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At the end of last year, Google introduced a new
design for some local search results on tablets that
put a carousel with the top results at the top of the
page. Today, it’s bringing this design to the desktop,
too. This new feature can be triggered by searches for
restaurants, bars and other local places, Google says, and it’s currently rolling out in English in the
U.S. and should roll out for other languages in the
future. A typical search to see this feature would be
something like “Mexican restaurants in nyc.” Google
will then put the carousel at the top of the page,
including a photo, the standard Zagat ratings, price
class and cuisine. A click on these places will bring
up their Google+ Local sites with more information. Users can click on an arrow in the right to see more
places and they can use the map in the sidebar to
zoom in and the carousel will automatically restrict
your searches to this specific area. Google, of course, also uses a similar design for
some of its Knowledge Graph results. As a number of
bloggers noticed recently, these Knowledge Graph
carousel results seem to be popping up more
frequently now than ever before. Given today’s
addition of the local search carousel, chances are that Google’s stats show that this is a very effective
way of presenting search results. I wouldn’t be
surprised if the company continued to expand its use
of this design element for other kinds of queries in the
near future.

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Stealing a page right out of a startup called
Aggregift’s playbook, Amazon today launched a new
feature called “Amazon Birthday Gift,” which allows a
group of Facebook friends to go in on an
Amazon.com Gift Card together. That gift isn’t posted
to the recipients’ Facebook Timeline until their big day arrives. To get started with the service, a user buys an
Amazon.com gift card, then invites other mutual
friends to donate using the Birthday Gift website here.
When the birthday arrives, the recipient is tagged in a
Facebook Timeline wall post, receiving the digital
card and everyone’s birthday greetings. The new addition is a further expansion of Amazon’s
deepening integration with Facebook, as the company
last December launched a “Friends and Family
Gifting” feature just ahead of the holidays to
generate Facebook-enabled gift suggestions, send
out reminders, and enable gift list sharing via both email and social networks. Online competitor
Walmart, too, had previously launched a similar
Facebook-based gift recommendation service in
2011, which was added to the Walmart.com site
ahead of the 2012 holiday season. Social gifting is still very much in the experimental
phase, despite the support from e-commerce giants
like Walmart, Amazon and others. For instance,
Facebook has also dabbled in this area with the fall
2012 debut of Facebook Gifts (built on top of former
social gifting startup Karma). The service is meant to tie into one of Facebook’s most regular draws — its
birthday reminders. The idea is that users could visit
the site, and in addition to wishing their friend “happy
birthday,” they could also add a gift to accompany
that message. The social network offers gifts like
iTunes digital Gift Cards and physical goods, and it even launched its own self-branded “Facebook
Card” earlier this year. However, even with Facebook’s broad reach, its Gifts
service has been struggling to generate serious
revenue, and certainly falling short of earlier
projections and estimations regarding its potential.
Meanwhile, some startups like Sincerely (with
Sesame) and recently funded Wrapp, carry on in this space, while others head off in new directions. Giftly,
for instance, exited to GiftCards.com this March,
while Boomerang has turned its focus to the B2B
market instead in recent months. That being said, Amazon still has a shot at winning
the social gifting space with its new Amazon Birthday
Gift feature, since it can be argued that users don’t
associate Facebook’s brand with spending or
shopping the way they do with Amazon. (See also:
various f-commerce struggles). Plus, Amazon’s cards are the go-to for the “generic” gift option, which people
buy when they don’t know what to get, or when they
need something last minute. However, the new service is still limited today to
smaller gift amounts ($1, $5, $10 and $25), which can
be a challenge for those attempting to raise funds for
a larger present like an electronics purchase. Plus,
being tied only to birthdays eliminates the big holiday,
graduation or wedding presents users may want to go in on together. Often these larger presents are led by
a close family member or friend who puts in a big
chunk of change, to which others pile on. Not
supporting these other types of gifting narrows the
already potentially narrow market for digital, social
gifting even further. Amazon Birthday Gift is live now here for interested
users.

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The world of alternative browsers is littered with also-
rans like Rockmelt, but there are also companies that
have managed to make a name for themselves in the
shadow of Microsoft, Mozilla and Google. One
example of this is Maxthon, but another browser
that’s quietly gaining a following is Torch, which the company tells us just passed 10 million monthly
active users on Mac and Windows after about year on
the market. Torch just launched the latest version of its
Chromium-based browser, which now includes a
download accelerator and a large update to the Torch
Music service, which uses YouTube and Vevo as the
basis of its music catalog. Torch Music now offers
customized recommendations based on your listening history, location and your Facebook friends’ tastes.
Currently, the service has about 5 million songs in its
database. While Torch previously included a version of this
service, it has now integrated this service deeper into
its user interface with the help of a widget that allows
you to search, pause and skip songs. Torch now also features a built-in download
accelerator. While download accelerators were very
popular in the early days of (slow) broadband, today’s
fast and stable connections have mostly pushed
them aside, and the vast majority of Internet users
probably doesn’t even remember them. There are some advantages to using a download accelerator,
however, especially if you are on a slow or unreliable
connection. The browser also features a built-in BitTorrent client
and a media grabber for downloading embedded video
files. It also features a smart drag-and-drop-activated
search and sharing tool that pops up large boxes for
sharing links to services like Facebook, Google+,
Twitter and Pinterest and for initiating searches on Google Search, Wikipedia and other services. Torch Browser only launched on the Mac about a
month ago, so most of its users are currently on
Windows, the company tells us. If you’re currently a
Chrome user and interested in the browser’s features,
switching is about as easy as it gets, as Torch just
imports all your bookmarks. As it’s based on Chromium, all of the usual Chrome extensions and
apps should also work, though Torch seems to be
about a generation behind Google’s own release
cycle.

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The mobile wave has been cresting for several years
now, so when a decade-old web company is only now
debuting its first ever native mobile app, it’s a little
late to the game. The folks at TheLadders, which is
launching its first iOS app this morning, understand
that — but they are angling to make their “mobile last” strategy work in their favor in the long run. It is indeed a beautiful app, and you can see it
demonstrated by TheLadders’ co-founder and CEO
Alex Douzet in the video embedded above. First, though, a little bit of a background on
TheLadders. The company was founded in New York
City ten years ago in the summer of 2003 with the
initial aim of being a job search site for professionals
earning $100,000 and above. The company enjoyed
solid growth in those early years, at one time having more than 300 employees serving an international
market. But TheLadders hit a few stumbling blocks amid a
more competitive job search landscape, and has
since expanded its purview beyond the six-figure
salary market while cutting staff and axing its
international businesses. And in the past 18 months,
TheLadders, which had thus far been focused completely on the traditional web, has decided to shift
much of its energy into rebuilding itself as a force on
mobile devices. The journey of TheLadders has been a varied one,
and if anything it’s a testament to the benefits of how
keeping some power and autonomy as a business
allows you to be more flexible to change course.
TheLadders is currently profitable, and has taken on
only one round of venture capital funding, a $7.25 million series A back in 2004. If the company had
taken on more investors or not focused on
profitability, things might have come to a different end
by now — it’s refreshing in a way to see a company
that’s taken some hits to be still standing independent
and adapting to changes on its own terms. That leads us to today. The new app really re-thinks
the way that people search for jobs in several
interesting ways: There is no option for entering text,
for example, and the “scout” feature that allows you to
see details about who else has applied for the same
position really plays nicely on the smaller screen. Once again, you can see a full demo in the video
embedded above, as well as in a video produced by
the company here. TheLadders is certainly late to the mobile game, but
Douzet says that has allowed it to really observe the
landscape and create an offering that’s truly different.
That argument makes sense, once you see the app.
There is something to be said for getting something
right the first time, rather than coming out of the gate with a mobile app early and then making users wait
through several initial iterations. It’ll be interesting to
see how this strategy ultimately plays out, and what
kind of traction TheLadders is able to pick up in the
crowded mobile space.

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Google just added a new service to Google Cloud
Storage that will allow developers to send their hard
drives to Google to import very large data sets that
would otherwise be too expensive and time-
consuming to import. For a flat fee of $80 per hard
drive, Google will take the drive and upload the data into a Cloud Storage bucket. This, Google says, can
be “faster or less expensive than transferring data
over the Internet.” The service is now in limited
preview for users with a U.S.-based return address. Platforms like AWS and Google’s Cloud Platform are
obviously great for analyzing large data sets. As
Google software engineer Lamia Youseff notes in
today’s announcement, however, “transferring large
data sets (in the hundreds of terabytes and beyond)
can be expensive and time-consuming over the public network.” Uploading 5 terabytes of data over a
100Mbps line could easily take a day or two and most
developers may not even have these kinds of
connections. Amazon, it’s worth noting, already offers a very
similar service. It, too, charges $80 per hard drive,
but in typical Amazon fashion, the company also
charges a per-hour fee for importing the data.
Importing a 5 terabyte hard drive to S3, Amazon
calculates, will cost an additional $45 for an eSATA drive, which makes Google’s flat-fee service
significantly cheaper. While Amazon also allows you
to export your data using a hard disk, though, Google
doesn’t currently offer this service.