19 November, 2011



Review: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword proves Nintendo hasn’t learned anything

Posted: 19 Nov 2011 08:40 AM PST

While all eyes will soon be shifted to the Wii U, the Wii's successor, Nintendo still expects there are "millions" of this generation's console to be sold. If any game from the Japanese publisher/developer can move units off store shelves during the holiday season, it's The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Not since the launch of the Wii in 2006 has there been a console Zelda title, and fittingly the series looks to be bookending the life of the Wii.

The more things change…

I originally started this review with a fairly lengthy recap of Nintendo's many past digressions culminating with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which wasn't just a bad game, but also an inexcusably horrid business decision that severely burnt loyal Nintendo fans, even the ones who were too ignorant to realize it. But I deleted all that, because this interview with Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime speaks for itself. In it, Fils-Aime claims that he believes there hasn't been a game of the same caliber and score of Skyward Sword, based on what he counts are eight perfect ratings on Metacritic.

"I don't know if there's going to be a video game in history that's going to be able to compare to Skyward Sword," he said.

Meanwhile, Bethesda Softworks announced earlier in the week that rival action-RPG The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been awarded over 50 perfect reviews globally. It's this kind of blind arrogance that proves Nintendo executives operate within a bubble, while the fact that Skyward Sword suffers from many of the same shortcomings that befell Twilight Princess suggests that shortsightedness extends to their development teams as well.

The business opportunity for this game was huge, since Nintendo has sold more than 89 million Wiis, giving it an installed base that is far higher than when the last Zelda came out. Many people will still buy it because there isn’t anything else comparable on the Nintendo console. But it’s a wasted opportunity.

The story begins promisingly enough. In Skyward Sword, the princess Zelda is not the usual damsel in distress, but a main character on equal ground with the hero Link himself. Perhaps beyond Link even, as she's definitely the more fleshed-out of the two. They live on a floating island called Skyloft, high above the clouds where most of the residents believe that there's nothing else in the world besides them, and certainly nothing below. I can't imagine what a lonely, existentialist nightmare that must be, given that Skyloft is about the size of a single city block in Los Angeles, but after meeting all of the NPCs I doubt any of them are intelligent enough to ponder such a thing. Residents of Skyloft also have a giant winged bird, known as a loftwing, that is bonded directly with them and no one else. This is the one major addition that shakes up the aging Zelda formula and made me wonder if I was in a for a truly unique experience. Just watching Zelda and Link dive off the cliffs of Skyloft and whistle for their loftwings as they freefall is so very un-Zelda-like. It's both absurd and exhilarating at the same time, giving me a brief moment of uninterrupted excitement.

Filed under: games

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Microsoft and TechStars launch Kinect startup accelerator

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 08:35 PM PST

Microsoft has welcomed with open arms the hackers and academics who are tinkering with its Kinect motion-sensing system for the Xbox 360. Everyone from students to researchers are finding new uses for the technology beyond the game console. Now Microsoft and TechStars are teaming up to create an accelerator that will promote startups using Kinect for commercial applications.

The accelerator will take applications for a class of 10 startups through Jan. 25. They will then take part in a three-month incubation program at Microsoft and get $20,000 in seed funding. The program recognizes that there is a lot of usable technology in Kinect, from its microphone array for voice recognition to its 3D depth camera for recognizing human gestures in real-time.

The Seattle-based program will require that TechStars will get a 6 percent stake in the startup. The goal is to create businesses that leverage Kinect for Xbox or Windows. The goal is to take advantage of some of the creative energy that was unleashed in the program when hackers circumvented Kinect’s security system. Microsoft later released a software development kit to exploit Kinect.

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LivingSocial set to raise almost $200M at $5B valuation

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 06:36 PM PST

Daily deals site LivingSocial is close to raising nearly $200 million in venture financing, which will value the site at $5 billion, The New York Times has reported, citing unnamed sources close to the matter. Previous LivingSocial investors such as Amazon.com are expected to participate along with new investors, according to the Times.

LivingSocial is America’s second largest daily deals site after Groupon, which listed itself on the NASDAQ exchange on Nov. 4.  The money is expected to help LivingSocial expand into new markets and fend off challenges from Groupon in existing cities.

LivingSocial was expected to IPO earlier this year, and was valued at $10 billion to $15 billion in June, as VentureBeat has previously reported. Earlier this month Gilt group purchased BuyWithMe, narrowing the field of national daily deals players to just the two. Groupon and LivingSocial account for 40 percent of all deals sold in the U.S., and 75 percent of the revenue.

A LivingSocial IPO is still an option according to sources who spoke to The Times, but it is not expected any time soon.

[Image Credit: peasap/Flickr]

Filed under: deals

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New Arrested Development episodes headed to Netflix!

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 06:03 PM PST

arrested development

Fox made a huge mistake by canceling Arrested Development in 2006. Looks like Netflix is making a redemption, however, by offering new episodes to subscribers in 2013.

The show, which ran for three seasons, has become a cult classic amongst dry-absurd-humor loving watchers (read: me) who have longed for more episodes of the Bluth family’s antics. Rumors of a movie have circulated since its small screen departure without much fruits for the scuttlebutt labor. Contractual issues were blamed for the delay, but it looks like Netflix found the money in the banana stand before movie producers and is giving fans the fix.

“Starting in 2013, all new episodes of ‘Arrested Development’ will be available exclusively to U.S. Netflix Members to watch instantly!” Netflix announced on Twitter.

For awhile there, it seemed like Netflix’s customer-friendly hand had been bitten off by the seal of stupidity when it created and then killed off Qwikster, the proposed DVD rental arm of Netflix. After backlash to the odd separation, Netflix quickly burned the split and kept its company whole. Still upset customers retaliated by canceling their subscriptions, resulting in a loss of 800,000 subscribers in the third quarter of 2011.

After its spell of vertigo, however, Netflix has stopped dragging its feet and finally given users something, well, awesome.

Ron Howard, creator of Arrested Development and narrator of the show, tweeted, “Gotta warm up my throat and start practicing…. ‘it’s Arrested….Development’ Good news,” as well as, “Many thanks to you ever-so-vocal Arrested Development supporters Wouldn’t have gotten here without you.”

The episodes should be ready in 2013, but will only be available to Netflix members in the United States. Whether this will be expanded internationally is unclear.

I think Jason Bateman, the actor behind main character Michael Bluth, said it best when he tweeted, “Netflix is gassing up the staircar! I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to wear a pair of khakis.”

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Instagram rockets to 13 million users in 13 months

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 04:46 PM PST

The popular photo app that’s responsible for flooding the internet with fuzzy, low-contrast, retro images of cats, hipsters and urban street scenes shows no sign of slowing down.

Of course we’re talking about Instagram and its iPhone-only app for sharing stylized photos. The startup attracted 12 million users in just over a year on the App Store. By early November, the small company — and we mean small; Instagram has just seven employees — grabbed another million and now boasts well over 13 million application users, co-founder Kevin Systrom shared with VentureBeat.

“We’ve always been growing fast, but I think network effects help — we’ve got millions of people who love Instagram and they spread the word for us,” Systrom said of the application’s popularity.

Most are familiar with Instagram’s quirky and bumpy ride to Internet fame. Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger initially raised funding for Burbn, which was yet another take on the mobile check-in application. That idea was scrapped, after almost a year of development, when the co-founders decided to hold on to and perfect a single feature of Burbn: mobile photo-sharing.

The first version of Instagram was created in 8 weeks and launched on the App Store on October 6, 2010. Apple soon named it App of the Week and Instagram started adding a 100,000 new users per week. Today, Instagram remains a iPhone-only application, though it does have a popular API that developers are using to bring the experience to new platforms. The service also touts celebrity users such as Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Ryan Seacrest.

And what’s the status on that long-promised Android application? “All I can say about Android is that it will definitely happen — as for timing, we’ve got nothing to announce yet except that I’m very excited about what the team is working on,” Systrom said.

Instagram has been vocal about its early successes, so we put together a little graph (as seen below) to chart user growth over the course of its short 13-month lifespan. The dates included are based on various reports and do not accurately reflect the exact dates for each milestone, but it does provide a pretty clear picture of continued end user adoption.

A bona fide hit with iPhone owners, Instagram’s two greatest challenges will be replicating the top-notch experience for Android (where there’s already a bevy of similarly-purposed apps) and proving that it can build a real business — not just a buzzy app.

[Image via Instagram]

Filed under: mobile, social

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Kayak answers the age old question, when are holiday airfares cheapest?

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 03:27 PM PST

Travel search site Kayak.com processed a whopping 443 million searches in the first half of 2011. There is an information gold mine buried in those hotel and flight queries, as well as answers to some of our most pressing travel questions. Is it too late to get an affordable plane ticket for the holidays? Are you paying more than average for airfare? What days of the week are cheapeast to fly?

We asked Kayak and the company responded with tons of delicious data. The most important bit is this: The best time to buy a plane ticket for the December holidays is the first week of December, up until the 10th. You still have time! And if you don’t have a ticket for Thanksgiving yet, well, family is more important than money.

Kayak has engineers from its analytics and marketing teams constantly crunching numbers and dissecting customer behavior to find useful nuggets of information. That data is used to inform design and tweak searches, but it can also turn up coveted booking tips for travelers. For example, don’t don’t buy plane tickets more than 30 day in advance or within 14 days of your trip.

These tips apply no matter what site you use to search for plane tickets. Kayak queries over a 100 sources for its results, including ITA, the travel software giant recently bought by Google. Google uses ITA to power its new competing flight search. Bing also has its own search function that, it turns out, is powered by Kayak.

Here is a look at other key Thanksgiving, December holiday and New Year’s Eve travel booking and price patterns:

Infographic designed by Visual.ly

Filed under: VentureBeat

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VentureBeat to co-host the 5th annual Crunchies Awards

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 03:16 PM PST

Crunchies AwardsThe 2011 Crunchies Awards are coming up. We’re happy to announce that we’ll be co-hosting the event, along with our friends at TechCrunch and GigaOm, as we have done every year since the awards started in 2007.

This annual celebration of startups and technology will be held on January 31, and it’s moving to the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, a gorgeous venue that seats over 2,000 people, so there will be twice the capacity of previous shows. Tickets will be released in batches, starting in early December.

Polling has just opened, so be sure nominate your favorite startups, founders, and investors across 20 categories. The nomination deadline is midnight Pacific time on December 13 and finalists will be announced in early January 2012.

Check out the rules here, and see the Crunchies categories (along with last year’s winners) below:

  • Best Technology Achievement (2010: Google Self Driving Cars)
  • Best Social Application (2010: DailyBooth)
  • Best Shopping Application (2010: Groupon)
  • Best Mobile Application (2010: Google Mobile Maps for Android)
  • Best Local Application (new for 2011)
  • Best Tablet Application (2010: Flipboard)
  • Best Design (2010: gogobot)
  • Best Bootstrapped Startup (2010: Addmired)
  • Best Cloud Service (new for 2011)
  • Best International Startup (2010: Viki)
  • Best Clean Tech Startup (2010: SolarCity)
  • Best New Device (2010: ipad)
  • Best Time Sink (2010: Cityville)
  • Biggest Social Impact (new for 2011)
  • Angel of the Year (2010: Paul Graham)
  • VC of the Year (2010: Yuri Milner)
  • Founder of the Year (2010: Mark Pincus)
  • CEO of the Year (2010: Andrew Mason)
  • Best New Startup of 2010 (2010: Quora)
  • Best Overall Startup of 2010 (2010: Twitter)

[Photo Credit: TechCrunch]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Apple says it could lose $2.7B if Motorola wins iCloud case

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 02:39 PM PST

itunes-icloudMotorola has inched closer to winning a German court battle against Apple centering on iCloud and MobileMe — and Apple says it could lose up to $2.7 billion in sales if Motorola wins, Bloomberg reports.

Unlike Apple’s many Android-related legal battles, this time around it’s the target. The news comes after a U.S. judge ruled in October that Apple needs to prove its design patents valid in a case against Samsung.

On April 1, 2011 (cheeky timing) Motorola filed a complaint against Apple regarding its implementation of mail synchronization on iCloud and MobileMe. Today during a hearing in a Mannheim, Germany court, Apple lawyers said that if Motorola manages to land an injunction against its products, it could lose 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in sales.

As is the legal process in Germany, Motorola would be expected to put up that amount in bail in case, as Bloomberg explains:

German courts often require the winning side to post collateral if it wants to enforce a ruling while the loser appeals. The amount reflects the losses the party may suffer when forced to comply with the ruling. If it wins the appeal, it can seek damages and can make use of the collateral.

The presiding German judge didn’t buy Apple’s arguments about the sales loss: "I am not yet entirely sure that amount adequately mirrors the commercial value of this dispute," judge Andreas Voss said. "The technology isn't a standard and there are alternative ways to provide the same services."

Meanwhile, Motorola Mobility shareholders finalized their decision today to move forward with Google’s $12.5 billion purchase of the company. Somehow, I don’t think that will work out too well for Apple.

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

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Jurassic Park game developers found scoring their own game 10/10 on Metacritic

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 02:20 PM PST

Investigations by Gamespot have revealed that two members of the Jurassic Park development team at Telltale Games posted perfect review scores for their own title on the popular ratings website Metacritic, earlier this week.

Telltale Games is best known for its point and click adventure games, such as Sam and Max, and Back To The Future. Its most recent title, Jurassic Park, was released on Xbox Live on Wednesday, and has so far received a luke warm reception from critics. Only three press reviews have been added to Metacritic so far, none of which have been terribly flattering, with all scoring the game at 60/100 or under.

That made it all the more curious when user reviews for the game started popping up on Wednesday afternoon, giving the game 10/10, and lavishing it with praise. A particularly glowing review stated that: "There is much to love about Jurassic Park: The Game. The writing is top notch, all of the dinosaurs you love from the film (and more) are there in full-force, and it truly delivers that iconic Jurassic Park vibe that we all had when we saw the film for the first time in 1992." After a bit of digging, Gamespot managed to discover that these user reviews were in fact provided by two members of staff at Telltale Games – one a user interface artist, another a cinematic artist – both of whom having worked on the game.

A Telltale Games representative responded to this discovery with the following statement: “Telltale Games do not censor or muzzle its employees in what they post on the internet. However, it is being communicated internally that anyone who posts in an industry forum will acknowledge that they are a Telltale employee. In this instance, two people who were proud of the game they worked on, posted positively on Metacritic under recognizable online forum and XBLA account names.”

Members of the gaming community have now jumped on this issue, and have begun to dish out their own less-than-perfect scores for the title. Metacritic user ‘lespaulio‘ summed up the mood with their review: "This game is an uninspired mess. As a Jurassic Park fan I’m very disappointed. Shame on the developers (Telltale) for putting out a product like this and for posting here on Metacritic to try to inflate their game’s score. "

Far from bolstering the ratings for the game, this move seems to have backfired terribly, and at the time of writing Jurassic Park was sat on an average Metacritic user score of 2.8.

Filed under: games

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More than 1,600 cheaters banned from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 02:15 PM PST

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has been out for a little over a week now and already 1,600 cheaters and hackers have been banned, according to Infinity Ward’s Creative Strategist Robert Bowling.

Yesterday, Bowling stated on Twitter, “Any attempt to cheat, hack, or glitch in #MW3 will not be tolerated. 1600+ bans issued. Updates in works. Please cont. to report offenders.”

This is not the first time Infinity Ward has taken action against Modern Warfare 3 players. The first round of bans went out on the game’s launch day, November 8, according to Bowling. However, Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard decided to not take action against gamers who obtained early copies of the game, saying it valued and appreciated the community’s support, and asked that everyone waited until after the official launch to play.

Rival game Battlefield 3 has recently dealt with cheaters as well, banning hundreds of players for exploiting a certain glitch that allowed them to illegally boost the number of points earned in a match.

Filed under: games

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Glam Media launches new GlamSplash advertising platform

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 02:04 PM PST

Glam Media logoGlam Media is launching a new video ad platform called GlamSplash that aims to mimic the effectiveness of 30-second TV spot advertisements, the company announced today.

The company’s advertisements have a reach of about 200 million unique visitors per month for its collection of over 2,500 publishers. Those publishers, which are primarily focused on appealing to a female demographic, include Glam.com, Brash.com, Bliss.com and others.

The new GlamSplash platform will enable advertisers to both create and distribute rich media ads — such as videos, animated images and sound clips — through Glam web publications as well as its newly acquired Ning social network property. The ad campaigns can reach a number of different mediums on the web and mobile devices and are HTML5 friendly.

The point of GlamSplash is to optimize your advertising campaign for every possibly scenario that consumers may use. The end result should yield campaigns with greater impact and less headache to the advertiser.

Glam, which is gearing up for an IPO soon, has 450-500 employees worldwide. It is based in Brisbane, Calif. Investors include Information Capital, Accel, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Walden Ventures, Hubert Burda Media, GLG and Aeris. The company raised $50 million at a reported $750 million valuation in its most recent round, in February, 2010.

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

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Report: Macs now have 5% of global market share

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 02:04 PM PST


Apple’s Mac computers have hit the 5 percent mark in worldwide market share for the first time in 15 years, according to an All Things D report.

The Windows OS has been the most pervasive and popular operating system around the world for two decades, but because Apple is sole manufacturer of Macs and every non-Apple computer manufacturer makes PCs, Macs have seemingly always been slim in complete market share. What’s interesting now is that Macs are growing at a much faster rate than PCs overall and gaining traction by slowly picking up market share. In 2004, Macs had about 2 percent of market share worldwide but as of last quarter, Macs command 5 percent of the market, according to IDC.

In terms of shipments, 24.6 percent more Macs were shipped this past quarter than in the year-before quarter, an astounding level of growth next to PCs, which grew by 5.3 percent. It’s easy to argue that Windows PC sales are growing slower because typical Windows consumers don’t feel the need to upgrade as frequently, but you could also make the case that Apple is simply becoming a more popular choice when people want new laptops, especially well-designed models like the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

So what’s driving this adoption around the world? Analyst Charlie Wolf of Needham & Co. specifically noted to All Things D that new enterprise customers and strong growth in the Asia Pacific region have helped Apple sell more Macs, on top of just increasingly being a popular choice with consumers.

In the U.S. specifically, Apple saw 25.6 percent growth in sales, compared to PC growth of 4 percent. One thing Apple is having to contend with in the U.S. and around the world is also iPad sales, which may be cannibalizing some Mac sales. But Wolf noted that iPads are likely stealing market share from PCs more than Macs. And what supports that idea is that Mac growth is so much stronger than Windows PC growth while iPads continue to sell like hot cakes.

And if Apple still feels any market share envy toward Windows PCs, at least it can look to the tablet market, where it holds a crazy lead in market share. In the U.S. alone, the iPad makes up 83 percent of tablet sales, and around the world it counts for 73 percent of tablet sales. And, on top of that, the iPad is the clear leader in global tablet web traffic with 88 percent, far greater than all Android tablets and other tablets like the BlackBerry Playbook.

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Filed under: VentureBeat

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Turn off the faucet: Foreign hackers target a water treatment plant

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 01:31 PM PST

Foreign hackers may have broken into the computers of a water treatment plant in Illinois last week and damaged a water pump,  according to the Washington Post.

The attack appears to be the first malicious cyber assault against a critical infrastructure computer network in the U.S., according to an expert cited by the newspaper.

The attack was noticed on Nov. 8, when there were problems with the city’s water pump control system. A technician figured out the system had been remotely attacked via a computer in Russia, said Joe Weiss, an industry security expert who obtained a copy of the state’s report on the incident.

The Department of Homeland Security told the Post that a water plant in Springfield, Ill., had been damaged, but they had not yet verified that the failure was caused by a cyber attack.

Dave Marcus, director of security research for McAfee Labs, told the Post that critical systems in the U.S. are vulnerable to attacks over the Internet and few operators of the infrastructure know how to detect them.

It reminds us of a talk by John McNabb, a security expert who spoke at the Defcon hacker conference in Las Vegas in August. He said that it was exceedingly easy to break into and disrupt water meters. McNabb’s talk a year earlier also warned about how easy it might be to attack water treatment facilities. In 2010, he said that water infrastructure cyber attacks had increased 367 percent over more than a decade and about 22 percent of them are malware. The water facilities often use Siemens’ SCADA industrial software, which can be attacked. He concluded that water infrastructure is too big and too exposed to be 100 percent protected from attack, though he was more worried about bombs than cyber attacks.

Below is a video of McNabb’s talk about attacks on water infrastructure.

Filed under: security

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Wayfair CEO talks Groupon IPO and the e-commerce deals industry

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 01:06 PM PST

Wayfair.com recently surpassed Crate and Barrel to be the number two home goods website, is expecting $500 million in revenue this year, and closed a $165 million round of funding. We sat down with Niraj Shah, co-founder and chief executive officer of the e-commerce deals site, to get his thoughts on the Groupon IPO and the current e-commerce landscape.

Groupon had its initial public offering earlier this month, peaking at $30 a share, and closing at $26. Many balked at the daily deals site’s IPO in the months leading to it, due to weird accounting practices, breaking quiet period rules and general concern for the daily deals market. Indeed, after its IPO, people are considering shorting the stock — betting Groupon’s stock will drop instead of rise.

But Shah believes the stock market is only showing that consumers believe in an e-commerce model, and more are willing to put their bet on the industry. This has obviously been proven through public companies like eBay and Amazon, but it’s a step forward for the deals market and the emphasis on saving money.

Check out the video for more.

Filed under: deals

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Instagrille is a pretty Instagram desktop app for PC users

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 11:33 AM PST

Instragam may be the most popular mobile photo-sharing app of our time, but it could certainly benefit from an official web or desktop application. Don’t want to wait? PC users can get their Instagram-fix with the desktop application Instagrille.

Instagram landed on the App Store in October of last year and found insta-favor with iPhone users looking to add effects to photos. A little more than one year later, the San Francisco-based startup has more than 12 million users and a growing selection of third-party applications that have helped make its stylized photo experience more universally accessible.

Instagrille is the latest addition to that list, and gifts PC users with the rich photo-browsing and commenting traits of the Instagram for iPhone application. The desktop app features feed, popular and profile views, and supports comments and “likes.”

The application is available as a free download though Pokki, the five month-old PC app store and platform created by San Diego startup SweetLabs. Instagrille was developed as part of the SweetLabs Pokki app challenge and is eligible to win a $30,000 grand prize, SweetLabs co-founder Chester Ng told VentureBeat.

And if that app doesn’t quench your Instagram thirst, SweetLabs has developed its own Instagram app for its PC app store, aptly named the Instagram Pokki. It’s not quite as pretty as Instagrille, but it does include a few additional features and supports photo, person and tag searches.

PC users: You’ve got options. Go forth and Instagram.

Filed under: dev, social

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Porn bigwigs get their panties in a twist over .XXX domain

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 11:19 AM PST

Manwin Licensing is going to court to make the world safe for porn peddlers.

Specifically the Luxembourg-based company that operates YouPorn and Playboy.com wants to block the adoption of the .XXX domain and alleges that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN), as well as ICM Registry, the company responsible for managing the domain, have engaged in ”monopolistic conduct, price gouging, and anticompetitive and unfair practices,” according to court documents first obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

In March, ICANN awarded the ICM Registry a contract to assign .XXX domain handles, and there have been more than 80,000 applications for related addresses, according to the Journal. Manwin Licensing and Digital Playground, who are party to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California are mad because the ICM is charging $60 per domain name. Manwin’s network of porn properties get more than 60 million repeat visits, and at $60 per name, that’s likely to be a significant chunk of change.

When new top-level domains are unfurled, there is always a rush to claim names to protect individual copyrights and to safeguard company brands against impostors who might masquerade as the genuine article by domain squatting. As an example, the website whitehouse.org (which has been suspended), was a parody site that called itself the “officious website of President George W. Bush” but had no affiliation with the president or any connection to the U.S. government. Companies rush to snap up new domains as soon as they become available in order to prevent confusion, or to avoid similar embarrassment. But the only real winner is often the domain registrar, who makes money selling the website handles.

[Image Credit: XXX via ShutterStock]

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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League of Legends surpasses 30 million registered players

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 10:53 AM PST

Riot Games announced today that their hit online game League of Legends has surpassed the 30 million registered-player mark along with 11.4 million monthly active users. They have reason to crow, as even the ubiquitous World of Warcraft only reports 10.3 million subscribers.

Perhaps more significantly, over a million games of League of Legends are played each day, many consisting of two to five players, reports the company. In addition, at peak times, the game sees more than 1.3 million concurrent players across North America and Europe. That’s a lot of gamers. League of Legends is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game, where you play against other online opponents in a combat arena. It’s a fast game, like the equivalent of a pick-up basketball game.

Recently acquired, Riot Games is surely adding value for their majority holders, China’s Tencent. When purchased back in February for nearly $400 million, Riot Games was reporting “only” 1 million active players. Today’s announcement is big news for them, their new majority owners, and for gamers who play the popular game online.

Riot Games first unveiled League of Legends in 2008. The inspiration for the game was the free "mod," or user-generated modification, dubbed "Defense of the Ancients," a popular version of "Warcraft III" that had an estimated 10 million players. That game had its limitations and so Riot Games decided to make a better, brand new game on its own.

"We are extremely proud and appreciative of the devoted League of Legends community which has grown substantially over the last year and a half," says Brandon Beck, chief executive of Riot Games. "We're committed to continuing to match their dedication with our relentless focus on ongoing enhancements to the player experience with great new features, content, and polish – and we have some very exciting surprises in store just around the corner."

Competition includes the older Defense of the Ancients, Heroes of Newerth, and Bloodline Champions, among others. Valve is doing a Defense of the Ancients 2 game.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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How HiveMind’s Will Wright plans to crowdsource your happiness (interview)

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 10:30 AM PST

Will Wright’s games from SimCity to The Sims have sold more than 100 million units. That’s why people are paying attention to his new startup and game idea, HiveMind. The Berkeley, Calif.-based company is focused on “personal gaming,” or a kind of title that can customize itself for the individual player, taking into account aspects of a player's real-life situation as elements of the game.

We talked to Wright about HiveMind earlier this week in an exclusive interview, but we also thought it would be great to show you Wright’s own words, as he has a HiveMind like no one else. Here’s an edited transcript.

VentureBeat: Why don't you start by telling me about where you are with HiveMind?

Will Wright: We have been exploring all this stuff with the Stupid Fun Clubs, and we really started diving into this idea over six months ago. And really this has to do with where gaming is going in the future. This is one of these things where we want it to be totally focused and have it be something that we can scale up in a big way. We are actually planning to launch this as a separate company entirely, a spin out from the Stupid Fun Club.

VB: Tell us about it.

WW: The gist of it is, we are trying to do what I am kind of calling personal gaming. We have had different eras in gaming like console gaming and social gaming. This isn't really a platform-based concept, although a lot of  it will be happening on mobile devices. A big part of it is how can we learn enough about the player to start crafting games about their real life. Rather than craft a game like FarmVille for players to learn in play, we learn about you and your routines and incorporate that into a form of game play. Rather than put you in a fictional sand box, how do we make a game about the things that you do all the time?

It is something that is with you all the time, especially with your real life, almost like you are Sim. Your regular routines, your locations, your friends can all be incorporated into a form of game play. And a big part of this really, I think, is how do we make reality more interesting to you. What we are saying is, how do make a game that gets you more engaged in reality rather than distract you from it? And so we use reality as the basis of the game play and a lot of these opportunities that surround you.

I had this epiphany about a year ago. I was in Burbank and I was waiting to give a talk and I was about an hour early and I walked  down the street. There was like this old fifties diner. I had an hour to kill, so I just walked  down there because I liked the sign. In the parking lot were all these guys with really cool sports cars. They were sitting on lawn chairs. I asked what they were doing, and it turned out that the last Friday of the month, these guys would get together in the parking lot and just bring their cars and sit and talk about cars. And I love cars, so I had a great time just walking around talking to these guys looking at their cars. And it occurred to me later that my life is probably surrounded with possibilities like this, opportunities that I am just not aware of. There is this opportunity space that surrounds me. If I understood the things that were accessible to me, if I knew about these events, my life would probably be a lot more interesting.

And that's kind of the concept here. How do we expose you to these events? How can we make a system that understands enough about you and gives you really deep situational awareness? It could take into account what time of day it is, where you are, how much money is in your pocket. Imagine if you could open Google Maps and it shows you things that are interesting to you on the map.

These things might be of tremendous interest to you. It might be an event, it might be a place, its might be some historical footnote, it might be some person that you went to high school with. Whatever it is, all these things that you trip across serendipitously — how can we make a system? All of these things are very different dimensions that this kind of matchmaking would occur through. Are you following me so far?

VB: Yeah. It's interesting.

WW: Another way to look at this is like in mapping software. Google Maps will show you where are in two dimensions, and it can show you what's near by geographically. But when you think about the things that really kind of moderate your interest or your accessibility or availability to different experiences or opportunities, there are a lot more dimensions to that map. There's probably at least like 50 dimensions in that map. And those dimensions would be things like your interests, your social network, the time of day. All of the factors that I talked about you can envision as other dimensions on a much higher dimensional map.

And so one of the things we want to do is be able to triangulate a player in those 50 dimensions plus have a deep map of the world on these dimensions. And there will be a lot of data in there that's not even up on the cloud yet. We want to build a game and entertainment activities that can actually help us build a 50-dimensional map and locate the players in it. And then we use that opportunity space for really interesting new forms of entertainment. It might blur entertainment, lifestyle and personal tools. With that data, the world and the opportunities for entertainment become more visible to you. A part of this is really getting a deep relationship with the user, really understanding a lot about them and even designing games to where we are actually specifically trying to learn aspects of the user that are not really captured by anybody else. It may capture issues with their psychology, their interests, their background, their history, their social networks, etc. We can use those to build a number of different gaming applications around you.

This suite of gaming applications is basically harvesting this 50-dimensional map.

VB: So are there some examples of this idea that do bits and pieces of this in the real world already? Even the simple idea of location-based mobile search seems like it could deliver some of this data to you.

WW: A couple of things I’ve seen in the last month or so are these dating apps, where it’s looking for somebody that matches your interests that also happens to be within a quarter-mile of you. So in that case it’s looking at maybe five dimensions. Not just where you are, but also looking for people around you that have shared interests. That's a very simple example of something like that; there have been a lot of location-based things that have a very thin game layer on top of them, like Foursquare. Those really started out as utility tools or mapping services, where the people who were working them were technology driven, and they don't really go deep into gaming psychology. So they will put in an achievement ladder and that's that. That's the game, which is where Foursquare is.

We’re looking at how we build much deeper, more involving gaming experiences. But we build them out of the real world rather than the fantasy worlds.

VB: What are some examples of those 50 dimensions you’re talking about?

WW: Oh, we've got lists. You can imagine a lot of them. Imagine anything that would describe the things that would be of interest or available to you at any specific time and location. So your location is obvious, the time of day is another one, your interests, your skills, people, how much money is in your pocket, what your current mood is, which is actually a very important one. We wanted to design a gaming application that in some sense can start tracking and predicting your mood and even your schedule. It can understand when you go to work, when you have lunch, what times you are free that day. It can have access to your schedule and know what you have planned for the rest of the day.

These are all things that would be specific to you that will triangulate you on the 50-dimensional space. The map is the rest of that space and is basically showing you a proximity to other things, but any parameter about you — a lot of it really involves deeply personal stuff like your mood, state of mind, your schedule and stuff like that. But over time we want to extract this stuff out so that we know you are into a very specific set of things. We might know that other people are into very similar kinds of specific things, and we can track what they've done. We can match those interests and then recommend them to you.

We can kind of go with those 50 dimensions — and 50 is really just a number I pulled out of a hat. It’s just the way I think about building out a profile of a user.

VB: So it almost seems like doing some data mining and then building the game around that?

WW: Well, it’s actually almost the opposite process. We want to build games that allow us to mine that data. I have all these apps where they ask stuff like, can I use your location. I usually say no. That's actually a generational thing. I have noticed how many people who are like 20's and 30's have much less concern about privacy relating to apps. One of the things we have to be really cognizant of is that we want to basically get the user on our side in that, any time they share data with us, they immediately get value back. They get entertainment back. And so we reward them heavily for every bit of data they give to us about themselves. And that's crucial and we will again have different types of gaming apps, but almost every one of them in some sense wants to contribute to data mining, either mining data about you individually or mining data about the world around you.

So in the example I gave about when I was down in Burbank, the fact that these guys meet in that parking lot the last Friday of every month — maybe that’s posted on a web site somewhere, but it’s not in Google Maps. It is things like that we want to basically make accessible within our 50-dimensional map. It is the data we want to capture so that somebody might be playing a game where they are trying to recommend things for me. My friends are kind of playing me like a Sim. And they can see my current needs. They can see how bored I am or how tired I am and they are competing to give the best recommendation to me. And the ones that give  me the best recommendation earn “karma points.” They get more attention focused on them, basically for making my life more interesting.

But as they are doing that, as they are giving me these suggestions, we are also capturing the data into the map and retaining it for later, so it might be several months later some other guy is standing on the corner and he is into cars and then the system understands somebody once suggested that these guys meet in the parking lot on the last Friday of every month. I am going to reuse that recommendation. And so this is an example of how we start building the data set out of entertainment experiences.

VB: Sounds like you are sort of bringing a Sim to life here.

WW: Kind of. In a way. But we are really kind of making it a real-life endeavor. A lot of it is going to be not just this system and you but it’s also going to be getting your friends involved. Have you ever seen the sort of sub-community that has sprung up lately in the Bay Area called the “quantified self“?

VB: Yes. Isn’t Gordon Bell of Microsoft into that as well?

WW: Yes. These people build these elaborate data sets on their personal life, and they look for patterns or insights. They share them. Most people are doing their own data sets or counting calories or figuring out how much time they spend doing email or whatever the weird thing is they love, basically capturing metrics about themselves and then figuring out how to interpret the data. And that's exactly what we want to do. People in general are very narcissistic, and so the more we can make this whole thing about you, the more we can get people emotionally attached to it. And so this is kind of back to the idea that we make the game out of you and your life and so, intrinsically, your gaming experiences should be as interesting to you as your dreams, because they are going to be deeply personal.

VB: Yeah.

WW: And so that's kind of what brought us to start thinking of this as what we are calling personal gaming. How do we make games that really are about you and your life?

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This computer-on-a-USB-stick turns any device into an Android terminal

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 10:27 AM PST

Remember that $25 computer-on-a-stick we showed you a couple months ago?

This gadget might seem familiar: It’s a dual-core computer on a USB drive, and its makers say it’s all about computing from any screen, anytime, anywhere.

The drive, called Cotton Candy, will turn any screen you connect it to into an Android station. You can plug it into a TV, a tablet, a laptop (PC or Mac) — you name it.

The device’s maker, FXI Technologies said in a statement that Cotton Candy was designed to “bring cloud computing to almost any screen." In a word, it could help to make an “Internet of Things” more feasible than ever before.

In addition to giving consumers easy access to cloud-based games, files, documents and computing, Cotton Candy was also intended to speed up the adoption of smart screens, extend the lifetimes of common computing hardware, create a single point of content storage and decrease the overall cost of computing while increasing security.

It’s a tall order for such a tiny device:

Now, for the specs: The Cotton Candy prototype weighs just 21 grams and is equipped with an ARM Cortex-A9 (1.2GHz) CPU and an ARM Mali-400 MP (Quad-core) GPU. It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity options, as well as an HDMI output for HD graphics on any screen. The computer can be controlled via mice, keyboards, smartphones and other USB peripheral gadgets.

It runs an Android OS (no word yet on version number; we expect to see Ice Cream Sandwich on final, mass-market devices due to its one-OS-fits-all premise) as well as Ubuntu, and it features virtualization software for Windows, Mac and Linux.

As for the name, LXI CEO Borgar Ljosland wrote in a blog post, “The reason is that it was the most similar existing object that describes somewhat what it is doing: a stick connecting a cloud to your hand!”

Right now, FXI Tech is giving prototypes to manufacturers in the TV, storage, PC, smartphone, auto and appliance industries, to name a few.

Expect to see Cotton Candy sticks floating around at retail outlets during the second half of 2012. Pricing hasn’t been set yet.

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, gadgets, VentureBeat

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Wolfram Alpha lets you spy on the flights overhead

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 10:19 AM PST

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … okay so it’s just a plane. But wouldn’t it be cool to know everything about that aircraft overhead, like its altitude and where it’s headed? Computational search engine Wolfram Alpha now has the answers.

Wolfram Alpha is the sophisticated search engine capable of computing answers to factual questions; it’s especially handy for math and science queries. The startup launched with a bang in 2009 but wasn’t the Google-killer that some had predicted. The company’s technology is once again in the spotlight, since Siri, the iPhone 4S virtual assistant, relies on Wolfram Alpha for some of her answers.

Now, by harnessing data from the Federal Aviation Administration, the engine can tell you all about the flights overhead, as long as you’re in the U.S.

Query Wolfram Alpha for “flights overhead” — or try the startup’s $4.99 Travel Assistant app for iOS — and it’ll spit out the airline, flight number, jet type, altitude, angle and slant distance of each aircraft visible near your geoIP location — and it works even more precisely on your mobile device. You can even click on an individual flight to get detailed facts about its journey, including flight schedule, status and the flight’s final destination.

Wolfram Alpha’s flight data isn’t limited to the here and now either. The engine can also compute answers to past and future (but only up to 24 hours ahead) flight queries, inform you about your own flights and even analyze large chunks of data.

“Have you ever taken a photograph through the window of a plane and then wondered later exactly what you were looking at? When you're back on the ground, just check the timestamp of the photograph and plug it in along with your flight number, and Wolfram Alpha can tell you exactly where you were at that moment,” content manager C. Alan Joyce explained in a blog post on the new features. “Try a query like ‘departure delays for flights from NYC to Los Angeles on October 29′ and you'll see that there were some pretty long delays that day.”

The flight-related functionalities may not qualify as rocket science, but there’s something quite magical about being able to spy on the goings-on of flights in the skies above.

[via Search Engine Land]

[Image via picfix/Flickr]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google co-founder Sergey Brin gives $500,000 to help Wikipedia

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 10:00 AM PST

The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, has just received a $500,000 grant from the Brin Wojcicki Foundation, an organization started by Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife, 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki.

The Wikimedia Foundation started its eighth annual fundraising drive this week. It is based in San Francisco and is an audited, 501(c)(3) charity funded primarily through donations and grants.

"This grant is an important endorsement of the Wikimedia Foundation and its work, and I hope it will send a signal as we kick off our annual fundraising campaign this week,” said Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner in a release today.

“This is how Wikipedia works: people use it, they like it, and so they help pay for it, to keep it freely available for themselves and for everyone around the world. I am very grateful to Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki for supporting what we do."

According to comScore, Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia Foundation sites see more than 477 million unique visitors each month. Together, the Wikimedia Foundation sites are the fifth largest property on the Internet.

Wikipedia is available in more than 280 languages and contains more than 20 million articles contributed by a global volunteer community of more than 100,000 people.

Still, the Wikimedia Foundation itself is small. “Google might have close to a million servers. Yahoo has something like 13,000 staff. We have 679 servers and 95 staff,” writes Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in a pledge drive appeal.

Wales and his staff have chosen to run the site without advertising revenue. “Wikipedia is something special,” he wrote. “It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others.”

Wikipedia also made headlines recently when protesters shut down the Italian-language version of the site.

The Wikipedia editors who orchestrated the takedown were protesting a proposed law that would force websites to remove any information identified as defamatory within 48 hours of a complaint and without the option for appeal. In a word, the law would allow the Italian government to censor any website.

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Women who play online games have more sex (Infographic)

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 09:53 AM PST

GirlGamerOnline_1Women who play games have more sex. That’s one of the results of a survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of GameHouse polled over 2,000 adults in the US.

They found that 55 percent of online gamers are women. Online games, for the purposes of this survey, included games on their computer, social networking sites and mobile devices. Better yet, they also have more sex and are more social than those who do not play online games.

The old stereotype of an anti-social male teen in a dark room with the computer monitor being his only source of light doesn’t seem to hold true anymore when you look at the rest of the results. The poll shows that 42 percent of female online gamers actually socialize with friends and family in person at least once a day, while only 31 percent of those who don’t play online games see friends and family at least once a day.

The data also shows that 86 percent of female online gamers use social networking sites such as Facebook, while only 71 percent of women who don’t play online games use social networking sites.

The kicker, for those who may still believe that online gaming is for lonely people: 57 percent of women who play online gamers have sex, vs 52 percent for those who don’t play. It also says that 38 percent are also having sex at least once per week, while 34 percent of those not playing online are.

Furthermore, more than half of female online gamers say they are happy (55 percent) and 50 percent of them say online games make them feel smarter.

And what’s the best playtime for such games? It seems that 61 percent of female online gamers enjoy their hobby from 8 pm to 11:59 pm which makes us wonder when they have time for sex.

Check out the infographic below:

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Slingbox enters Facebook’s walled garden with new Slingplayer app

Posted: 18 Nov 2011 09:52 AM PST

Streaming media startup Sling Media has launched a Facebook application of its Slingplayer, the company announced today.

The company produces a line of Slingbox set-top boxes ($179 -$349) that connect with your cable or satellite TV service provider to stream that content over the internet, thus making it available across multiple platforms — including Facebook via the new Slingplayer app.

Sling Media has already made the Slingplayer available on Android, iOS, a Windows desktop app, a Mac OS X app and via the company’s website. With that in mind, it’s kind of strange that the company decided to spend resources on a Facebook version when users can already access content from their Slingbox just about anywhere.

However, there is something to be said for the promotional value associated with Facebook’s over 800 million active users. There’s also the benefit of by-passing restricted networks, such as those found at work and school (provided Facebook isn’t also on that network’s list of restricted sites).

The new Facebook app will only work for customers who have a Pro-HD or SOLO Slingbox unit that has been updated with the latest firmware. Yet, even if you can access the Slingplayer on Facebook, you probably won’t be that impressed. Right now, the only benefit for watching your content through the app instead of one of the other methods is that you can post TV-related status updates via Facebook.

The Slingbox and Slingplayer faces indirect competition from Boxee, Roku and a number of other set-top streaming media solutions.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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