Posts Tagged ‘India’

Concur Partners With, Invests $40 Million In India’s Online Travel Site Cleartrip

April 18th, 2011 04:20 admin View Comments

Concur, a publicly listed provider of travel and expense management solutions, is teaming up with Cleartrip, one of India’s leading online travel portals. The deal encompasses both a strategic marketing partnership and a $40 million investment for a minority stake in the online travel company.

With this investment and partnership agreement, Concur seeks to expand its existing customer base while also venturing into new territories for growth (the company this morning announced that it has established operations in India).

The partnership with Cleartrip also provides Concur with access to travel content and technology, which it expects it to help better serve the burgeoning Indian business travel market.

Concur will enable clients to capture Cleartrip-generated travel itineraries for end-to-end travel and expense reporting within its services, which the company says are used by more than 15 million people worldwide.

Concur recently acquired travel organization and sharing service TripIt for up to $120 million.

Source: Concur Partners With, Invests $40 Million In India’s Online Travel Site Cleartrip

Local Currencies To Replace Dollar For 5 Countries’ Dealings

April 16th, 2011 04:14 admin View Comments

The Almighty Buck

An anonymous reader writes “Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — the BRICS group of fastest growing economies — signed an agreement to use their own currencies instead of the predominant US dollar in issuing credit or grants to each other. The world does need a new financial architecture, but the BRICS by themselves are unlikely to to be able to drive that change.”

Source: Local Currencies To Replace Dollar For 5 Countries’ Dealings

RIM Co-CEO Flakes In BBC Interview, Will Probably Be Gone Soon

April 13th, 2011 04:14 admin View Comments

You can watch the whole thing here but Mike Lazaridis is cracking up. Basically, in an interview with a BBC reporter, the co-CEO shuts down the the meeting after being asked about security concerns in India and the Middle East, saying that it’s an issue of “national security.”

As the CEO of what was once the premier smartphone manufacturer it must be hard to see mind – if not market – share shrinking in the business world and he just can’t seem to accept honest criticism in any environment, least of all a taped interview.

What does this mean for RIM? Well, not much right now. Blackberries will still rule the IT roost when it comes to end-to-end secure email. However, it must be hard for Lazaridis to watch his C-level friends carry iPhones and Android devices and leave their Blackberries in the hands of their assistants.

According to comScore, RIM dropped 5.4% in the smartphone race, landing it one step behind Android and above iOS. Last October RIM was #1. Now it’s #2.

Lazaridis has been giving all sorts of exciting interviews lately, playing the victim card in multiple occasions. For example:

“Why is it that people don’t appreciate our profits? Why is it that people don’t appreciate our growth? Why is it that people don’t appreciate the fact that we spent the last four years going global? Why is it that people don’t appreciate that we have 500 carriers in 170 countries with products in almost 30 languages?,” said Lazaridis.

Why, indeed. Maybe it’s because everyone has profits, growth, and globalization. RIM is just another phone company fighting a long and pitched battle. To hear Lazaridis, however, he’s ready to rest on his laurels.

John Dalrymple points out that all of this is coming a week before the launch of RIM’s Playbook, a make or break moment for RIM in the tablet arena. In short, he should shut up.

A great man once said that the path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. However, when you make it your mission to quash the naysayers at every turn, you look less like a victim and more like a victimizer.

John Biggs is a Brooklyn-based writer. You can Tweet him here and email him at john at crunchgear dot com.

Source: RIM Co-CEO Flakes In BBC Interview, Will Probably Be Gone Soon

Nokia Reveals Symbian Update, New Phones & Ovi Store Numbers

April 12th, 2011 04:14 admin View Comments

Today, Nokia announced two new Symbian-based smartphone devices, the E6 and X7, both of which will launch with the latest version of the Symbian software, code-named “Symbian Anna.” The update brings new icons, usability enhancements, a faster Web browser and a new version of Ovi Maps.

Despite Nokia’s plans to move its smartphone product line over to Windows Phone, the company is still actively developing Symbian during the transition period of 2011 to 2012, and expects to sell 150 million more devices running the mobile operating system. Those will join the 200 million devices in the market now. With those numbers in mind, it’s not surprising that Nokia’s other news today involves the growth of its Ovi Store, which the company said has increased by nearly eight times over the last year, now reaching 5 million downloads per day.

Ovi Store Performance Update

Although the Symbian OS now has a clearly marked expiration date, for a “dying” (or is that “burning?”) platform, it’s still doing well. Nokia is citing increased demand for apps from its 200-million strong Symbian customer base as the reason for the Ovi Store’s continued growth, in fact.

As of today, the Ovi catalog tops 40,000 apps, with approximately 1,000 new ones added per week. It also has 158 developers from 41 countries who have surpassed the million download milestone for each of their apps, Nokia says.

The company also reported that the Ovi Store is now seeing up to 5 million downloads per day, and of those, the latest Symbian devices (N8, C6-01, C7, E7) account for 15% of the daily downloads.

What’s in Store for Developers?

Since the announcement of the Nokia/Microsoft partnership in February 2011, Symbian developers have been concerned about what these changes mean for them and their app businesses. Recently, Purnima Kochikar, VP of Forum Nokia, attempted to reassure developers that all was well, despite this transition.

Kochikar promised that new updates – the same ones revealed today – would arrive this summer. And other updates were planned, she said, including app analytics, in-app advertising, in-app purchasing and more.

In some regions with significant market share, including China, Russia, India and Turkey, Symbian is still the lead smartphone platform, Kochikar said. And the company will continue to sell Symbian phones in certain markets “long after Windows Phone devices from Nokia have already started to appear in other markets,” she explained.

“What I can promise you is that we will not just abandon Symbian users or developers,” Kochikar wrote. “Our intention is that when users come to the end of the natural lifecycle of their Symbian device they will make the change to a Nokia Windows Phone device and so it would not be in our interests to undermine their Nokia smartphone experience.”

Her full message to Nokia Symbian developers can be found here.

New Symbian Devices

That message seems to resonate today with the launch of the new Symbian devices, designed to capture the interest of business users (with the E6) and entertainment-focused consumers (with the X7). The E6 is a BlackBerry-like device with full QWERTY keyboard, high-res screen and support for Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Communicator Mobile and Microsoft SharePoint.

The X7, meanwhile, forgoes the hardware keyboard for a large 4-inch display, 8-megapixel camera and support for HD video.

Nokia X7 E6

Both will ship Q2 2011 with Symbian Anna. Other Symbian devices will also receive the new Anna update, says Nokia, “in the coming months.”

More details on the phones and the software is available here.

Source: Nokia Reveals Symbian Update, New Phones & Ovi Store Numbers

Indian Stealth Startup Mojostreet Secures $350K From Former Microsoft VP, Others

April 11th, 2011 04:47 admin View Comments

Hyderabad-based Mojostreet, a location-based mobile gaming startup, announced today that it has received $350K in seed funding, led by Srini Koppolu, former Managing Director of Microsoft India and J.A. Chowdary former Managing Director of Nvidia India. Mojostreet will use its infusion of capital to ramp up hiring efforts and to assist in the startup’s beta launch in early May.

Like a mix of its American counterparts Foursquare, SCVNGR, and Booyah’s My Town, Mojostreet’s first product is a location-based app, which will allow users to check in at various point of interests in a game format. At launch, Mojostreet will be restricted to 5.5 million locations in India, but Founder and CEO Kalyan Manyam said that he hopes to launch Mojostreet in the U.S. and Singapore shortly thereafter.

The startup has partnered with several major national retail outlets in India to provide real world offers to complement the virtual gaming experience. So, as users check in at various locations, they will be awarded virtual currency, or “Mojo bucks”. Gamers are pitted against their friends in a mobile scavenger hunt, unlocking special offers at check-in, and stockpiling virtual cash along the way.

Manyam, who also founded — an Indian social network with more than 6 million users — said that mobile gaming is currently exploding among the more than 600 million mobile phone users in India. As a result, Mojostreet will be available on Blackberry, Nokia, IPhone and Android phones.

“As data plans become more affordable in India, location-based services are going to play a crucial role in community-based entertainment and eCommerce”, Manyam said. “And we are very excited to see the ways Mojostreet can influence real world experiences and commerce”.

Source: Indian Stealth Startup Mojostreet Secures $350K From Former Microsoft VP, Others

When the Blind Suddenly See, Do They Know What They’re Looking At?

April 11th, 2011 04:07 admin View Comments

What’s the News: Neuroscientists have found a preliminary answer to a question that has puzzled philosophers for centuries: If someone who has always been blind is one day able to see, can they recognize by sight objects they already know by touch? In a new study published online by Nature Neuroscience, patients who had been blind since birth underwent sight-restoring surgeries as children or adolescent. In the day or two following surgery, patients seemed unable to match what they felt with their hands with what they saw, the researchers found, but a week later, they could.

This results suggests that the brain doesn’t have the innate ability (or maybe has limited ability) to innately tie input from different senses to the same concept—but that it can learn to, and pretty fast. Just how fast, the researchers wrote, suggests that the neuronal machinery needed to bring together visual and tactile information may already be there; it just has to be started up.

How the Heck:

  • The researchers worked with five patients, aged 8 to 17, who had recently had surgeries to remove congenital cataracts or correct a cloudy cornea. The patients were all part of Project Prakash, a program one of the researchers began that works to restore sight to blind children in India.
  • Within 48 hours of the surgery, the researchers presented each child with a distinctively shaped object made of Lego-like blocks to feel without looking at. Afterwards, they gave the child two objects—one the same shape as the first and one a new shape–and had them say, again by feel and not sight, which was the object they’d just held.
  • Then, using a new set of objects, the researchers did the same thing—only this time the child could see the two objects but not touch them and asked which was the one they’d previously felt. (The scientists also tested whether the kids could see well enough to distinguish between the objects—which they could—to rule out the possibility that their vision wasn’t yet up to the task.)
  • The children were great at identifying the objects by feel, but when they identifying objects by sight, they were right just 58% of the time: not much better than chance.
  • Five days to a week later, the researchers had the children do the same tests, with new sets of objects. Now, they found, the children could visually recognize the object they’d touched about 80% of the time.

What’s the Context:

  • The history of this scenario goes back to 1688, when Irish natural philosopher William Molyneux first posed the question of whether people blind from birth could visually recognize familiar objects—now called Molyneux’s Problem—in a letter to John Locke.
  • Harvard neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone agrees that the change happens too quickly for the brain to undergo significant rewiring. When the children switch from recognizing objects by feel to recognizing them by sight, he told ScienceNOW, “they’re not starting from zero.”

Reference: Richard Held, Yuri Ostrovsky, Beatrice deGelder, Tapan Gandhi, Suma Ganesh, Umang Mathur & Pawan Sinha. “The newly sighted fail to match seen with felt.” Nature Neuroscience online, April 10, 2011. DOI:10.1038/nn.2795

Image: Flickr / GaelG

Source: When the Blind Suddenly See, Do They Know What They’re Looking At?

The New Information Age

April 10th, 2011 04:00 admin View Comments

LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman said, recently, “that if Web 1.0 involved go search, get data and some limited interactivity, and if Web 2.0 involves real identities and real relationships, then Web 3.0 will be real identities generating massive amounts of data.”

Reid is a visionary and certainly had this right. But the information that Reid described is just the tip of the iceberg. We are already gathering a thousand times more data than that. The growth is exponential, and the innovation opportunities are even bigger than Silicon Valley can imagine they are.

I’m going to explain why I believe this. But let me start with a short history lesson.

Over the centuries, we gathered a lot of data on things such as climate, demographics, and business and government transactions. Our farmers kept track of the weather so that they would know when to grow their crops; we had land records so that we could own property; and we developed phone books so that we could find people. Web 1.0 made it possible to make this information globally available and searchable.

This rapidly evolved into Web 2.0.  Now data were being captured on what news we read, where we shopped, what sites we surfed, what music we listened to, what movies we watched, and where we travelled. And “the powers that be” started gathering information about our age, health, education, and socioeconomic status.

With the advent of LinkedIn, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and the many other social-media tools, the Web became “social” and “the powers that be” began to learn all about our work history, social and business contacts, and what we like—our food, entertainment, sexual preferences, etc. This is what Reid Hoffman calls Web 3.0.

But there is much, much more happening in the Web 3.0 world. It’s not just “social”.

In 2009, President Obama launched an ambitious program to modernize our healthcare system by making all health records standardized and electronic. The goal is to have all paper medical records—for the entire U.S. population—digitized and available online. This way, an emergency room will have immediate access to a patient’s medical history, the effectiveness of medicines can be researched over large populations, and general practitioners and specialists can coordinate their treatments.

The government is also opening up its massive datasets of information with the initiative. Four hundred thousand datasets are already available, and more are being added every week. They include regional data on the efficiency of government services, on poverty and wealth, education, on federal government spending, on transportation, etc. We can, for example, build applications that challenge schools or health-care providers to perform better by comparing various localities’ performance. And we can hold the government more accountable by analyzing its spending and wastage.

There are more than 24 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and far more video is being collected world wide through the surveillance cameras that you see everywhere. Whether we realize it or not, our mobile phones are able to keep track of our every movement—everywhere we go; how fast we move; what time we wake. Various mobile applications are beginning to record these data.

And then there is the human genome.  We only learned how to sequence this a decade ago at a cost of billions of dollars. The price of sequencing an individual’s genome is dropping at a double exponential rate, from millions to about $10,000 per sequence in 2011. More than one million individuals are projected to be sequenced in 2013.  It won’t be long before genome sequencing costs $100—or is free—with services that you purchase (as with cell phones).

Now imagine the possibilities that could derive from access to an integration of these data collections: being able to match your DNA to another’s and to learn what diseases the other person has had and how effective different medications were in curing them; learning the other person’s abilities, allergies, likes, and dislikes; who knows, maybe being able to find a DNA soul mate. We are entering an era of crowd-sourced, data-driven, participatory, genomic-based medicine. (If you’re interested, Dr. Daniel Kraft, a physician–scientist who chairs the Medicine track for Singularity University, is hosting a program called FutureMed, next month, which brings together clinicians, AI experts, bioinformaticists, medical-device and pharma executives, entrepreneurs, and investors to discuss these technologies.)

You may think that the U.S. leads in information collection. But the most ambitious project in the world is happening in India. Its government is gathering demographic data, fingerprints, and iris scans from of all its 1.2 billion residents. This will lead to the creation of the largest, most complex identity database in the world. I’ll cover this subject in a future piece.

It’s not all wine and roses.  There are major privacy and security implications such as those I discussed in this piece. Forget about the “powers that be”: merely the information that Google is gathering today would make Big Brother envious. After all, Google is able to read our e-mails even before we do; it knows who our friends are and what they tell us in confidence; it maintains our diaries and our calendars; it can even guess what we are thinking by watching our surfing habits. Imagine what happens once Google has access to our DNA information.

Regardless of the risks and security implications, the technology will advance, however.

This period of history has been called the Information Age because it makes available instant access to knowledge that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously. I would argue that we are way beyond this; we’re at the beginning of a new era: the New Information Age.

In previous technology revolutions, companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, and Facebook were born. Such giants get mired in the technologies that they helped create; they stagnate because they are making too much money and are afraid to obsolete themselves. It is ambitious startups that come along to change the world. I have little doubt that the next Facebook and Google are already being hatched in a garage somewhere.

I discussed all this and much more in a keynote I gave at the recent midVentures Data 2.0 conference. This video is below, and you can find many other discussions on the conference website.

Editor’s note: Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Faculty and Advisor, Singularity University, Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School, Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University, and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at The Halle Institute for Global Learning at Emory University. You can follow him on Twitter at @wadhwa and find his research at

Source: The New Information Age

Paypal Is About To Get A Bruising From Facebook And Square

April 9th, 2011 04:00 admin View Comments

Editor’s note: Guest author Ohad Samet is an expert in managing fraud and other risks in payments systems. He was previously a senior manager at PayPal and blogs at As Risky At It Gets.

2011 is going to be a big year for payments, with more startups and mature companies getting funded in the space than almost ever before. It’s important to make the distinction between the headline chasers, the slow moving giants struggling for a piece of the pie and the companies that have a chance at real disruption. For my money Facebook and Square are both very interesting companies to follow in this space.

In my last post on TechCrunch I discussed Google and Apple and their efforts around payments, and explained why I don’t yet think they are serious players for the whole payments pie. The post ended with some ideas around what serious contenders could look like, and who are other potential large companies that could step into user-to-user payments. I’d like to expand on that, looking at how the companies above might take advantage of chinks in Paypal’s armor (disclosure: my consulting company, Analyzd, has done a project with Square in the past).

Paypal’s Weaknesses

Paypal (eBay’s growth engine) is demonstrating strong growth and evidently still enjoys network effects—in many territories its service sells itself to small and medium merchants. Moreover, much like with banks and other financial services companies, people like to complain (about fees, user experience and customer service) but will not easily migrate to another company just by virtue of marginal improvements. But Paypal is far from untouchable; it has a few flaws that make room for some fierce competition. What are they?

First and foremost, Paypal’s service has matured over the last ten years. Product and policy decisions that made a lot of sense in the era of “The Paypal Wars” became structural issues, accompanied by limitations gathered in an attempt to improve profitability and revenue. Concepts such as a full redirection to Paypal’s website to make a payment which is still widely required in its most popular small merchant products and the limitations it places on businesses it deems risky (such as rolling reserves, 10-20% of your volume being held for up to 120 days) create whole segments that are underserved and can be tempted by a new service.

Second, the company is heavily reliant on the existing card association and banking infrastructure. Despite having acquired Bill Me Later (offering credit on the spot to approved buyers), its payment volume is still noticeably a mix of card and direct bank payments (here’s an old yet still relevant explanation). This creates a boundary both on the level of fraud and credit losses it can sustain and (more importantly) on its pricing. Paypal is left struggling with getting more people to pay with a bank account (and, given Bill Me Later, more and more using credit products) or it’s forced to skim a few basis points on top of card fees. This is one main reason why small merchants start with Paypal, but then graduate out of the system and move to a full merchant account where they can work directly with card products and other, lower fee payment options.

Third, Paypal is very much U.S.-centered in both infrastructure and process. It has definitely gone global, with good presence in Europe and Asia, but its hold of the market is much less obvious in these territories. Other countries have significantly different regulatory challenges and sometimes completely different payment processes and preferences (Germany is a good example); a few ongoing issues (most recently in India) have demonstrated that being based in the U.S. is not always an advantage. Becoming a truly international organization, with a distributed work force adapting or (in some cases) rebuilding the product creatively to match the local market is a daunting challenge for many companies.

Finally, with size comes the innovator’s dilemma which hinders Paypal’s ability to bet on small and evolving markets, resulting in the company being late to the game. We need to take this one with a grain of salt, though—Paypal is investing in user experience and technology, and through sheer size can reclaim market share even when it is a late entry. However, a wide consumer base is not as large an advantage as it once was when new consumer (web or mobile) products gain immense amounts of traction within weeks and months and other innovative consumer companies with a shorter history are eyeing the space.

And so, competition for Paypal’s lead position can come from two types of players: the first and obvious one is a consumer brand that has a trusted relationship with a massive user base; the second is a company rooted in an underserved segment of the market, preferably out of the U.S., and does not build on the usual card-and-bank infrastructure (or worse, on carrier billing or some other secondary derivative).

Facebook’s Social Advantage

Facebook is a good example of the first type of player. Why them and not Google or Apple, which I’ve discussed in my previous post? All three have a wide user base, have experience with some sort of payments, and are faced by the same challenges. Why is Facebook different? First, Facebook signaled it wants to play, at least to some extent, with its new Facebook payments subsidiary.

Second, of all the large companies it not only has the largest, most diverse and global user base, it also has a rather clear identity strategy that extends beyond their website and is based on real information. This is a critical element in payments today. The ability to control identity isn’t the be-all and end-all of payments (spam, abuse and fake accounts on Facebook prove that) but if enforced properly it will provide a good enough basis for seller and consumer risk management.

Third, while Google and Apple have built their ecosystems and added payments to them to facilitate the type of commerce they required, nothing is a more natural extension of social interaction than adding payments to the mix. Payments and commerce are by their very nature social transactions.  From the user perspective, Facebook moving into payments is an easy to comprehend progression, and the social graph can easily add relevant reputation to boost the feeling of trust.

Where is Facebook aiming to be and where can it fit? While currently it is clear that the company is aiming at social games—a high margin industry it understands and could use as a classroom to learn about payments—it can go way beyond that. As I noted above, Paypal has a merchant graduation issue that is clear from its fee structure; when you grow beyond a certain point, a merchant account is better than a Paypal account if only for the costs, even given the need to manage risk management yourself.

While Facebook may not be able to solve the cost problem that’s limiting Paypal, it can provide large merchants with a different incentive—a huge, diverse, captured audience—which translates into conversion heaven. With its growing experience in ad targeting and more users moving to Facebook messages, Facebook can create unique marketing opportunities for merchants that integrate Connect.  Payments are the next logical step—all through one simple integration. Getting those merchants on board and using Facebook Credits as a universal form of payment will drive enough users to attach cards and bank accounts to their Facebook account.  That could pose a huge threat to Paypal, and strongly limit its opportunity.

Square: Going For The Mobile Wallet

Square comes to mind as a good example of the second type of player, however its case requires some explaining. Square seems to be a consumer-mobile-focused payment system for offline payments using cards, kind of a well-designed poor man’s POS (point of sale system). But look deeper: what I find super interesting is not the payments small sellers and retailers are receiving through credit cards. This is a necessary evil. What’s interesting to me is what these users then do with this money they have in Square’s system—currently deposited to their bank accounts, but which can potentially stay with Square and be used as a low cost funding source.

It’s a little farfetched, but Square may be onto a very creative way to tap into payrolls—effectively becoming the one real mobile wallet—by meeting the money spent by consumers at the point of sale and providing better ways to spend it directly from your Square account. The result will be an ecosystem which you enter with a credit card payment, but then never use that card again.

If everyone has a mobile phone with a Square app, wide payment acceptance is just one tap (or bump) away, and with fees more befitting cash than cards. This direction can also explain why removing the fixed portion from their card fees makes sense—a loss leader used to pump huge amounts of cash from small retailers into their Square balances. This is the power of going after payroll. From the financial perspective, if Square keeps its current fee structure, it remains competitive with merchant accounts for anything under $15-20 (see Feefighters’ handy calculator here) and with Paypal on even larger average transaction sizes (anything under $35, even for Paypal’s most competitive fees).

While Square needs to drive down costs further to become more interesting for the larger retailers, it’s definitely compelling for exactly the population that might then spend money directly from its Square balance and build its wide user base, namely the small retailers and occasional sellers. To those people, Square is also offering a quick way to accept credit payments that may not have been paid otherwise and a superior user experience, both strong drivers for adoption that can be more important than fees in the short term.

Photo credit: Flickr/Aaron Nace

Source: Paypal Is About To Get A Bruising From Facebook And Square

Sequoia Invests $8 Million In Messaging App Maker WhatsApp: Sources

April 8th, 2011 04:04 admin View Comments

Messaging apps that let you use your smartphone to text or chat with your friends or even large groups of people, often free of charge, are red hot. We’ve heard from a reliable source that one of the companies making waves in the space, WhatsApp, has just secured $8 million in financing from Sequoia Capital, and possibly other investors.

WhatsApp enables users of iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Nokia Symbian60 devices to exchange text messages, images, audio and even video messages with one another.

I have no idea how many users or downloads WhatsApp has attracted to date, as the company prefers to keep a low profile, but I’ve heard the name of the app drop in several conversations I’ve had the mobile messaging space.

I was actually quite surprise to find that they weren’t funded yet, especially with the track record of their co-founders, who established the company back in 2009.

WhatsApp was founded by Jan Koum, who formerly managed the Platform Operations team responsible for the critical internal pieces of Yahoo’s infrastructure, and Yahoo’s former VP of Engineering Brian Acton.

Another former Yahoo exec, the company’s ex-Senior Engineering Manager Charles K. describes himself as an investor and advisor to the company on LinkedIn.

Some signs that the app has already gotten some traction on the market: its iPhone apps has received 28,040 ratings and hundreds of reviews on iTunes, while its Blackberry app has garnered 4,050 reviews.

Sequoia recently participated in a $10 million round of funding for Bubble Motion, which offers a popular a Twitter-like voice blogging service in India, Japan, and Indonesia, and has also invested in mobile communications company Clickatell.

Other developers of similar mobile messaging apps have received funding in the past: Kik Interactive raised $8 million from RRE Ventures, Spark Capital, and Union Square Ventures, while GroupMe secured over $11 million in funding from investors like Khosla Ventures, First Round Capital, Betaworks and SV Angel.

Other contenders include Fast Society, which has raised $275,000 in seed financing from ENIAC Ventures and Quest Venture Partners, and GroupFlier, which has secured $500,000 in seed funding from Novak Biddle Venture Partners.

Last month, another group messaging service named Beluga was acquired by Facebook.

And let’s not forget Google has a group texting app as well, called Disco.

In other words, this space is heating up fast, and investors are keen to ride the wave. I haven’t yet confirmed the Sequoia financing deal with WhatsApp, I should note, as I’ve been unable to reach them all day, although our sources say the deal is done and has already been communicated to WhatsApp employees.

We’ll update if and when we get confirmation.

Source: Sequoia Invests $8 Million In Messaging App Maker WhatsApp: Sources

Drug-Resistance Gene Hopping Between Superbug Strains in New Delhi Water

April 8th, 2011 04:45 admin View Comments

What’s the News: A gene that makes bacteria resistant to up to 14 antibiotics has been discovered in bacteria in drinking water and street puddles in the Indian capital of New Delhi by a research team from the University of Cardiff in Wales. Scientists were already aware that microbes bearing this gene, which produces an enzyme called NDM-1, were infecting people in India, but it had been thought that such bacteria were mainly picked up in hospitals. This study shows that the gene, which is capable of jumping from species to species, is loose in the environment.

What’s the Context:

  • NDM-1 is in a class of enzymes that are known culprits in the spread of drug-resistance: the beta-lactamases. The first beta-lactamase, penicillinase, was discovered in 1940 ($, pdf). These enzymes give resistance to antibiotics like cephamycins, carbapenems, and penicillin, which have similar chemical structures.
  • The study is fueling fears that the NDM-1 gene could easily jump into bacteria around the world. Recently, a separate team of scientists showed that Swedish tourists returning from India had bacteria with beta-lactamases in their guts that they hadn’t had before the trip. And as the current study found that the gene for NDM-1 skipped easily among bacterial species, the researchers are calling for greater action to fight drug-resistant bacteria in developing countries.
  • Indian officials have spoken out against the study, in part over fears that it will damage India’s tourism industry. In an AP article, V.M. Katoch, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said, “We know that such bacteria with genes are in the atmosphere everywhere. This is a waste of time. The study is creating a scare that India is a dangerous country to visit. We are condemning it.”
  • This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of NDM-1: the gene has been on scientists’ radar since 2008, when it was first identified in a Swedish tourist returning from India. (For more background on the gene, see Scientific American’s coverage.)

Not So Fast:

  • The term “superbug†has been racing from media outlet to media outlet. But this is a bit of a misnomer: this isn’t a single new bacteria species endowed with phenomenal resistance, it’s a gene that can bestow it.
  • The difference is important. Dealing with a gene that can make any number of disease-causing bacteria resistant may be more difficult than focusing on just one species of bug—especially as the team found the gene in 20 types of bacteria, including those that cause dysentery and cholera. But the study’s findings suggest that the gene is much more likely to jump to new bacteria while outside the host (at temperatures typical of India’s climate, transfers were high; at body temperature, they dropped off). It would be interesting to see whether the fact that the gene needs lower temperatures to transfer could used to prevent its spread: if the transfer happens in drinking water, then better water treatment might help delay the formation of new resistant strains.

Reference: Toleman, M. et al. Dissemination of NDM-1 positive bacteria in the New Delhi environment and its implications for human health: an environmental point prevalence study. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Early Online Publication, 7 April 2011. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(11)70059-7

Source: Drug-Resistance Gene Hopping Between Superbug Strains in New Delhi Water