02 November, 2011



Rockstar releases Grand Theft Auto V trailer

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 09:28 AM PDT

Just over a week after teasing the new Grand Theft Auto game, Rockstar has debuted a trailer for the fifth sequel in the GTA franchise.

GTA V will be set in Los Santos, the fictional city based off of Los Angeles located in the state of San Andreas — also the location of GTA’s third installment. The trailer reveals the familiar “Vinewood” sign that’s intended to mimic the iconic Hollywood sign.

The previous installment of Grand Theft Auto was a huge success for Rockstar and its publisher, Take-Two Interactive — selling over 22 million copies since its 2008 release. Based on the trailer alone, I’d expect the same to happen for GTA 5.

We’ve embedded the trailer below. Let us know what you think of it in the comments.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange may face trial in Sweden after losing extradition appeal

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 08:55 AM PDT

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be extradited to Sweden to face rape charges after losing an appeal in the UK.

Today, a UK high court ruled that the European Arrest Warrant for Assange’s arrest and extradition to Sweden was valid.

Assange’s lawyers stated they may decide to take the appeal to the country’s supreme court. That decision will be made within the next two weeks.

Originally, Assange had appealed, denying that the rape charges included descriptions of Assange’s activities during a trip to Sweden were “fair and accurate” and saying that the warrant and other proceedings were disproportionate.

In August 2010, two women living in Sweden alleged that Assange had sexually assaulted them while in that country to give a lecture.

Assange surrendered himself voluntarily to British police later that year. At that time, Assange denied the allegations and stated his intention to resist extradition to Sweden.

To date, Assange has spent 330 days under house arrest.

Assange made a brief public statement, saying, “I have not been charged with any crime in any country. … We will be considering our next step in the days ahead.”

Assange supporters claim the investigation is politically motivated and was initiated in response to WikiLeaks’ work. An Assange-run website about the case quotes a Swedish attorney as saying, “It’s not unrealistic to suspect there are things going on behind the scenes that have influenced how the case has been handled.”

Also, Assange and his supporters claim that if he is extradited to Sweden, he may then be extradited onward to the U.S., where they fear he may be taken to task for WikiLeaks’ publication of U.S. state secret documents. While several U.S. pundits and members of the government have made threatening statements about Assange and WikiLeaks, the U.S. government has taken no formal steps against either the man or the organization.

WikiLeaks itself recently suspended its publishing operation to focus on fundraising. The organization’s own legal defense is its single largest expense.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Cloudability launches open beta to help you manage and track cloud spending

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 08:01 AM PDT


Cloud cost-tracking service Cloudability has launched an open beta today that promises to help all types of businesses better manage and track their cloud spending.

With many companies feeling the push to use cloud services instead of local ones, many don’t initially see how hard it can be to track daily spending for pay-per-use or highly scalable services. For example, if your company pays Amazon Web Services to deploy extra virtual servers but doesn’t actually use them until a few weeks later, Cloudability can show you how much you’re spending per day to run those servers needlessly.

“Cloud services are a runaway train right now and adoption is gangbusters,” Cloudability co-founder and chief customer officer J.R. Storment told VentureBeat. “With our cloud spend tracking, you can see ahead of time where you’re going and what you’re actually spending.”

Cloudability’s dashboard (one screenshot is above) is extremely easy to set up and works with more than 80 cloud and application providers, including Amazon Web Services, Google Apps, Salesforce.com, Microsoft Azure, Rackspace, and Heroku. On the dashboard you can see each individual service and look into daily detailed reports to identify areas when you can scale back, if needed. On top of that, Cloudability sends a helpful daily email that shows your day-to-day cloud spending.

“Sometimes these cloud services can be hard to use and people get frustrated about overages,” Storment said. “We understand those issues and want to help solve them.”

At present, Cloudability is tracking more than $10 million in cloud spending from its more than 350 private beta customers. Its beta customers saw an average of $2,000 saved per customer each month. The service will also put up an API to encourage developers to use Cloudability’s tracking.

The service is currently free for up to $100,000 in annual spending, but the cost rises as you track higher levels of spending.

Portland, Ore.-based Cloudability is self-funded and has seven employees at present. The company plans to officially launch and expand its offerings in 2012. It may launch a native mobile app that will help track cloud spending on the go as well.

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Filed under: cloud

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AOL revenue drops in third quarter, but still beats expectations

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 07:55 AM PDT

AOL is reporting a six-percent drop in overall revenue for the third quarter of 2011 due to poor performance of its dial-up internet business, according to the company’s Q3 earnings report.

After years of turmoil caused by failed mergers with Time Warner, AOL is attempting to reposition itself as a top destination for leading brands to advertise on. Over the last year, AOL has purchased two top-notch blog networks — Huffington Post and TechCrunch — to help accomplish this goal.

AOL’s overall revenue of $531.7 million beat analysts’ estimates of $524 million for the quarter. As for the company’s advertising revenue, it rose eight percent to $317.7 million thanks to its Ad.com ad network as well as its international display advertising.

Also, the company’s overall display advertising rose 15 percent in the quarter, despite a healthy dose of competition from Yahoo, Google and Facebook. The numbers may concern investors because the company’s overall display revenue is lower than last quarter’s 16 percent gains.

"I've met with a number of CMOs at major companies and the sense is that buyers are going with a few bigger partners," said AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong during the quarterly earnings call. He added that the trend is good for large ad entities like AOL, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.

"One of the largest buyers expects to spend his ad dollars on the top 20 properties, mimicking the cable advertising world," Armstrong said.

The media company reported a $2.6 million loss (or 2 cents per share) for the quarter, compared to  a $171.6 million gain ($1.61 per share) during the same quarter of 2010.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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How one woman technologist single-handedly created thousands of jobs

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 07:53 AM PDT

Leah Busque, founder of TaskRabbit, is passionate about creating a community of “micro-entrepreneurs” — people who work autonomously on a part-time or full-time basis.

Her company, which only operates in a limited number of geographic areas so far, has already created several thousand opportunities for this kind of work. On the site, people list their needs for help with specific tasks, from running errands to moving furniture. Other people, called “taskrabbits,” get the job done and are paid by the posting party for their services. Some TaskRabbit users are able to make full-time jobs out of their TaskRabbit activities.

While the service still has a lot of expansion to do (TaskRabbit currently operates in Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Chicago and greater Los Angeles), Busque has created a fascinating way of solving two problems at once: meeting the small and immediate needs of the middle class while helping the willing-to-work make money.

In this interview, Busque also talks about how being educated in a women-only environment helped guide her toward a career in technology and how her perceptions of gender roles changed once she got into the tech workforce as an engineer.

Filed under: VentureBeat, video

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New Apple Store app will offer in-store pickup, self-checkout

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 07:39 AM PDT

Apple is aiming to make its retail store experience even more convenient with the launch of its new Apple Store iOS app.

The new app, due Thursday, will let you purchase items for in-store pickup, as well as self-checkout at Apple Stores, reports Boy Genius Report.

The addition of in-store pickup isn’t exactly revolutionary — other retailers like Best Buy already offer it — but according to BGR, Apple’s approach will be far more streamlined than its competitors. Apple is aiming to have orders ready 12 minutes after you make a purchase in the app, after which you’ll be able to stroll in, skip registers, sign for your order, and leave.

If you order an item that isn’t in stock, the app will tell you when it’ll be available and will also send you a push notification once it’s ready for pickup.

In addition to using the app, you’ll also be able to ship items to Apple Stores when you purchase them online. BGR’s sources say that Apple Stores will prioritize customers who’ve ordered from the app or its web store, which could help to reduce the amount of foot traffic at its retail locations. Apple will also let you return items purchased online at any of its stores.

Apple also seems to be entering some bold retail territory with its self-checkout option. You’ll be able to walk into an Apple Store, pick an accessory (more expensive items won’t be available for self-checkout), scan the product with your phone (I’m assuming you’re scanning the bar code), and walk out the door. BGR says that Apple won’t be checking purchases when you leave, but I have a feeling that won’t last for too long.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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BuyWithMe bought by Gilt (confirmed)

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 07:30 AM PDT

Struggling daily deals site BuyWithMe has been scooped into the shopping cart of Gilt City, a subsidiary of Gilt Groupe.

Once the initial transition period has concluded, the BuyWithMe brand will be retired permanently and its customers absorbed into the Gilt fold.

Gilt City is the local, daily-deals arm of the luxe-focused Gilt Groupe. Gilt City’s areas of consumer focus include clothing for all genders and ages, interior design, travel and gourmet food and wine.

BuyWithMe had recently gone through a wave of layoffs that had more than half of the company’s staff walking away with pink slips after it was unable to rustle up a new round of venture funding. Those layoffs may have happened to get BuyWithMe in better financial shape for an acquisition.

We first heard about the acquisition last week, when we reported that even more staff would be laid off in the acquisition process.

This was confirmed in an email with a company spokesperson today. “We will be taking on a number of staffers from BuyWithMe,” said the rep, noting that Gilt is “not disclosing the exact number of how many are joining the Gilt team,” but that number would not include the entirety of the BuyWithMe staff.

“The capital market’s willingness to invest in daily deal businesses has dried up," said BuyWithMe COO David Wolfe in a recent conversation with VentureBeat.

"Our game plan was to raise a significant amount of capital to push this comprehensive service offering deeply into markets and, as a result, change the basis of competition in the daily deal space. We were a little late," he concluded.

"This purchase demonstrates Gilt Groupe's commitment to making Gilt City a top player in the local-services industry," said Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin Ryan in a release this morning.

"BuyWithMe complements our philosophy of providing premium offers to customers at great prices. We are excited to capitalize on this incredible opportunity to grow our lifestyle positioning."

In a statement, Gilt confirmed that BuyWithMe will conclude all its previously scheduled sales in markets that Gilt City serves. After that, BuyWithMe users will receive offers through Gilt City and Gilt Groupe.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Angry Birds flies past 500 million downloads

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 06:44 AM PDT

People just can’t seem to get enough Angry Birds (or they just really hate those egg-thieving pigs).

Rovio announced today that its flagship bird flinging series has surpassed half a billion downloads across all of its platforms, making it one of the most downloaded games ever made.

The company says its players have spent over 200,000 years with the game, with 300 million minutes of playtime daily. (Now I’m wondering if there’s a link between the rise of Angry Birds and the global recession — who needs productivity?) The company says that over 400 billion birds have been launched (brave souls), 266 billion levels have been played, and over 44 billion stars have been collected.

As is often the case with hit game franchises, Angry Birds has also made a big splash with merchandise. Rovio says that over 10 million Angry Birds toys have been sold globally (and parents, they make perfect stocking stuffers, just prepare to be pelted.)

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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ArcSoft’s Perfect365 lets you airbrush your portraits like a pro

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 06:00 AM PDT

However you feel about the trend of airbrushed and Photoshopped magazine covers, sometimes we’d all like to make a few tweaks to our own portraits.

Up until now, making realistic photo edits was something only meant for digital imaging professionals. ArcSoft’s newest product, Perfect365, changes that by bringing intelligent and powerful portrait editing to the masses.

The software isn’t a traditional photo editor — it instead automatically detects faces in images and lets you easily make cosmetic changes, like removing a blemish or fading dark circles under your eyes. It also lets you add makeup, which could also make it useful for testing out new looks. Perfect365 is cloud-based, so the more people use it, the better the software will get at detecting faces (this also means that offline, the software needs a bit more hand-holding).

ArcSoft has some 15 years of digital imaging experience, with its software helping to power editing tools in many digital cameras on the market. With Perfect365, the company wanted to deliver to consumers an easy to way touch up photos without much expertise, CEO Michael Deng told VentureBeat in an interview last week.

I took a look at both the iPad and Mac versions of Perfect 365, and both worked as advertised. While the interface is a bit rough, the software could end up being a very useful tool for those who don’t normally like having their picture taken. At the moment, the mobile version of Perfect365 can only detect a single face, but the company says it’s  working on improving that.

I suspect the software will be particularly popular on smartphones, where consumers are taking plenty of self-portraits and snapshots, as well as on Facebook, which is now the largest photo sharing site on the web. The company says the Mac and Facebook versions of Perfect365 will be available before the end of the year.

The free Windows version of Perfect365 is available today, though it can only output lower quality photos. For higher resolution photos, you’ll have to pay $29.99 for the premium Windows version. iPhone and iPad apps are scheduled to be released later this month.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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SecondMarket raises $15M at $200M valuation from former Facebook exec

Posted: 02 Nov 2011 12:47 AM PDT

SecondMarket, a company that lets people buy shares in private companies — including in popular pre-IPO companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Groupon — said it has raised $15 million in a third round of financing.

SecondMarket is reportedly now worth $200 million.

The company is called SecondMarket, because it sells shares on the so-called “second market.” Individuals including founders, early employees, or investors in a private company own shares on the “first market” because they get the shares first. They then sell the shares on the secondary market.

The company has now raised a total of $34 million.

Notably, SecondMarket, itself a private company, just two months ago sold its own shares on the secondary market. In those transactions, the company valued itself at $160 million.

Aside from dealing in shares of private companies, SecondMarket also offers other illiquid assets, including auction-rate securities, bankruptcy claims, structured products, warrants and restricted stock, and whole loans.

The latest $15 million third round comes from the Social+Capital Partnership, a firm founded by former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. Facebook is the private company that has probably been the most highly sought after by investors, and so it’s less than coincidental that someone like Palihapitiya sees the value in such a business. The company said that Palihapitiya will join the SecondMarket board of directors.

At the same time, there are other people who think the prospects of players like SecondMarket are somewhat limited. Private companies remain private for a reason, and creating a market for the shares of such companies just really isn’t that big of a market, these critics say.

Still, the company isn’t small by any means. SecondMarket tells the WSJ that it has been profitable for the past five years, and the WSJ cites sources saying the company’s revenue was $35 million in 2010. At the same time, the company faces plenty of competitors, from Sharespost to Liquidnet.

SecondMarket “has become the preeminent platform for private company shares enabling companies to meet their liquidity needs, help retain and reward talent, and provide start-ups with an opportunity to monetize and grow their businesses," said Palihapitiya in a prepared statement. "SecondMarket is a compelling alternative to companies that are not ready to navigate the public markets."

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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VentureBeat is looking for interns for news reporting and social media

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 09:02 PM PDT

Uncle VBYou like technology, blogging, or social media — or maybe all three. We need interns. See where we’re going with this?

We’re looking for two new interns for our editorial team. If you’re a star writer with a love of technology, we want to hear from you. If you spend more time on Reddit, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon and Twitter than you think is healthy, we want to hear from you too.

VentureBeat is headquartered in downtown San Francisco, but we are looking for interns in the New York City area as well.

As a former VentureBeat intern, I can soundly say this a great place to learn the ropes, especially if you have a love for technology. We have some excellent people from all walks of life who are willing to teach you, and help you grow in this industry. Don’t get us wrong, though, Silicon Valley is fast-paced world and you’ll need to be able to keep up with VentureBeat’s fast-moving, high-speed crew. But if you think being behind the wheel when the brakes are out is exciting, then this is the place for you.

Reporting Intern:
Must be an excellent writer and interested in learning how a real-time newsroom works. You’ll need to do information triage (sorting out newsworthy items from dross), as well as hop on the phone, make connections and get the facts. Those who jump on tasks quickly, have a great eye for what’s important into today’s tech ecosystem and are ready to head out to some conferences are at the top of our list. A background in journalism is preferred.

Community Intern:
Must have experience with various social media websites including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, LinkedIn, and others. You must know the ins and outs of these sites and how best to distribute content on them, as well as how to find out what’s hot. Must have a love of technology and an interest in contributing to a leading tech business site. Must be poised and professional to act as VentureBeat’s voice in the social domain.

Interested? Contact executive editor Dylan Tweney (dylan@venturebeat.com) with your resume or LinkedIn URL, links to 3 or 4 recent things you’ve written, and a short note about why you would be a top-notch intern.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Groupon local sales slump is obscured by product expansion

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 06:20 PM PDT

Groupon’s core business of selling local deals slumped in the last quarter, but the decline has been masked by growth in new products, according to data collected by daily deal aggregator and researcher Yipit.

This information has been unearthed just as the company enters the second week of its investor roadshow in anticipation of an initial public offering, which is scheduled for this Friday, Nov. 4.

In Q3 of 2011, Groupon‘s local deals sales declined from $367 million to $359 million, a decrease of 3 percent overall, while total sales increased to $395 million, or 8 percent total growth, Yipit wrote in a blog post.

New products such as Groupon travel deals, discounted event tickets and consumer products have continued to fuel overall revenue growth at Groupon, but they are a small percentage of total sales, according the data.

[Image Credit: Tom Barnard/Flickr]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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How digital media will affect the 2012 Presidential Election (infographic)

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 05:58 PM PDT

ObamaThe debates are rolling out and rumbles of the 2012 Presidential Election are growing into much bigger conversations. But where are those conversations occurring?

“JFK is considered the first television President. Next year’s victor may well be determined by the impact of Facebook and Twitter,” said Jordan Bitterman, a Digitas senior vice president, in a statement.

According to a study by Digitas, 63 percent of social media users expect candidates to have a social media presence. On top of that, 88 percent of social media users who are also registered voters have mobile phones. Both of these content avenues will play a roll in getting a Presidential candidate’s message across and the candidates know it. Indeed, all of the major declared Republican candidates have a presence on Facebook.

But it’s not just young voters who are ingesting digital content. At least 40 percent of social media users aged 55 and older said they will search social media for information on candidates. In order to get the message across and persuade people to follow their vision of the American future, candidates will need to pay attention to the details below.

Check out the infographic:

digitas infographic

[Photo via The White House/Flickr]

Filed under: media, social

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Google Maps now lets you tour the parks of the world

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 05:47 PM PDT

Google Maps got a leaf-filled refresh on Tuesday with the addition detailed images of a couple hundred of the world’s most famous parks.

The 360-degree images of the parks, captured by the nimble Street View trike, represent roughly a year of cross-country tricycle voyages, Google product manager Ryan Falor said in a blog post announcing the update.

Featured parks include the world-famous High Line Park in New York City, Koganei Park in Tokyo and Kensington Gardens in London. In all, Google took pictures of parks in 22 different countries. These photos are just the latest addition to Google’s growing set of Street View special collections, which includes beaches, ski slopes, world landmarks and now business interiors.

Zooming out a bit, Google’s broader ambition appears to be reinforcing the notion that web users can explore the world — street or no street — via Google Maps, without ever having to leave their desk.


Filed under: VentureBeat

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MOG’s Facebook users grow by 246% after its social integration

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 05:37 PM PDT

MOGOn-demand streaming music service MOG has seen startlingly high user growth through Facebook since its integration with the popular social site in mid-September, the company announced today.

Music streaming companies like MOG, Rdio and Spotify were eager to get integrated with Facebook’s Open Graph platform because it makes sharing music selections and music companies much easier. Turns out that connecting 800 million users with your already-good service really does wonders for exposure and growth.

MOG said registrations through its Facebook app reached 160,000 users for the month of October, which is a 246% jump of monthly average users. MOG CEO and founder David Hyman told VentureBeat that integrating with Facebook has been the best method of distribution the company has ever had.

“This is monumental growth for us,” Hyman said. “Based on early data, we expect to get a 3 to 5 percent conversion rate for premium use.”

At the present growth rate, Hyman said MOG’s Facebook-authenticated users could reach 2 million users by the end of the year. He also noted that the number could explode more once Facebook further integrates the Open Graph with users and launches its anticipated Timeline feature.

“Our understanding is that Facebook has not even come close to exposing the music platform to most of its users,” Hyman said. “Most users haven’t even seen a play button on Facebook yet. I’ve been told 15 percent have so far. Once Facebook is done with its Timeline testing, that 2 million user projection could get even bigger.”

Hyman said the next step is encouraging and incentivizing its Facebook Connect users to share more music on Facebook and get more Facebook friends to give MOG a try. MOG currently has a free version where users have a “gas tank” of free music but can get more gas in the tank by sharing MOG and music with friends.

“We need to turn these people coming in from Facebook into a megaphone that drives more people into the funnel,” Hyman said. “We want to ensure that every person coming in through Facebook uses our links to earn more free music.”

Premium unlimited access to MOG’s 13 million song catalog is available using its desktop app or though Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players and costs $4.99 a month. If you pay $9.99 a month, you can use the service via iPhone and Android apps as well.

Filed under: media, social

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Adobe acquires video ad platform Auditude for $120M (updated)

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 03:56 PM PDT

AuditudeAdobe has acquired video advertising platform Auditude, the companies announced today. [Update: While financial terms of the deal were not publicly disclosed, Adobe is said to have paid close to $120 million (mostly in cash) for the startup, according to sources familiar with the matter.]

Auditude allows its clients to manage and monetize advertising around premium video content. Its service lets publishers and media companies create high-quality advertising experiences across multiple platforms and devices. The company’s clients include Comcast, Sony Music and Universal Music Group.

“We felt that Auditude was really a market leader, not only from a technology perspective, but also in the way that they look at the market,” said Adobe Vice President and General Manager of Media Solutions Todd Teresi in an interview with VentureBeat. “Auditude is not only focused on video, but alternative devices as well … connected devices like tablets, smartphones, gaming consoles.”

“At Adobe, we really see those devices as the future of video growth and premium content,” Teresi said in response to a question about what makes Auditude stand out over other video ad platforms.

The acquisition will allow Adobe to provide a complete “end-to-end” experience, meaning its clients will be able to create, publish, monetize and optimize videos from one place. The company said it plans to integrate Auditude with its other products, such as Adobe Digital Marketing Suite, Adobe Flash Media Server and Adobe Pass. The integration is tentatively scheduled to begin rolling out in early 2012, according to Teresi.

Founded in 2007, the Palo Alto-based startup previously raised a total of $38 million in funding to date from Redpoint Ventures and Greylock Partners.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Cloud video editor WeVideo unleashes premium, commercial offerings

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 02:57 PM PDT

WeVideoCloud video editing startup WeVideo has announced it will launch its premium and commercial packages on Thursday, which add in HD video editing and more storage.

WeVideo was one of the most talked-about companies of the conference, even winning the DEMOGod award. The service is centered around is letting users access a powerful Flash-based video editing application accessible from any browser on a PC or Mac. Up to until now, the service has only offered a free and limited video editor, but that will change with its new paid tools.

WeVideo’s new premium plans are targeted at journalists, marketers and others that need on-the-go editing tools and don’t want to pay high-dollar figures for locally stored video editing software. The company will offer three paid plans: Plus for $7 a month, Ultra for $40 a month and Commercial for $80 a month.

The biggest features the top two plans offer are 50GB of storage, 50 invites to each project, and the ability to edit 720p high-definition video. The Commercial plan is especially nice because it grants a broad commercial license for the final product, and gives you more customer support options from WeVideo.

WeVideo also recently announced integration with YouTube, a move that gives YouTube users much better editing tools. It’s a win-win agreeement that gives exposure to WeVideo and (hopefully) improves the quality of YouTube videos. YouTube has a similar agreement with automated video editor Magisto.

Here’s a peek at WeVideo’s soon-to-launch paid subscription plans:


Filed under: cloud, media

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How Sonos plans to go mainstream & double in growth this holiday season

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 01:39 PM PDT

It’s been the year of smart, streaming music companies. And if Sonos has anything to say about it, 2011 will also be the year of the smart speaker.

As Sonos prepares for the upcoming holiday season, it’s bringing its wireless speaker system to mainstream retail outlets like Target, where it will be featured prominently in store displays. Sonos speakers have built-in compatibility with many popular streaming services including Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Rhapsody and iRadio.

“We set out to be the Bose of the digital age,” said co-founder Tom Cullen in a VentureBeat interview. Cullen added that between cloud-based subscription music services and hardware systems like the ones he’s worked on, “It’s the best time in history to be a music lover.”

Target is just one part of Sonos’ plan to infiltrate the consciousness of the average consumer. “In the last few weeks, we’ve added almost 3,000 retail locations that are selling our products,” said Cullen. “Sonos has been selling in consumer electronics places for years. Target for us was a big change … And they have a huge customer base that looks to them to introduce them to new ideas.”

This shift from retail outlets like Best Buy and Fry’s to the much more accessible Target mirrors a similar shift in Sonos’ userbase. Not too long ago, Sonos speakers were the domain of audiophiles who were also technophiles — folks with commitments to both high-quality audio and home networking. The overlap in that Venn diagram represented a high level of specialized interest.

However, now that Pandora and Spotify are bringing streaming media to a much wider audience, Sonos has the opportunity to attract a large number of new customers. Think about it: If you’re paying a monthly subscription for a streaming music service and you’re carefully curating your stations and tastes on that service, are you going to run it all through your laptop speakers? Or put yourself through the frustration of setting up a home audio network?

For these reasons, Sonos has introduced simpler branding and more competitive pricing. “We’ve moved to a consumer-oriented product,” said Cullen. “That really did change it. We simplified it and brought the price down, and it’s opened us to a lot more people.”

By giving potential customers a more accessible, friendly experience, the company is aiming for exponential growth during a critical moment is music consumption history. We asked Cullen if he thought Sonos’ speakers could ever be as mainstream as the iPad or the Kindle (which, coincidentally, will be selling right next to Sonos gear at Target stores).

“We’re in a smaller space than those huge products, but we are doing something different in the home,” said Cullen. “We built really high-quality speakers that also had brains. They sound really good, the way hi-fi should. Everyone’s going to do it this way.”

Cullen clarifies what he means by “this way” as cloud-based music subscription services that are controlled by intelligent devices like smartphones and played through smart speakers.

His speculation about Sonos’ growth isn’t unfounded, either. Cullen predicts Sonos revenue will double during the final quarter of 2011, and that kind of growth is typical for the company.

“We’ve built it, we’ve shipped it and we’re keyed up to grow 100 percent this holiday,” said Cullen. “We’ve been clipping along at 80 to 100 percent growth depending on the quarter. We’re designing this company to grow at a doubling pace for the next few years.”

In fact, given the explosion of interest in streaming media, we’d be a little surprised if Sonos sales didn’t exceed expectations.

The company is also taking its marketing more mainstream. “This holiday season, you’re going to see us in all kinds of places — everywhere in the culture where music is relevant, from fashion shows to street art,” said Cullen.

Sonos says this is finally a trend in music that will be as good for the goose (that is, the music fans) as it is for the gander (that is, the people and entities involved in producing music).

“The bigger trend, which is good for the artists and the consumer, is subscription through a broadband connection with a smartphone to pick out the music and a smart speaker to play it,” Cullen said. “Suddenly, things are going to get better for the first time in a long time. I think the labels are about to come to a place where they can be happy again.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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RIM tries to stay afloat with 3 new AT&T BlackBerrys, including Bold 9900 and Torch 9860

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 01:24 PM PDT

BlackBerry-Torch-9860Research in Motion will launch three of its latest BlackBerry smartphones in November on AT&T, the company announced today.

Research in Motion has had a tough year, with declining market share, a massive worldwide outage that angered customers, and a tablet that looks more outdated by the day. While it’s trying to stave off its doom and any further degradation of its brand, the least RIM can do is release some new phones.

AT&T will launch two of the new BlackBerrys on Nov. 6. The first two devices are the BlackBerry Bold 9900, which will cost $200 with a two-year contract, and the touch-screen BlackBerry Torch (pictured), which will cost $100 with a two-year contract. Both the Bold 9900 and Torch 9860 feature HSPA+ 4G for faster data speeds, a 1.2-GHz processor and the BlackBerry 7 operating system, which is marginally better than the previous OS.

The last device of the AT&T trio, the BlackBerry Curve 9360, launches Nov. 20 and will most likely be the best-seller of the bunch because of its $30 price tag. The Curve 9360 features the classic (and outdated) Curve design and a 5-megapixel camera.

It’s unlikely any of these models will attract attention away from the Apple and Samsung AT&T devices this holiday season. Both the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S II Skyrocket appear to be better bets for discerning customers who care about long-term viability and software updates.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Yahoo acquires Interclick for $270M to bolster advertising program

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 12:46 PM PDT

advertisingYahoo is set to acquire digital advertising company Interclick for $270 million, the companies announced today.

"Interclick's innovative platform will allow Yahoo! to expand its targeting and data capabilities to deliver campaigns with stronger performance metrics," said Ross Levinsohn, executive vice president for Yahoo’s America regions, in a statement.

There’s much to be desired when it comes to Yahoo. The company is no longer seen as a technology innovator. It has hit quite a few road bumps in the last quarter, including firing Carol Bartz as chief executive. As for finances, it saw a 24 percent loss in revenue for its third quarter this year. In other words, it’s pretty stale.

Interclick provides a number of solutions for display advertising including an Open Segment Manger, which analyzes your audience and provides concise data; ATS 5/VTS, which controls the ad exchanges; and Marshall, which reports on your activity.

This buy will help Yahoo take control of its advertising and better determine how best to optimize for future ad plans. Yahoo expects to close the acquisition by early 2012.

[Photo by Pres Panayotov/Shutterstock]

Filed under: media

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An inside look at America’s largest data centers (infographic)

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 12:29 PM PDT

data-centers-thumbIn our increasingly connected world of cloud-powered information, it’s easy to forget that there are enormous facilities around the U.S. that store all this data.

For instance, it takes 11 diesel generators to power Microsoft’s 700,000-square foot data center in Chicago, which stores data for XBox Live, the company’s Bing search engine, its email service Hotmail and over 200 other sites. The QTS Metro data center in Atlanta, Georgia — which stores data for Twitter’s 100 million active users — takes 19 diesel generators.

Also interesting is the durability of some of these giant facilities to withstand whatever mother nature throws at them. For example, the NAP of The Americas data center features 7-inch thick steel-reinforced concrete panels to keep severs safe in the event of extremely bad weather. The facility was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

For a more detailed look at five of the largest data centers in America, check out the infographic embedded below.

[Infographic courtesy of Wikibon]


Filed under: cloud, offBeat, VentureBeat

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Apple misses iTunes Match’s October launch deadline

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 12:18 PM PDT

itunes-icloudApple has missed its promised “late October” deadline for the much-anticipated iTunes Match service, which will give users access to music from their iTunes library on mobile devices running iOS 5.

The iTunes Match feature will help complete Steve Jobs’ momentous vision for iCloud, which syncs media and files with most Apple devices and Windows PCs. For $25 a year, iTunes Match will scan your library and let you download music files to other Apple devices, even if the tracks are ripped from CDs or illegally downloaded.

Apple did not immediately return our request for comment about the missed launch date.

iTunes Match has been in a testing period with developers since August, and Apple revealed an on/off switch for iTunes Match in mid-October. We thought that meant a launch was imminent. But access to the iTunes Match has now expired for those developers and they can no longer use their cloud libraries and features they have already set up.

It’s a little unusual for Apple to miss such a big, self-imposed deadline, but perhaps the product wasn’t quite done and Apple figured it was better to wait rather than face complaints about bugs and missing features.

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

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Should small businesses use Square?

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 11:59 AM PDT

[Full disclosure: Stella Fayman works for FeeFighters, a marketplace that has partnered with lots of payment processors to provide merchant friendly terms and competitive bids to business owners. Square is one of many partners.]

Square burst onto the payments scene in 2009 promising both merchants and consumers the ability to collect payment by credit card quickly and easily using their smartphones.

Square's likeable brand, attention to design, and emphasis on simplicity has made it spread like wildfire. Just last week, Square reported that its dongles (the hardware that attaches to Android or iOS devices to swipe cards) will be available at Wal-Mart for easier distribution to small businesses across the country.

In essence, Square replaces a traditional merchant account, sold to business owners by credit card processors. As Square begins to target businesses that are not early adopters, the question of whether they are the most cost effective solution for businesses becomes more ubiquitous. What types of businesses should opt for Square instead of a competitive merchant account?

Square prides itself on providing the simplicity of flat pricing: All transactions are charged 2.75% regardless of the type of the transaction or its size. This differs from a merchant account, which can often have confusing pricing. Although simplicity is nice, business owners care more about the bottom line.

Let's take a look at some business cases and see how Square compares to a competitive merchant account. If you'd like to try some comparisons yourself, check out this nifty calculator from my own company (I know, shameless promotion!).

Here are four common business types: a coffeeshop, a boutique, a vendor at a market, and a restaurant.

In this scenario, Square really shines. Let's say the average ticket size for a coffeeshop is $6 and it has 50 customers daily. Square's per transaction cost is $0.17. A competitive merchant account would charge 1.73% and $0.21/transaction = $0.31. All told, monthly fees with Square would be $198, while the merchant account would be $417 (this includes the cost of a wireless terminal).
Verdict: The difference in cost is over $200 monthly, substantial for a coffeeshop. Since Square does not have a per-transaction fee, low ticket, high frequency businesses like coffeeshops should check it out. Take note: high frequency businesses have complained about Square's dongle not working efficiently.

At this clothing boutique, the average ticket size is $200. Let's assume it does about 10 sales per day and is open 6 days a week. Square's cost for the $200 transaction is $5.50. The merchant account's is $3.67. Here comes the whopper though: Square's monthly total comes out to $1,320.00, while a merchant account's is $921.47. That's a difference of almost $400!
Verdict: High ticket size businesses don't benefit from Square's flat but high percentage rate. They can save money by shopping for a competitive merchant account.

Farmer's Market Vendor
Let's say a vendor at a busy farmer's market wants to give his customers the option of paying by credit card. His average transaction size is about $15, and let's say he makes 100 sales every Saturday for one month. Square's cost per transaction is $0.47. The cost from a competitive merchant account? $0.56. Estimating the monthly cost including fixed costs: With Square, his cost would be $165. A competitive merchant account yields a monthly cost of $228.47.
Verdict: This is a scenario where Square wins in both convenience and cost. Here is the customer for whom Square is ideal: someone who wants the flexibility of accepting credit cards without the complications of a merchant account (think monthly fees).

This restaurant has an average ticket size of $40, and it goes through 60 checks daily. Square's fees for one ticket are $1.10, while a competitive merchant account's is $0.90. Total monthly cost for Square is $1,584, while the alternative yields $1,339.55. That's a difference of $244.
Verdict: Traditional businesses should make sure to look for a competitive merchant account that yields a lower cost as well as more flexibility than Square (ie, can work with multiple POS systems).

One important thing to note is that the merchant account costs are based on a "competitive" account. The reason I stress this is that most business owners pay too much on their credit card processing costs because they get confused by fine print and fast-talking salespeople or too-good-to-be-true deals offered by Costco or Sam's Club. Always compare at least several offers on an apples to apples basis, make sure to ask for interchange plus pricing, and don't get locked into contracts with processors.

At the end of the day, merchants should do a comparison just like I did above and weigh the convenience of Square vs. the difference in cost with a traditional merchant account. Businesses with many small transactions should look at Square closely, while businesses with high average ticket size should get a competitive merchant account with interchange plus pricing.

If you'd like to see a copy of the spreadsheet where the math was done, feel free to email me at stella@feefighters.com

Stella Fayman is a founding member of FeeFighters, a comparison-shopping website for credit card processing.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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New Gmail update offers cleaner design, improved search

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 11:05 AM PDT

Google has finally rolled out an update to its ultra popular email client Gmail today. The update features a simplified design, visually enhanced threaded conversations and improved search functionality.

We first caught a glimpse of the new Gmail changes about two weeks ago after someone at Google accidentally made a demo video (embedded below) of the update available to the pubic.

As I previously noted, the first thing you’ll notice about the new Gmail design is the abundance of white space, which makes elements like the "important" arrows and message labels stand out more prominently.

The overall navigation has also been refreshed. The top nav bar now consists of buttons with action icons instead of text descriptors (e.g. – archive, spam, delete, etc.), while the left-sidebar navigation is much cleaner than the old version. Links to Contacts and Tasks are gone, or at least hidden from view, and the most dominant part of the side bar is the “Compose” button.

Google also decided to make email conversation threads look more like an instant message and/or Facebook conversation. Each message in the thread now displays the person’s profile picture to the left. It’s a welcome change to the wall of words we’re used to seeing in high volume email conversations — especially when several people are included in the message.

Of course, if you hate the changes, Gmail has plenty of options to customize your view. While it won’t look exactly like the old version of Gmail, the custom view options can get pretty close.

Neither I nor fellow VentureBeat staff writer Sean Ludwig have the updated Gmail option appearing in our inbox yet, but everyone should see an option to switch over in the next few days, according to the Gmail blog.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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GarageBand music recording app comes to iPhone and iPod

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 10:41 AM PDT

Apple’s popular music app GarageBand is making the leap to the iPhone and iPod Touch today with an update, version 1.1. Pre-loaded on all Apple computers as part of iLife, GarageBand features a wide variety of professional-quality instruments, which users can play on a timeline to make songs of their own. GarageBand also lets you record vocal tracks, so the app constitutes a self-contained recording studio.

"GarageBand on iPad has been a big hit and we think customers will love using it on their iPhone or iPod touch," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, in a press release. "The innovative Multi-Touch interface combined with Smart Instruments makes it easy to create great sounding music, even if you've never studied music or played an instrument before."

While Pro Tools is the industry standard for  professional musicians and studio recording sessions, GarageBand provides a strong alternative for aspiring musicians, laptop DJs and prosumer musicians. On the iPhone and iPod Touch, the GarageBand app is available from the iTunes App Store for $4.99. GarageBand was made available on the iPad in March.

Apple’s mobile iOS increased its market share by seven percent in October mobile market share data released today by Net Applications, largely driven by the release of the iPhone 4S. With wildly popular apps like GarageBand coming to more mobile devices, Apple seems well-poised to solidify these gains.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Calxeda’s ultra low-power EnergyCore server chip takes cues from smartphones

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 10:23 AM PDT

Ushering in the era of low-power servers, Austin, Texas-based Calxeda is today announcing its EnergyCore ARM-based processor, the first ever chip capable of running an entire server at a mere 5 watts.

The EnergyCore server-on-a-chip uses 90 percent less power (just 1.5 watts while idle), takes up 90 percent less space, and is half as expensive as traditional server solutions, according to the company. Since it’s based on ARM technology, Calxeda’s chips are taking a cue from the low-power, yet highly capable, ARM processors used in smartphones and tablets.

“ARM is to processors what Linux is to operating systems,” Calxeda VP of marketing Karl Freund told VentureBeat in an interview yesterday, referring to the way companies can build innovative technologies on top of ARM’s original designs. The EnergyCore chips are based on ARM’s quad-core Cortex A9, and they run at speeds between 1.1 gigahertz and 1.4 Ghz. But the company also added in an 80-gigabit fabric switch, which will allow for high data throughput, as well as an energy management engine.

The complete EnergyCore server node also includes 4 gigabytes of RAM. Calxeda’s chips are 32-bit, but the company says it will be ready to jump to 64-bit chips once ARM’s designs are complete.

Calxeda says its chips are best suited for target applications like storage and file serving, or web apps. You won’t see much of an advantage using EnergyCore servers for heavy duty video encoding, but for most other server uses it’s an ideal balance between low-energy usage and a decent amount of computing power. The company competes directly with Intel’s Atom chips and firms like SeaMicro who are building Atom-based servers.

Calxeda already has a launch partner in HP, which today announced its new server lineup based using the company’s technology. "A single rack of HP's Calxeda servers delivers the throughput of some 700 traditional servers and dramatically simplifies the infrastructure needed to hook them all together and manage the cluster," said Calxeda CEO and co-founder Barry Evans in a statement today.

Calxeda, formerly known as Smooth-Stone, raised $48 million in funding about 14 months ago from ARM, Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC), Battery Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners and Highland Capital Partners.

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Cloud leaders detail how to build successful partnerships at Cloud Channel Summit

Posted: 01 Nov 2011 10:00 AM PDT

cloud channel summit- full sizeThis post is sponsored by THINKstrategies

THINKstrategies, the Cloud Computing Showplace and Rising Tide Media are hosting a Cloud Channel Summit, on Monday, November 7, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

The one-day executive forum will bring together senior executives from leading Cloud vendors and their channel company counterparts to share industry best practices and innovative ideas for building profitable and successful channel partnerships in the Cloud.

The keynote presentations during the Cloud Channel Summit will be:

  • “Making Rain in the Channel: New Opportunities in Cloud Computing” presented by Stephen Cho, director of channels and business development at Google Enterprise.
  • “5 Steps to Building a Successful Channel Program in the Cloud” presented by Ron Huddleston, senior vice president of ISV alliances at Salesforce.com.
  • “The Cloud Era of Channel Success: Is Your Organization Partner-Ready?” presented by Rick Nucci, CTO, and Diane Ruth, executive director of business development, at Dell Boomi.
  • “Channel Opportunities to Build Your Own Cloud Solutions”, Amy Anderson, Cloud Computing Partner Program-ISV and Developer Relations at IBM.

In addition, more than 25 Cloud industry leaders will participate in a series of executive roundtable panel sessions during the Summit, focusing on the following topics:

  • “Real-World Cloud Success Stories”
  • “Building Effective Cloud Channels: What’s Working and What’s Not?”
  • “Selling and Supporting Cloud Services Together”
  • “Leveraging Cloud Alternatives to Meet Unique Customer Needs”
  • “Using a Cloud Ecosystem to Create New Customer Value”
  • “New Market Opportunities for Cloud Channels”

Additional panelists include senior executives from Amazon Web Services, Avnet Technologies, OpSource, Progress Software, Informatica, Birst, GoodData, Safenet, AppFirst, Aryaka, CloudLock, SoftServe, AppDirect, Agilis Solutions and Scribe Software, among other leading companies.

The Summit is also being supported by an ecosystem of leading industry organizations dedicated to building strong channels and promoting the Cloud, including publications such as ChannelPro, Channel Tech Network, Cloudbook, Sandhill.com, Datamation, E-Commerce Times and Softletter; conference groups including Under the Radar, the World Research Group and Keynote World Media; industry associations such as the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), CompTIA, and the ASCII Group; and other companies, such as DreamSimplicity, a virtual community and marketplace directory for business applications and the industry professionals that deliver them, and Mikael Blaisdell & Associates, Inc. (MBAI), which assists a wide spectrum of clients to increase their customer retention rates and enhance per-customer profitability.

Click here to learn more about the Summit or to register to attend.

Stay tuned for more information about the speakers, topics and other event details via Twitter @cloudchannel11.

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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