June 24, 2021

Berlin’s Tech Scene Offers Hope to Economy

BERLIN — The courtyard of the nightclub Picknick was packed with partygoers dancing, shouting over the music and snapping photographs of one another, by all appearances just another night in this dilettante party capital. But appearances, on this recent Saturday night, were very much deceiving.

The images snapped with iPhones and Android smartphones were projected in a constantly changing slideshow on the side of the neighboring building by a new photo-sharing application called EyeEm. The plastic foam clouds dangling from the wires crisscrossing overhead were the logos for the popular audio-sharing service called SoundCloud, which has roughly seven million users.

Both companies, co-hosts of the event, are part of Berlin’s rapidly growing Internet start-up scene, which has won the attention of investors in Britain and California, including the high-profile actor-investor Ashton Kutcher, who is a backer of SoundCloud.

“I kind of get the feeling that the whole city of Berlin is a start-up,” said Alexander Ljung, chief executive and one of the founders of SoundCloud. “It’s fast-moving, chaotic. You don’t really know where it’s headed, but you know it’s headed in a good direction, and that’s a start-up feel.”

Mr. Ljung and his co-founder and chief technology officer, Eric Wahlforss, met in the computer labs at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. But the two Swedes decided to move to Berlin to start their company, which now employs nearly 70 people there.

Berliners will vote Sunday to elect the city-state’s next Parliament and, in the process, on the future of Klaus Wowereit, the city’s long-serving, popular mayor. Polls suggest he will win re-election, but his ambitions for federal office — he has even had his name bandied about in the media as a potential candidate for German chancellor, following in the footsteps of a former West Berlin mayor, Willy Brandt — will be affected by the future of the city he has governed since 2001.

With the vote nearing, a national debate over the fate of the reunified capital has broken out in the German news media, over the pub-crawl tourism that residents say is ruining the downtown, over fast-rising rents and even the burning of automobiles that have been rampant this year. The city’s heavy debt burden and reliance on money from richer states like Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg were the subject of a cover story in the weekly news magazine Focus.

It was Mr. Wowereit who coined the famous catchphrase of Berlin as “poor, but sexy,” that has stuck to the city, which has an unemployment rate of 13.3 percent, the highest of any state in Germany and well above the national average of 7 percent. He chose to aggressively market the city as a creative capital, emphasizing fashion, art and music, hoping that the magnetic effect of the city’s popularity with tourists would rub off on the economy.

Peter Englisch, a partner with Ernst Young in Germany responsible for midsize companies, said that Berlin had done a good job of marketing itself, but not as good a job nurturing the companies it attracted. “A lot of other cities have start-up support, welcome packages,” Mr. Englisch said. “It’s an inspiring environment, but the second step, turning potential into growth, is where I’m pretty sure Wowereit isn’t doing enough.”

Berlin has been a creative hub and a destination for young expatriates from other places for years. But its hipness never translated into badly needed jobs for a metropolis that could not recover an industrial prowess that was wrecked by war and division. Now the developing Internet start-up community is offering a tantalizing glimpse of a possible economic future for a city that for years appeared to have none.

“With Depression, war, fascism, the wall and the mass migration of talent out of Berlin, it’s quite clear that the city was set back by historical circumstances,” said Richard Florida, professor of business and creativity at the University of Toronto, whose research has drawn a link between bohemians and economic growth. “Looking at the experience of other cities that remade themselves, like Pittsburgh, shifting to an open technology-savvy creative economy takes at minimum a generation.”

One of the guests jostled by the crush of people at the party at Picknick was Florian Weber, a German who was one of the original engineers at Twitter and now one of the founders of a new site called Amen. “When I moved to Berlin four or five years ago it was a very different time. You rarely saw start-ups. Now, in the last one or two years you see people really doing innovative things,” Mr. Weber said.

It was perhaps inevitable that the start-up scene, concentrated around Rosenthaler Platz in the central Mitte district, would earn the moniker “Silicon Allee,” after the much-imitated Silicon Valley and the German word for avenue. The question is whether the city can live up to the hype.

“In the next two years we will have a multibillion-euro company here in Berlin,” said Christian Reber, 25, the chief executive and one of the founders of the company 6Wunderkinder. Mr. Reber, who, unlike many of the foreigners, hails from the nearby city of Brandenburg, is a vocal booster of the tech community and an equally harsh critic of the clones of American and other foreign Web sites that Germany had been known for until recently.

“I was at a conference and a guy said Germans are perfect executors, but too uncreative to create technology,” Mr. Reber said.

“I grew up learning we were the land of ‘Dichter und Denker,’ ” he said, using the German for poets and thinkers. “I hate copycats. I hate stealing ideas.”

In the brick-and-mortar world, the center of the scene is St. Oberholz, a cafe at the busy intersection of Rosenthaler Strasse and Torstrasse, home to the monthly mixer known as the Silicon Allee meet-up. The advantages that made it so popular with the tech people that it was one of SoundCloud’s unofficial first offices are not apparent at first sight: extra power outlets, unlimited free Internet and a welcoming attitude for people who want to set up shop and do their work there.

On an average afternoon the cafe could almost be mistaken for an Apple store, with all the Mac laptops open on the tables. Ansgar Oberholz, the cafe’s owner, said the development had come in spite of the city government, not because of it. “They don’t grasp it structurally and when they do, they do it wrong,” Mr. Oberholz said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/world/europe/berlins-tech-scene-offers-hope-to-economy.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks: New Site to Buy and Sell Remodeling Supplies

You know they’re out there, in your garage: Boxes of tiles, left over from that bathroom remodeling project; old doors; maybe even an odd chandelier that doesn’t fit your current décor. You keep thinking you’ll have a yard sale and get rid of all that stuff but never get around to it.

Sound familiar?

It does to Matt Knox, co-founder and chief executive of DiggersList, a Web site that aims to provide an online marketplace for leftover remodeling and construction materials, as well as consumer items, that are looking for a new home. The Los Angeles-based company started the site in late 2009, primarily as a site for contractors, but it serves lots of do-it-yourselfers, too. It’s most active in major metropolitan areas.

A key attraction is the site’s relationship with The ReStore, the Habitat for Humanity affiliate that sells used and surplus construction and home-improvement materials. If you post something on Diggerslist and it doesn’t sell, you can opt to donate it — and a ReStore representative will pick it up so that ReStore can try to sell it.

About 250 of the roughly 700 ReStores have a presence on DiggersList, Mr. Knox said. The site recently enhanced its offerings by creating storefronts for the ReStores, so people can see what’s available at their local outlet. A new feature, he said, will allow users who “follow” a particular ReStore electronically (similar to following an account on Twitter) to monitor deals they are interested in and receive coupons from the store.

A good part of the site’s traffic, though, is consumer-to-consumer sales. Mr. Knox says. For example, he wants to build a patio in his backyard and just bought a load of bricks from a seller in a neighboring community. It’s local, so “I’ll drive over to get them,” he says. But some items are small enough to ship and can be purchased even if users are located outside the market where it’s for sale.

Offerings include reclaimed barn boards, stainless steel bar sinks and an impressive variety of commodes.

Users can register on the site free and post their items free; eventually, premium offerings may be added for a fee.

Have you tried DiggersList? Let us know what you found.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7f7e920e8acaf8a410a5a487fc129e70

Bucks: VillageVines: Dining Discount Site Tries a New Name

The former VillageVines dining site is betting on a new name and expanded scope to enhance the popularity of its Hotels.com model of restaurant reservations.

The site has changed its name to Savored and added five new markets. It is also offering Zagat rankings for the site’s participating restaurants and reviews from Travel Leisure and New York Magazine.

Unlike other restaurant sites, users pay $10 per booking to make a reservation on Savored.  Then, when patrons dine at the restaurant, they receive a 30 percent discount off their bill — food and alcohol combined. (Savored keeps the fee; if the discount it arranges doesn’t at least save you the fee, the company refunds it).

Users make the reservation and then show up; they don’t need to bring a coupon, although the site does suggest that patrons “remind” the host or hostess that they reserved through Savored, to get their automatic deduction at checkout.

“If a hotel has an empty room, they put it on Hotels.com at a lower price,” said the site co-founder, Ben McKean. “If a restaurant has an empty table, they put it on our Web site and offer 30 percent off.”

The site already offered tables in major culinary destinations like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington. It is now adding Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Denver. The site’s list includes more than 500 restaurants. (In Boston, the site offers a 40 percent discount on food only, because state law prohibits giving discounts on alcohol.)

In New York, the site includes restaurants like the Capital Grille, Jean Georges, Le Cirque and Aquavit (which offers a 25 percent discount), Little Giant and Dinosaur BBQ.

Many restaurants, especially those serving expense-account diners, don’t like to participate in coupon-type plans, Mr. McKean says, so the discreet automatic deduction Savored uses is attractive to them. Although the discount the restaurant must offer is hefty, it is far less than the 50 to 75 percent some businesses end up giving on daily deal sites that have become popular, so it’s a more attractive proposition for the restaurants. “These are still very profitable diners,” he says.

The tradeoff with Savored is that, because restaurants are looking to fill tables on slow nights and times, there might not be any reservations available at your top choice on the night you want to go out.

A check on Monday morning showed that Kittichai, a Thai restaurant in New York’s Soho neighborhood, had tables available early in the week. The Capital Grille caters to the Financial District crowd, so it offers tables only on Friday and Saturday nights, when Wall Street types are elsewhere. Little Giant shows tables available only on Sunday and Monday nights. And just two midweek nights were listed as available at Dinosaur BBQ in July.

There’s always the possibility of a cancellation, though, right? And speaking of cancellations, if something comes up and you can’t make your reservation, you must cancel at least two hours ahead to get a refund of your $10 fee.

Have you tried to book a table on Savored/VillageVines? Did you get the restaurant you wanted?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fd4a8aa88010cb835d75f69560b33205

Bits: Google’s Chrome Laptops on Sale in June

Selling Chromebooks is Google’s biggest push yet into taking on Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems.Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg NewsSelling Chromebooks is Google’s biggest push yet into taking on Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems.

Google’s long-awaited Chromebooks, laptops running the Chrome operating system that stores everything online, will go on sale in June, Google said at its I/O developers conference Wednesday.

The laptops, made by Acer and Samsung, will start at $349 at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com. The computers, along with the software and technical support, will also be available to rent for schools and businesses, for $20 a month a student or $28 a month for each employee.

The Chrome operating system does away with desktop software and storing data on a computer. Instead, it is not much more than a browser, and all of a computer user’s information, like documents, photos and e-mail messages, is stored on the Internet, or in the cloud. The idea, if the Chrome operating system becomes mainstream, is that anyone could walk up to an Internet-connected computer anywhere and access their information.

“We’re venturing into a really new model of computing that I don’t think was possible previously, even a few years ago,” said Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, in a conversation with reporters. “I think it’s just a much easier way to compute.”

But in a world where most computer users are accustomed to using desktop software like Apple’s iPhoto or Microsoft Word, and storing data like photos and documents on a computer’s hard drive, it might be hard to convince them to adopt a very different model of computing.

That is one reason Google is going the route of businesses and schools. If students get used to a Web-based operating system, they might request it in their office later on, and if people use it at work, they might decide to buy one for their homes.

Selling Chromebooks is Google’s biggest push yet into taking on Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems. Half of businesses are still running the 2001 version of Windows XP, said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Chrome. Google automatically updates the Chrome operating system over the Internet.

“It’s software and hardware as a service,” Mr. Pichai said.

Google is also competing in the software business, because instead of using the desktop version of Microsoft Word, as most people do in offices and schools, Chrome users would use Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365, both of which are Web-based. They would also use other Web-based products instead of the desktop software versions, like Gmail for e-mail and Picasa for photos.

Google introduced the Chrome operating system in 2009 and showed an example of a laptop in December, but this is the first time the laptops will be widely available.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4d0dcbc21a5f03054628dc02121a7519

Abrupt Turn as Facebook Battles Suit

Before the cinematic Winklevoss twins battled with Mark Zuckerberg over the origins of Facebook, and before the company’s co-founder Eduardo Saverin became estranged from his friend Mr. Zuckerberg, there was Paul Ceglia.

In one of the strangest tales to hit Silicon Valley in years, Mr. Ceglia, a wood-pellet salesman from upstate New York, last year filed suit saying that a 2003 work-for-hire contract between him and Mr. Zuckerberg, then 18, entitled him to an 84 percent stake in Facebook.  

Mr. Ceglia’s own history did nothing to lend credibility to his improbable claim. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Texas, and last year, he was arrested, charged with fraud and had his business shut down by Andrew Cuomo, then the New York State attorney general. 

But the skepticism and scorn initially heaped on Mr. Ceglia’s claims turned to astonishment last week when he added some ammunition to his case. Mr. Ceglia filed an amended complaint in federal court in New York written by lawyers from DLA Piper, a law firm with offices around the world. It includes excerpts from e-mails purportedly exchanged between him and Mr. Zuckerberg and that, if authentic, could become a major headache for Facebook.

So far, neither Mr. Ceglia nor his lawyers have produced originals of the e-mails or the contract. Facebook says the e-mails were fabricated, and that although there was a 2003 contract, it was doctored. The company has called the lawsuit a fraud.

“This man is a convicted felon with a history of fraud charges,” said Orin Snyder, a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, which is representing Facebook. “His revised complaint is simply his latest scam — supported by a doctored contract and fake e-mails.” 

Still, the details laid out in the new complaint, as well as Mr. Ceglia’s new legal team, which also includes a former attorney general of New York, are giving skeptics pause.

“It is a little harder to dismiss him out of hand,” said Scott C. Dettmer, a longtime Silicon Valley lawyer who has advised start-ups and founders for decades.  Even so, Facebook watchers point to a series of inconsistencies and unanswered questions in the case. For one, the 2003 contract was signed about a year before Facebook was created, and most historical accounts of the company say Mr. Zuckerberg had not yet conceived the social networking site at that time.

Skeptics have also asked why Mr. Ceglia waited so long to come forward with his claims. Mr. Ceglia , through his lawyers, declined to be interviewed for this article and he did not respond to a Facebook message asking for comment. But last year, he told Bloomberg News that he had simply forgotten about the contract with Mr. Zuckerberg. The explanation did not satisfy most skeptics, given that well before last year, Facebook was worth billions, and had become ensconced in popular culture. Also, some of the other disputes over its origins had been well publicized by that time.

 When asked by The New York Times to produce the original documents backing up Mr. Ceglia’s complaint, Robert W. Brownlie, a partner at DLA Piper, declined.   “That will come out during the course of litigation,” Mr. Brownlie said. “Anyone who claims this case is fraudulent and brought by a scam artist will come to regret those claims.”  

Mr. Ceglia’s new legal team includes Dennis C. Vacco, a former New York attorney general now in private practice in Buffalo, who did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. Brownlie said he was skeptical about Mr. Ceglia’s claims initially, but performed due diligence to ensure the documents were authentic. He said that he had not seen the originals himself, but that others on the team had and that he was confident of their authenticity.

If Mr. Ceglia’s tale is real, it would be a significant rewriting of Facebook’s early history, as documented in one movie, two books and scores of newspaper and magazine articles.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=db8b2a8c942cc2e8557e0d07a18a0ae6