04 November, 2011



Apple unveils beautiful revamped 5th Ave NY store with new glass cube (photos)

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 08:43 AM PDT


Apple unveiled its long-under-construction New York flagship Store on 5th Avenue on Friday, and like a redesigned iPhone, it looks similar to the previous model but has its own charms.

Back in June, Apple began renovating the well-known location at an estimated cost of $6.6 million. The normally 24/7 location was closed yesterday evening at 10 p.m. and reopened this morning at 10 a.m. with a long line waiting outside.

The 5th Avenue location is a uniquely designed building with a giant glass cube on the ground level. Customers take a stylish staircase down into a massive floor featuring every Apple product, including rows of iPhones, iPads, MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros, iPod touches and iMacs.

The glass cube on top is the only notable renovation. The cube used to feature 90 pieces of glass but now it has just 15 panels. Apple said in early August that it was “simplifying” the design by using “larger, seamless pieces of glass.”

I stood back and watched the crowds almost run inside to get inside the store at 10 a.m. Apple Store employees in blue shirts cheered on customers as they went in. After watching them for a few moments, I hopped in line myself and decided to take a look inside the store to see if anything had changed. Not surprisingly, the inside of the store is exactly the same, but it’s still fun to see so many people excited to test drive the latest powerful tech products.

Take a look at the gallery below for a better look at the 5th Ave Apple Store on the outside and inside:

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google considers offering paid TV on its ambitious fiber network

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 08:29 AM PDT

Soon the term “Google TV” may seem even more apropos.

The search giant is apparently in talks with major companies, including Time Warner, Walt Disney, and Discovery, to distribute traditional TV channels on top of its budding fiber broadband network, the Wall Street Journal reports.

By doing so, Google would be taking aim directly at cable and satellite TV providers, and it would pose the biggest threat to companies like Cablevision that have a lock on combining broadband and TV service in many markets. The WSJ’s sources also say that Google is considering adding phone service on the fiber network a well, which would give it a “triple play” offering similar to many cable companies, which typically include TV, broadband, and phone service.

Google’s experimental gigabit fiber network – which offers speeds around 10 to 15 times as fast as typical cable broadband — has only launched in Kansas City, KA and Kansas City, MO so far. In October, the company said it plans to launch a fiber network to Europe next.

To become a full-fledged paid TV operator, Google will need more than a handful of partners on-board. Those negotiations may be difficult since many content providers spurned Google last year by blocking access to Google TV on their websites.

According to the WSJ, Google execs have also tossed around the notion of offering full TV channels as a premium offering on YouTube — something that would fit in quite nicely with Google’s recent addition of 100 original YouTube channels and Google TV’s latest major update. But while that idea makes more sense for Google, it seems those discussions are far less advanced than Google’s plans to become a more traditional paid TV operator.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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A tale of two launches: Steve Jobs biography and Battlefield 3

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PDT

There’s a tale in two numbers that were released last week. Walter Isaacson’s well-received biography of Steve Jobs sold an estimated 379,000 copies in its first week in bookstores. By comparison, Electronic Arts sold 5 million copies of its Battlefield 3 video game in its first week.

We could look at these numbers and joke about how we’ve become an illiterate nation. But books are a $40 billion industry in the U.S., twice the size of the video game business, according to market researcher DFC Intelligence. However, the Steve Jobs book generated about $13.2 million in sales, while Battlefield generated about $300 million. The difference tells us a lot about what it means to be a die-hard fan, and the social currency that goes with being part of a community. The value of the game fan appears to far outweigh the value of a book fan.

“This speaks to video games having become a primary popular culture event,” said Billy Pidgeon, a game analyst at M2 Research. “When it comes down to it, it’s more fun to play games than it is to read a biography. Video games are now the media property more people want to access immediately.”

Both sides have had strong marketing pushes for their titles. Isaacson appeared on 60 Minutes the day before the book went on sale, and many newspapers carried excerpts. News stories about Jobs’ recent death all pointed to the book for in-depth answers about the mystery man of technology.

Game retailers have also done a good job stoking fan interest. EA chief executive John Riccitiello made outlandish claims, geared more at generating publicity than sharing facts, about how Battlefield 3 would take down competing game Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. Analysts still expect Modern Warfare 3 to outsell Battlefield 3 two-to-one. But the rivalry spurred enough fan interest to get record pre-orders for the EA game, which debuted Oct. 25. (Modern Warfare 3 debuts Nov. 8.) Die-hard fans felt they had to be the first to play Battlefield 3, and they lined up at midnight to buy the game at retailers. By contrast, you didn’t see the same kinds of lines for a Jobs biography.

“Gamers want to get their hands on the title everyone’s playing and don’t want to be late,” Pidgeon said. “Gamers have to be playing BF3 now, because Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is coming out next week, and there are more games coming out every week.”

If you play the hot new game before your friends, you have a higher level of social currency. Those gamers drive through the single-player campaign in no time, and then move on to multiplayer combat, which could keep them occupied for weeks — at least until the next big title comes along.

I’ve been laid-up in bed recently. And by my own choice, I’ve read through 38 pages of the 630-page Steve Jobs book. Each page has some interesting revelation into a man that I’ve written about for decades. But I’ve also played through most of the Battlefield 3 single-player campaign. It may be 10 hours by the time I’m done (with the hard level), and then I’ll join the multiplayer combat. I’ll wager that I’ll have more to talk about with folks I know having played the game, rather than having read the book.

“Films, books, CDs (remember those?) and television used to be a bigger consumer priority as ‘water cooler’ discussion fodder,” Pidgeon said. “But now online multiplayer games serve as entertainment, competition and social milieu all in one. Before DVR and other time-shifted television options were available, TV was the medium for synchronous attention.”

I can always catch up on the book later. But I don’t feel the same sense of urgency to get that done as I do with Battlefield 3 and its arch-rival game. It’s just like I no longer feel the need to watch most movies in the theaters now. I can always catch them on the movie channels later on.

I just don’t get the same kind of social currency by reading a book as I do with a game. The bookseller might command some of my money and a little bit of my time, but it pretty much ends there. I’m not a member of a book club that might discuss it. By comparison, the game club of hardcore gamers is something like 5 million or so people and growing. They devour everything online about the game, read the reviews, and trash the ones, such as our review by Sebastian Haley, that pan the game.

Gamers even put up with a monumental failure, such as when the EA Online multiplayer servers went down for a whole day. Players were furious they had waited in line and couldn’t immediately start their online grudge matches. This is where video game publishers have to realize that the insane fan culture they’ve created is a two-edged sword. They can live or die by the community. The outage was a big embarrassment for EA, but it got the servers back running, and now gamers can play online about 98 percent of the time. That’s good enough to get the fans back into action. But they may be fickle. If Modern Warfare 3 offers a better online experience, the gamers will likely defect, just like that.

EA has created its Battlelog social network to help gamers brag about their achievements. It will go up against Call of Duty Elite, a social network for Call of Duty fans. These networks will eventually generate even more money for the companies, beyond the purchase price of the games. That will put them on the road to generating a subscription fee out of the gamers, and making sure that it hangs on to them for the whole year, not just for the couple of weeks after a game launch.

For good or bad, games command more than their fair share of pop culture attention. And that’s why they’re also taking an outsized share of the profits in the entertainment industry. Treated right, these game fans are a gold mine. But never try to deliver anything but the best possible game to them, or they’ll turn on you quickly.

Book publishers only wish that they could skate on both sides of this double-edged sword.

[Illustration by Tom Cheredar]

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Groupon’s best deal yet: stock jumps 40% to $28 in IPO

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 07:46 AM PDT

Groupon shares soared in early trading this morning to $28, a 40 percent increase over its $20 price announced last night, as the company made its initial public offering.

The $28 opening price puts Groupon’s market value at $17.8 billion.

At it’s opening price, the company was valued at about $12.7 billion, which was less than the company’s original expectations that it would be valued between $15 billion and $20 billion at the opening price. While the stock has since traded upward, of course, that gain is enjoyed by outside shareholders — not by the company.

The Chicago-based daily-deals site, which is the category leader in group buying, listed its shares on the NASDAQ Exchange under the ticket symbol GRPN.

The company was expected to raise approximately $700 million dollars from the sale of 35 million shares. The opening price of Groupon shares was $20, announced yesterday after markets closed. The company is selling just 4.7 percent of its shares today, one of the lowest share percentages of the decade.

In Groupon some see echoes of the late-90′s dot-com boom, where young Internet companies with little or no revenue rushed through to the IPO process, only to go bust in the months that followed. While listing themselves as publicly traded companies minted a new generation of millionaires, the practice left bamboozled investors holding the bag.

Groupon has faced intense scrutiny over its accounting practices, which many believe distort the company’s profitability. Groupon had to revise its first S-1 filing from June. Questions arose about why the company was measuring its revenue with a term called ACSOI, or adjusted consolidated segment operating income. This uncommon unit of measurement ignored “certain non-cash expenses and discretionary online marketing expenses that are incurred primarily to acquire new subscribers," according to the filing, and took advertising costs off the book. During the first six months of 2011 the company spent $432 million on marketing and customer acquisition.

Sales have slowed for Groupon’s core local deals product, and attempts to innovate its model have largely failed. The Groupon Now! app, which serves location-based deals, earned the company just $2.6 million in gross sales in its first six months.

In January Groupon raised $95o million in private capital after turning down a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google the previous month.

While Groupon’s investors are among the most prominent names in venture capital and private equity including Goldman Sachs, Yuri Milner, and Greylock Partners, unusual financial practices abound.

Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky and his family have already cashed out more than $382 million from the company before the IPO, leading many to wonder whether he believes in the long-term health of the company. By contrast, Groupon co-founder and chief executive officer Andrew Mason has received $10 million in founder liquidity, prior to the IPO.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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Why your startup team needs diversity — in race, financial background & gender

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 07:34 AM PDT

The shopworn adage “It takes all kinds of people to make a world” is never more controversial than when applied to technology startups.

“It takes all kinds of people to make a product” is much less accepted; diversity often gets short shrift when meritocracy is a supposed ideal and both time and funding are short.

However, having diversity of all kinds on a startup team can actually end up saving time and money. In this interview, Julia Hu, founder of Lark, explains exactly how and why founders should go out and consciously create diverse teams.

Lest you think she’s telling tales out of school, Hu herself has some big announcements this morning. Lark, the “silent un-alarm clock” she’s spent the past couple years working on, is going international at Apple stores in China and the EU.

“There could have been no greater start for us than to be sold in all Apple stores,” said Hu in an email this morning. “It was like being drafted to play and start for your hometown team. We were ecstatic.”

In addition to the hallowed shelves of Apple stores, you can also find Lark devices at Target stores, Best Buy, Walmart, Radio Shack and soon at Brookstone.com.

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China shrugs off U.S. accusations of cyber espionage

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 07:12 AM PDT

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said a new U.S. government report on cyber espionage was “unprofessional and irresponsible” today at a press conference in Beijing.

The Foreign Economic and Industrial Espionage Report, which was delivered to Congress yesterday by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX), stated that China and Russia have been using cyber spying tactics to steal U.S. secrets, including our technology.

Implying that the U.S. had unfairly linked the Chinese government to these attacks, Hong said, “I hope the international community can abandon prejudice and work hard with China to maintain online security.”

NICX said these cyberspying hacks posed an economic as well as a security threat to the United States and linked a string of recent attacks to China, which it called a “persistent collector” of U.S. secrets.

“China's intelligence services, as well as private companies and other entities, frequently seek to exploit Chinese citizens or persons with family ties to China who can use their insider access to corporate networks to steal trade secrets using removable media devices or email,” stated the NCIX report, which drew on government as well as private sector sources for data.

“Of the seven cases that were adjudicated under the Economic Espionage Act… in fiscal year 2010, six involved a link to China.”

The report went on to note that security specialists in the U.S. had detected and investigated “an onslaught of computer network intrusions originating from Internet Protocol (IP) addresses in China.”

In response to these intimations, Hong stated, “Online attacks are notable for spanning national borders and being anonymous. Identifying the attackers without carrying out a comprehensive investigation and making inferences about the attackers is both unprofessional and irresponsible.”

Some of the attacks specifically named in the report deal with the January 2010 news around hacked Google accounts. During this "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" on Google’s corporate infrastructure, the email accounts of many human rights activists using Gmail service had been breached.

Russia, which was called out in the report for its “extensive, sophisticated operations” in cyber espionage against the U.S., has not yet made a formal response to the accusations.

The entire report is available online in PDF form.

Filed under: security

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Proskore wants to measure your professional reputation like a science

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Test tubeNew startup Proskore intends to measure a person’s professional worth by assessing the raw data listed on a resume along with their reputation in the community.

In other words, the startup is making the old adage  “…it’s who you know” into a measurable science, according to Proskore co-founder and Chief Executive Bill Jula.

Essentially, Proskore determines a score of 1 to 100 for each person by assessing a number of factors, such as work experience, online reputation, business contacts and social media activity. The startup has previously been described as a professional version of online influence measurement service Klout. But unlike Klout, Proskore is less concerned with measuring your overall influence and more focused on networking with others for business.

“Professional reputation isn’t the same thing as social influence,” Jula said. “But we do use a person’s social influence within several communities to help measure professional reputation. We go beyond what Klout is doing and have different goals.”

Someone with lots of work experience and contacts can sign up for Proskore and receive a relatively high score with minimal effort. However, that score will either stay flat or decline if it isn’t continually fed new information — either from reaching out to others using Proskore’s suite of promotional tools and/or using Proskore in conjunction with other social networks.

Currently, Proskore has integration with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — with Google+ integration and the ability to connect with Facebook fan/business/organization pages rolling out in the next few weeks, Jula said.

Klout-like ‘Perks’ feature for professionals coming soon

Jula also said the company is getting ready to launch its own version of Klout’s perks feature, which offers exclusive rewards to highly influential Klout users. Proskore’s version — called PROmos — won’t offer its users discounts on movie tickets or highly coveted beta invitations to streaming music services. Instead, PROmos will fit the service’s professional focus. For example, high scoring Proskore users might be invited to a three-month trial of unlimited Dropbox storage or a voucher to use American Airlines’ Admirals Club Lounge the next time you’re traveling across the country.

But aside from the PROmos, one of the biggest motivations for maintaining a high Proskore rating is to generate a greater number of leads for new business. Additionally, users can opt into a premium Proskore subscription to increase both the amount and frequency of those leads.

The $10 per month premium subscription also gives users access to a suite of marketing and promotional tools, such as email marketing, press release creation/distribution and more. Right now, subscriptions are the company’s main source of revenue, but new features that haven’t yet rolled out on Proskore will provide additional ways to generate money, Jula said.

The Sarasota, Florida-based startup officially launched the service just over two weeks ago, but already has more than 100,000 registered members. Although, most of those members are from the company’s previous iteration, an online business network called Fast Pitch, according to Jula.

Proskore is currently self-funded, but could raise outside investment in the future. The company has a total of three employees, including Jula.

[Test tube image via Shutterstock]

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Groupon is a terrible company for investors — but I’m buying shares tomorrow

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 08:57 PM PDT

photo of an old rusty bucketIf you’d told me 5 months ago that I would spend a lot of 2011 studying accounting, talking to businesses and saying bad things about a company that everyone once loved, I never would have believed you.

It all started at Floyd’s Coffee in the Old Town section of Portland — which, ironically, was running the very first Google Offer. I had planned to spend the day there to understand what customers thought of Google Offers, how many people came in and how they interacted with the staff. At that point, I’d spent very little time looking at the space. That day, Groupon put out its first S-1. The company is now poised to go public tomorrow with an initial share price of $20.

The first analysis I read, by a supposed expert in the local space, raved about the company. He essentially pulled all of management’s talking points and put them in the story. I knew the company was nowhere near as good as the picture he painted, but I didn’t know how bad it would turn out to be.

Five months later, I’m more convinced than ever that this is a terrible company for investors, small businesses and ultimately for consumers. Unless the company substantially changes its business model, investing in Groupon will be like investing in a leaky bucket.

Among the significant challenges I see:

  • The daily deals business is past its peak. The best days for the classic Groupon are in the past. With its 3Q results, Groupon has largely proven that once it slows spending on marketing, growth stops. In its most established markets, Groupons sold are down more than 10%. In Boston, the number of merchants featured in 3Q is down a whopping 20 percent. Some look to Asia for expansion, and sure, Groupon can expand there. But the share of revenue it gets to keep in Asia is substantially lower than in the U.S. and Europe.
  • The only area where Groupon seems to be able to innovate is accounting practices. New product lines like Groupon Getaways and Groupon Goods are retreads of long-established e-commerce categories. Groupon’s entries in these categories show zero innovation. In many cases, they are turning back the clock 10 years. In 2011, I shouldn’t have to call to make a hotel reservation.
  • The future is all about targeting and self-serve. Smart businesses don’t want to blast a spam message to everyone in a region who might want a cheap massage. If I ran a spa, I’d want to reach people within 5 miles of my business who weren’t already customers and who regularly spend money on spa services. I want qualified customers, not those who are “once and done.” And I certainly don’t want to discount to people who would pay full price. The Groupon daily deal model doesn’t support this. Once you target to this level, the volume and revenue on each deal is too low to support a sales force. The Groupon army that some people view as a moat will turn out be an anchor.
  • The future is mobile. People will search for, purchase and redeem offers on mobile devices. Google and Facebook have a huge advantage in mobile. They already have hundreds of millions of people using their apps. Although Groupon Now is an OK product, it has little distribution. To be a player in this space, Groupon would have to buy distribution. It will essentially have to pay to re-acquire customers. Then it has to hope that those people will change their usual behavior and go search in a separate app. Google’s launch today of its Android Offers app should terrify Groupon investors. Google could include Offers as a pre-load in Android. Or it could surface the offers into Google Maps — something that people already use.
  • The management team seems to be incompetent. They made up new accounting metrics. They ignored quiet period rules. They used a restaurant in their roadshow as a reference, apparently without checking to see if the restaurant would say positive things. (The restaurant didn’t.) Management told employees they could sell on the day of the IPO. (They can’t.) They asked me to name confidential sources in exchange for access to the Groupon building.

All of that said, I’ve put in my request with my broker for shares in the IPO because Groupon has scientifically engineered its IPO to inflate share prices. Its float is one of the tiniest in the last decade. Most likely this thing will have a nice pop tomorrow.

If Groupon’s stock skyrockets tomorrow, it doesn’t mean I’ve been wrong about the company. But in the unlikely event it tanks, it’s a big sign that I’m right. (I realize that this might sound like the kind of thing that Groupon’s accountants would say, but it’s true.) We’ll need to wait at least 9 months to really know.

Maybe Groupon will find a real business model in that time.

I'd like to thank a few people whose help has been invaluable in all of my Groupon coverage: Jonathan Gaw, Ed Ketz, Mark Rogowsky, Brian Roemmele, Conor Sen, Semil Shah and Rick Summer. They've read early drafts, provided valuable insight into areas that I'm not an expert in and helped to keep me in check.

On the media side, I'd like to thank Dylan Tweney, Heather Kelly and Mo Marshall at VentureBeat; Herb Greenberg and Juliet Mendez at CNBC; Emily Chang, Cory Johnson and Diane Anderson at Bloomberg West; and Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch.

Rocky AgrawalRocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org and tweets at @rakeshlobster.

This story originally appeared on Agrawal’s blog.

Top photo: Don DeBold/Flickr.

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Zynga preps CastleVille in bid to defend its social game empire

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 08:00 PM PDT

Social game maker Zynga is about to launch a new game, CastleVille, in its ongoing bid to keep on the path toward an initial public offering. The game will go live in the next couple of weeks.

The launch of this high-profile addition to Zynga’s Ville series of games — YoVille, PetVille, FishVille, FarmVille, CityVille — is an example of how Zynga has stepped up its pace of game launches in preparation for its IPO. The company is determined to grow its user numbers and overall business and lately has been launching something every couple of weeks, rather than every few months.

With Castleville, Zynga is continuing the strategy that it has shown in its recent games — Empires & Allies, Adventure World, Pioneer Trail (formerly FrontierVille), Words With Friends on Facebook, and Mafia Wars 2 — where it mashes up its cartoon style, which has a wide appeal among Facebook users, with more interesting game play than it has had in the past. The company is also tapping an expanded team of nearly 2,500 employees, far outgunning many of its rivals in social games.

“We wanted to bring Zynga to the forefront of gaming with the next installment of a Ville game,” said Bill Jackson, creative director on CastleVille and part of the Zynga Dallas team that it acquired with the purchase of Bonfire Studios last year. “Our streamlined social functions make it seem like a next-generation game.”

In the game, you build your own kingdom. It’s sort of like a combination of Pioneer Trail and CityVille, except in a medieval fantasy setting. Zynga is launching the title today in 17 languages.

In the global view, CastleVille is clearly a move to hold on to the No. 1 position. Zynga has roughly 40 percent of the market share for social games on Facebook, with more than 49 million daily active users. Its next closest rival is Electronic Arts, which after years of trying finally scored big this summer with The Sims Social. The Wall Street Journal pointed this out in a story on Wednesday, as The Sims Social grabbed the No. 2 spot on Facebook, behind only Zynga’s CityVille game. However, EA still has only 14.5 million daily active users, or about 10.9 percent. In the last week, Zynga has been the one to gain share, growing 2.4 percentage points while EA lost 1 percent. EA clearly needs something more than The Sims Social to catch Zynga.

With other Ville games like FarmVille, the object was to create a cool farm and show it off. It was purely self-expression. CityVille took that up a notch with a simulated game world that seemed alive, despite the limitations of the Flash browser-based format on Facebook. CastleVille was also designed to be a lot more social.

You can create your own main character, using lots of different facial features, clothing and decorations.

At the opening, you meet your first neighbor, The Duke, a portly guide to the game. And you also meet “the lovely maiden” Giselle. She asks you do undertake a quest. If you do it, then she becomes the first character to join your kingdom. You help her build her house and then you can go about undertaking more quests, meeting more characters, exploring the land around you, and building your kingdom. You can pursue the overarching story of the game by fulfilling the quests that the characters give you. Each time you do, you gain experience and level up. The game has elements of role-playing and simulation.

The game is social because you can visit your friends’ kingdoms and help them with tasks. That earns you Reputation Points, which you can use to buy expansion regions or decorations. The more social you are, the faster you can progress in the game. In an improvement over CityVille, it now takes a lot less time to interact with your friends in the game.

As you push into unexplored territory, you push back the forces of The Gloom. If you want to explore all of the regions available on your playing map, the journey could take months, Jackson said — “Exploration is a big part of it.”

As you build your castle, you can place walls on the map any way you choose, so that you wind up with your dream castle. The game has its own original musical score, created by Zynga with the help of a 75-piece orchestra.

Rival games include the upcoming Ravenshire Castle from 6waves Lolapps, Ravenwood Fair from 6waves Lolapps, and some other smaller fantasy titles. Will the game be a hit? It uses the tried-and-true formula of combining game mechanics with a mainstream art style.

“We are shooting for a broad audience,” Jackson said.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Kevin Rose launches Oink on iPhone: Yelp, Instagram and a dash of Foursquare

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 07:43 PM PDT

Digg co-founder Kevin Rose has just launched his new discovery app Oink, which lets users tag and rate the things around them.

Oink users take photos with their iPhone, tag their location, and can use photo filters, so the concept combines what people like about photo sharing app Instagram, reviews site Yelp, and the location service Foursquare.

Oink differentiates itself from other mobile and social apps because of its emphasis on rankings-based discovery, and it takes the idea of user-generated content somewhere it hasn’t been before.

“For us it's really about ranking things,” Rose told VentureBeat. “We're more about that data than we are about sharing photos.”

Rose was complimentary to Yelp, and said Instagram is “killing it,” but was clear that Oink is meant to let its users assemble information on the wide variety of items in a city, not just the places where those items are found.

And perhaps it is for this reason that using Oink seems so familiar to anyone who has used many of the top smart phone apps available for iPhone.

The heavily anticipated app is the first release from Milk, the mobile development studio Rose started after leaving Digg and announcing plans to end his role as co-host of Diggnation, a show on the web video network Revision3, which Rose co-founded.

Rose said that advertising will not be part of the business model, though he didn’t elaborate on any plans the company has to make money. Rose said that if his app is able to drive significant numbers of new customers to businesses, there are ways to earn money for Milk.

“Our main goal is to just prove out the concept that people just want to rank and rank the things around them.” Milk has been working on Oink for about five months, Rose says, and adding new features to the app is his team’s top priority for now.

“Probably some time next year we'll start looking at what we want to do next.”

Based in San Francisco, Milk has raised a $1.5 million seed round from Rose and a who’s who of angel investors including Dave Morin, Philip Rosedale, Evan Williams, and Shervin Pishevar.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Former Outfit7 CEO starts app discovery company with a $3.5M seed round

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 05:56 PM PDT

ApplicationsAfter leaving mobile app company Outfit7 unexpectedly back in July, Andrej Nabergoj was mum on why or where he was headed. Now he’s announced a new company, Iddiction, that’s just emerged from stealth mode with $3.5 million in seed funding under its belt.

Iddiction is designed to solve a problem Nabergoj says he experienced first hand while at Outfit7 — getting people to actually find the apps.

“When I was running Outfit7, I realized that despite our massive number of downloads, we were still having a hard time getting our apps to users,” he told VentureBeat in an email.

This is a problem for a lot of app developers. As Nabergoj explained, “the rich get richer and the small get smaller.” Those who are able to rise to the top and stay there get the majority of downloads simply because there are more eyes on the application. People don’t like to click to page two.

Climbing the ranks used to be based on how many downloads an app got, nowadays it relies more on performance and engagement with its users, but still developers are having a hard time topping the elite. That isn’t to say there haven’t been solutions created, however. Products such as discovery engines, external marketplaces, and more are available, but developers are still left unsatisfied. Nabergoj thinks Iddiction is the answer to the problem, but is remaining quiet on the product side.

“We are not sharing more at this time on how we are tackling this increasingly relevant problem, but we will have a public announcement soon,” he said.

Part of the reason he’s not saying a lot about the product yet may be that it’s still coming of age. Nabergoj says the funding will go toward further research and development. The seed round was led by Rick Thompson, the founder of Playdom, with participation from a slew of others, including Comcast Ventures, Highland Capital Partners, IDG Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Bayview Capital and Francisco Larrain, director of engineering at Groupon.

[Exploding applications/Shutterstock]

Filed under: dev, mobile, VentureBeat

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Kleiner Perkins raises $250 million China II Fund

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 05:38 PM PDT

Venture firm Kleiner Perkins has raised a $250 million fund to invest in Chinese companies, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The KPBC China Fund II filing documents list chief financial officer Susan Biglieri as the company’s signatory.

This follows a recent trend of Asia-focused venture funds, but it is very small when compared to the $6 billion raised by venture firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in October.

Companies in the Kleiner Perkins China portfolio include 360Buy, an e-commerce platform, PVNext, which makes solar panels, and Scinor Water Technologies.

China is the world’s largest Internet market, with more than 500 million Internet users. However, just 35 percent of Chinese people are online.

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Barnes & Noble’s $249 Nook Tablet to challenge Amazon’s Kindle Fire

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 05:09 PM PDT

Barnes & Noble is taking on Amazon and its Kindle Fire tablet by expanding its lineup of Nook e-readers to include a lighter, faster, 7-inch color touchscreen device called the Nook Tablet, according to documents obtained by Engadget.

The Nook Tablet, which will retail for $249, closely resembles the Nook Color but has beefed-up specifications. It comes with a dual core processor, 16 GB of storage — twice that of both the Nook Color and the Kindle Fire — and weighs in at just 14.1 ounces.

The supped-up touchscreen e-reader and tablet hybrid appears to start shipping on November 16 — just one day after the Kindle Fire’s shipping date — with pre-orders beginning on November 7, following the company’s scheduled Nook press event in New York.

With a price point $50 more than Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and a launch schedule that appears a bit rushed following Amazon’s splashy Fire reveal a few weeks ago, what will make the Nook Tablet stand out among an expanding group of e-readers and tablets? The leaked documents tout ”twice the selection” of applications, “twice the power” and “twice the built-in memory,” but that’s unlikely to sound groundbreaking to the average consumer.

With the release of the Nook Tablet, the price of the Nook Color will be reduced to $199 from $249.

[Image via Engadget]

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Eight Fast Pitch nominees to go head-to-head in blitzkrieg VentureBeat competition. Who will win?

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 04:50 PM PDT

Eight startups enter. One startup leaves.

Much like the Thunderdome, VentureBeat’s Fast Pitch competition next week will be a speedy, raucous, show-no-mercy affair. With luck it will be a lot less violent, however. Eight startups will take the stage for two minutes apiece, during which they’ll have to impress the judges with PowerPoint, a quick demo, or just sheer force of personality.

It’s happening at the Under the Radar Conference Mountain View, California, starting at 9 a.m. on November 10.

Under the Radar and VentureBeat have picked the finalists who will be facing the judges — and the crowd of over 300 Silicon Valley executives, investors and influencers. Here’s the list, with descriptions provided by each company or found on its website.

71lbs logo71lbs
71lbs.com is a SaaS that allows businesses to effortlessly consolidate, analyze, and audit their FedEx, UPS and USPS parcel shipping spend. 71lbs audits help clients recover an average of 4 to 6 percent of their parcel shipping spend on a no risk, contingent fee basis.

Ecquire logoEcquire
Ecquire eliminates data entry by moving your day’s efforts from where you work to where it needs to be. You can move your data from Gmail, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. And with one click, you can store it in SalesForce, Highrise, MailChimp or Google Docs.

Flowr logoFlowr
Flowr is a social collaboration tool for companies, where co-workers can collaborate around ideas, share files, ask questions, post tasks, events, polls etc. Flowr is very well designed, tightly integrated with Google Apps, with several features and a strong mobile support with its iPhone, Android and HTML5 app.

LocalMind logoLocalmind
Localmind is real-time, location-based Q&A platform that leverages social check-in services. Localmind allows you to ask questions of users checked-in right now anywhere around the world — so you can find out how crowded the bar is, what specials at the restaurant are, or whether the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi is up.

Matygo logoMatygo
Matygo's mission is to deliver top quality, affordable education to people around the world. There is a huge gap between the social learning that takes place in small, real-world classrooms and the isolated experience of traditional distance ed or recorded video-based courses. Matygo is working to take the distance out of distance education.

Rentcycle logoRentcycle
Rentcycle provides any store that rents items, from tuxedos to bicycles, with the tools to move their business online, leaving behind paper or server-based inventory systems widely used today. Dubbed “OpenTable for rentals,” Rentcycle helps rental shops in three ways: a back-end system to manage daily operations, technology to facilitate reservations directly through the store’s website and an online marketplace to find brand new customers.

Yappoint logoYappoint
Yappoint offers people an extraordinary connection with service providers, clients, friends and family. Via an easy to use calendar interface, anyone can manage appointments with their favorite service provider/clients, or friends, or family in seconds, without having to waste time giving a call or writing long emails.

Yast logoYast
Spend two minutes at yast.com, and you’ll see why this time tracker stands out in the crowd. Our mobile apps are “html5″-integrated to our site, with real-time updates to the web interface. Yast Calls makes you invoice every phone call with your client.

About the Event

Under the Radar is a one-day showcase of hand-selected disruptive companies in a particular sector. Under the Radar takes a comprehensive look at the true innovators fueling the explosion of emerging technology and new business opportunities. Each company presents their offering to a panel of active industry experts, along with an audience of more than 300-early adopter technology insiders. 64 percent of past presenting companies have gone on to close partnerships, raise funding or be acquired after presenting at Under the Radar. Alumni include: LinkedIn, AdMob, Flickr, Loopt, Jive, 3Tera and more.

Photo by Paretz Partensky/Flickr.

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Groupon announces initial share price of $20 for tomorrow’s IPO

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 04:02 PM PDT

Groupon shares will be priced at $20 when the company begins trading publicly tomorrow on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol GRPN, according to AllThingsD, which would value the company at $13 billion.

The daily deals company’s share price came out today amid much speculation, and Kara Swisher reports the offering was 10 times oversubscribed, so the company is offering an additional 5 million shares, for a total of 35 million shares.

However, Groupon’s core business of selling local deals is slumping, as we reported earlier this week. The trend of slower local sales has been obscured by product expansions, such as sales of event tickets and vacations.

"If you look at the company's prospectus, they say they expect to see losses for the foreseeable future," said Dun & Bradstreet tech specialist Lee Simmons in a call with VentureBeat reporter Jolie O’Dell last week.

Groupon desperately needs to raise cash, and the float was expected to raise as much as $540 million. With the addition of 5 million shares, priced at $20, tomorrow’s offering will likely bring in close to $700 million.

People have been watching news of Groupon’s IPO announcement very closely for echoes of last decade’s dot-com bubble, when companies with little or no revenue were listing themselves as public companies, and then quickly going bankrupt.

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Hands on with Amazon’s Flow augmented reality shopping app for iPhone

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 03:37 PM PDT

ICO-amazon-flowAmazon has launched a new mobile app for the iPhone called Flow that smoothly combines augmented reality with e-commerce.

Flow uses the camera on the back of the iPhone to scan UPC barcodes and tell you pricing on Amazon. On top of that, the app will show you customer reviews, a full description and media related to the scanned product such as trailers and interviews. Once you look at the product page, you’re then given the option to buy the item from Amazon.

I decided to give the new app a try using my iPhone 4S to see how well it worked, and let me say first that it runs fast and processed my test UPCs almost instantaneously. Using three objects I had lying around the house with clear barcodes on them, I was impressed with how quick the information and related assets came up.

First up, I scanned the new PlayStation 3 game The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection. The game’s 55 reviews, full description and 1-minute game trailer came up and were accessible from the product page.

I also decided to give my hardback copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and a jar of Nutella a scan. The product page showed 1,298 customer reviews and allowed me to see interviews with the book’s publishers, talking about the life of deceased author Stieg Larsson. There was no associated media for the scanned jar of Nutella, but there were (as expected) several customer reviews with people professing their love of the delicious spread.

While Flow is a competent app that serves its purpose, comparable apps RedLaser and ShopSavvy are superior when it comes to the basic task of price checking an item against online sources. Flow only checks the price on Amazon while the other two check any possible online retailer it can find. By scanning The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection on RedLaser, for example, I found that Half.com was selling the game for $32.95 compared to Amazon’s $39.99.

Take a look at the gallery below for more Flow screenshots and a final picture from RedLaser that shows pricing from many sites.

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AMD sloughing off 10 percent of staff starting this quarter

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 03:37 PM PDT

I'm sorryChipmaker Applied Micro Devices (AMD) announced today it will be laying off 10 percent of its global staff, in addition to all of its contractors, as a part of a “restructuring” plan. If recent staffing numbers are correct, that’s about 1200 jobs.

“The actions we are taking are designed to improve our ability to consistently address the needs of our global customer base and stake leadership positions in lower power, emerging markets and the cloud,” said AMD president and chief executive Rory Read in a statement.

According to a study by IHS iSuppli, the semiconductor industry took a hit in the second quarter, and revenues for the third quarter aren’t looking good. The analyst firm is lowering overall 2011 revenue growth projections to 2.9 percent, down from its original projection of 4.6 percent. This is a major leap from the 32.4 percent projected growth that occurred in 2010. With such low projections and an overall waning market, Read is moving to keep his company relevant, or at least above water.

The company hopes to see a savings of $10 million dollars in operating expenses for the fourth quarter of 2011, and expects that operating costs will amount to $610 million for the same quarter. This, an overall savings of $118 million in 2012, and other efficiency changes will bring the company to a hoped-for $200 million in savings. The layoffs will play a big part it achieving this goal, are to affect employees globally, and should be completed by the end of the first quarter in 2012.

The company will take action on this plan in the current quarter. Executing the plan will cost roughly $105 million between this quarter’s action and next.

Check out the press release here:

AMD Optimizes Cost Structure to Enhance Competitiveness and Accelerate Growth

− Operational savings of more than $200 million in 2012 designed to accelerate future growth in lower power, emerging markets and the cloud

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Nov. 3, 2011AMD (NYSE: AMD) today announced a restructuring plan and implementation of operational efficiency initiatives designed to strengthen the company's competitive positioning.  AMD expects that these combined actions will create a more competitive cost structure and rebalance the company's global workforce skillsets, helping AMD to continue delivering industry-leading products while improving productivity, reducing time-to-market and better aligning with key industry trends that are expected to drive growth.

"Reducing our cost structure and focusing our global workforce on key growth opportunities will strengthen AMD's competitiveness and allow us to aggressively pursue a balanced set of strategic activities designed to accelerate future growth," said Rory Read, AMD president and CEO. "The actions we are taking are designed to improve our ability to consistently address the needs of our global customer base and stake leadership positions in lower power, emerging markets and the cloud."

AMD expects that the restructuring plan will result operational savings, primarily in operating expense, of approximately $10 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 and $118 million in 2012, primarily through a reduction of its global workforce by approximately 10% and the termination of existing contractual commitments. The workforce reduction will occur across all functions globally and is expected to be substantially completed by the end of the first quarter of 2012.   Based on anticipated savings from the restructuring plan, AMD expects fourth quarter 2011 operating expenses will be approximately $610 million.

As a result of implementing efficiencies across the company's operations, AMD expects to save approximately $90 million in 2012 operating expenses in addition to the restructuring plan savings, resulting in more than $200 million of expected combined operational savings in 2012.

The company expects to reinvest a significant portion of the savings to fund initiatives designed to accelerate AMD's strategies for lower power, emerging markets, and the cloud.

The company's actions pursuant to the restructuring plan will take place primarily during fourth quarter of 2011, with some restructuring plan activities extending into 2012.  The company currently estimates that it will record restructuring expense in the fourth quarter of 2011 and in 2012 of approximately $101 million and $4 million, respectively.  Of the total restructuring expense, approximately $56 million will be future cash expenditures in 2011, $33 million will be future cash expenditures in 2012 and $15 million will be future cash expenditures in 2013.

[Sorry coffee via Shutterstock]

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HotelTonight books swanky hotels on the cheap (video)

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 03:10 PM PDT

More times than not, hotel booking is a last minute affair, and it’s usually not much fun. But with a $15 billion hotel market, there’s a great opportunity for an app-maker that can make this process seamless and fun. HotelTonight may just be that app. Stylish and elegant, HotelTonight connects nearby consumers to boutique hotels with empty rooms.

“We’re setting out to be the next $1 billion company in travel,” HotelTonight co-founder and chief executive officer Sam Shank.

That’s a pretty bold claim for a company that specializes in a tiny niche of the hotel market. But merchants apparently like HotelTonight, because it helps them deal with the problem of “distressed inventory,” another way of saying a product that is getting close to its expiration date. You can’t sell yesterday’s empty hotel room to today’s traveler, but with HotelTonight the hotelier has a chance to push out a last-minute discount on rooms that would otherwise earn no money.

HotelTonight’s timing may be good, since more than 35 percent of travelers plan to book a hotel room on their mobile device in the next year, according to a study released by PhocusWright, a global travel market research company.

HotelTonight joins companies like WillCall for event tickets and appointment manager Schedulicity (which launched at DEMO ’11), that help merchants sell distressed inventory, which Shank calls the on-demand economy. It also competes with more established travel-booking sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak and Hipmunk.

HotelTonight is expanding the market of potential hotel occupants, says Shank, rather than cannibalizing hotel profits by forcing them to offer discounts, a la Groupon. The app instead is targeting an affluent user base who can afford to stay in a hotel, but might not have even thought to do so. Part of the appeal is that HotelTonight doesn’t list every hotel in every city, just the cool ones, like Seattle’s Ace Hotel, or the Talbot Hotel in Chicago.

HotelTonight recently expanded its offerings to include Charleston, SC, which was recently listed as the top tourist destination in the U.S. The company is based in San Francisco, has 20 employees, and has raised $3.25 million from Battery Ventures, Accel Partners and First Round Capital.

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Google kicks off the holiday shopping season with new Google Offers Android app

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 02:56 PM PDT

Google Offers screenGoogle released a new Android app for its Google Offers service, the company announced today.

The free mobile application, which is available now in the Android Market, helps people take advantage of deals offered through the service while on the go. Not only can Android owners discover and purchase these deals directly from their smartphone, they’ll also be able to redeem them from the merchants without paper coupons or a proof of receipt.

The company said it’s planning to launch a similar Google Offers app for Apple’s iOS in the near future.

The release comes just in time for the holiday shopping season, which is a smart move on Google’s part. I recall hearing about smartphones playing a huge part in holiday shopping habits last year, because people would compare brick-and-mortar store prices with online retailers such as Amazon. Adding a Google Offers app to notify you of daily deals is likely going to be very lucrative for the company.

However, Google Offers will still have to best competition from the likes of Groupon, LivingSocial and several other daily deals services.

Along with the Android app announcement, the company also launched its first national deal on Google Offers — $25 worth of outdoor gear at REI for $15.

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HTC unveils the Rezound, featuring thumping Beats Audio

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 02:35 PM PDT

Say hello to the HTC Rezound, yet another media-focused Android smartphone from the prolific Taiwanese manufacturer, and its second to sport integration with Beats audio technology.

HTC unveiled the Rezound at a swanky event in New York City this afternoon. How swanky? Dr. Dre was sitting in the audience (he co-created the Beats brand).

HTC CEO Peter Chou says the company began working with Beats Audio earlier this year to revolutionize mobile audio. Back in September, HTC announced it was investing a whopping $300 million in Beats Electronics. HTC’s Sensation XL also features Beats integration.

The phone takes some design cues from the Incredible line with red accents, but it’s also great looking under the hood. HTC Sales President Jason Mackenzie showed off a slide demonstrating the sexy red interior hardware of the Rezound, which is what you’ll see when you remove the battery cover.

Not surprisingly, the Rezound is also a powerhouse, sporting a 1.5 gigahertz dual-core CPU, 1 gigabyte of RAM, LTE support, and HTC’s first 720p (1280 by 720) HD resolution display on a 4.3-inch screen. The phone will ship with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and the latest version of HTC’s Sense software. The company says it’s “Ice Cream Sandwich ready,” which means it can be upgraded to Android 4.0 when it’s available early next year.

The phone’s 8-megapixel camera also features many of the camera features in T-Mobile’s MyTouch 4G Slide (also built by HTC), which includes quick shooting and panorama capabilities. Just like the iPhone 4S, the Rezound camera has an f2.2 lens, which means it will perform well in low light. HTC also included extensive editing features, including social effects that can be instantly previewed. And as is the custom with new phones, it can record 1080p HD video.

With Beats Audio, the company says the sound on the phone is tuned specifically to make music sound great. HTC will also pack in high-quality Beats headphones that promise much better sound than typical cellphone headphones.

Beats co-founder and music exec Jimmy Iovine said at the event he wanted to make phones better music players, pointing to the fact that you still see people juggling audio players with smartphones (personally, I rock a Zune HD alongside my iPhone 4).

The Rezound will be available on Verizon Wireless on November 14 for $300 online, and at Verizon Wireless and Best Buy stores across the country.

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Sprint taking iPhone 4S slow data speeds seriously, but has no solution

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 02:32 PM PDT

SprintWireless carrier Sprint does not have an answer for disgruntled iPhone 4S users who are experiencing slow connection and data speeds on the network, but they are taking it seriously, a company representative said in an interview with CNET.

Users have flooded to Sprint since the company announced it would be supporting the new iPhone, offering unlimited data plans to compete with AT&T and Verizon, America’s two largest wireless carriers. That there are problems with data speeds after an onslaught of new users should be a surprise to no one. The company added 1.3 million new subscribers in Q3, though it posted a quarterly loss of $301 million, as we’ve previously reported.

The CNET article also notes that this is the first time the company has acknowledged publicly that there is a problem.

The slow data speeds and connectivity issues have created a rash of discussions on the Sprint Community forum, with nearly a quarter million views, and more than 1,300 comments.

Commenter beeay wrote:

As you can see, I got .016Mbps down and 0.05Mbps up.  For those of you want to say maybe the network is just slow in my area.  I did the same test with Samsung Epic Touch with 4G turned off at the same spot.  It’s 3 times faster.  Is sprint crippling iPhone data rate, or there is something wrong with iPhone CDMA radio itself.

The commenter also included the screenshot pictured at left.

VentureBeat has reached out to Sprint for comment, and we will update this story with any news.

via CNET

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Anyone’s a magazine editor with Scoop.it, launching publicly today

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 02:15 PM PDT

Scoop.it, a tool that lets people gather and distribute content from around the Web based their interests and passions, is launching publicly today after a year in an invite-only beta. A robust algorithm helps you find relevant articles and videos, but the real appeal of Scoop.it is that anyone can be a magazine editor, curating and sharing attractive topic pages.

“Social media has been built on top of social networks, and the two are different,” Scoop.it co-founder and chief executive officer Guillame Decugis told VentureBeat. Decugis says that people want to express themselves in social media, but there’s too much noise. “I think we’re moving back to a web where quality matters again.”

The Scoop.it search algorithm helps you find great content, but it’s the human touch that makes the Scoop.it experience so sticky, because a person can understand the relationship between items and pick out what’s important much better than any machine can.

The term “curation” has been floating around lot lately, and Scoop.it is far from the only company in the space. Startups like PearlTrees and Curated.by are just a few of the dozens of such tools out there. “We’re unique in the sense you have the ability to create a magazine,” says Decugis. Scoop.it gets more than 2 million visits per month, and traffic is growing by 35 percent month.

To get a feel for what Scoop.it does, check out some of the great topic pages passionate Scoop.it users have curated on space exploration, violinsstreet art, tools for learners and scientific discovery. There’s a lot more interesting violin-related content on the web than one might initially suspect, and Scoop.it topic pages are a great way to collect and share this bounty. Decugis uses his own topic page to document the impact of the iPad on the media.

The company is beginning to experiment with a premium model that will allow businesses and others to embed branded versions of their topic page onto their own sites. Insightful, intelligent curation around a topic will demonstrate expertise for a business owner or a guru, and they can also generate pretty strong SEO for themselves. The premium version of Scoop.it will also include an analytics tool that can be accessed for a monthly fee.

Scoop.it has received $10 million in funding from Partech International, Orkos, Elaia and IRDI. Partech is an investor in VentureBeat.

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LinkedIn posts $1.6M loss for Q3 but exceeds Wall Street expectations

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 02:13 PM PDT

jeff weiner linkedinBusiness social network LinkedIn posted mixed third quarter results this afternoon, with a $1.6 million loss for the quarter, but it’s still managing to beat Wall Street expectations with strong revenues.

LinkedIn went public in May and had to reveal its financials for the first time last quarter. The company posted a surprisingly strong Q2 with a 120 percent rise in revenues and $4.5 million in profits. But this is Q3 and it’s unfair to directly compare it to last quarter.

In the third quarter, LinkedIn reported $139.5 million in revenues, which is up 126 percent from Q3 2010. Unfortunately, in terms of profits, it was down with a loss of $1.6 million compared to a net gain of $4 million in Q3 2010. Earnings per share was a negative 4 cents a share.

Even with this being an unprofitable quarter, the social media company beat Wall Street analysts’ expectations. Analysts had expected the company to only earn $128 million in revenues.

"LinkedIn had a strong third quarter, with significant, broad-based growth across all of our revenue streams, member engagement metrics, geographies and sales channels," said LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner (pictured) said in a statement. "Our results underscore the long-term strength of our global platform and our business model."

The biggest bright spot was LinkedIn’s membership numbers, with 131.2 million registered users now on the site. That’s an increase of 63 percent from Q3 2010, indicating sign-up momentum.

LinkedIn’s share price closed today at $87.50, but is down nearly 9 percent in after hours trading. When LinkedIn debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in May, it closed its first day of trading at $94.25.

Although LinkedIn had a not-so-great quarter financially, the company has done well with recent product introductions and innovative changes to its service. In mid-October, it launched a new Classmates feature that makes it easier to connect with alumni and a headhunting-like service targeting job recruiters.

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Starbucks has processed 20M mobile payments since January

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 01:56 PM PDT

Starbucks has processed more than 20 million mobile payment transactions, the company revealed during its earnings call Thursday.

Starbucks Mobile Pay, the company’s pay-by-mobile application and in-store scanner system, was rolled out nationwide in January. The system, available at roughly 9,000 locations, lets iPhone, Android and BlackBerry users with the Starbucks or Starbucks Card Mobile applications pay with their phones by scanning 2D barcodes on the screen at store registers.

Nine weeks after it launched the apps, Starbucks had processed more than 3 million mobile payments.

“The number of mobile payment transactions increases every month … we see sequential month-over-month increases in the number of customers that use mobile payment,” Adam Brotman, Starbucks' vice president and general manager of digital ventures, said in an interview with VentureBeat. “Twenty million transactions speaks volumes.”

There are now more than one million smartphones with at least one registered Starbucks Card, the company also disclosed during the earnings call.

Users can expect more enhancements to the application in the weeks and months ahead. “We are leaning way in to how we can continue to enhance the app,” Brotman said.

With the continued success of Starbucks Mobile Pay, the coffee retailer maintains its status as a leader in mobile payment space, while the more technology-heavy systems that Google, Square, Jumio and others are pushing are just getting off the ground.

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Judge orders alleged Facebook co-founder Ceglia to return to U.S. to hunt for evidence

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 12:35 PM PDT

Paul Ceglia, the man who last year claimed he owned 84 percent of Facebook, has been ordered to return to the U.S. to unearth the one piece of physical evidence that could settle the court case.

Ceglia, who is currently staying in Ireland, was ordered by U. S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio to return home to the States to search for one of six flash drives that Facebook says will settle the case in Facebook’s favor.

Ceglia said the drive was lost; however, given that billions of dollars and ownership of the world’s most significant social network are at stake, the court won’t simply take his word for it. He has until December 2, 2011, to find as many of the six flash drives sought by the court as he can.

So far, Facebook has gotten everything they’ve asked for in this case, as sources close to the matter tell us, on both privilege claims and discovery.

In July 2010, Ceglia had Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg served with papers. Ceglia said that he and Zuckerberg had entered into a contract nine months before Facebook launched. The contract allegedly stated that Zuckerberg would “develop and design a website” and that Ceglia would wind up “paying a $1,000 fee but getting a 50 percent stake in the product.”

At the time, Facebook dismissed the claims, and Ceglia had few supporters among the tech-blog-reading public.

But Ceglia persisted. In April 2011, he came back with an impressive law firm, DLA Piper, at his back and some new evidence.

Ceglia produced emails (which Facebook claims are forgeries) showing Zuckerberg attempting to swindle Ceglia out of his share of the company. The emails were allegedly written during the same time period Zuckerberg was stalling his work for the Winklevoss twins.

Given the fact that Facebook reached a $65 settlement with the Winklevoss twins, we can’t really say whether the company is willing to bend on this claim, either.

What we do know is, according to court documents, Facebook asked the judge in the case to order Ceglia to “conduct a diligent search” for the missing flash drive in the United States. He will also have to give details about “the dates, times, locations and circumstances of his in-person, good-faith efforts” to find the missing drives.

Also in Facebook’s favor, the company will be permitted to issue subpoenas to various people involved in the case. Facebook will also be allowed to examine metadata from experts' files.

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Updated: Siri goes down for iPhone 4S owners across the country

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 11:52 AM PDT

Siri DownSiri, Apple’s new voice assistant feature for the iPhone 4S, is apparently suffering from an outage, which has rendered it useless for many iPhone owners. The outage began at around 11 am PST today.

Siri isn’t just a simple piece of voice control software. To function properly, Siri must communicate with one of Apple’s servers for additional information. For example, when you ask Siri what the weather is like in Nashville, Tenn., it plays an elaborate game of telephone with a main database that has the information, and then updates you with the answer.

This is precisely the reason jailbreaking the iPhone 4 and the iPad to run Siri is so difficult.

We’re contacting Apple for additional information and will update you with what we find out. In the meantime, feel free to let us know if you’re experiencing the Siri outage by leaving a comment below.

Update: We called Apple’s customer service number to find out more information. Despite toggling off the Wi-Fi and restarting the phone as they suggested, I was unable to get Siri to connect (not that I’m surprised). The Apple Care supervisor I spoke with said it’s entirely possible that it’s a network outage.

Update 2:40pm Pacific: Siri is still offline, according to our tests, and numerous other users are also reporting outages. So far, Apple has not issued an official statement, and it has not responded to our requests for comment.

Update 4:04pm Pacific: Siri functionality has been restored for some iPhone 4S users — including myself. At this point we still don’t know what was causing the outage, or how widespread it was, and Apple still hasn’t responded to our requests for comment.

Siri did respond, however. I asked her, “Siri, where you been all day?” Her response? A number of day spas and hair salons (Screenshot).

Thanks to Armen over at iSmashphone for tipping us off, and to VentureBeat’s Heather Kelly for the suggestion about asking Siri where she’s been.

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Google revamps search for more recent results, affects 35% of all searches

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 11:41 AM PDT

Eric Schmidt GoogleGoogle has tweaked its basic search algorithm to promote fresher and more relevant content, with 35 percent of searches to be affected, the company announced today. The adjustments will impact searches for recent and reoccurring events, and other fast-changing information.

While it’s easy to focus on evolving Google products like Gmail and Google+, Google still makes most of its revenues on search and advertising. Thus, the company needs to keep you coming back for more searches, and wants you to be dependent on reliable and relevant results. It also wants to keep you away from Microsoft’s Bing.

“Given the incredibly fast pace at which information moves in today's world, the most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old,” wrote Google Fellow Amit Singhal on the Official Google Blog.

Google has made a commitment to delivering better and faster search results over the past few years. In June 2010, Google debuted a new search indexing infrastructure called Caffeine that helped improve the the frequency of real-time results by aggregating more pages and indexing in half the time. The changes announced today are different from Caffeine implantation because that was purely an infrastructure change where this is algorithmic.

The areas of search most impacted, according to Google, will be:

Recent events or hot topics: For recent events or hot topics that begin trending on the web, you want to find the latest information immediately. Now when you search for current events like [occupy oakland protest], or for the latest news about the [nba lockout], you'll see more high-quality pages that might only be minutes old.

Regularly recurring events: Some events take place on a regularly recurring basis, such as annual conferences like [ICALP] or an event like the [presidential election]. Without specifying with your keywords, it's implied that you expect to see the most recent event, and not one from 50 years ago. There are also things that recur more frequently, so now when you're searching for the latest [NFL scores], [dancing with the stars] results or [exxon earnings], you'll see the latest information.

Frequent updates: There are also searches for information that changes often, but isn't really a hot topic or a recurring event. For example, if you're researching the [best slr cameras], or you're in the market for a new car and want [subaru impreza reviews], you probably want the most up to date information.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google+ gets YouTube and Chrome integrations, deeper ties with Google itself

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 10:49 AM PDT

Vic YouTubeGoogle+ is getting Googled-out with new support for YouTube as well as integration into the company’s Chrome browser, according to an official blog post.

Undoubtedly, Google has a lot of great products to offer outside of Google+. Larry Page realized this and explained in a post after Google’s third quarter earnings call that the team feels like it’s delivered the “+,” and now it’s time to deliver the Google. Page explained Google has grand visions for what Google+ will become, and the individual product launches are only stepping stones to get there.

“Our ultimate ambition is to transform the overall Google experience–making it beautifully simple, almost automagical, because we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly” said Page in the Google+ post.

But the features themselves are what will make the product whole, and it continues with YouTube.

Google+ now sports a “YouTube slider,” which appears when a visitor mouses over the new YouTube icon at the top right of their Google+ screen. The icon will unfold in a separate pop up window and ask what to play. You can then search for, watch, and share the video to your circles inside the social network. But you’re not limited to Google+. If you close your other Google+ windows, the pop up will continue to play whatever video topics you choose.

Once you’ve chosen a video, Google+ will automatically queue up a list of related videos and begin playing them. When you share a video, the same queuing action will occur, attached directly to your post.

youtube slider

As the screenshots denote, this will be particularly useful for listening to music on Google+, as well as sharing your tastes with your circles. There seemingly aren’t very many avenues for self-expression in Google+ other than photos and posts. This element of YouTube adds another element.

Chrome users will also have added extensions for easy Google+ access. Your browser window now sports a notification button, so you can see and respond to people adding you, responding to your comments and more in real-time. You will also be able to +1 different websites directly from the Chrome browser.

Filed under: social

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Jive and Actiance know communication laws and will keep you compliant (exclusive)

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 10:06 AM PDT

Tin CanSocial business company Jive Software is making it easier for companies to adhere to electronic communications laws by partnering with Actiance, a company hinged on keeping you compliant.

We aren’t talking through tin cans anymore. The business world is full of new ways to communicate with coworkers. But the idea of corporate surveillance is a very touchy subject, especially as social networks and personal devices enter the workspace. Some industries, such as financial and government institutions, require email, instant message and now “social business” records by law.

Organizations such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) provide policies on how companies should keep track of internal and external communications and for how long the records should be kept. Indeed over 10,000 laws address electronic communications for these businesses. This provides a challenge for companies that are just starting to adopt social business programs, such as Jive, Salesforce’s Chatter or Yammer.

Because of this change to social business communications, Jive felt particularly compelled in the past year to build Actiance’s compliance products into its service, Jive senior vice president of business development Chris Morace explained.

Jive provides a suite of products under the header “social business software.” The company provides solutions for internal and external communications, tracking a company’s social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, in addition to an internal application marketplace used by employees to download add-ons specific to their needs. Actiance takes these communications and properly records and reports based on applicable laws. It also allows those with restricted access to certain areas of the business to interact with all employees through the social business software.

“It’s liberating,” said Morace in an interview with VentureBeat. “It’s a much more open, visible way of communicating.”

What may be really liberating is the money saved not battling legal issues resulting from non-compliance. According to Sarah Carter, Actiance’s vice president of marketing, over $60 million in fines are outstanding because companies fail to meet electronic communication laws.

Because the Actiance software is baked right into Jive’s, the end consumer doesn’t have to worry about extending compliance practices to the new social business package. The Actiance experience doesn’t change in the new Jive integration either. Emails will be archived without anyone ever having to take action or ever knowing it was done. Companies can opt-in to the service, which is helpful if you work in an industry that doesn’t work under these regulations, but there is an additional cost for adding Actiance. Jive is not releasing pricing details at this time.

[Photo via Supri Suharjoto/Shutterstock]

Filed under: enterprise, social, VentureBeat

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HP forges ahead with a new Slate 2 tablet for $699

Posted: 03 Nov 2011 09:48 AM PDT

HP Slate 2Hewlett-Packard may have shuttered its line of TouchPads, but the company certainly isn’t out of the tablet business.

The company announced that it plans to refresh its Windows 7 Slate 500 tablet, which will focus on the business/enterprise market of consumers.

The Slate 2 isn’t much different from the first model. And like the previous version, it features a 1024 x 600-resolution, 8.9-inch screen and includes a stylus. HP, however, has upgraded the Slate 2 with a 1.5GHz Intel Atom Oak Trail Z670 processor, a faster 64GB mSATA drive, a Swype keyboard and a new Bluetooth keyboard dock.

Another big improvement over the original Slate is the increased battery life, which has a standby time of six hours compared to the old Slate’s two hours. The Slate 2 will retail for $699 and be available to consumers in late November, according to the company.

Of course, if $699 is too expensive for you, HP is currently offering its WebOS TouchPad tablet for $149 when you purchase of one of the company’s PCs.

[Via The Verge]

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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