Power Literary Hire: Twitter cofounder Ev Williams’s new publishing tool, Medium, just added an impressive member to its team. Kate Lee, a former literary agent from International Creative Management (ICM), has joined Mr. Williams’s startup as the director of content. Ms. Lee was responsible for plucking several bloggers out of obscurity and giving them book deals. The Observer announced her leave from ICM back in April. In a blog post on the site, Mr. Williams described her job as “encouraging, soliciting, commissioning, and contextualizing interesting ideas, authors, and institutions” and noted that she would be building a small team in New York to help her do that.
Branch Finally Lets You Hang Out With Your Friends: Branch, the social conversations site, just launched a groups feature yesterday. In an email to Betabeat, Branch cofounder Josh Miller described it as “Branch’s equivalent of a Follow button.” The idea was inspired by the conversations that people have at dinner parties, in which smaller groups form to discuss topics that they care about. On Branch, these groups can be added into a conversation. Branch’s example site includes a group featuring Mr. Miller, Medium’s Ev Williams, John Borthwick from Betaworks, Michael Sippey from Twitter and Facebook’s Sam Lessin. These groups have a possibility to create Bloods and Crips-like warfare in tech. Choose sides wisely.
Checking In to the New Yelp Foursquare already set its sights on overtaking Yelp with the launch of its super useful local search engine. But its newest iOS update really goes for the jugular: Foursquare now gives locations a 1-10 rating to show you how much people actually like it, instead of the app’s old star rating system. Per the Foursquare blog, the rating is calculated by an amalgamation of “tips, likes, dislikes, popularity, loyalty, local expertise, and nearly 3 billion check-ins from over 25 million people worldwide.” Yelp is going to have to do better than Ernest Hemingway to keep up.
Do-Gooders Keep On Doing Good The New York tech community has banded together over the last week to help victims of Sandy. And now Rain NYC and TelAPI are co-sponsoring a hackathon in conjunction with the Node.js Knockout to build applications that will help future disaster relief efforts. It’s a 12 hour competition and teams will be responsible for building telephony applications that hopefully will improve communication or information dissemination when there’s limited electricity and power.
With mass transit closed and dangerous storm surges set to wallop the city, New York startups aren’t messing around when it comes to hurricane prep. Most, like Usablenet, Kickstarter, HowAboutWe and SideTour, are urging employees to work from home due to the closure of the MTA system.
“We have a simple rule of thumb that if the subways are shut down, the office is closed and people can work from home,” Onswipe CEO Jason Baptiste told Betabeat over email. “A few of us are actually crashing here over the weekend – myself and a few engineers. We built the place to be like a home, so it’s a great place to be stuck for a few days .”
“For those that are staying here, we have ample food, beverage, and entertainment. More iPads than flashlights,” he added.
Hey, we’re sure there’s a flashlight app.
New York-based Usablenet is the largest provider of mobile and multiplatform services for brands, powering the mobile presences of 75 of the top 300 retailers–so why have we never heard of them?
Usablenet was founded way back in the dark ages, after the 90′s dotcom boom but far before the current one, in 2000. Its original business was focused on making websites more accessible for the visually impaired, which typically boiled down to translating complicated website designs into sleeker, simpler formats that were easier to read. But when smartphones began their prodigious rise, Usablenet wised up quick and used what they’d learned from making websites for the visually impaired to begin building simple mobile sites for clients. They began doing so as early as 2006–way before ‘mobile’ became a buzzword–with just a three person team situated in a 6th-floor walkup on the Lower East Side.