10 November, 2011



Activision posts update on Call of Duty Elite service woes

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 09:47 AM PST

Activision Blizzard posted an update on the service woes for its gamer social network Call of Duty Elite. The service was supposed to launch on Tuesday with the debut of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. But the huge number of registrations and other issues brought down the service and users have had trouble accessing it ever since.

The outage has been frustrating to gamers who want to access data such as their career stats and competitive opportunities. It hasn’t affected the ability for users to play the multiplayer version of Modern Warfare 3, but it is embarrassing for the company because it billed Elite as a way to deepen gamer engagement on a year-round basis for the Call of Duty games.

“We are having trouble scaling the service to meet demand,” the company said in its post. “Many of you are trying to get in and, unfortunately, you can’t right now. You’re frustrated, we know it, and we know we need to fix it.”

The post explains that registration and login systems were crushed by too many gamers signing up at the same time. That part has now been fixed. But high demand is still crashing servers. The company is deploying more servers, but it has to temporarily limit access to Elite services on the console and web site applications in the meantime.

The update is similar to what Daniel Suarez, vice president of production at Beachhead Studios, told us yesterday afternoon. The post reiterates that users will not lose their career stats from playing Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer. All game play data is safely stored in separate gaming servers. Activision Blizzard is extending the period for signing up for Founding Member status for the paid version ($49.99 a year) by 30 days.

Here’s the full text of the update below:

Latest update: November 10th, 7:30AM PST

Since Tuesday's launch, Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer has been working great. In fact, the amount of players online is even higher than what it was this time last year for Black Ops. Have fun — we hope you continue to enjoy MW3 to the fullest.

However, on Call of Duty Elite, we are having trouble scaling the service to meet demand. Many of you are trying to get in and unfortunately, you can't right now. You're frustrated, we know it, and we know we need to fix it. Our teams have been working non-stop to identify issues and resolve them as quickly as possible. Again, these issues have no impact on the performance of the game.

We want to share with you what we know at this time and what we are doing:

At launch, our registration and login systems were crushed by gamers trying to enter the Elite site at the same time. We have now fixed the registration and login systems, but we have found that the greater than expected demand is crashing servers. We're immediately deploying multiple additional servers to beef up the system. We are also going to temporarily limit access to Elite services on both the console applications and website while we build additional capacity and scale. We'll look to increase access to greater numbers of users as soon as possible.

As more users log into the Elite system, you may find that the wait to get into Elite is longer than you expect. We know how frustrating that is and we appreciate your patience. Many of you are now able to see your player card and stats, but if you don't see all your recent matches or career summary, don't worry — your gameplay data for your entire careers in both Black Ops and MW3 is safely stored, and it will all be available to you once these issues are resolved.

And for our premium members who are Founders, know that granting your status and delivering your in-game benefits in MW3 is a priority. Also, to ensure that every premium member receives their full money's worth, we are immediately and automatically extending your membership to Call of Duty Elite by 30 days at no additional cost. If you're still considering becoming a premium member, we're going to extend Founder eligibility until the end of the month, and you will also receive the additional 30 days of access.

The Call of Duty Elite team will keep you updated at callofduty.com/elitestatus. Continue to check back here for overall Elite status or for a complete list of FAQs, check out our customer service site. We will also give you updates regularly through the official Twitter account, @CallOfDutyElite. Our top priority and sole focus is delivering the best possible service experience to our gamers and we're sorry we're off to a rocky start with Elite. We will not rest until Elite delivers the full set of features we promised you. We are committed to Call of Duty Elite for the long haul and are working around the clock to resolve these issues. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Filed under: games, social

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Identified: What kind of recruiting scam have Eric Schmidt, the Drapers and DST invested in?

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 09:15 AM PST

Launching publicly today, Identified is a professional social network for adults younger than 30, built on top of Facebook, and backed by $5.5 million from Google’s Eric Schmidt, brothers Tim  and Bill Draper and Alexander Lamas of DST.

What Identified hopes to do is create a rich and engaging dialog between young job aspirants based on their personal and professional data, and the ever-evolving needs of potential employers, unlike a Linked profile, which tends to be static.

“It's a game mechanic, but I think the key is to connect the game mechanic to something real,” Identified co-founder and chief executive officer Brendan Wallace told VentureBeat. Instead of getting badges, Identified would like to help young people get in touch with potential employers, and do a better job of matching companies with the best candidates. And because it’s a professional network built on top of Facebook’s social graph, Identified has loads of info about elusive twenty-somethings.

It sounds great, but it comes off as icky. Here’s why.

After a briefing with Wallace, I set up a profile on the site so I could see how it works in practice. I was quite disappointed by the level of privacy offered as a default, and ended up posting a chart with my friend’s Identified scores (think Klout score for helping recruiters) to my wall automatically. I had been careful to uncheck a box that would have invited all my friends to join, I thought.

I contacted Wallace for clarification and he said that a second “module” during the sign-up generated the ranking chart after users have unselected the invite all tab. It’s a new feature, he assured me, and one that boosts engagement and edge rank of Identified posts, which is the Faecbook algorithm that determines a post’s popularity in the News Feed.

“Most users actually really like sharing their rank and our growth has skyrocketed because there has been so much discussion and ‘liking’ around these posts,” said Wallace via email, but he added that due to similar comments he’s heard, it was likely to be removed.

Below is a screen shot Wallace sent, showing the second module with the button checked by default. Notice the difference in size, and position of the “See your rank button,” and the opt-out button.

Identified has some pretty impressive stats for a young company. Wallace said that more than 1.8 million profiles have been viewed on the site since launch in September, and the database includes more than 50 million profiles.

The Identified interface is one of the cleanest and most intuitive I’ve seen recently, with ample negative space that makes the signup process friction-free and fast. That’s why I don’t understand hiding opt-out buttons, and have a hard time believing this was a last-minute feature addition.

With money from from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, as well as DST, investors clearly think Identified is onto something big. The point, of course, is not just to help students get jobs, but to sell student data to recruiters, who would pay to access the best candidates. While Klout and others like it have systematized online influence within social media communities, we’re a long way from the average Internet user understanding and appreciating what this means. With the job search, the returns are far more immediate and unmistakable. Find a job, get paid.

But when user data is involved startups walk a fine line. On the one hand they’re providing users a free service. On the other, this means that the users are the product, and recruiters are the customers.

It’s reasonable to assert that the so-called “social media generation” has a different expectation of online privacy, but I hardly feel like this is what I’ve experienced with Identified. Getting students and job seekers excited about selling their data to recruiters through games can be a lucrative business, and deserves to be handled the right way. That’s not what I’m seeing here.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Uncharted 3 sold 3.8M copies on its first day

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 08:59 AM PST

Sony’s Uncharted 3 Drakes Fortune shipped 3.8 million on its first day of sales on Nov. 1, the company announced today.

That puts the series on track to sell more than Uncharted 2 and make it into one of Sony’s smash hits of 2011. The game is an exclusive for the PlayStation 3, so the numbers are surprisingly high. Of course, Sony counts a “sale” as shipping a copy to retailers, not the sell-through of that copy to an end consumer. Actual consumer sales are probably lower than that number, although many retailers probably sold out their copies quickly, if not on the first day.

Nevertheless, the results show a huge payoff for Naughty Dog, which had a huge development team working on the title. By comparison, the best-selling game of all time was Call of Duty Black Ops, which sold through more than 5.6 million on its first day of sales and generated $360 million in revenue.

“Uncharted 3 is a blockbuster and these incredible sales figures reflect that,” said Sony’s European communications chief Nick Caplin, in a statement. “Consumers are clearly as eager to play the game as critics were to heap praise upon it, and the team at Naughty Dog deserve this fantastic reception at retail. The Uncharted series, exclusive to PlayStation 3, has redefined the third-person adventure genre and is now one of the leading franchises available.”

Filed under: games

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Walmart Labs acquires point-of-sale startup Grabble

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 08:52 AM PST

Rgrabble, walmartetail giant Walmart’s digital technology division, Walmart Labs, has acquired point-of-sale development company Grabble for an undisclosed amount, the startup announced today on its website.

Grabble produces a point-of-sale technology that integrates with mobile phones. With the rise in NFC-enabled devices, which allow consumers to make purchases using only their phone or tablet, it makes sense for Walmart to turn its attention to this new method of payment. It’s also worth noting that a number of big companies, such as Google and PayPal, are developing technology to support transactions using a device rather than a credit card.

“Grabble started with a vision to make shopping smarter in a garage in Wollongong, Australia, and today we are pleased to announce that Walmart has acquired the company and we will be joining the @WalmartLabs team in Silicon Valley,” the company wrote in a statement. “We’re excited about seeing our passion play out on a larger stage and especially look forward to working with the team at Walmart.”

Founded in January 2010, Grabble previously received seed funding from startup incubator Startmate. Grabble was co-founded by engineers Stuart Argue and Anthony Marcar, who will both be joining Walmart Labs in Silicon Valley as part of the acquisition deal.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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iPhone 4S always-on infrared sensor means Siri is ever watching, waiting

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 08:50 AM PST

Apple’s Siri virtual assistant is a bit of a creeper.

The iPhone 4S includes an infrared LED sensor that remains on whenever its screen is lit up, seemingly to let Siri know when you’re holding the phone up to your face to give it commands, reports iFixit.

All of Apple’s iPhones have included an infrared proximity sensor, but previously it only lit up while you were making a call (or using an app like Skype), which made the phone dim its display and turn off touch functionality. The iPhone 4S, on the other hand, always keeps its IR sensor on when the phone is active.

“Siri is ready and waiting to answer her master's beck and call at any time,” iFixit writes. “And in order to be as attentive as a personal assistant ought to be, Apple had to design the proximity sensor to be as vigilant as Big Brother, but as cute as Little Sister. So whenever the screen is active, the proximity sensor is active too. Thus, whenever you raise the iPhone 4S to your face, Siri is ready to take orders.”

The always-on IR sensor could be one reason why Apple can’t bring Siri to older iOS devices (though I think that decision has more to do with older iPhones not being fast enough to support Siri). But it’s not like Siri would be unusable without the ever-watching sensor — it’d still be accessible by double-tapping on your home button.

Given that the iPad 2 has the same internal hardware as the iPhone 4S, many are eagerly waiting to see when Apple will port Siri over to its tablet. The lack of an always-on sensor seems like a poor reason to keep Siri off of the iPad 2, especially since it’s not something you’re holding up to your face very often (at least, I hope you’re not).

Hackers have also been able to port Siri over to the iPhone 4 and recent iPod Touch, but I’m not holding out much hope for Apple to officially bring Siri to those devices.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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AnyMeeting debuts ad-free options to further disrupt the online meeting space

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 08:02 AM PST

anymeeting-screenshotOnline meeting startup AnyMeeting has added premium ad-free options to its service, a major milestone for the service because its meetings have been run with contextual advertising up until today.

I’ve been critical of AnyMeeting before because if I was giving an online presentation to prospective clients or my colleagues, I wouldn’t want contextual advertising on the side. But finally, with paid ad-free meetings, AnyMeeting has a disruptive offering that can compete (and undercut) online meeting leaders like Cisco's WebEx and Citrix's GoToMeeting.

The service offers a meetings with 6-way video conferencing, screen sharing and text chat, and it can run with up to 200 attendees. The ad-free version runs $17.99 per month for meetings with up to 25 attendees or $69.99 a month for up to 200 attendees, both excellent plan prices for the space. Comparatively, GoToMeeting costs $49 a month with 15 attendees or $99 a month for up to 100 attendees. WebEx’s plan options include $19 a month for up to 8 people or $49 a month for up to 25 people.

Asked about competing with recent meeting startups like MeetingBurner or Vidquik that offer free online meetings without advertising, AnyMeeting CEO Costin Tuculescu told VentureBeat that startups like these don’t have a sustainable business model and businesses can’t rely on them.

“We’re offering full transparency with our business,” Tuculescu said. “The free version has ads and the paid version doesn’t. It makes business sense and the customer doesn’t have to worry about their meeting company pulling a bait and switch on them.”

AnyMeeting has had surprising traction given that the service has been completely ad-based up to this point. Under its ad-supported model, AnyMeeting has seen an astounding 875% user growth during the past 12 months. Tuculescu said the company has 75,000 registered users and that its users have spent 750,000 hours on meetings in the past year.

Huntington Beach, Calif.-based AnyMeeting was founded in 2009 and has seen $780,000 in investments thus far from Tech Coast Angels, Pasadena Angels and Maverick Angels. Tuculescu said the company is also looking to raise more funding in Q1 2012.

CloudBeat 2011CloudBeat 2011 takes place Nov 30 – Dec 1 at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, CA. Unlike any other cloud events, we’ll be focusing on 12 case studies where we’ll dissect the most disruptive instances of enterprise adoption of the cloud. Speakers include: Aaron Levie, Co-Founder & CEO of Box.net; Amit Singh VP of Enterprise at Google; Adrian Cockcroft, Director of Cloud Architecture at Netflix; Byron Sebastian, Senior VP of Platforms at Salesforce; Lew Tucker, VP & CTO of Cloud Computing at Cisco, and many more. Join 500 executives for two days packed with actionable lessons and networking opportunities as we define the key processes and architectures that companies must put in place in order to survive and prosper. Register here. Spaces are very limited!

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Coupon startup WhaleShark Media nabs $150M round

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 07:37 AM PST

coupons-groceryOnline coupon startup WhaleShark Media has raised a $150 million round of funding, the company announced today.

WhaleShark Media owns a number of online coupon sites, such as RetailMeNot, VoucherCodes.co.uk and Deals.com, covering deals on a wide range of purchases, including grocery items, clothing, domain purchases and much more. It claims to bring in over a 100 million visitors a year to those sites.

The company said it intends to use the new funding to acquire additional coupon services as well as continue growth. WhaleShark said it expects to become profitable this year and to generate over $70 million in revenue. The company makes money through commission from the sale of deals on its sites.

WhaleShark’s funding is just the latest in a string of big investments made in online coupon businesses as coupon deals from newspapers continue to decline. In October, competitor Coupons.com raised $30 million in funding, giving it a total $200 million investment. Weeks later another competitor, CouponCabin, raised a $54 million round.

Founded in 2009, Austin, Texas-based WhaleShark has raised a total of $279 million in funding to date from J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Institutional Venture Partners, Austin Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Adams Street Partners and Google Ventures. The company has about 140 employees in Austin and abroad in the U.K., with plans to add additional employees in the future.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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With beautiful social collages, Mixel for iPad reminds you that art can be fun

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 07:27 AM PST

After five years of helping the New York Times step into the digital age, former NYT design director Khoi Vinh is tackling an unlikely project: collages.

Vinh’s new app is Mixel, a free social collage-making app for the iPad. Think of it like Instagram for collages — it lets you effortlessly create collages, or Mixels, using your own images and photos from around the web, or by tweaking someone else’s existing work. You can share your digital finger art with friends on the service, or push it to the web or other social networks for all to see.

The impetus behind Mixel was twofold: Khoi wanted to take advantage of the iPad as a great art-making device, and he wanted to remind people that art can be fun and accessible, he told VentureBeat in a conversation last week. Vinh, who majored in communication design with a focus on illustration and painting in college, figured collages were an easy way to turn people back on to the joys of art.

Vinh told me that he initially wanted to develop a social drawing app but found the logistics behind that too cumbersome. Users would begin a drawing together, but those without much drawing talent would eventually give up, especially in the face of more capable artists. That’s less of a problem with Mixel, since it’s more reliant on your ability to be creative than on artistic talent.

For an initial release, the Mixel app is gorgeous and packs in a lot of features. It gives you access to a library of images to use in your collages, or you can import images from your iPad, Facebook, or a web search. As with Twitter, you can follow other Mixel users and vice-versa.

The app is intimately connected to the cloud, since it’s constantly saving every step of your work as you create a Mixel, so it requires an Internet connection to use. While that may seem like a big limitation, it allows Mixel to let you easily reverse changes in your collages, or step back to any particular edit. It also makes every element of other people’s Mixels accessible.

Vinh said he learned a lot about building a product while working at the NYT, which explains why the app is so polished right out of the gate. He’s thinking of several ways to potentially monetize the app, including in-app purchases and letting users turn their Mixel art into real world items, like framed pictures or t-shirts.

Mixel is a product of Lascaux, a company co-founded by Vinh and Dump.fm creator Scott Ostler. The New York City-based company has raised $700,00 so far, including $600,000 from a seed round that included Polaris Venture Partners, Betaworks, and Allen & Company.

Image by Khoi Vinh on Mixel

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Review: Skyrim is far greater than the sum of its parts

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 05:00 AM PST

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the latest blockbuster hopeful from developer/publisher Bethesda Softworks. Following in the footsteps of the studio's previous award-winning open-world role-playing games Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3, Skyrim avoids tacked-on multiplayer and overpriced rainbow-colored launch day weapon DLC in favor of delivering the most rich and compelling single-player experience in video gaming history, a rare goal in a market dominated by competitive online titles such as Halo and Modern Warfare. Was Bethesda up to the ask? The answer is both yes and no.

Terrible first impressions
After over 80 hours of dungeon-crawling, dragon-slaying, and potion-making, I was finally ready to write my Skyrim review. Although I literally lost five pounds (out of a total of 145, mind you) from not eating or sleeping while playing Oblivion when it was first released in 2006, Morrowind for the original Xbox and PC still stands as my most memorable Elder Scrolls title. There's something about building pillow forts, summoning Golden Saints and delivering writs that leaves a warm fuzzy in my stomach. So I'm very familiar with the series, and while I simply wanted this latest chapter to be a good–hopefully great–game, it's hard for anyone not hiding under a rock to avoid Bethesda's infernal hype machine. "Radiant AI" this and "Creation Engine" that. It all creates a certain expectation that, technically, Skyrim is going to blow away not only anything that Bethesda has ever done, but everything else on the market as well.

Skyrim gets off to a rough start, with an on-rails prologue displaying some of the game's worst graphics. It's a terrible way to start off a game that promises so much, and I'm surprised that the opening hour, considering how linear it is, isn't the most polished piece of the entire package. Even if you can look past the pixelated shadows, weak dialogue, and ho-hum scripted sequences, you'll soon learn that Skyrim takes one of Oblivion's cardinal sins and runs with it. In Morrowind, you could kill everyone. If you wanted to exterminate every citizen, villager, and straggler in the game world, you could, even if that meant permanently breaking a main quest. It didn't matter, that freedom was yours. In Oblivion, Bethesda saw fit to limit that freedom; pivotal characters would simply be knocked unconscious whenever you went on a rampage. But they'd eventually recover and all would be forgiven. Now, in Skyrim, some characters won't even acknowledge that you're standing there hacking away at them with an axe. The man who guides you through the opening scene can have six arrows sticking out of his head without so much as interrupting his exposition to ask that you kindly stop doing that. Combined with the underwhelming visuals, and I had this creeping feeling that I had been duped.

Seeing characters not react realistically to events and damage rips me out of the intended immersion. And yes, there are some very rough patches in the graphics throughout the vast world. The much-touted animations can be particularly wonky, but there are also some extremely notable textures that stand out, not just compared to the rest of the game, but compared to all other games from 2011 as well. It's almost as if you can chart which areas or items were created earlier in development and then never retouched to meet the game's generally high standards.

Dragons should be fearsome, not target practice
Although superior to Oblivion in scope, variety, and production values, I was left feeling like Bethesda chose to refine the wheel rather than revolutionize it. This decision is not necessarily a bad one, but it is somewhat disappointing given that the Elder Scrolls franchise sees a new release once every five years. That being said, Skyrim does make some sizable additions to the formula, with the implementation of dragons being the most notable. These colossal winged beasts play an integral role in the main storyline, as well as the game world itself, but their execution is not quite what Bethesda promised it would be. Like the Big Daddies in BioShock, dragons should be intimidating entities that give the player serious pause as to whether or not it's a battle worth engaging in. But like the Big Daddies in BioShock 2, I quickly found myself darting across the land anytime I saw one in the distance, hoping I got there in time to slay it before it ran away. Aside from a few troublesome encounters where I was caught out in the open with no protection, dragons never really put up much of a fight. Instead, I eagerly rushed them all, frothing at the mouth to harvest more valuable dragon bones so that I could buy myself pretty things.

While there are a few non-generic or story-related dragons, the majority are all nameless Frost and Blood Dragons, or literally just "Dragon." And they'll never stop spawning, regardless of what events unfold throughout the main quest. Of the 30+ dragons I've slain, only a few were memorable, delivering a remotely exhilarating experience, even if the challenge wasn't there. But more often than not, they were deftly felled like any other enemy. I once killed a dragon in the forest only to have another dragon immediately land next to us and start attacking. I killed the second one in less than 20 seconds with repeated blasts of my most powerful lightning spell and harvested his bones before his body had even fully hit the ground, then carried on without a second thought to go find more butterflies for my alchemy. Speaking of spells, lightning not only drains health but magicka as well, meaning it's entirely possible to eliminate a dragon's ability to breath fire altogether. If you're at a distance, they'll just dry heave at you. So frightening!

Then there was the time that a dragon literally dropped out of the sky dead before I even knew it was there. What killed it? I'll never know. If you do find yourself having trouble with dragons, you can always lure them towards a tower or city. The guards and even common peasants will all take up arms, helping to deplete its health in record time. If there aren't any cities around, you have a fairly good chance that the dragon will waste its valuable final moments attacking mudcrabs or wolves while you blast away at it from safety. Whatever you do, just don't stand directly in front of one….

The already-questionable animations in Skyrim are at their worst when it comes to the dragons. What are allegedly totally dynamic battles have very clear scripted events. Generally speaking, when you kill a dragon it just dies where it stands. But there are a few battles where the dragon's health bar will disappear preventing it from taking further damage, then it will fly away and circle around for a pre-determined crash landing (which usually results in the game turning into a slideshow for a few seconds). It's very poorly implemented, and the animations for this sequence are usually horribly unpolished and glitchy.

Ultimately, the game benefits from the inclusion of dragons because, even in the disillusioned state they're in, there's something awesome about seeing the wings of a massive dragon flapping in the distance and hearing its roar as it zones in on you, or prepping your arsenal and potions as you zone in on it. I'm left wishing Bethesda had done a better job, but at the same time, even if your pizza is cold and has anchovies on it, you're still getting pizza.

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Gidsy’s “marketplace for experiences” takes Manhattan

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 05:00 AM PST

Are you a dumpling expert, urban survivalist or DIY manufacturer? Gidsy’s “marketplace for authentic experiences” makes it easy for you to offer a tour or other experience in New York, where the service launches today. You could call it the Etsy of experiences.

Gidsy started in Berlin where the founders were running a design studio. “We were looking for someone to go mushroom picking in Berlin because we wanted to make a mushroom risotto and we couldn’t find anyone who could help us with that,” says co-founder Edial Dekker. “That’s when we came up with the idea of Gidsy. How great would it be if anyone could organize a robotics workshop, city walk or cooking class?”

Gidsy places great emphasis on naming the individual organizing the experience, although these organizers may sometimes be running small businesses. “Individuals run the Gidsy marketplace, so Gidsy activities end up being very much about the hosts’ personalities and quirks,” Dekker says. “The experiences are better because they’re expressions of an individual’s personality and passion. Instead of attending a yoga class at a gym, for example, you’ll find an expert on Gidsy offering candle-lit yoga classes on a rooftop.”

It’s free to create an experience listing. Gidsy takes care of money transaction fees, customer support, cancellations, refunds and marketing in return for a 10 percent service charge. If a cancellation occurs more than one week before an experience, organizers keep 50 percent of the charge; If it’s less than two days then the organizer is paid in full. To protect users, organizers do not receive payments (via Paypal) until at least 24 hours after the experience. The minimum charge for an experience is $5.

Gidsy is not alone in this space. 500 startups investment Vayable already operates in Berlin, New York and several other cities. It charges a 15 percent service fee while another rival Sidetour takes 20 percent. Gidsy’s founders claim that their service offers superior tools for organisers and social utilities for users. “We are very much focused on group bookings and connecting people, ” explains Dekker. “If you have booked the same activity, there's a high chance these people have something in common. We try to spark that conversation.”

The Dekker brothers (Edial’s brother Floris is also a co-founder) are imports to startup hotspot Berlin, hailing originally from Amsterdam. “It’s been said before, but the city of Berlin feels very much like a startup,” Dekker told me. “It’s changing all the time, it's chaotic, exciting and disruptive. Add a bunch of amazing startups such as Soundcloud, Amen, Readmill and 6wunderkinder to that and you have the most exciting startup city in Europe.”

Gidsy was founded in 2011, has 6 employees and is privately funded.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Virident raises $21M to launch enterprise flash memory that replaces thousands of hard drives

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 03:00 AM PST

Virident is announcing today that is has raised $21 million to launch its next-generation flash memory for enterprises.

The funding is a rare one for a chip maker, but Virident is playing in one of the hottest parts of the market, where data centers use more flash memory in their servers in order to reduce power consumption and improve their ability to process an enormous amount of data quickly.

Milpitas, Calif.-based Virident is introducing today its FlashMax MLC product, a circuit board (pictured left) that contains a lot of power-efficient flash memory chips for use in data center servers. One card can process 1.4 million input-output operations per second, or as much as a few thousands hard disk drives put together. That means that an entire rack of servers could be condensed into a single server.

“We spent five years focused on how to make flash storage work for the enterprise data center,” said Kumar Ganapathy, chief executive and co-founder of the company, in an interview. “We have experience understanding the physics of flash and have crafted a way for our customers to deploy these flash devices that improve their performance.”

This kind of storage is the only way to deal with the growing gap in the data center, where servers are speedy but memory is too slow to keep feeding data to the processors. The flash cards can be used to store more frequently accessed data in a way that it is much easier and faster to retrieve, in comparison to accessing data stored on a hard disk drive. It also allows for more power efficiency, allowing data centers to reduce their power consumption, which has become the biggest cost for operating a data center.

The investors include Globespan Capital Partners, Intel Capital, Cisco, Sequoia Capital, and Artiman Ventures. With Intel and Cisco, Virident will gain strategic access to computing and storage partners and customers. Intel actually makes flash chips that Virident uses in its cards.

The company was founded in 2006 (by Ganapathy, Raj Parekh, and Vijay Karamcheti) and it now has more than 100 employees. Rivals include Fusion-io, LSI Logic, and Texas Memory Systems. Just yesterday, Fusion-io said it would raise another $100 million by issuing new shares on the public market. Fusion-io went public earlier this year.

Virident started out with the NOR flavor of flash memory in an alliance with Spansion. In the past 18 months, it has switched to NAND flash memory. It is now shipping to more than 40 customers, and the new generation of cards is now in the hands of customers, Ganapathy said.

Ganapathy said the company is targeting the highest-performance PCIe-attached memory with high storage capacity. Each card has as much as 1,400 gigabytes of usable memory, with as many as 64 chip packages on each card. The company also creates software to ensure reliability even in the event that some of the chips fail. Each data center can use lots and lots of these cards. Ganapathy said the company’s products perform well across a wide variety of data sizes and work loads.

“We offer a solution that means our customers don’t have to compromise,” Ganapathy said.

To date, the company has raised $50 million in three rounds.


Filed under: cloud, enterprise, VentureBeat

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Online retailers butt heads over new federal sales tax legislation

Posted: 10 Nov 2011 12:40 AM PST

Bag of MoneyMajor online retailers are divided over a new piece of legislation that seeks to clarify the murky issue of charging sales tax for purchases made on the web.

Currently, several states only require customers to pay a sales tax on purchases made online if the online retailer has a physical retail store address within the state. But retailers that operate entirely online, like Amazon, only have shipping/service centers and not actual stores, which has allowed the company to evade charging its customers a local sales tax in some cases. This gives online retailers an advantage over direct competitors that operate both on the web and through physical stores  — meaning customers get a better deal when shopping online. It also means state governments miss out on billions of dollars in tax revenue.

The bill, called The Marketplace Fairness Act, was introduced Wednesday by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.). If passed, the new law would give state governments two ways to collect sales taxes from online purchases. The first way requires U.S. states to sign a multi-state legal agreement that would bring each of their sales tax codes into conformity. The states can then compel online retailers to charge or remit a sales tax. States that don’t sign the legal agreement can still force online retailers to collect sales tax on purchased goods if they adopt some minimum standards to simplify their collection process.

All sellers with annual sales less than $500,000 are exempt from collecting individual state sales taxes under the proposed bill.

Amazon has come out in support of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which is likely because the company has already successfully negotiated deals with some states that allows them to continue not charging sales tax (despite operating a shipping or service center within the state).

“Amazon strongly supports enactment of the Enzi-Durbin-Alexander bill and will work with Congress, retailers, and the states to get this bi-partisan legislation passed,” said Amazon VP of Global Public Policy Paul Misener in a statement. “It’s a win-win resolution—and as analysts have noted, Amazon offers customers the best prices with or without sales tax.”

However, other online retailers — eBay in particular — have come out against the new legislation. EBay has nothing to gain from the bill since the majority of its money comes from fees it charges smaller sellers for using its online auction site. Depending on the state, the individual sellers are usually responsible for collecting sales tax from their customers. It also doesn’t have the agreements with states to waive sale taxes like Amazon does.

“This is another Internet sales tax bill that fails to protect small business retailers using the Internet and will unbalance the playing field between giant retailers and small business competitors,” said eBay VP of Government Relations Tod Cohen in a statement. “It does not make sense to expand Internet sales tax burdens on small businesses at a time when we want entrepreneurs to create jobs and economic activity.”

Regardless of the new legislation’s advantages and/or disadvantages, the U.S. federal government is badly in need of an updated method of collecting sales tax in the new age of e-commerce.

[Bag of Tax Money image via Shutterstock]

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Korean and Chinese online gaming giants join in an alliance

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 10:14 PM PST

Two major Asian online game companies are forming an alliance. South Korea’s Nexon (recently relocated to Japan) and China’s Perfect World are teaming up with a joint venture to manage and operate online games in Korea.

The deal comes just a day after Nexon made a big move. Nexon reportedly may raise nearly $1.3 billion in an initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, according to Reuters and the Nikkei business daily.

Nexon is one of Asia's mighty biggest online game publishers, with games including MapleStory, Mabinogi, Vindictus, Combat Arms, Dragon Nest and Dungeon Fighter Online. More recently, the company has been expanding in the U.S., launching a Facebook version of MapleStory and investing in mobile social games. It also invested in social game maker 6waves Lolapps.

Perfect World, based in Beijing, is a major online game publisher that operates games such as Perfect World, Legend of Martial Arts,  Zhu Xian, Chi Bi, Battle of the Immortals, Fantasy Zhu Xian, Forsaken World, Dragon Excalibur, Empire of the Immortals and Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. These may not be well-known in the West, but they’re free-to-play titles that are earning considerable sums; users play the games for free, but pay real money for virtual goods. Now the joint venture will take those games into South Korea, where online games are extremely popular.

“This strategic alliance will help us further expand our user base and provide the highest quality services to local players in the Korean market,” said Michael Chi, chief executive of Perfect World. “The introduction of more of Perfect World’s online games into the Korean market will help further strengthen our international reputation as a comprehensive online game developer and operator.”

Min Seo, CEO of Nexon Korea, recognized Perfect World’s rich content and renowned development talent.

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Siri speech recognition competitor Yap snapped up by Amazon

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 06:22 PM PST

The tablet wars are shifting to to a new battleground, as an SEC filing today revealed that Amazon.com has purchased speech recognition app maker Yap.

The Atlantic is reporting that the acquisition was completed in September, but Amazon made no formal announcement. The Charlotte, NC-based company founded by the Jablokov brothers had received a $6.5 million Series A round from SunBridge Partners.

Yap’s consumer-facing technology converted voicemails into text, but as Alexis Madgrigal writes, the wellspring of intellectual property runs much deeper. The voice recognition technology treads on Siri territory, the wildly popular voice recognition app which was recently released on the iPhone 4S.

Amazon does not have a phone, but it does have the Kindle Fire tablet, which should be in consumers’ hands in time for the holiday shopping season. While Apple has said that the iPhone 4S will be the only device to support the Siri voice recognition technology, this could change in the future, possibly extending the technology to iPads and even Macs.

Amazon officials have already boasted that the Kindle Fire will do for the video industry what the iPod did for the music industry. Amazon Prime subscribers may soon have the ability to do voice searches of the company’s vast catalog of streaming video content, as well as books, and one of the world’s largest inventories of physical goods.

[Homepage image: United States Forces/Flickr]

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FBI cracks longest botnet scheme in history, affecting over 4 million people

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 06:13 PM PST

Vladimir TsastsinThe FBI and security software company Trend Micro exposed a cyber criminal string that was rerouting nearly 4 million people to compromised websites without their knowledge.

The attack was focused on domain name systems (DNS), which changes original IP addresses, rerouting a person to an unsecured website before they even know they’ve been whisked away. A group of six people from Estonia decided to use this attack, called a DNSChanger, to redirect people from advertisements they believed were innocuous to websites created by the six. The point? To steal ad revenue from the companies that placed the ads on the site.

Through this scheme, which Trend Micro’s advanced threats researcher Paul Ferguson says began in 2006, the Estonian group was able to affect upwards of 4 million people. They were so successful, the team created a company around the scam named Rove Digital. It was headed by Vladimir Tsastsin (pictured above, left), who took on the role of chief executive officer.

“They won IT company of the year!” said Ferguson in an interview with VentureBeat. “It’s the irony of ironys.”

Intercepting ad revenue became extremely lucrative for Rove Digital, raking in at least $14 for the company, according to Ferguson. In fact, he says “$14 million is a low estimate,” since they simply cannot find the rest of the money.

Tsastsin had run-ins with the law prior to his involvement with Rogue Digital, according to Ferguson. He ran a domain registrar, from which he was convicted of credit card fraud. When Trend Micro employees first noticed the Rogue DNS infrastructure, it took them a while to “connect the dots.” But once they connected them, it led straight to Tsastsin, which set off alarms.

Federal law enforcement got involved in 2007, kicking off a long and tedious investigation the FBI called Operation Ghost Click. A number of international organizations were on board, which required much communication and detailed follow ups before the FBI could take any action against Rogue DNS.

Once it did, it ended a botnet scam that had reached people in more than 100 countries. In the U.S., more than 500,000 people were affected, including government agencies such as NASA. Because of the size of this attack, Trend Micro and the FBI have released a way to check if you’ve been affected. You can find it here, below are instructions for Mac users:


  1. Click on the Apple icon at the top left of your screen
  2. Select “System Preferences”
  3. Select the “Network” icon
  4. Once open, select the currently active network connection in the left column, and “DNS” in the right
  5. Note the DNS server addresses your computer is approved to use
  6. Cross check them in this form, which will tell you if it is a criminal address.

If you your DNS address is bad, Trend Micro will sweep your computer for you. You should also alert the FBI with this form.

Ferguson says beyond criminal activity, it could just be a culture issue. “A lot of [post Soviet Union countries'] ‘it’s just business’ attitude extends to what most of the rest of the world calls criminal activity.”

[Image via Trend Micro]

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ARM releases a speedy new graphics core for chip makers

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 05:30 PM PST

ARM is gunning for leadership in high-performance mobile graphics with the release of its design today for a new graphics processing unit (GPU).

The move shows that visual computing has become so important in devices such as tablets and smartphones (including beefy ones known as superphones) that ARM, the leader in low-power mobile processors, has to focus on providing extra graphics processing power as well as computing power.

The company is making the design of the ARM Mali-T658 GPU available today for chip makers to begin designing into their ARM-licensed chips. New products using the GPU could hit the market around 2013, said Ian Smythe, director of marketing at ARM’s media processing division, in an interview.

“We’re looking for leadership over the competition,” Smythe said.

The new Mali-T658 is a successor to the previous Mali-T604 GPU. It  has about four times the graphics performance of the Mali-T604 and 10 times the graphics performance of the mainstream Mali-400 MP GPU. All told, the Mali-T658 will have eight cores for processing graphics.

Smythe said the move is aimed at leapfrogging rivals such as Nvidia’s Tegra chips. Nvidia described its latest Tegra 3 chip yesterday and plans on making new graphics-focused mobile processors every year. So by the time the ARM chips hit the market in 2013, there’s no telling who will be the leader. Nvidia is both a competitor in graphics and a partner of ARM’s as a licensee for its central processing units, or CPUs.

Smythe said the new graphics will usher in the days when mobile devices are the primary compute platforms for users, with cool new user interfaces, high-quality touch screens, universal connectivity, and content creation on the mobile device itself. But all of that has to happen with energy-efficient processing, which is ARM’s specialty.

ARM doesn’t make its own chips. Rather, it creates architectures, or designs for the chips, which chip makers license and make themselves. ARM has 57 licensees for its Mali GPUs.

Smythe said the ARM Mali chips might be used in connected TVs, since the chips should be able to run next-generation TV resolutions such as 4K.

“We’ll provide graphics that scale from the low-end to the high-end,” Smythe said.

Smythe said the ARM is already working with partners on the new Mali GPU. Supporters include Fujitsu Semiconductor, LG Electronics, Nufront, and Samsung.

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Facebook does an about-face, brings back old news feed

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 04:50 PM PST

Remember when Facebook used to let you sort your news feed (the list of updates from your circle of friends) by most recent stories? Those were the good ol’ days. But wait! Just when you thought the option was gone for good, it’s back and more prominent than ever.

Facebook announced Wednesday that it would allow users to once again sort their stream of news feed stories by most recent items first.

Facebook made several dramatic changes to the news feed a few weeks ago. One change merged the “Most Recent” and “Top News” news feed options to better highlight interesting stories. As usual, the alteration caused quite the stir among the site’s user base.

Now, Facebook is doing a bit of an about-face and branding today’s update as a “new way to sort” the news feed.

"We’re starting to roll out an update that gives people a new way to sort their News Feed: most recent stories first. This option will appear at the top of News Feed,” a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat. “People can continue to view highlighted stories first, followed by recent stories, like what they see today.”

“We hope this update makes News Feed easier to navigate while still showing all the news in one place,” the spokesperson added. “The update will be rolling out slowly and should be available over the next several days. As always, we will listen to feedback and refine as needed.”

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“Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview” is a must-watch, bittersweet glimpse at Jobs’ genius

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 04:10 PM PST

It’s like something out of a thriller: A long-lost glimpse of an industry genius is found buried in a garage shortly after his death.

That’s the story behind “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview,” an extended cut of an interview with Jobs by tech journalist Robert Cringely for the 1995 PBS special “Triumph of the Nerds.” Master tapes of the interview were lost in the 90s during shipment from London to the U.S., but months ago Triumph director Paul Sen discovered an unedited VHS copy in his garage.

And it’s a good thing that he did. While the 70-minute interview (only 10 minutes was used in the original special) offers little new information not already found in Jobs’ biography and elsewhere, it gives us a rare glimpse at the Apple founder’s business acumen straight from his own mouth. And, inevitably, it makes Jobs’ passing all the more bittersweet.

The film will screen at Landmark theaters on November 16, and will also be available via on-demand video.

In the early copy of the documentary I saw, Cringely introduces the film, but otherwise the “Lost Interview” consists entirely of his conversation with Jobs. And after seeing his slowly deteriorating health over the past few years, it’s a bit jarring to see the vibrant, longer-haired Jobs’ detailing the history of Apple and his thoughts on the future of computing.

Looking past things Jobs already discussed on “Triumph of the Nerds,” one of the first new topics that struck me was his relationship with money, and what that tells us about his dedication to Apple:

It wasn’t that important, because I never did it for the money … I think money is a wonderful thing because it enables you to do things, enables you to invest in ideas that don’t have a short term payback and things like that … But, especially at that point in my life, it was not the most important thing. The most important thing was the company, the people, the products that we were making, what we were going to enable people to do with these products … I didn’t think about it a great deal … I never sold any stock — I really believed the company would do very well over the long term.

For Jobs, who was worth over $100 million by age 25, his devotion to Apple and its products is something every budding entrepreneur should take note of.

The documentary continually offers up this sort of non-stop insight. For example, Jobs discusses how always asking “Why?” helped him learn to do business. While learning about the accounting practice of standard cost in the run-up to the Macintosh, wherein accountants would establish an estimated price for a product and adjust it later to fit real-world costs, Jobs asked why things were handled that way. “And the answer was, that’s just the way it’s done,” he said. Jobs ended up creating system in the Macintosh factory that made it easy to track actual costs.

When came to managing a solid team of people, Jobs likened it to polishing rough stones and transforming them into something beautiful: “It’s through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people, bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together they polish each other, and they polish the ideas,” he said. “And what comes out are these really beautiful stones.”

Not surprisingly, Jobs was also a big believer in the power of the web in 1995 (notably, a year before Apple announced it would purchase NeXT, his company at the time). When asked by Cringely about what excited him most about the next decade of technology, Jobs said:

Well, I think the Internet and the web — there are two exciting things happening in software and computing today. The web is incredibly exciting because it is the fulfillment of a lot of our dreams that the computer would ultimately not be primarily a device for computation, but metamorphosize into a device for communication. With the web that’s finally happening.

Secondly, its exciting because Microsoft doesn’t own it, therefore there’s a tremendous amount of innovation happening. I think the web is going to be profound in what it does to our society. As you know, about 15 percent of goods and services in the U.S. are sold via catalogs or television, all this is going to go on the web or more. Billions and billions, soon tens of billions of dollars of goods and services will be sold on the web.

Remember, Jobs statement came long before online retailers like Amazon proved the viability of shopping online. “A way to think about it is that it’s the ultimate direct-to-customer distribution channel,” he said. “Another way to think about it is the smallest company in the world can look as large as the largest company in the world on the web.”

Fittingly, Jobs also accurately predicted just how much the Internet would reshape society: “I think the web as we look back ten years from now, the web is going to be the defining technology … the defining social moment for computing,” he said.

“And I think it’s going to be huge — it’s going to breed a whole new generation of life into personal computing, and I think it’s going to be huge.”

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First look at the new Tesla Model S Beta electric car

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 03:46 PM PST

Electric car-maker Tesla’s second vehicle, the Model S, won’t be available until next summer, but the company is taking a version of its new electric sedan out for a little publicity spin with a North American tour.

VentureBeat was among the very first to take the new Tesla Model S Beta for an early test drive, and we can report that it’s a beast. We’ve got photos from our plant visit below, and we’ll be uploading a video soon.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the Model S is already sold out for 2012, thanks to 6,500 pre-orders. And after spending some time with the vehicle in person, it’s easy to see why. This car is dead sexy, with all the features to make gadget boy or girl’s heart melt. Yet unlike the earlier Tesla Roadster, it’s actually got room for your friends and family.

With seating for seven (five full-sized adults and two kids in the back), it’s not a vehicle to park in your living room and admire. This is a moving sculpture that expects to be driven.

It handles the hill roads of Palo Alto with the power of a rally car, and the grace of prancing gazelle.  Best of all, it’s muscle you can feel good about. The electric engine is releasing zero emissions as it burns down the road.

What else makes the Model S Beta special? This prototype is in its final stages before the car goes into production, and the Model S will be Tesla’s first mass-produced vehicle. Starting at $49,000, the Model S is the follow-up to the company’s first car, the Tesla Roadster. It will be available in a 160-, 230- or 300-mile range option, and the company says it can charge using any regular electrical outlet.

The Model S Beta has a 17-inch connected touchscreen, developed in-house, that’s equipped with 3G wireless for easy navigation, web and media access, and the ability to run applications.

What we saw was still early, but the Tesla team sees cars as the new app marketplace. That means you can expect someone in the near future to be creating a customized, steampunk-styled interface for someone’s Model S control panel. Even without apps, this giant, luminous screen is responsible for all car functions, and the only physical buttons on the car’s console are the federally-mandated “hazard” blinker, and another button to pop open the glove box. Everything else, from driving directions, to air conditioning, is controlled with the touch screen.

Suffice it to say, no detail was overlooked on the driving experience, the interior or the techy goodness.

We’ll have a full-length video of our test drive and lots more photos coming soon. Stay tuned!

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Surprising number of consumers could buy the Kindle Fire instead of the iPad 2

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 03:45 PM PST

Tablets in all shapes, sizes and price ranges will greet shoppers this holiday season. The iPad currently reigns supreme, but can a more moderately priced, smaller device like the Kindle Fire win over gift-buying consumers?

Absolutely, says consumer electronics review site Retrevo.

The company polled 1,000 people in October on their tablet-buying intentions and found that, of those planning to buy a tablet, 44 percent would consider purchasing the $199 Kindle Fire instead of the iPad 2, which starts at $499. Then again, the same percentage of folks said that they didn’t know enough about the Fire, and 12 percent indicated that they would only buy an iPad.

Amazon’s greatest challenge, according to Retrevo, will be convincing shoppers that the Fire is a full-fledged tablet. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed perceive the Fire as just another Amazon e-reader.

Retrevo’s findings match up with market research firm ChangeWave’s research on the Amazon Kindle Fire versus Apple’s iPad 2. ChangeWave found that demand for the Kindle Fire exceeds the demand for the iPad 2.

Both studies are a bit short-sighted, and don’t include data on Barnes & Noble’s $249 Nook Tablet, a comparably priced alternative to the Kindle Fire. And considering that respondents were a price-conscious bunch open to a 7-inch tablet, the Nook Tablet could receive a favorable reception from shoppers as well. [Curious about how the two stack up against each other? Check out our head-to-head comparison.]

The debate over the most in-demand tablet will be settled soon enough. Both the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire will land on store shelves next week.

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Reddit grabs a record 1.9B page views in October — Holy eyeballs Batman (exclusive)

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 03:39 PM PST

October RedditIt seems all the people who keep Reddit open in a permanent tab on their web browser (myself included) are really starting to add up for the community news sharing site.

Reddit brought in more than 1.9 billion page views and had over 29 million unique visitors during the month of October, according to Reddit General Manager Erik Martin (a.k.a. Hueypriest). That’s an estimated 55 percent increase in page views compared to May 2011, which is the last time Reddit gave an update on its monthly traffic.

“It’s [the traffic] skyrocketed since then,” Martin said in a phone interview with VentureBeat earlier today regarding the company’s new local business free advertising campaign. “I think we might break 2 billion [page views] in November at the rate we’re going.”

There are plenty of reasons why Reddit’s fiery growth hasn’t slowed.

The site, which was spun off into its own entity by publishing giant Conde Nast in September, has continued to follow of strategy of strengthening its smaller communities. In June, the company arranged a Global Reddit Meetup Day event to build on the trend of local community subreddits popping up on the site. Two months later, Reddit launched a collegiate subreddit (sub category pages within Reddit) contest to boost activity from college and university communities, which was also quite successful. Most recently, the company is turning to local advertisers to help build out its local community subreddit pages.

Another reason for Reddit’s continued growth is likely due to the company’s focus on gift exchanges, such as its Secret Santa and Arbitrary Day events. In August, Reddit purchased Redditgifts.com from the members in the community who created and organized those events.

With the surge of participation the latest Secret Santa gift exchange is likely to bring in between now and the end of the year, Reddit should have no trouble hitting Martin’s prediction of 2 billion monthly page views in November.

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EA executive confirms Battlefield 4 is in the works

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 03:05 PM PST


Electronic Arts executiveFrank Gibeau has confirmed that Battlefield 4 is in the works. Gibeau, the president of the EA Games label within EA, made the remarks while speaking at a college campus.

However, according to website IGN, EA responded by saying that Gibeau “was speaking broadly about the Battlefield brand” and while they didn’t confirm or deny Battlefield 4, they said it’s a brand that “EA is deeply passionate about” and that they are committed to the fans.

Gibeau was speaking at a college campus when he said that there will be a Battlefield 4. Those in attendance quickly took to Twitter to spread the news:

President on @EA just said, “There is going to be a Battlefield 4.” Obvious, but is this the first confirmation?

This may not come as a huge surprise to some. Battlefield 3, released late October, sold five million copies during its first week at retail, making it the fastest selling game in Electronic Arts’ history.

If anything, EA’s commitment to the series is definitely proof that they plan for Battlefield to continue competing against rival Call of Duty. Modern Warfare 3, the most recent game in the Call of Duty franchise was released yesterday. Activision Blizzard said yesterday that it also plans to launch a new Call of Duty title in 2012.

VentureBeat has reached out to EA and we will update with any additional comments or clarification.

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Call of Duty Elite team still tackling startup problems

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 02:43 PM PST

Activision Blizzard‘s Beachhead Studios is still tackling problems related to an overflow of registrations for the new Call of Duty Elite social network.

The service is aimed at hardcore Call of Duty fans, and it launched on Tuesday with the debut of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, which is expected to be one of the best-selling video games of all time. But too many people tried to register for the Call of Duty Elite service and brought the network down, said Daniel Suarez, vice president of production at Beachhead Studios, in an interview with VentureBeat. The multiplayer game service has been unaffected and gamers are able to play online without issues.

The registration challenge has been met, thanks to round-the-clock work. But now the challenge is to keep the service up and running as more and more people try to get into it. The result is that for most people, the service is down. That goes both for the full-featured web service — which you use to access your console game data — and the console-based online network service as well, Suarez said. Some people are actually getting into the service, primarily to look at their multiplayer game stats on the Career page.

“We built a football stadium. On day one, everyone was coming to the stadium at once,” Suarez said. “Now we’ve got the parking lot open and are trying to get people into the stadium. We are trying to get the site stable. We have never done it at this scale.”

Suarez added, “We knew there would be a tremendous amount of traffic. It was a lot more than we anticipated. The site has been intermittent in supporting users. We are slowly bringing it back up and testing it properly. Day by day, we find different areas that are the bottlenecks and address them.”

More information will be available from the @CallofDutyElite Twitter account. Beachhead Studios wasn’t totally unprepared. It tapped Amazon’s cloud services so that it could rapidly scale up or scale down the amount of computing power that it has to handle the service. That isn’t the problem. Rather, it is getting the service to work properly.

Suarez reassured worried gamers that their stat-tracking will not be lost. The Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer servers are independent of the Call of Duty Elite system. Those multiplayer servers are capturing all of the stats, such as the number of wins, losses, kills and deaths for each player. At some point, users will be able to access that information on Elite and learn how to improve their game play, based on statistical analysis of their historical performance. Elite taps into the multiplayer servers to access the stats.

Suarez said the team has postponed the launch of the web service for PC game players, mainly to ensure security for statistics. He also said that the mobile app, which allows you to view parts of the Elite service, has also been put on hold until the service is back up.

Suarez said that both the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live services were equally affected by the Elite service outage.

“There is no bigger priority within Activision than to get the fans the service we built for them,” Suarez said.

Our review of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is here. We’ll be posting soon on the multiplayer part of the game.

As we noted before, Beachhead Studios worked on the Elite service as a social network for all things Call of Duty for more than two years. The goal was to integrate the service deeply with Modern Warfare 3. Since Activision Blizzard dedicated a full studio to Elite, it is considered a major investment.

Even before the launch of Modern Warfare 3, the Call of Duty community is already one of the strongest there is. More than 30 million people have played online this year and 20 million players play each month. On average, the Call of Duty player plays 170 hours of the game per year. That's as much time spent as watching the full series of the Sopranos and Lost, combined.

Activision Blizzard has said that this service is a way to keep hardcore gamers happy year round, not just for a few weeks a year after they play a game. Gamers can access most of the service for free, but Activision Blizzard is charging $50 a year for subscriptions to the premium version of Elite.

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Need travel advice? Uptake connects you to Facebook friends who know best

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 01:26 PM PST

Planning a getaway? Uptake, a social travel site for the inquisitive trip planner, can now pass your pressing travel inquiries on to Facebook friends who may have the answers.

The three year-old startup, which houses vacation experiences for more than 1.8 million destinations, has launched Travel Q&A, a feature that sits front-and-center on the Uptake homepage and prompts you to “ask friends who know.”

Using a patent-pending data mining technology, Uptake scours your Facebook social graph to uncover location clues and determine the cities and attractions that your Facebook friends are familiar with. When you ask Uptake what the interesting things to do are in San Diego, for instance, the startup will identify friends who know the area and let you post your questions to their Facebook walls, all with the click of a button.

The travel site claims to analyze friends’ hometowns, place check-ins, photo locations, status updates and comments to find the folks best suited to field your local query.

Gathering local intelligence from your social network friends sounds like a brilliant idea — and it’s one that’s been done before (Localmind and Gtrot come to mind) — but Uptake’s approach leaves room for plenty of improvement.

Yes, you can select just a few friends to query, but how are you to know which Facebook friends will appreciate the inquiry and which ones will be annoyed at the unsolicited wall post? I also encountered a bug that prevented my question from being posted at all, so let’s hope they work out the kinks.

Still, all will surely be forgiven if Uptake can deliver answers that make for memorable vacations.

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Meet our 10 finalists for the CloudBeat 2011 Innovation Showdown

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 12:05 PM PST


Our first annual CloudBeat 2011 conference is fast approaching! Today we are extremely happy to announce our finalists for the conference’s Innovation Showdown, a battle between 10 companies that are each making big waves with unique cloud technologies.

In these 10 finalists, we were looking for companies with products that are using the cloud in a disruptive way. The more revolutionary the company’s idea, the the better its chances. Nominations included startups as well as established companies with brilliant new ideas.

Live at CloudBeat 2011, finalists will have four minutes to showcase their products or services. Our team of sages — made up of industry experts, venture capitalists and actual enterprise customers — will provide feedback on the 10 products or services presented, and determine one winner.

The Showdown winner will be announced onstage and will receive a VentureBeat editorial profile, introductions to investors and relevant potential customers in our network, and other prizes yet to be announced. All 10 finalists have also been invited to attend a special Bootcamp session hosted by Sequoia Capital, taking place at Sequoia's offices in Menlo Park this Friday.

Without further ado, here are the 10 Innovation Showdown finalists:

GigaSpaces Technologies

Gigaspaces is part of a new generation of application virtualization platforms and a leading provider of end-to-end scaling solutions for mission-critical application environments, and cloud enabling technologies. GigaSpaces’ big solutions are XAP Elastic Application Platform and Cloudify. Cloudify enables the deployment of any app with any stack on any cloud without any code changes.


myERP.com is an incredibly fast-growing all-one-one business cloud application and one of the most popular apps in the Google Apps Marketplace. The myERP.com app helps small and mid-size businesses leaders run a business with tools for accounting, CRM, purchasing, inventory and more.


OfficeDrop is a popular cloud-based document scanning and document management solution that provides small businesses with affordable ways to manage their paper and digital files. The company converts paper and digital files into text-searchable documents, and its mail-in document scanning system lets clients mail documents safely for scanning later.

Oxygen Cloud

Oxygen Cloud enables companies to create private storage clouds that provide secure, anywhere, any device access to all corporate files. Oxygen replaces old-school network drives mapped to old file servers with a Universal Cloud Drive synchronizing access to shared files in the cloud.


Talkdesk lets customers bring their call center to the cloud and eliminates the overhead associated with traditional call centers. Typically, only large companies have the resources to do call centers and associated management properly. Talkdesk lets you act like a big company but without long-term contracts or infrastructure costs because it is in the cloud.


VeaMea provides cloud-based video conferencing and collaboration tools that connect the desktop to the board room over existing IP networks.


VirtualSharp’s offers its customers disaster recovery solutions for virtual data centers. The company’s next-gen disaster recovery can help control private and public clouds. Its software makes possible new levels of resiliency for virtual IT infrastructure and full alignment between IT disaster recovery and corporate business continuity planning.


Visier builds workforce analytics applications that help with and streamline human resource management. The company’s cloud apps, in one major example, optimize the largest expenses for organizations across all industries.


Xiimo’s free marketing platform enables small businesses across global markets to publish local promotions, accept mobile payments, launch loyalty programs and leverage smart analytics.

Zadara Storage

Zadara provides its customers with virtual private storage arrays within public clouds with the privacy, control and performance associated with standard enterprise-class storage arrays.

We wish the best of luck to all of these great finalists, and may the best one win! See the Showdown live, as part of an information-packed two days that will offer actionable lessons and great networking opportunities. Grab your CloudBeat 2011 ticket today. Spots are extremely limited!

Storm clouds photo via MAMJODH

CloudBeat 2011CloudBeat 2011 takes place Nov 30 – Dec 1 at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, CA. Unlike any other cloud events, we’ll be focusing on 12 case studies where we’ll dissect the most disruptive instances of enterprise adoption of the cloud. Speakers include: Aaron Levie, Co-Founder & CEO of Box.net; Amit Singh VP of Enterprise at Google; Adrian Cockcroft, Director of Cloud Architecture at Netflix; Byron Sebastian, Senior VP of Platforms at Salesforce; Lew Tucker, VP & CTO of Cloud Computing at Cisco, and many more. Join 500 executives for two days packed with actionable lessons and networking opportunities as we define the key processes and architectures that companies must put in place in order to survive and prosper. Register here. Spaces are very limited!

Filed under: cloud, enterprise, VentureBeat

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Mavenlink raises $3.9M for start-to-finish project management tool

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 12:02 PM PST

Mavenlink, an Irvine-based startup offering start-to-finish project management, has raised $3.9 million and is adding 15,000 new users each month, the company announced Wednesday.

The startup, founded in 2008, is tailored around the remote workforce and supports project-related tasks such as file sharing, task management and milestone and time tracking. The freemium project management tool also integrates with Google Apps, allows for online invoicing and supports expense tracking.

“The workforce that businesses need today is more flexible than ever. A growing number of telecommuters, freelancers, consultants, and outsourced services are replacing the traditional 9 to 5," Mavenlink CEO Ray Grainger said. "We're committed to providing these virtual teams and project-based workforces with technology that centralizes their information and allows them to work efficiently in the cloud.”

Mavenlink has raised a total of $5.5 million and has more than 100,000 users.

[Teamwork image via Shutterstock]

CloudBeat 2011CloudBeat 2011 takes place Nov 30 – Dec 1 at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, CA. Unlike any other cloud events, we’ll be focusing on 12 case studies where we’ll dissect the most disruptive instances of enterprise adoption of the cloud. Speakers include: Aaron Levie, Co-Founder & CEO of Box.net; Amit Singh VP of Enterprise at Google; Adrian Cockcroft, Director of Cloud Architecture at Netflix; Byron Sebastian, Senior VP of Platforms at Salesforce; Lew Tucker, VP & CTO of Cloud Computing at Cisco, and many more. Join 500 executives for two days packed with actionable lessons and networking opportunities as we define the key processes and architectures that companies must put in place in order to survive and prosper. Register here. Spaces are very limited!

Filed under: cloud, deals, VentureBeat

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Hey local businesses, Reddit is giving out free ads

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 11:53 AM PST

Eat At Snoos AlienIn terms of active online communities, Reddit takes the cake. So, the announcement that the site is giving local businesses free advertising spots is a big deal.

The news sharing site, which gets over a billion page views per month, harbors an abundance of small subreddits — which are sub-sites within Reddit based on one unifying subject, like cities, states or colleges. The local subreddits have a much smaller following (2,000 to 9,000 subscribers) compared to mainstream subreddits like Offbeat, Funny and Gaming. However, the local communities can be just as active.

Yesterday, Reddit announced a campaign to give local businesses free advertising targeted at those localized subreddits. Each local business will get one of Reddit’s self-serve ads, which runs at the top of each subreddit page. Users can both vote and comment on the ad as if it were a regular submission to the site. That ad will run for three days, which is a value of about $100.

“We’ve seen a few local businesses use it, but we wanted a few more people to try it out to see what works, what doesn’t, the overall performance, how we can improve (the experience) or even just to create best practices,” Reddit General Manager Erik Martin said in an interview with VentureBeat. “Also, it’s in our best interest for local businesses to realize that there are local subreddits for almost every city and large town in the country.”

In addition to raising awareness, Martin said the company is running the new campaign to get more feedback on how local businesses can use its self-serve ad platform.

“Owning a local, private business is like having three jobs and a new baby all at the same time — especially when you’re first starting up,” Reddit wrote in a blog post announcing the campaign. “It’s easy for a local business in a specific community to get lost in the advertising crowd.”

This isn’t the first time Reddit has decided to give out free ads. Last month, the company held a campaign inviting non-profits and charities to run free ads on the site. About 250 ads (valued at over $27,000) ran during the two-week campaign.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Adobe’s mobile Flash crash could benefit game streaming startup iSwifter

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 11:42 AM PST

Adobe’s announcement that it is giving up on mobile Flash development is good for one particular startup: iSwifter.

iSwifter was founded last year to enable PC-based Flash games to run on mobile devices. The company runs the game on its servers and then streams video at high speeds to the mobile device. Since it works fast, it can keep up with interactive games where the speed of interaction is important.

In short, it enables gamers to play their favorite Flash-based Facebook and web games on devices such as an iPad, even though they haven’t been adapted to that device. For instance, you could play Zygna’s Empires & Allies game on an iPad, even though Zynga hasn’t adapted that game to run on the iPad.

Adobe has been promising it would make Flash work on mobile devices since 2008. It launched a version for Android in mid-2010, but that didn’t work very well. The legacy of Flash was on the PC, where developers had the luxury of having unlimited central processing unit (CPU) and power consumption. But Flash was too unwieldy to run on power-efficient on mobile device hardware. After years of effort, Adobe threw in the towel today and laid off hundreds of people.

“I”m sorry about the layoffs at Adobe, but I’m very happy for iSwifter,” said Peter Relan, chairman of YouWeb, the incubator that hatched iSwifter, in an interview. “I was waiting for the day that Adobe would finally realize that it cannot do this, and instead will let iSwifter take care of this problem.”

Relan said his company made a bet on exploiting the disconnect between Flash and mobile devices after an argument erupted in 2010 between then-Apple chief executive Steve Jobs and Adobe over getting Flash to run on the iPhone.

“We made the bet on iSwifter that day that mobile Flash would fail,” Relan said. “This is a great day for iSwifter.”

Rajat Gupta, chief executive of iSwifter, said in an interview, that iSwifter will continue to benefit from the Flash disconnect because there are still a huge number of Flash developers — a couple of million or so — with a hundred thousand or more Flash games running on the web and on Facebook. Those Flash developers will continue to develop for the PC and won’t disappear overnight, especially since there are still 200 million plus PCs selling each year.

Gupta said that the company’s app for the iPad has nearly a million registered users about six months after its debut. On the iPad, the app is available as a free app for 30 minutes of use. After that, users can upgrade to unlimited play for $4.99.

Later this quarter, Gupta said that the team will launch iSwifter for Android devices. He is excited about the potential there because of upcoming tablets such as the Amazon Kindle Fire. I saw a version of the iSwifter app running on an Android tablet this spring.

“For Android, iSwifter is coming to the rescue,” Gupta said. “We will open it up on Android very quickly.”

Relan reiterated that iSwifter is on track to generate $10 million in revenues this year. Gupta said the company now has 15 employees, up from just five this summer.

Altogether, you can access any of Facebook’s 3,000 or so games and thousands of more web-based games. Of those, iSwifter chooses around 20 or so to carefully curate so they work extremely well on the iPad.

Relan said, “Adobe is now 50 percent of what it used to be. They’ve cleaved off the mobile part, and we are now providing the solution that they were trying to do. In a couple more years, I think iSwifter will become the defacto streaming player for Adobe. Our startup fills the gap.”

Other companies do video streaming on mobile devices, and OnLive can do this as well. But so far, iSwifter is the one that focuses on interactive streaming.

Filed under: games, mobile

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Why the U.S. is losing the cyberwar against China

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 11:27 AM PST

Why is it that the United Sates, the world's clear military and economic heavyweight, is highly vulnerable when it comes to cyberwarfare?

After 9/11, many people feared that the United States would suffer infrastructure-crippling cyberattacks by terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda. But I have been (and remain) far more concerned with the digital risks posed to our national security by rapidly developing non-democratic nations and by our failure to counter these threats.

Over the past month, we have heard stories of a virus on the U.S. military's drone-control systems, U.S. satellites being successfully breached and a U.S. warning issued regarding Chinese and Russian hacking. Of course, the more dangerous threats are the ones about which do not hear — or even know.

While people sometimes point to the availability of Internet connectivity in regions in which people lacked basic computers just a few years ago, the proliferation of Internet access on its own does not explain why we became vulnerable.

There are, however, several factors that contribute to the phenomenon of US weakness, three of which I discuss in this article: A transfer of knowledge away from the United States, strong incentives and opportunity to identify and exploit US vulnerabilities, and government and corporate attitudes toward innovative startups.

A transfer of knowledge away from the United States

When I attended NYU's graduate program in computer science in the mid-1990s, the majority of the students in many of my classes were non-Americans, with a great number of them from China. Most Americans did not (and still do not) regard computer science as a glamorous profession; they did not ascribe to it the prestige that they did to fields such as business, law, medicine or the performing arts.

This phenomenon was not unique to NYU, and grew worse nationally as the IT outsourcing trend of the late 1990s and early 2000s incented American university students to avoid the computer science major and profession at the same time that it motivated their Chinese counterparts to become computer science experts.

At the time, various government policies related to cybersecurity were nonsensical. It was illegal to export certain encryption technology overseas, for example. But citizens of the same non-friendly nations to which it was illegal to export the technology could study it in our schools or from our books and then easily recreate it once back home.

While our top universities were educating foreigners, few Americans were studying computer science at any universities of note in other countries. We were transferring knowledge in one direction: out.

Likewise, when IT jobs moved overseas, and those of us in the field sounded the alarm over a decade ago, we were told that outsourcing was a healthy factor of capitalism. But capitalism does not concern itself with security or borders. We do not outsource our national defense to foreign powers — even to one that might offer the best service at the lowest cost — for just that reason.

If we want to regain technical superiority, we must incent Americans to study computer science. There is no substitute for knowledge.

Strong incentives & opportunity to identify & exploit U.S. vulnerabilities

State-sponsored hacking is a highly effective way for governments to improve militaries, infrastructure and national superiority; and it is far less expensive than research and development or classic espionage.

Besides costing far less than espionage achieved through human spies, spying via computer systems also poses far fewer risks than its physical-world counterpart. Deniability is always an option; no highly trained people are at risk; and there is far less of a threat of agents defecting, betraying their sponsor or becoming double agents.

Often the theft of information will never even be detected.

Furthermore, it is far cleaner to take out an enemy’s defense capabilities through a virus than with bombs, and the virus approach ensures plausible deniability that an air force cannot. The damage inflicted by Stuxnet on Iran's nuclear facilities (an attack that many ascribe to the Israelis and/or our own military, but for which no one has assumed responsibility) provides a clear example.

Many people who understand dangers in the real world are oblivious to risks in the online world, and they create opportunities for cyberspying and hacking. Basic cybersecurity principles are often overlooked, principles such as allowing access to sensitive data only on a need-to-know basis, something that would likely have prevented the entire embarrassing WikiLeaks situation.

If we want to successfully defend ourselves in the 21st century, we must focus on educating our public on the basics of cybersecurity.

We must also leverage security technologies that are simple and human-friendly, systems that work the way that people think are not only more likely to be used but are less likely to lead to confusion that produces errors and vulnerabilities as sought after by those who are motivated to hack us.

Government & corporate attitudes toward innovative startups

Aggravating the matter is a general trend by which large firms and the federal government obtain their technology from big firms with big marketing and lobbying budgets.

Standards are set by committees in which large firms or their lobbyists and lobbied officials are often overrepresented, while more innovative but younger companies are often missing.

While it was true a couple decades ago that "nobody gets fired for buying IBM," when it comes to security, criminals and foreign powers do not care what brand of countermeasures a large firm or the US government uses: If a security technology is vulnerable, criminals/spies/etc. will breach it.

The RSA SecurID scandal of earlier this year, in which a who's-who of large firms are believed to have been vulnerable and in which a treasure-trove of sensitive data is believed to have leaked, was an example.

When one considers that such a great percentage of major technological developments over the past decade have come from startups, the use of an outdated and politically tainted technology-selection system is downright scary.

Furthermore, in some government departments, only offerings from "preferred providers" can be purchased. In others, time-consuming and expensive certification processes are necessary in order to have a product approved for use.

These requirements effectively preclude the government from using innovative technologies and services created by smaller and younger firms, even if such offerings are the best suited for a specific purpose.

We must eliminate policies that force us to use bows and arrows, and only those from specific suppliers, to defend ourselves when our enemy approaches with machine guns.

The Department of Homeland Security notes on its website, "America’s economic prosperity and competitiveness in the 21st century depends on effective cybersecurity."

The same holds true of our national security. Furthermore, if we do not regain top-notch cybersecurity, our policy decisions in all areas of foreign policy will ultimately be compromised by our fear of cyberthreats. We would be subject to economic blackmail, unable to assist in humanitarian crises in troubled regions where otherwise relatively insignificant warlord militias have the ability to carry out devastating infrastructure-crippling attacks on our homeland from a computer halfway around the world, and certainly unable to wage war against rogue nations threatening out stability.

If we want to remain a superpower and enjoy continued economic success and national security, we must start making changes.

Joseph Steinberg, CISSP, ISSAP, ISSMP, CSSLP, is a respected cybersecurity expert consultant and the CEO of Green Armor Solutions, a leading provider of information security software. An industry veteran with 20 years of experience, Joseph is sought after by businesses, the government and other organizations to assist them with their digital security needs. He is the inventor of several computer and data security technologies, the author of a book and many articles on cybersecurity-related matters and a frequent lecturer on topics related to IT security, technology and business. For more information, or to contact him, please visit www.JosephSteinberg.com or email joseph@greenarmor.com.

Filed under: security, VentureBeat

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Startup and the City: Lessons from landing my first startup job

Posted: 09 Nov 2011 11:16 AM PST

Julia Plevin. Photo by Caro Ramirez/Refinery29Editor’s note: Julia Plevin recently started a job at a startup that’s still in stealth mode. She’ll be posting occasional columns on VentureBeat about her experiences.

I've been asked many times why and how I got into working at a startup. I normally shrug it off and say something like, "Oh, just the right time and right place," but of course that's not the whole truth.

Like many a young person with big dreams, I arrived bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked to San Francisco with plans to be part of something big and exciting. I even had an idea for a start-up of my own that I just knew would be the next Twitter (actually I'm still kind of convinced it will be).

And so I set out to get a job at a start-up. Easy, right? Not so much.

The first crush of reality came when a seasoned San Francisco tech industry veteran told me that with my interest in editorial content, I'd be better off looking for a job at a start-up in New York City. I was told that techie engineering companies and sales firms mostly dominate the San Francisco/Silicon Valley start-up scene. And I was clearly not an engineer or a salesperson.

A second blow came from my childhood friend who is now a co-founder of InternMatch. He explained that being around the start-up scene – attending demo day events, launch parties, and exciting, groundbreaking conferences – was a lot more romantic than actually working at a start-up. The day-to-day of a start-up is a total grind.

But still I persevered, writing cover letters out my ears and sometimes even meeting people for an interview. About two months passed before I finally found a start-up that wanted to hire me. And that's the thing: If a company has job postings online, it's almost too late.

When a start-up is looking to hire, they need people fast. They don't want to spend a lot of time recruiting. They trust people already in the industry and value referrals highly. So I was lucky enough to find a friend who had a friend who had a start-up that was about to launch and needed more hands on deck, (really, fingers on keyboards).

I promptly took the job. And then I learned another lesson: Not all start-ups are created equal. Some are more serious while others more chill. Some are more engineering heavy and others less so. Some are on ambitious growth trajectories and others just chugging along. And so on.

The one I landed at, let's call it Bleu Project, was filled with great people, but it was not a perfect culture fit for me. Ask anyone in the start-up world and they'll tell you that finding a culture fit is totally key. At Bleu Project, people talked about math equations during happy hour, and eating lunch anywhere other than in front of your computer screen was considered sacrilegious. Moreover, the product was something I found interesting, but not all that relevant to me.

I stuck it out for a good seven weeks before I went to meet the team at another start-up in downtown San Francisco. This other start-up was in a super early stage, pre-private beta. From the moment I flew my first remote control helicopter, an almost prerequisite for getting a job at the young-hearted company, I knew I had found my start-up home in San Francisco. The product was something that I could relate to and believe in. Everyone on the team was smart and accomplished but also fun and social.

I eagerly accepted an offer at this early stage company and bid Bleu Project adieu. I was nervous that the people at Bleu Project might be upset with me for jumping ship to go work at a different start-up, but they were quite gracious. And therein lies another lesson about start-ups: it's a small world where it's taken for granted that people move around a lot, so everyone wants to remain on good terms.

So here I am now, working at a start-up I love and occasionally "moonlighting" as a columnist here. I'm a start-up newbie, having spent most of my post-collegiate life as a writer and a journalist, and I have a bit of an outsider's perspective since I spent the past two years living in Vietnam. I'll be writing regularly about what it's actually like to work at a start-up and I will even disclose the name of said start-up as soon as we are no longer in stealth mode.

Julia Plevin is a writer and blogger who recently returned to the United States after managing a magazine in Hanoi, Vietnam. She now works at a startup in San Francisco.

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner

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