 and up/month) and Pro ($12 and up/month) tiers. ManageFlitter has a bunch of high profile clients including AOL (TC’s owner), PayPal, GE, Microsoft, American Express, Richard Branson, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and (my personal favorite) David Hasselhoff. Kevin Garber, the Sydney, Australia-based co-founder and CEO of ManageFlitter, tells us that on July 19, soon after Twitter updated its guidelines on automated tweets, it contacted his company to say that it was in violation of those guidelines, which note, “You may not use or develop any service that allows for the following or unfollowing of user accounts in a bulk or automated manner. Accounts and applications that engage in this practice will be suspended.” The feature in question covers actions like Unfollow. “ManageFlitter’s Unfollow tool is super quick and full of helpful features. Work with 1000s of accounts in seconds,” is how the company enthusiastically describes it. “This tool will immediately show you the people who you’ve followed who don’t follow you back, are inactive, have no profile image and much more. Sort by a range of criteria including influence, date of follow and many more attributes.” Twitter’s July warning gave ManageFlitter two months to change the functionality or drop the API usage altogether. And now that the deadline is fast approaching, ManageFlitter is scrambling to see if it can figure out a way to cooperate with Twitter to work around the restriction. So far, its attempts to do so have fallen on deaf ears. “We tried to contact someone at Twitter to understand their reasoning behind the policy changes,” Garber explained to me, but he says they were told, effectively, “‘It’s not our policy to meet with folks who have run into issues with our platform policies. For that reason, you won’t hear back from anyone in the platform team.’” For now, that means the startup won’t be doing what IFTTT did to create a workaround. “IFTTT are based in San Francisco and may have better / pre existing relationships with them that unfortunately we don’t have and are struggling to establish,” Garber told me. Also, the issues are different, in that IFTTT’s problems had to do with limits on tokens, and ManageFlitter’s are do with breaching a new bulk follow policy. Also, it’s taken nearly a year for IFTTT for Twitter triggers to return to IFTTT. Meanwhile, ManageFlitter has also taken to the Town Square itself to try to make some headway, appealing to CEO Dick Costolo for more of an explanation. He’s pretty clear on his position. “No bulk following, period…Bulk following is unwanted behavior. That’s why,” Costolo replied in a short series of tweets. (You can read the full exchange here, which is much heavier on Garber and others asking for more information than Costolo answering.) (We have also reached out to Twitter and will update this with any further comment.) ManageFlitter says that it sees itself as a “white hat” bulk-follower service, in that it is actually trying to promote the same kind of behavior that Twitter is encouraging. “ManageFlitter has always stood firmly in the “white hat” space which involves using the official APIs, following Twitter’s Rules and Best Practices and discouraging aggressive and non-organic social graph activity. Furthermore we have never offered any type of automated bulk following or unfollowing,” Garber writes in a blog post. Their position is that Twitter’s attempts to curb the growth of spam by forbidding sites like his are misguided, and that it should instead continue to improve spam detection algorithms. “We feel by Twitter limiting batch follow/unfollow options punishes the very Twitter users that Twitter is trying to protect,” he notes. To be clear, there are a number of services designed for brands and other Twitter account holders to manage their followers better, and these are not shutting down, so perhaps going to the drawing board for ManageFlitter will be about rethinking entirely how it offers its service. The scenario, however, is also one more indication of how third party developers, even longstanding ones, remain on precarious footing when they build services that are too dependent on a platform that itself is still fairly young and evolving as it, too, builds its business. This can have a knock-on effect for those startups in how they grow in other ways. For example, VCs may end up being more reluctant to invest in services that are tied too much to other company’s platforms. And Garber says that he is expecting ManageFlitter revenue growth “may be negatively impacted in the short term once we remove batch follow/unfollow functionality.” Ultimately, though, unless something drastically changes very soon, sometime between today (September 5) and September 9, ManageFlitter will be turning off the bulk follow feature in its service to comply with the orders and prevent its service from being blocked altogether. Initially, it will be issuing a new version that will only allow users to follow and unfollow other accounts one at a time. “We will also be rolling out some substantial new features at the same time to help soften the blow for our users,” Garber tells me.

First Round's Student-Run Dorm Room Fund Has Backed 20 Startups; Adds Entrepreneur ‘RAs' As Advisors

First Round Capital has made a big bet on students sourcing and making investments at colleges around the U.S. with its Dorm Room Fund. the idea behind the Dorm Room Fund is that if students are motivated enough and smart enough to start a company while in college, then they are capable to run a venture fund, and back the next big ideas. First Round originally launched the fund in Philadelphia and expanded the initiative to New York and San Francisco (and soon Boston). Today, the Dorm Room Fund has made 20 investments in startups, and the firm is announcing the addition of 60-plus mentors. For background, each city;s fund is around $500,000. Students from colleges in the city apply to be part of the investment team, and then the chosen students source investments and make decisions unilaterally to invest in startup ideas. As students graduate, more will be added. On average each investment is around $20,000, and is structured as an uncapped-convertible note. First Round signs off on every investment and is available to the student group to consult on questions, but this is largely run by the students. Each group goes through training to better understand investment philosophies and scout out interesting ideas and businesses independently. Any carry made by the investment (i.e. if the startup is acquired) is put back into the universities. Over 60 entrepreneurs, including Dennis Crowley, Cyrus Massoumi, Kevin Hartz, the Warby Parker founders, Charlie Cheever and others have joined the initiative as “Dorm Room Fund RAs.” These mentors work with Dorm Room Fund portfolio companies. These RAs are also all alums from the same universities that the firm’s current Dorm Room Fund student investors attend. Some of the investments include Databetes, A&B American Style, Radiator Labs, Skillbridge and others. It’s still early days to figure out whether these investments will lead to lasting companies and technologies. But as we’ve said in the past, part of the Dorm Room Fund’s purpose is to also prospect promising talent at the college and graduate levels in these technology hubs. If anything, First Round is expanding its network of talent. Launches A Social Curation App For The iPad, a startup that helps users highlight interesting content (and, implicitly, their own knowledge in the field), is bringing its social curation tools to the iPad today with the launch of a new app. The company asks users to build topic pages where they aggregate relevant content (we’ve described these pages as “your own digital magazine“). Those pages are viewable on, shareable on social networks, and SEO-optimized. Plus, other users can follow those pages. In some ways, it’s like following someone on Twitter who tweets news and articles that you find interesting. However, co-founder and CEO Guillaume Decugis argued that “when you follow topics and not people,” the signal-to-noise ratio improves significantly (at least if you’re interested in learning more about the topic in question, rather than getting updates about someone’s life). The iPad app extends that idea to tablets. Decugis and President Marc Rougier gave me a demo of the app, browsing content by searching the app, looking at other topics, and reading the content that was recommended by’s personalization technology. When they found something they liked, it only took a couple of taps to save the article to one of their own topic pages, or to create an entirely new page. (And all of those edits are viewable on the web too.) In some ways, the demo reminded me of Storify. For one thing, both and Storify on the iPad are pitched as ways to go beyond just consuming content on tablets. However, Storify’s curation tools are focused on individual stories (say, turning a bunch of tweets around a single news story together into a coherent narrative), whereas is more topic-based — and in fact, Rougier said you can embed a Storify story on a page. The service already launched an iPhone app, but Decugis said that app was designed to be “a companion” to the web version — in fact, you need have an account with already in order to use it. The iPad app, on the other hand, can work as a standalone experience, no web registration needed. So even though the new app was built, in part, to answer the requests of existing users, Decugis said he’s hoping it helps reach a new audience too. The company recently raised a $2.6 million in new funding and it says its users have indexed and shared more than 50 million pieces of content.

Meet Ping, An App That Turns Your Emails Into Real-Time Conversations

Remember that time before smartphones, when people sent messages as individual texts, and had inboxes filled with little envelope icons? Then messaging transformed with iPhones and Androids into a seamless conversation, with video, voice recording and picture capabilities. This shift in communication is exactly what the new app Ping is trying to do to email, by grouping messages by contacts into real-time conversations. It’s a different approach from popular apps like Mailbox or Boxer (formerly known as Taskbox), which streamline the process of organizing emails into categories. Instead, Ping automatically groups all emails from a contact into one thread, so they are displayed like IMs or text messages. All your emails on daily news, sales and the like are grouped together too on the incoming page, just one swipe over. “Email up to today is a bunch of letters and a bunch of folders,” co-founder Erez Pilosof tells me. “For example, all the recent to-do email applications basically are … kind of tedious, you have to decide which folder you want to put it in. For us, it just added to the complexity of things.” Ping is compatible with Gmail, AOL, Yahoo! and iCloud accounts. When two users are both on Ping, the thread turns to real-time, with quicker responses and an indicator if the recipient is currently typing. Ping users can add attachments in email from mobile, which show up in the messages or in a separate browsing album for the thread. Some other cool Ping features include the ability to tailor notification sounds and alerts to specific contacts. This way, you know exactly who emailed you without having to open your email. The contacts list organizes itself based on who it thinks you are most likely to email, and can send calls through the app. The app is designed specifically for mobile communication and quick email responses on the go. However, this approach leaves little room for longer, detailed messages, a distinguishing factor between email and texts. Another downside to Ping is that for email, individual messages work better when contacts are being switched around bcc, cc or reply all lines. This is harder in the app, which has moved those functions to fall under an option button. “It’s there if you really need it,” explains Pilosof. Everything that goes through Ping is also sent to your traditional email account. But it gets a little complicated shifting back and forth between two very different methods of communication. Pilosof says Ping is working on smoothing this out by developing a desktop version of Ping, and an Android version after that. The emails in Ping are definitely much easier to read in a conversational sense, and you can still archive or save emails for later. Pilosof tells me he is concentrated on building out Ping’s user base before integrating a monetization plan. Ping will be available for free in the App Store September 18th. Until then, you can sign up for the iOS app at the Ping website.

PayPal Updates iOS And Android Apps With The Ability To Order Ahead, Pay Restaurant Bills, Access Bill Me Later And More

PayPal is announcing a major update to its iOS and Android apps today, creating a more seamless experience when paying for items in stores and retail outlets. Check out our video above for an in-depth demo of the app being used by myself and PayPal VP of Global Product Hill Ferguson in San Francisco. Beyond just the features, the app has been redesigned to make it easier to pay using various stored accounts at different stores (ie bank accounts and credit cards). The PayPal app also has a new tab called ‘Shop’, which you can use to find shops or restaurants nearby that accept PayPal payments. You can then ‘check in’ and open a tab with just a swipe. You can change how you want to pay right on the “check in” screen. After you’ve paid, you’ll see a confirmation alert and a PayPal email receipt. One of the major feature additions to the apps is the ability to order ahead at a broader group of restaurants. PayPal was testing this feature at McDonald’s in France and earlier this year at select US Jamba Juice locations. By checking in on the PayPal app, you can access the restaurants where you can use the order ahead feature, and the app will take you to the full menu, and specify and special adjustments to the food/drinks. Once you click order, you can then bypass the line at local restaurants and cafes. PayPal says that currently the feature is turned on for around one thousand restaurants and cafes (via an Eat24 partnership), with more locations coming soon. Another new feature added in this release is the ability to pat at the table at some restaurants and apps. You can check-in the restaurant to view your bill, give a tip and pay your restaurant bill through the PayPal app. On the restaurant’s side, their POS terminal is connected to PayPal so they can see when someone checks in, and can allow the customer to access their bill via the app. You can even order another drink from the app at some locations. For the first time, you can apply to finance your PayPal purchases from inside the app by selecting the Bill Me Later option. And lastly, PayPal will be integrating coupons and offers into the app, so these will be automatically populated into your account and you’ll have the option to use any offers at stores in the checkout process. Starting today, $100 in offers is available in the PayPal app from local US businesses. It’s clear in this update that PayPal is putting more emphasis on how its app can be used in physical retailers. The payments giant is also using a more seamless payments experience to actually help save people time (avoiding lines, waiting for your waiter to return with your bill). One of the hurdles for PayPal has been how to get the 100 million-plus consumers to know that they can use PayPal in physical stores (as well as online, which has been the primary experience to date). Ferguson tells us that the company is definitely working to educate the public, with restaurants posting “PayPal accepted” signs in their storefronts and more. It wouldn’t be surprising that with this big expansion, PayPal embarks on a major marketing push around in-store use.

FishBrain Secures Seed Funding To Socialise Sport Fishing

Back in November last year, Swedish startup FishBrain won the startup competition at Slush in Helsinki. The startup is a social network that lets sport fishing enthusiasts share their fishing experiences with friends using web and mobile apps. Users end up sharing best ways to catch a fish in a particular lake – as one does. Now the startup is set to expand into the U.S. after raising a seed round understood to be in the region of $150,000. In the U.S. there are 40 million anglers, which is more than play golf and tennis combined, and the retail market is $45 billion per year. So there is a big fish to catch in this space… So far the app on Android and iOS has garnered 100,000 registered users and 50,000 logged catches. The team behind FishBrain is Johan Attby, Marcus Fransson and Jens Persson. Johan is a serial entrepreneur and previously founded the software company Tific, which was acquired by PlumChoice, Inc. in 2011. Johan has lived in Silicon Valley for many years and one year in Boston. FishBrain recently won Seedcamp Berlin. Investing are Almi Invest, as well as a network of well connected Angels who all have backgrounds in some of this era’s most successful tech companies. Innovationsbron and Umando have previously invested in FishBrain. Additional investors include Additional FishBrain investors include Mattias Miksche, founder and CEO of Stardoll and board member and investor in Dustin, Headweb, Sportamore, and others; Rikard Steiber, EVP and Chief Digital Officer at MTG and former global marketing director of mobile and social advertising at Google and former founder and CEO of Digiscope; Hans Lindroth, CEO of Lingfield; Henrik Torstensson, CEO at ShapeUp Club, and prior to that leading roles at Spotify and Stardoll and an investor in Videoplaza and Dexplora; and Mathias Ackermand, business angel and former founder and CFO of Transmode.

Booktrack Gives Everyone The Tools To Add Soundtracks To Their Stories With Booktrack Studio

Ever want to add ambient mood music or sound effects to a piece of text? Now you can with the launch of Booktrack Studio, a new tool that enables users to build their own soundtrack-enhanced stories. Booktrack was founded a couple of years ago with the idea of adding a soundtrack and sound effects to the books users were reading. By doing so, the guys behind it believed they could create a more immersive experience for readers. Readers seem to agree: Last year, founder Paul Cameron told me that about a quarter of customers who download a free sample purchase the full book, and about 40 percent of those downloaded end up being read cover-to-cover. So far, users can check out books with soundtracks built in on the company’s website,, as well as through mobile apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. But it’s hoping to get its soundtrack-enabled e-books distributed natively through other e-book readers and stores. In the meantime, while Booktrack is still working on getting distribution on other stores, as well as traction with publishers and authors, it’s unveiled a tool which will allow anyone to add music and sound effects to their own text. The tool, called Booktrack Studio, is open to all, enabling users to build their own soundtrack-enabled stories. The process is pretty simple: You enter text, and then add sound from a selection of audio tracks. That include ambient music and sounds, as well as a bunch of sound effects that can be embedded in the text. There are more than 1,000 sounds to choose from, and users can search through and preview various selections before adding them. To mark where a certain sound begins or ends, users need only highlight the passage and the audio will be played as a reader scrolls to that portion of the text. Once an author is done adding his soundtrack, he can choose to save and publish the piece to be added to Booktrack’s library of soundtrack-enabled stories. Users can add cover art, as well as a description and metadata to help readers discover their texts and listen to them. For Booktrack, the Studio is a way to get more content onto its system, and maybe even to help highlight new authors and uses of its technology beyond traditional publishers. The New Zealand-based company recently raised $2 million in Series B funding from Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Park Road Post Production, Weta Digital GM Tom Greally, Sparkbox Ventures, New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, EFU Investments Ltd., Stephen Tindall’s K One W One, and others.