(Updated) Here’s the latest action, catching up for the past two days:Boring shopping Web sites attract interest — There are so many shopping search engines, we’ve given up trying to count. And yet investors remain interested. Santa Monica, Calif.’s ThisNext, a social shopping Web site, has raised a round of venture debt Western Technology. It lets people share and recommend products with friends. This comes after rumors that private equity firm Providence Equity Partners is buying 66 percent of Nextag, the Silicon Valley also-ran shopping search engine, for between $1 and $1.2 billion, which would be huge. GigaOm has the story, but classifies it as a rumor. We requested comment from Nextag chief executive Pernendu Ojha Wednesday afternoon, but no word yet. Nextag is reportedly doing $200 million in revenues, with a lucrative mortgage and other lead generation business going — it buys ads from Google to get business.
Forget instant messaging, get ready for instant thinking — Brown University researchers have developed a way to let a man play simple games by moving a cursor with only his brain, no hands. We’ve read about similar research before; it starting with monkeys. So here comes the future: All work, emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches, will one day be performed by mind control. No way around it. You won’t need that Google chip in the brain, because you’ll be able to control everything, not just Google search. And then there’s the next step — “network-enabled telepathy” — or instant thought transfer. Your thoughts will flow from your brain over the network right into someone else’s brain, according to a DARPA researcher.
EBay moves into radio auctions — EBay will begin allowing radio stations to auction advertising air time on its platform, in cooperation with Bid4Spots Inc. of Encino, Calif. More than 2,300 radio stations are expected to participate. However, we’re not certain why this will work, when its effort in TV didn’t seem to work.
Yahoo prices ads on value of traffic — Yahoo’s Panama charges advertisers more to place ads on sites likely to draw the most valuable traffic, based on the number of people who click on ads and their likelihood of carrying through with an order. See statement here.
Google purchase of PeakStream — See our story here.
The Amp’d whitewashing begins — Amp’d Mobile, the bankrupt mobile network that offers entertainment to youth, no longer has the ridiculously high number of board members cited earlier (20). Jon Auerbach of Highland Capital Partners and Allen Beasley of Redpoint Ventures have resigned, Dan Primack points out. Each has removed mention of the company from their online bios. Highland has gone so far as to remove Amp’d from its online list of portfolio companies. Too bad. We like style of venture firm Bessemer: The firm boldly lists its mistakes.
Microsoft’s search engine skunk works not as reported — Earlier, we cited a report by Techcrunch that Microsoft has launched a stealth search project here in Silicon Valley. However, search expert John Battelle has heard the report is not correct, and says stay tuned.
This Google Street View gets worse — We’ve ragged on the service’s privacy problems already. Now we find out that Google’s cameras took a shot of a guy peeing on the side of the road, and this is still in its maps. Harder to believe is that Google has left it up for a full day after it was discovered by bloggers. See details via Digg. We’ve requested comment from Google. [Update: Kate Hurowitz, of Google, responded: "...we respect the fact that people may not want imagery they feel is objectionable featured on the service. We provide easily accessible tools for flagging inappropriate or sensitive imagery for review and removal." We at VentureBeat didn't see those tools immediately, but we do notice the offending image has now been taken down.]
Michael Volpi has joined Joost – We reported this; it is now official.
Ready for your iPhone? — See the company’s latest ads.
LaLa Media pays for music, and gives it to you for free — Lala is one of the quirkier companies in Silicon Valley. A year ago, we were puzzled when the Palo Alto, Calif. start-up launched as a CD-swapping service. CDs in 2007? We were puzzled again when it pocketed $14.7 million from Bain Capital (a private equity firm with little experience with start-ups) and Ignition, another venture firm. And then we really scratched our head when it bought a radio station, WOXY. What next? Well, as widely reported yesterday, Lala has blitzed the world by offering to serve music for free, directly from its Web site, and it has the agreement from Warner Music Group to do that with Warner’s music assets. Lala and Warner believe this will stimulate sales. If you like the music you listen to, you can buy the album. True to the odd style of this company, chief executive Bill Nguyen has decided he won’t let you buy individual songs — and for no apparent reason. Also, Lala will change pricing, depending on the popularity of the album, what is in your music library already, and other factors — which could create confusion. Lala also said it is working to license music from the other three labels.
Crazier, Lala will pay about $140 million to the labels in order to do this streaming. But unlike other music-subscription services, which charge users a monthly fee, Lala gives you this all for free.
The radical nature it all, and Lala’s ability to hack Apple’s iPod platform, is masterful: Separately, Lala lets you pay to download songs to your iPod for $0.99 cents, and you can do so only with the iPod — no other device. Once you do this, you can’t move the music elsewhere. So it it is a digital rights management (DRM) equivalent. It’s a direct attack on Apple’s iTunes, and ignores other devices too. It counts on people discovering the service through its web site. What’s more, Lala is getting its investors to pay for it. It said it is raising some $40 million to pay for expected short-term losses (there’s so much capital floating around, Lala may actually find a VC to fund this).
Finally, its program will scan your desktop for digital tracks — everything from iTunes downloads, ripped CDs, etc — and then keeps it all for you in an account online so you can access it from anywhere. It then lets you download that to your iPod too. And you won’t be able to use iTunes again unless you reconfigure your iPod! To our knowledge, Apple hasn’t responded to this yet. This is such an endearingly outrageous move by Lala that that we find ourselves warming to this company. It’s a very long, desperate shot, but if it works, it could be big.
Ask.com’s new search – The second-tier search engine calls its new search “Ask3D,” but it’s a terrible name, because its not three dimensional. The 3D refers to three columns, a new way of organizing a search engine format. See below for an example of a search on Oakland. On the left is the search bar, and underneath are pointers to ways you can refine your search if you don’t find what you want — something that Google doesn’t have. In the middle column are the results. This is where the 3D search falls short. It is somewhat bewildering: An ad in the middle is barely demarcated (if you squint, you may be able to detect a ever so slight difference in shade). Finally, on the far right, Ask gives you different types of files related to your search: video, images, links to MP3 files, event listings and encyclopedia results from Wikipedia. Videos are provided by Blinkx, but not Google Video, another shortcoming. Finally, no ads on the right. More details here and here.