How Raya’s $8/month dating app turned exclusivity into trust

The swipe is where the similarity ends. Raya is less like Tinder and more like a secret society. You need a member’s recommendations or a lot of friends inside to join, and you have to apply with an essay question. It costs a flat $7.99 for everyone, women and celebrities included. You show yourself off with a video slideshow set to music of your choice. And it’s for professional networking as well as dating, with parallel profiles for each.

Launched in March 2015, Raya has purposefully flown under the radar. No interviews. Little info about the founders. Not even a profile on Crunchbase’s startup index. In fact, in late 2016 it quietly acquired video messaging startup Chime, led by early Facebooker Jared Morgenstern, without anyone noticing. He’d become Raya’s first investor a year earlier. But Chime was fizzling out after raising $1.2 million. “I learned that not everyone who leaves read more

Watch ‘Silicon Valley’ actors rip a VR bong in the hacker hostel

HBO’s Silicon Valley is returning to the air with Season 5 debuting on Sunday. To prep fans, HBO released a virtual reality experience where users will be able to explore Erlich Bachman’s hacker hostel and interact with a ton of easter eggs from the show.

HBO showed off some “behind-the-scenes” footage of Richard and Dinesh playing through the experience and it’s all a bit to meta to handle.

You can rip a bong, open up some Fage yogurt, play the piano and pretty much just trash the place. The experience seems to fit in a surprising number of references from the show and generally appears to be a lot more high quality than most of these marketing gags generally are. Like, some studio definitely put a ton of work into this. Additionally, it appears that there’s new content recorded from actors in read more

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston emphasizes user trust on IPO day amid Facebook’s troubles

Dropbox made its public debut today, with the stock soaring nearly 40% on its first day of trading — meaning the company will now be beholden to the same shareholders that sent the company’s valuation well north of $10 billion.

As a file-sharing and collaboration service, Dropbox’s first principle is going to be user trust, CEO Drew Houston told TechCrunch after the company made its debut. This comes amid a tidal wave of information throughout the week indicating that data on 50 million Facebook users ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica several years ago through access gained via an app that was on the Facebook platform. While not a direct breach in the core sense of the word, the leaked data was a considerable breach of trust among Facebook’s users — and as Dropbox looks to crack into the enterprise and also continue to win over consumers, it’ll likely continue to have to increasingly emphasize security and privacy going forward.

“Our business is built on our customers’ read more

Snap reportedly buys its very own 3D game engine

Snapchat’s parent company has bought a web-based 3D game engine startup out of the UK, Business Insider (paywalled) reports.

PlayCanvas is a development tool focused on letting people easily design rich 3D environments. Unlike products from companies like Unity and Epic Games, PlayCanvas’s game engine was entirely browser-based and was optimized to run on low-power devices. The focus of the WebGL engine stretches from configuring 3D models to running entire games.

The small London-based company was founded in 2011 and raised just $590,000 in seed funding from investors including the Microsoft Accelerator and DC Thomson Ventures according to Crunchbase. We don’t know how much the deal went for.

While many of Snap’s recent acquisitions have focused on bolstering consumer-facing features, PlayCanvas seems to be focused squarely on developers. read more

Drew Houston on wooing Dropbox’s IPO investors: ‘We don’t fit neatly into any one mold’

Dropbox went public this morning to great fanfare, with the stock shooting up more than 40% in the initial moments of trading as the enterprise-slash-consumer company looked to convince investors that it could be a viable publicly-traded company.

And for one that Steve Jobs famously called a feature, and not a company, it certainly was an uphill battle to convince the world that it was worth even the $10 billion its last private financing round set. It’s now worth more than that, but that follows a long series of events, including an increased focus on enterprise customers and finding ways to make its business more efficient — like installing their own infrastructure. Dropbox CEO Drew Houston acknowledged a lot of this, as well as the fact that it’s going to continue to face the challenge of ensuring that its users and enterprises will trust Dropbox with some of their most sensitive files.

We spoke with Houston on the day of the IPO to talk a little bit about what it took to get read more

The web will soon be a little safer with the approval of this new security standard

Hear that? It’s almost as if thousands of spooks and hackers suddenly cried out at once… The Internet Engineers Task Force has just unanimously approved a security framework that will make encrypted connections on the web faster and more resistant to snooping.

It’s called Transport Layer Security version 1.3, and while it’s not a big flashy event, it very much is the kind of iterative improvement that keeps the web working in the face of malicious actors everywhere. The IETF is a body of engineers from all over the world who collaborate on standards like this — and their approval of TLS 1.3 has been long in coming, more than four years and 28 drafts.

That’s because the internet is a delicate machine and changes to its fundamental parts — such as how a client and server establish a secure, encrypted connection — must be made very, very carefully.

Without going too deep into the technical details (I’d be lost if I tried), TLS 1.3 makes a few prominent changes that should read more

Watch Alexa rap with Too Many T’s in this interactive music video

Alexa can already sing and rap, but now she’s the star of a new music video by the English rap duo Too Many T’s. The London-based rappers this week released an interactive video that lets Alexa sing along by triggering with voice commands, then pausing while she answers. The result is essentially a duet between Alexa and Too Many T’s that you can listen to at home using your own Alexa device, when played within earshot of your sound system’s speakers or some other source of audio.

In the video below, Too Many T’s explain how the interactive experience works and demo it with an Echo Dot.

If you don’t have an Echo device of your own, this would be the one to watch:

However, if you do have an Echo or some other Alexa-powered speaker, you’ll want to play the “Home” version of the song instead.

This read more

IPOs are back, but for how long?

The first quarter is almost over, and despite Dropbox’s splashy debut on the public market earlier today, it was preceded by just two other U.S. tech companies to IPO in 2018: Cardlytics and Zscaler. 

Will Dropbox turn things around? Will the fact that Spotify is readying its debut get the momentum going at long last?

It all depends on how Dropbox and Spotify perform and how they impact what’s known as the IPO window. When new issuers perform well, it typically swings wide open. When they don’t, well, it gets slammed shut.

At this point, it’s been four years since we had an IPO window big enough for a stream of companies to pass through. In 2013, 50 tech companies went public. In 2014, the number was 62. Things grew chillier after that, with just 31, 26 and 27 companies getting out the window in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Why haven’t things warmed up again, particularly with a stunning 171 venture-backed “unicorns” waiting in the wings?

Some high-profile flops are read more

This MIDI-powered robotic music box is the good news I needed this week

It’s been a bit of a tumultuous week, to put it lightly, but one must always remember that no matter how dire things look on the global stage, there are always makers working obsessively to create something beautiful and useless — like this MIDI-driven, robotic music box.

Tinkerer and music box aficionado Mitxela (via Hackaday) was pleased by this music box that takes punch cards or rolls as input, rather than having a metal drum with the notes sticking out of it. But who wants to punch cards all day to make a music box go? These things are supposed to be simple!

Mitxela first made a script that takes a MIDI file and outputs an image compatible with his laser cutter, allowing cards or paper strips to be created more or less automatically. But then there’s the question of wear and tear, storing the strips, taping them together for long pieces… why not just have the MIDI controller drive the music box directly?

It clearly took some elbow grease, but he managed to create a lovely little read more

House and Senate put Zuckerberg on notice: “You are the right person to testify before Congress”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been rather scarce lately, despite a host of woes besetting his company — but Wednesday he emerged from his cocoon to offer a limp apology, admit they had no control over data like that used by Cambridge Analytica, and that he “will happily” testify before Congress if he’s the right person to do so.

Well, Congress has taken him at his word. “You are the right person to testify before Congress,” wrote the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a letter detailed early this morning. His capacity as CEO and “the employee who has been the leader of Facebook through all the key strategic decisions since its launch” make him the best person to testify.

Earlier this week Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kennedy (R-LA) from the Senate Judiciary Committee specifically asked for Zuckerberg as well.

Senator Kennedy had sharp words (in a CNN interview) for Facebook and other read more