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Taylor Smears

Introducing Google Wallet

Over the last thousand years we have switched from coins to paper money to plastic cards. We are at the frontier of the next big shift in the system of payments: purely electronic money. Google, makers of the Android, has developed an application that turns your phone into a literal wallet.Google Wallet stores electronic versions of your credit cards that are synced to your phone. By using near-field communication, or NFC, it only requires a simple tap of your phone to pay for products and services at stores. Paying with Google Wallet is simple and fast and is already accepted at hundreds of thousands of merchants across North America. Look out for MasterCard ‘PayPass’ symbols at checkout and simply tap your phone on the reader to pay. Through your credit card provider, the phone will send payment, and at some places will offer loyalty rewards.While the app is currently supported only by Citibank MasterCards and the Sprint Nexus S 4G phone, Google has announced a deal that will soon enable Visa customers to use the app. Expect Discovery and American Express to eventually work with the app as well. If you don’t subscribe to a Citibank MasterCard and are keen on trying out Google Wallet, Google offers a prepaid virtual card and the first $10 you spend is covered by Google. ‘Google Offers’ are discounts on items from local or online businesses. Simply show the cashier your offer at checkout and you can pay and redeem the offer with one tap via NFC. Google Wallet can also store all your loyalty cards for participating merchants. When you tap to pay with the app, Google automatically sends your loyalty account information to the terminal in order to earn rewards for each purchase. At some merchants, Google wallet can even store your… Read More

Startup Central 2: Grockit

The Pitch: Grockit is an online test prep service for students looking to do their best on their SAT, GMAT, ACT, GRE or other test required for college admission.For most, test scores are the key to higher educational colleges and universities. Grockit considers itself different from other online services by being fun and educational, which is never easy to pull off. The startup, founded in 2007, quizzes students based on their progress, allows them to join group study sessions, and even allocates tutors to help students better understand subject matter.The social aspect of Grockit applies social gaming practices like badges and points to test preparation. The startup recently integrated with Facebook, simplifying the process of inviting friends to a group study session.In the past year they have expanded to dozens of tests, and continue to do so. Over a million students from around the world have already used its service.The convenience of Grockit allows students to study any time of the day, from anywhere with Internet/WiFi/3G access. The service also tracks your performance and improvements, then predicts an accurate test score based on these results. They claim their extensive algorithms give personalized feedback to improve users’ weak subject areas, and even suggest specific tutors based on identified limitations.There are also hundreds of hours of content, featuring real professors giving problem-solving and preparation techniques.Initial reviews of the service have been quite positive. Students have often found themselves wanting to go back to the site to get better at certain sections or to achieve a certain level of experience points. Unlocking new levels and achieving a new badge can optionally be integrated with outside social networks. The default settings also allow for everyone to see each other’s points, which encourage healthy competition but can be kept private if the user so… Read More

Startup Central: Wheelz

The Pitch: Wheelz is a college campus service that connects students with vehicles to ones who need them.Golden Ticket: Providing car owners with insurance by using Facebook and university profiles as an identification method.Most college students have thought up a few bare-knuckle ideas to make a few extra bucks. With the new startup “Wheelz,” college kids with cars can make money off their vehicle’s downtime. The company installs a small piece of hardware in the student’s car that allows vehicle-deprived students to rent for an hourly or daily fee.To better the service, car owners decide on the price they wish to charge. They earn 60% of the rental cost, while the remainder goes to Wheelz. The company will also back renters with a $1 million insurance policy once they have passed a proofing.The borrowers must be over the 18, and they can sign up by providing their Facebook account along with their university email address. This ensures only university students will be using the service. They then can reserve cars online or via the iPhone app. Jeff Miller, founder of Wheelz, says, “You can make the reservations and you can go – immediately.”Other startups have also tested the car-sharing market; however, Wheelz differentiates by designing theirs around university communities and by linking it to Facebook. This involves two levels of trust between customer and provider, as less is risked when Facebook and university identities are shared.Wheelz has so far just been rolled out on Stanford’s campus, but is planning on expanding to campuses across North America in 2012.The only question I have is what parents who cover monthly car payments might think of the car being rented out. Perhaps it would be best if they didn’t know.Be sure to check out Wheelz's video and website. Read More

Introducing Facebook Timeline

Change may be a great thing, but Facebook’s overhauls often have too-steep learning curves and meagre apparent benefits. After revamping your friends list, introducing a real-time news ticker and a subscribe button last week, Facebook has unveiled the biggest change to date: Timeline.Timeline is a major shakeup of user profiles; it is a scrapbook of everything you have done on Facebook. This new feature chronologically organizes everything from photos to relationship status changes to check-ins, all in an aesthetically-pleasing layout. The feature also lets users fill in any missing details that predate the social network.  Check out this video to get a glimpse of Timeline. Although the service has not yet rolled out to the public in full, initial reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Preliminary users report a profound initial emotional impact; for those of us that have grown up on Facebook, seeing your social life in a whole new light is quite profound. Some feel the service is intimidating, recounting how many friends you made in a given year, major steps you have taken in your career, even personal achievements and failures.Once the emotional hurdle is cleared, I believe Timeline could explode in popularity. Scrapbooks and timelines have existed for some time now, but the two in combination with Facebook’s remarkable reach and convenience have opened a Pandora’s Box of possibilities. Everyone will be able to relive your life after the fact, as it is documented from cradle to grave, detailing whatever mattered most to you.Timeline may also have the power to radically change the way brands present themselves on Facebook. Thus far no brands have signed on to the service, but some mock-up pages have been created. With larger images and video players, along with more space for promotional features, Timeline has greater capacity for consumer interaction. Facebook… Read More

Full steam ahead for tech sector

The last 12 months have led many analysts have believe that we are experiencing a tech bubble similar to that prior to the 2000 crash. These newfound concerns are based on recent (ridiculous) valuations, unrealistic growth expectations and vague cash flows that today’s tech companies are generating. Social network companies and startups have been especially susceptible to these problems. As markets continue to spiral downwards in response to Eurozone and US debt fears, the tech industry has become increasingly volatile.But if we investigate the tech industry more closely, we find some important differences between today and the dot-com bubble a decade ago. Venture capital was at its peak during Q1 of 2000, at a staggering $27 billion, and although it may seem that today’s startups have had no trouble raising funds, venture investment in Q2 of 2011 barely surpassed $6 billion. This statistic provides some perspective on the recent relative growth of the industry.Furthermore, the most recent IPOs are in accord with the venture investment data. In the three-year period 1998-2000 there were 619 tech IPOs. During the three-year period 2009-2011(Q2) there have only been 84 tech IPOs.Another measure of the growth of “tech dollars” is the NASDAQ 100. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the index had hit a high of 4816; today the index remains near 2500.Recent tech industry expansion owes much to the social network phenomenon, and is nowhere near the level of speculation and capital investment that was seen during the tech bubble of ’00. This provides some hope that tech companies merit their recent valuations.Another recent trend in the industry has been the delay of major IPOs. After LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) and Pandora (NYSE:P) both declared multi-billion-dollar IPOs earlier in the year, we thought the likes of Groupon, Zynga and even Facebook would file by… Read More