Monday, May 23, 2011

TechCrunch Disrupt: Arianna Huffington Loves MapQuest

114468652AP026_TechCrunch_D by TechCrunch
114468652AP026_TechCrunch_D, a photo by TechCrunch on Flickr.

Catching up with some news from TechCrunch Disrupt, we find that AOL (do not use the term America Online around AOLers, by the way), Chief Editor and Huffington Post Founder Arianna Huffington was interviewed by TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington this morning, and out of that, came some provocative, if not news-worthy, quips.

Foremost among, them is Arianna's claim that MapQuest is better than Google Maps.

Thankfully, Arriington called her on it, saying "You never used Map Quest." Because if she had, Arianna would know about MapQuest's famous problem of making a route map that takes the user to a different place than they expected to be.

This has happened to me, my Mom, and friends over the years. That's why none of us, especially myself, use MapQuest. And while my Mom's on AOL, and I can't get her off it, she will use Google Maps over MapQuest.

What Arianna should have said is, MapQuest is really improved, you should try it.

If she tried it.

AOL - Yahoo Merger? AOL Struggling? Tim Armstrong's Icy TechCrunch Talk

TechCrunch Founder and Editor Michael Arrington says he hates working for other people, but now he works for AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington, and the relationship is obvious in how the interviews "feel." 

This one with Armstrong at TechCrunch Disrupt New York 2011 was a bit icy by comparison with 2010, and only because Michael kind of pushes Tim the boss rather than Tim the guest.  What follows are some highlights from their just completed conversation. 

On TechCrunch Disrupt's New Home

Tim says that the Pier 94 is much better than the former Merrill Lynch Office that was the scene for TechCruch 2010, and AOL has a staff for Michael at TechCrunch now, versus last year.  So, the impact of AOL on what TechCrunch does is obvious, from talks with his boss, and, it would seem the selection of a better space, that one has to assume is more expensive to use than the year before.   Why? Because AOL's helping to foot the bill for it's use. 

On AOL and Content

AOL revenue has been declining, Michael said. But Tim says he's still happy with the company's direction and feels that the overall strategy is the right one saying "everybody in that space is using content to differtiate themselves. Content sites are expanding faster than the Internet's growth itself," And adding "I love that people think that content is not a good business, because that keeps people out of this business."

On AOL, Deals, and Yahoo

A fair ammout of the talk was a hint that AOL and Yahoo may do some kind of deal.  But overall, AOL is taking a breather from deals like the purchase of TechCrunch, but may do more deals with "About 5 or 10 companies."

On AOL and TechCrunch, and Parties

TechCrunch, from a brand perspective, to him, was a Californa brand, which Michael disagrees with "We had parties in London, and we were a Worldwide brand" he said.  And I have to agree with Michael here.  There's a little bit of the "You were OK before we bought you, but now you're awesome" talk coming from Armstrong, and it's understandable that Arrington would take issue with Tim's take.  TechCrunch was global as much as Tech is global, from an audience perspective, and long before AOL happened along, with its parties and stuff. 

Michael says that AOL has a lot of parties, where they do "vodka shots off ice sculptutes," but they're parties that TechCrunch staff doesn't attend because they haven't been invited. Tim said it's because no one ever thought to invite them. Too funny.

But Michael really wanted to know "Why is Arianna editor and chief? Tim said, "I didn't think you wanted the job."

On AOL and Yahoo

Arrington said "My guess is, withing a year, AOL and Yahoo will become the same company," and said openly that AOL is struggling "Without the dialup revenue, it is, ...I get the feeling that this is getting a little dicey."

"AOL, it has made a turn-around, it's on a comeback," Armstrong said.

On a question about paywalls and local content. Armstrong said that local monetizes better than people written, and that paywalls can work. "What are you putting behind the wall, and what is it offering," he says. Tim's a "long-term believer" in paid content. "I think we're at the start of the next evolution of content," Armstrong said.

On Arrington and Conflict Of Interest

Did Michael violate policy on investing in startups after TechCrunch was purchased by AOL? Well, what was he supposed to do with his share of the $30 million they got.  As long as he's open about the investments, from a blogger perspective, there's nothing wrong with what he's done. 

Overall, a really different vibe this time because when Tim was on at TechCrunch in 2010, the interview then was more friendly and easy; not this time.

It was pretty icy.

Jack Dorsey Introduces Square Register Today

Right now, In San Francisco, Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey, now CEO of Square, is talking about Square, his new mobile transactions company and app, which allows anyone to use their smartphone to make credit card purchases, and even take purchases from others, and an exciting new product the firm's launching.

Dorsey has announced that Square has shipped out over 500,000 readers, and Square has enabled over $1 billion in transactions to be done, by people who would not have been able to do so in the past because they didn't have cash on them.

Doresey says that people have been able to make more sales with Square. But now, he wants to focus on businesses in addition to individual people. In the presentation he explains the Square Register for the iPad, that replaces the clunky standard register. But the register gives you more, he says. It gives you data on, for example, how many cafe latte's you sold, if you're running a cafe.

Square is also releasing the Square Card Case which stores your purchase information, and allows you to make purchases using the card, and works with the Square Register.

Square is rolling out the Square Register to 50 merchants in various cities in America.

In all, a very exciting and revolutionary development.

Chevron Ecuador Muddled By Petroecuador, Canadian, Foreign Oil Companies

Lost in the entire Chevron Ecuador PR and legal battles is a little known report that between 2002 and 2010, Petroecuador - the state-owned oil company that took over the oil fields owned by Texaco, just after that company was purchased by Chevron - was responsible for an estimated 1,415 "environmental accidents" according to the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo.

The oil company operated in five oil fields - Shushufindi, Sacha, Auca, Lago Agrio, and Libertador - where the damage happened. There is no report that Petroecuador has completed environmental clean-up in those areas.

Locally, Petroecuador is seen as the real problem, even as the government, which effectively runs the media, has formed a public view against Chevron as well.

But lost in all of this, from fraudulently prepared reports, to intimidation of Ecuadorian judges, is the fact that the story of oil exploration in Ecuador is one of the actions of many companies, as Chevron has not been in operation since 1992, and Occidental Petroleum was the last American company to work in the nation until they were kicked out in 2007.

For example, little discussed is the role of Canadian oil companies in Ecuador. Firms like Ivanhoe Energy and Encana, which started operations in 1999.

Encana, like Chevron, has been the focus of a movie, this one called Between Midnight and the Rooster’s Crow. But what makes this interesting is that with Encana, Ivanhoe, Repsol-YPF from Spain, Occidental Petroleum, Teikoku from Japan, the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras, the French oil company Perenco, and now Andes Petroleum, a consortium of Chinese oil producers, it's impossible to argue that the Ecuador oil story is one between just Chevron and Petroecuador.

It also makes it all but impossible to claim that oil wells in Lago Agrio were only used by Chevron - the facts just don't support that claim.


Because Lago Agrio is where Andes Petroleum Co currently operates, and where Encana worked before the Chinese entered Ecuador, buying the rights and production facilities for $1.4 billion, where Chevron, again, left in 1992 and engaged in cleanup work through 1995. Moreover, several firms, including Petroecuador, have produced oil in Lago Agrio over that time through to today.

This is 2011.

What's lost on American activists is that oil funds an estimated 50 percent of Ecuador's national budget. That, coupled with the fact that Ecuador produces more oil than it needs for its economy, and you have a situation where many foreign companies, not just a few, want to and have produced oil in Ecuador, and a government that's still all too interested in courting them.

And that, as Ecuador becomes a socialist dictatorship, and the perfect environment for an uprising, very much like the one that happened in September, involving Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and the Ecuador police, who kidnapped him.

Their concerns: maintaining their benefits admit budget cuts. Ecuador's fiscal situation's not going to make life nice there for a while.

Stay tuned.