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Sequoia invests $1.5 in slideshow start-up RockYou.. & other valley news

Updated twice

rockyou.png
Silicon Valley venture firm Sequoia Capital has led a $1.5 million investment in NetPickle, which operates a photo site called RockYou.com. The site enables you to create photo slideshows and upload them to other Web sites. It is the latest in a string of companies scrambling to be the middleman between you and the most popular sites like MySpace, Xanga.

The deal was first reported by VentureWire (sub required).

It is competing against other photo slide companies like Filmloop, Bubbleshare and Slide. On the middleman side, there are host other sites like Photobucket and Zooomr trying to let you transport your photos to other sites.

The trick, now that the virgin territory of this Web 2.0 photo industry is shriveling as quickly as the glittering shocks of Sacramento gold back in 1849, is to give you really easy tools to use. At at least RockYou makes it dead simple. See below for some of the tools it offers (click to enlarge)

Sequoia invested in the hot video sharing company, YouTube. This then looks like Sequoia's bet on the photo side. Sequoia Partner Greg McAdoo worked on the deal, and so it is not only Roelof Botha (see our Q&A) who is investing in Web 2.0 for Sequoia. Lightspeed Venture Partners contributed to the round, according to the piece.

The company is based in East Palo Alto and has four employees, including the two founders.

(Caution update: There are some racial slurs and hate mongering on this site -- just as there is on others. RockYou's homepage featured a slideshow that used the "n" word in its caption, and we breezed by it this morning, assuming it was an exception. But a reader came across several others, including this one.

Update II: Chief exec Jia Shen told us the slideshow we linked to above had been defaced by a third party. Shen did not elaborate, saying only he'd plugged a security hole and has taken down the offending slideshow. He has dedicated one employee to monitoring slideshows, and takes it seriously, he said.

Shen also noted that the YouTube analogy is pertinent. While YouTube is an embeddable video widget, RockYou offers an embeddable photo widget. The point is to offer users the same simple, non-download technology that made YouTube so popular. He said that Slide, a competitor, started with an installed version, but switched to something similar to RockYou a couple of months after RockYou emerged in November.]

The move comes on the heels of serious maneuvering by other companies. Photo sharing leader Photobucket, of Palo Alto, last week announced the Jwidget, a tool that enables any Web site to provide free image and video hosting for its users. It lets consumers say on a third-party site and upload their content without have to toggle to their Photobucket account.

And then there was flap last week between Zooomr, the company launched by 17-year-old founder Kristopher Tate, and Flickr, over whether Zooomr had the right to access Flickr's accounts (via the API) to allow easier transfers of Flickr photos to other sites. Flickr at first refused, but apparently has had a change of heart.

Other Silicon Valley news:

Yahoo, what is the matter with you? -- The group "Reporters Without Borders" has done a study of search engine censorship in China, and found that Yahoo implements more censorship than even Baidu, the homegrown search engine. We aren't sure how rigorous the survey was, but this piece gives you a good idea of how it was conducted. Unlike on the Chinese versions of Google or MSN...

...requests [on Yahoo] using certain terms, such as 6-4 (4 June, date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), or "Tibet independence", temporarily blocked the search tool. If you type in one of these terms on the search tool, first you receive an error message. If you then go back to make a new request, even with a neutral key word, yahoo.cn refuses to respond. It takes one hour before the service can be used again. This method is not used by any other foreign search tools.

Silicon Valley company may soon be first to try embryonic stem cell treatment on a person -- Geron in Menlo Park may soon put a spinal repair treatment to trial, according to New Scientist.

BabyStyle, back at the trough after soaking up $120M -- BabyStyle, a maternity retailer of Los Angeles, has raised $6 million more from exisiting investors Oak Investment and Global Retail Partners. It has burned through a lot of cash in recent years, and we're wondering if this is going to make money. Still haven't heard back from Washington state about why it invested in Oak.

How VCs help with recruiting -- Interesting BusinessWeek piece here about the impressive efforts by venture capital firm Highland Capital Partners to help the companies it backs find employees. HCP built a special web site listing job openings, and then struck deals with sites like SimplyHired to market the openings, and even bought up ads in search results via Google's AdWords. It is rare that a venture firm will go that far in helping out their companies. Exemplary. Coremetrics, a San Mateo web analytics company, said HCP's job site, called Highland CareerNet, is a reason why Coremetrics chose to take money from HCPs in its latest round.

Scoble the lightening rod -- Robert Scoble isn't planning to fall off the radar screen, now that he's left the high-profile gig as Microsoft's blogger. He has criticized his former employer, saying Micrsoft isn't talking enough with the "grassroots," and that's why MSFT stock is falling. Meanwhile, a venture capitalist wonders whether Scoble still owns Scobleizer, since he'd worked on it so much while under Microsoft's pay.

Mobius Venture Capital will not raise another fund -- We knew something was up when Mobius partner Heidi Roizen told us several months ago the Silicon Valley venture capital firm was not raising another fund and was instead focusing on managing its existing investments. She said the strategy was unusual, but that it didn't mean the firm was winding down for good. Well, we've since heard whispers from various sources that the firm is winding down. And now PE Week has a story, saying more definitively that the firm won't raise another fund, citing partner Brad Feld as its source. We've emailed Brad to confirm this, and to find out what his plans are. Despite raising a $1.45 billion fund in 2000, the firm hasn't had any significant exits, according to the PE Week story. And Gary Rieschel, a Mobius founder, and one of the firm's more respected investors, left the firm and moved to Shanghai last year.

Samir Kaul has joined Khosla Ventures -- Kaul has joined Vinod Khosla, the former partner at Kleiner Perkins, at his new venture firm, according to PE Week. No news yet at the Khosla Ventures site, but Kaul hails from Flagship Ventures, of Cambridge, Mass., and will be helping on energy investments. Among other things, Kaul is the founding-CEO of Bay Area-based Newco LS9 (sorry, no web site), a venture formed last year focused on "commercial applications of biological engineering in the alternative fuels and bio-energy fields." It received backing from Khosla.


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Comments

RockYou is a great service, even though the revenue model hasn't been flushed out yet. How long do you think it will be before they place contextual ads that are relevant to the tags or captions of the photos in the slideshow?

We talk about revenue sharing models all the time for ads, given the popularity of Google Adsense, but this is clearly an opportunity where the service model could probably easily place ads WITHOUT sharing any revenue with the person who deploys the widgets. People love to share pictures of their vacation all the time, and slideshow service providers like RockYou clearly provide something of value (cool animations, widgets, captioning, etc.) so that people obviously are deploying these widgets without the expectation of monetary compensation. I'm a fan!

Zenrob on June 23, 2006 8:23 AM
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