Top 10 Seattle Tech Stories of 2012

The big not-so-secret in Web publishing is that it’s easy to get sucked into an obsession with getting the most eyeballs possible. With people constantly scanning for interesting things to read, and more outlets than ever, the competition for a good chunk of attention can quickly become tiresome.

We try to avoid chasing that ghost at Xconomy, hewing as much as possible to the mission of writing about things that we think are interesting and important, with a depth of thought and reporting that is not typical for online technology journalism.

But it’s also good to see what gets the biggest bang for your buck, and the end of the year is a perfect time to lay out that scorecard. So here’s a list of the 10 most heavily viewed technology stories we published on Xconomy Seattle during 2012.

You’ll notice a lot of appearances from big boys like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. But there’s also some love for exclusive reports that we dug up, and interesting startups.

Have fun checking these out, and we’ll see you next year.

1. Amazon’s Fuzzy Math: Stop Encouraging Them
Nothing gets attention like a good, old-fashioned rant, and this definitely fits that category. But I think there’s substance behind this piece, which criticizes Amazon’s longtime policy of releasing incomplete sales and performance numbers for its products and services. It’s also a bit of media criticism, asking our brothers and sisters in the press to stop repeating these often nonsensical statistics. Sadly, I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

2. Microsoft’s Sneak-Attack on Apple
This was my report from a discussion on the state of the mobile industry by Charlie Kindel—a tech-industry consultant, CEO of the startup BizLogr, and former Microsoftie. Kindel’s point is that, despite the company’s heavily promoted move into building its own device with the Surface tablet, Microsoft’s best bet for the future is to make its software and connected services available on as many platforms as possible—including Apple’s devices.

3. Sonic Sex Toys: Revel Body
Yep, sex sells—at least in terms of getting readers. This was a profile of the Seattle-area startup Revel Body, which was developing a sex toy based around the kind of sonic vibration technology familiar in high-end toothbrushes like the SoniCare. Founder Robin Elenga said the resonant motor technology is superior to rotary motors typically used in adult toys, and allows for better battery-powered devices, rather than corded ones. Investors included Alliance of Angels, Puget Sound Venture Club, and Zino Society.

4. Can Microsoft Convince People to Subscribe to Software?
Subscriptions are a business executive’s dream—the kind of stable, renewable, bankable revenue stream relied upon by utilities and wireless carriers. And long-term software licenses to big business customers have long been the bread and butter for Microsoft’s operating system and Office software business. But starting soon, the company is going to try to bring that model to Joe Schmoe consumer, pushing shoppers toward annual payments for Office. A big chunk of consumers will certainly just roll with this big change, even while complaining loudly. But it’ll be a big test for the free or low-cost Office alternatives—will people really switch in large numbers?

5. Exclusive: OVP Venture Partners Shuts Down
This scoop came from Xconomy Seattle editor Luke Timmerman, who hunted down the details behind OVP closing down after almost 30 years in business and some $750 million invested in more than 125 high tech, biotech, and clean energy companies. The move is indicative of the larger problems in the venture industry, which has struggled ever since the Great Recession and has seen limited partners concentrating their money in a smaller set of elite firms nationally.

6. New Head of Google Seattle: Doug Orr
This was the first interview with Doug Orr, the cloud-computing expert who took over in 2012 as the new head of Google’s Seattle office. Orr succeeded Brian Bershad, a former UW professor who went to work for Google in Russia. After breaking news of Orr’s appointment, I got to chat with him and (since departed) Kirkland, WA, site director Scott Silver about the growth of Google in the Seattle area. Orr, who hails from Ann Arbor, MI, said he found a “shocking diversity” of tech skills in the area.

7. Zulily Builds a Shipping Arm in Eight Weeks
There’s probably no startup in the Seattle area growing quite as quickly as Zulily, the moms-and-kids retailer that sends out a limited-edition sale e-mail to its members every morning. When it announced a recent $85 million slug of financing, Zulily disclosed that its monthly sales were on a pace that could project to some $500 million a year. In this story, CEO Darrel Cavens described one of the “oh shit” moments that come from crazy-fast startup growth: The company’s shipping providers weren’t able to handle its needs, and customers were getting upset. So Zulily took its shipping in-house, building a new division of the company from scratch in just a couple of months.

8. Why Amazon Could Win in Mobile While Microsoft Sputters
This piece took an analytical look at the fall rollouts of new devices and services from the titans of Seattle-area tech. After watching Amazon show off its new high-definition Kindle Fire models and Microsoft showcase Nokia’s new Lumia smartphones, I was left thinking Amazon had the better approach. Here’s why: Amazon has embraced the Apple-like closed ecosystem with gusto, aggressively adopting the Android operating system to give customers an almost wholly Amazon-branded digital world. Microsoft, on the other hand, was still touting all of the fantastic technical specs of the new Nokia phones. There are some great Microsoft connected services, but the partner philosophy was leaving things a bit disjointed.

9. Microsoft’s Future Factory Shows off its Latest Ideas
Every year, Microsoft brings a lot of employees, partners, and press to its big Redmond campus to check out the cool stuff that people at Microsoft Research are working on. Some of these technologies will be in devices and services that customers might buy in the near future. Some might never see much commercial application. But it’s a good way to get a sense of what the future looks like from the viewpoint of a bunch of really smart people—combinations of videos and still photos, information processing interfaces that grow and change like plants, or software that can automatically translate documents into new languages.

10. Amazon Boosting Game Teams in Seattle, California
A bit of sleuthing turned up a significant effort by Amazon to hire video game developers, with a particular focus on mobile and social-game expertise. About seven months later, the company publicly announced its new Amazon Game Studios. It remains to be seen how big an effort this will be for Amazon—it’s also courting outside game developers for the Kindle Fire ecosystem. But Amazon has definitely shown an appetite to get into digital content creation on several fronts, from books to movies and TV shows.

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