22 November, 2011



We know diversity in tech is a problem, but what’s the solution?

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 10:10 AM PST

Women and minorities are fighting for a place in fast-growth science and engineering-driven industries, and the struggle is stoking a heated dialogue, especially at its epicenters in Silicon Valley and the emerging New York City tech hub.

VentureBeat recently debunked the myths about women at the helm of technology companies and conducted a roundtable about the issue.

A new generation of chief executives of giant technology companies illustrates the point amply: Virginia Rometty at IBM, Meg Whitman at HP, Carol Bartz at Yahoo, Heather Bresch at Mylan and Ursula Burns at Xerox.  Their successes alone should inspire the rising generation to believe the glass ceiling has been broken.

Yet at the same time, research from the Level Playing Field Institute suggests the persistence of hostile work environments in high tech companies for women and people of color.

Two weeks ago, allegations arose about the suppression of damaging corporate diversity stats by Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook. And this past Sunday night a CNN Special Report focused on the efforts of young black entrepreneurs to crack the venture code and the alleged color barriers of Silicon Valley, revealing some very deep chasms in perception, if not reality.

Our Sputnik Moment

In 1957, Russia shocked America by launching Sputnik, crushing America's assumption of superiority and unleashing a national reinvestment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education from grade school through universities. The U.S. quickly created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA; later DARPA), which ultimately gave us our space program, led to advances in supercomputing and birthed the Internet.

America finds itself again chasing progress made by other nations, especially those in Asia, while fretting that we've lost our global equity and edge. The Department of Education and the National Academies of Science and Engineering declare that the U.S. needs hundreds of thousands of university-trained STEM graduates to enter the workforce in the next decade alone just to keep pace with new global challenges.

This is our second Sputnik moment. At a time when women hold only 24 percent of STEM jobs and blacks and Hispanics also fare poorly in these fields, we better get this argument about diversity of talent right or else it's going to be a very expensive moment, indeed.

It's ideology that's expensive

At the risk of oversimplifying this complex debate, we can see two ideological camps.

One holds that Silicon Valley is a purely race- and gender-blind Darwinian market for talent, where the best and brightest people are rewarded. Anything that tampers with this free-market meritocracy, such as a kind of venture capital or high-tech corporate affirmative action, is expensive and inefficient.

The other believes that biases in the culture and active discrimination prevent qualified women and minorities from entering the field and rising — the only way to explain the terribly low numbers from those groups among professionals in STEM generally and in Silicon Valley in particular.

Let me suggest a third way, based on my own ideology: The most expensive thing of all is ideology, and the cure for ideology is personal relationships.

This third way comes with no broad assumptions or prejudices, it cuts through political attachments and it bears costs only in personal time and attention. It unleashes the most powerful and subversive force of all, a one-on-one relationship with another human being across boundaries of age, gender, race and culture. And developing relationships is almost completely free.

All hands on deck

At the very moment I'm writing this, there are 327 science and engineering students from more than 78 universities who have created a profile on my company’s mentorship network and are waiting for us to match them with mentors in industry. That's on top of the 1,491 already matched with mentors right now.

A large majority of these applicants are women or Hispanic or African-American or some combination. Our goal was to help find the half a million additional engineers and scientists that America will need in the next decade, and we figured that building personal relationships would increase our country’s odds.

Across major tech, science and engineering firms, the demand for women and minorities has been huge — just as large as the desire of underrepresented groups to succeed in changing the world through STEM careers.

At last count, I saw hundreds of talented future engineers and scientists waiting for a hand to reach out and guide them across the bridge to their careers. I see thousands more standing in line behind them.

If you're a working engineer or scientist, I personally call you to an “all hands on deck” to solve our mutual STEM talent crisis. See for yourself where merit or talent may lie. Building a personal relationship involving deep communication and even mentorship across a wide, out-of-your-comfort-zone group of individuals is the first step in breaking down the lack of diversity in technology and other STEM fields.

No commitment is necessary. You don’t have to promise someone a job. All you need to do is share your experience and wisdom with someone who wants to walk the path you're already traveling.

Together, we need to overcome movements that reject science and those that divide our collective will in the face of collective adversity. We need to re-orient our education system to embrace the rigors of science and math and encourage students to seek the beauty that lies within its challenges.

But while pursuing long-arc strategies, business largely lives and dies on short-term action, where the goal is never to leave value on the table. For the U.S. right now, the most costly move is to leave talent on the table.

David Porush is president and CEO of MentorNet, a non-profit devoted to matching engineering and science students with mentors in the professions, with a special focus on leveling the playing field for underrepresented groups. Porush came to MentorNet after co-founding and serving as Chairman of SpongeFish, a social network for global knowledge exchange.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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What most of us will be doing on holidays: Checking our work email

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 10:00 AM PST

The holidays are a time for good food, gathering with loved ones, frantic trips to overcrowded malls and paid time-off from work — well almost. A majority of the U.S. workforce will be checking their work email over holidays this year, according to a new study.

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of employed adults in the U.S. check their work email on traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and 27 percent of those who check email do so several times a day, according to data compiled by email and social intelligence startup Xobni. The online survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, polled 2,810 adults in November 2011 on their holiday email behaviors.

Okay, so we check our email. Guilty as a charged. Plus, more and more of us are always toting around email-capable smartphones so that makes sense. But perhaps more telling of our always-on, work-related holiday email patterns is this little nugget: 79 percent of those folks who check email on their holiday vacays said they received a work-related email from a coworker or client. That’s right, your coworkers are sending you action items when they should be sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner.

Of course, you may not mind the work diversion — and you wouldn’t be alone. Nineteen percent of those who received work emails on holidays said they were “thankful for the distraction” or “relieved.”

If this all sounds familiar that’s because Xobni conducted the same study in 2010 with similar results. The same percentage of people (79 percent) expect to receive work-related emails on holidays this year, but the number of people who expect to check their work emails has dropped from 59 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2011. But Xobni also found fewer folks will loathe the never-ending stream of messages in their inbox, as just 37 percent (as opposed to 41 percent in 2010) of workers said they felt “annoyed, frustrated or resentful” about holiday emails.

It even turns out that our holiday work preferences and patterns vary by our age and gender. Men, for instance, are still more likely than women to check their work email, but the percentage gap is closing.

You can have a look at the infographic below (click to enlarge) for some of Xobni’s other demographic findings.

[Image via Flickr/geishaboy500]

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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U.S. military building robotic ostrich for recon, search and rescue

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 09:47 AM PST

While the long-necked flightless ostrich is a puzzling and often humorous creature, the Department of Defense’s thinks it’s the perfect design for a robotic “terror bird” that will help protect human soldiers in combat when it is completed, according to The Register.

Dubbed “FastRunner,” the prototype is being developed by two teams of scientists at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) and MIT. The project statement from DARPA (the research and special projects wing of the Department of Defense that brought us the Internet) is to design a bipedal robot that can run 20 miles per hour on a flat surface, and maintain a pace of 10 miles per hour on choppy broken ground or hills to identify enemy combatants, hidden munitions or other threats to human soldiers.

"Having just two legs, the robot is lighter and simpler … than a four-legged machine,” Sebastien Cotton of the IHMC told The Register. “There's also more flexibility … a two-legged robot can get through narrower spaces. That said, the same leg design could work for robots with four legs or more."

The robot is expected to weigh about 66 pounds, according to Gizmag, and stand 4.59 feet (1.4 meters), which is slightly smaller than a mid-sized adult male ostrich, and roughly half the size of a large specimen.

Working with computer simulators, the teams have more than 70 percent of FastRunner’s first leg designed. Once built, the robotic ostrich could carry out surveillance and reconnaissance and search and rescue missions where human soldiers might be at risk. And unlike the real ostrich, this bird will never hide its head in the sand.

Filed under: gadgets, offBeat

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Penguin Group yanks e-books from library lending services

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 09:33 AM PST

Major book publishing company Penguin Group has pulled all of its ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle Library Lending program today, reports The Digital Shift.

Amazon forged a partnership with e-book distributor Overdrive’s system for its digital book lending program, which allows people to borrow books for a limited time. The Overdrive system is also used for several other e-book lending programs.

Penguin, however, claims Overdrive’s system isn’t secure enough and fears that it would enable piracy — thus causing the company to yank its entire library of titles as well as halt releases for digital versions of new books.

“We have always placed a high value on the role that libraries can play in connecting our authors with our readers,” the Penguin Group said in a statement. “However, due to new concerns about the security of our digital editions, we find it necessary to delay the availability of our new titles in the digital format while we resolve these concerns with our business partners.”

So people across the country will have woken up to find that the books they’d been digitally borrowing from the library are no longer available. According to The Digital Shift’s report, librarians weren’t given any notice of the book publisher’s actions.

While I understand the company’s concern about piracy, yanking all their books on short notice seems like an overreaction.

Did you find an e-book unavailable due to Penguin’s piracy fears about library lending? Let us know in the comments.

[Via PaidContent]

Filed under: cloud, media, mobile, VentureBeat

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eCelebrate DEMO Enterprise: a blowout evening with Woz and more

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 09:30 AM PST

We are thrilled to announce that VentureBeat will be kicking off 2012 by co-hosting a special event on Jan 5, focused ostensibly on disruption in the enterprise.  But one of the real reasons we’re doing this is to throw a massive Holiday party.

Among other things, we’ll feature an on-stage demonstration by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and currently chief scientist at Fusion-io, which is helping underwrite this event. A blowout party will be thrown afterward: It’s basically a New Year's party, and open to anyone in the tech community of entrepreneurs, developers, press and investors.

The evening, called “DEMO Enterprise — An Evening of innovation,” is another way we’re extending the activities of DEMO, the big launchpad event that we co-produce twice a year.

We’re also giving six student-led startups the opportunity to present their ideas in front of a multitude of the best venture capitalists, as well as key members of the media.

As of today, applications are being accepted from student-run companies, with a product focused on the enterprise, to partake in this event. If you’re interested, submit your company information here. The deadline for applications is December 8, 2011.

The event will feature discussions from some of the industry’s top innovators, offering insight into the future. The evening is definitely going to be one to remember.

For more information about the invitation-only launch event or the DEMO Innovation Party, open to DEMO alumni, the development community, press and VCs, check out the website.

The Fusion-io, DEMO and VentureBeat teams looks forward to kicking off the New Year at what will truly be a memorable event!

Filed under: DEMO

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Facebook’s phone project started with Slayer, a marriage of hardware & social software

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 09:24 AM PST

We’ve told you already about Buffy, the phone Facebook is reportedly releasing sometime in 2012 or 2013.

We’ve learned this morning that Buffy started out as Slayer, a highly controversial project within Facebook’s walls that led to more than one Facebooker leaving the company entirely.

All Things D reports that the original code name for Facebook’s ambitious mobile project was Slayer — a portmanteau of the phrase “social layer.”

The project, which D says started around 18 months ago, was the brainchild of a mobile-focused, hand-picked SWAT team of sorts that worked under the greatest secrecy. The team, which included Facebook iPhone app and Firefox creator Joe Hewitt, was trying to integrate Facebook’s social features with mobile hardware more deeply than any OEM or mobile carrier had done to date.

The team was cherry-picked from among Facebook’s army of brilliant minds, and team members were in discussions with companies such as AT&T and Intel to determine how the new phones would be built and subsidized.

But D’s Facebook sources said the project grew “too big and too political,” causing some Facebookers to temporarily or permanently leave the company’s Palo Alto campus. Heweitt himself left the company in May 2011.

Buffy, the toned-down and much less metal codename for the resurrected mobile project spearheaded by Facebook CTO Bret Taylor, will run a heavily modified version of the Android OS and will feature support for HTML5 mobile web apps.

Buffy may be released within the next year to 18 months.

We first got wind of the Facebook phone project back in September 2010. At that time, Facebook stringently denied working on a standalone phone. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg made some equivocating statements that kept the rumor mill running.

Then, earlier this year, Facebook and INQ unveiled a “Facebook phone” of sorts, the Cloud Touch and Cloud Q. These Android devices showed some thoughtful Facebook integrations, but they were not the deep and wide integrations most folks were expecting, nor were they branded as Facebook products.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for more clarification and will post again when we have the full story.

Filed under: mobile, social

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PaaS: It’s about innovation – not technology

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 09:14 AM PST

John DillonJohn Dillon is CEO of cloud platform company Engine Yard.

It seems like every week there is a new Platform as a Service (PaaS) or beta cloud offering hitting the market. Some vendors tout the benefits of social applications, others emphasize mobile; others talk about how the cloud can save you money or speed up development time. While these are important benefits of cloud services, there’s a much more key benefit that tends to get overlooked: cloud services let you focus on innovating your core business.

Coming from a cloud services company, my perspective is that spending precious time on non-essentials will kill you and sap your innovative juices. Apple outsources much of its manufacturing so it can concentrate on design. Its absolute focus on core competency is in large part what drives its success.

Laser focus on your core competency is key to your success. Anything that can be offloaded should be outsourced. It's about "the last mile". That's where companies differentiate. That's how you delight your customers. Using a cloud infrastructure and platform as a service lets you concentrate on that last mile instead of worrying about mundane, yet complex IT issues.

It’s hard to imagine any business getting competitive advantage by having a better load balancer or better database. The customers and end-users simply don't care about the details as long as what you deliver works. They will care of course if the system is unavailable, is slow, or just doesn't work well. There is no upside or competitive advantage to be gained by doing it yourself, only downside from doing it poorly. The notion that you can do everything well is dangerous. Why would you add those challenges to your task, when there are vendors at your disposal whose focus and scale is likely to exceed any investment you could make to address the same requirements?

These vendors can supply underlying system components more competently, reliably and at scale than you ever could without massive investment and opportunity cost. Organizations that outsource the infrastructure and the PaaS can focus all of their effort on innovation. And that's how you win in a competitive market.

With this focus, a company can spend its effort focused on application refinement, application enhancement and new market expansion. That's how you differentiate your business and that's how you use IT to delight end users.

Companies that view PaaS as a cost savings or time-to-market solution are not wrong. But they often overlook the macro benefit — the capacity to empower IT innovation. Companies that drive phenomenal growth with a singular focus on differentiated products outsource infrastructure and operations staff. They know that the best way to win is with a relentless focus on innovation. They outsource what is essential, yet not core, and apply all their resources at the tip of their spear.

The cloud has evolved as a powerful tool for companies to deliver applications more rapidly and cost effectively. PaaS is the technology that harnesses the cloud into an engine for innovation. Companies using PaaS to save money and time in deploying their applications are on the right path, while the companies viewing PaaS as a means to innovate and differentiate in the market see the much larger potential.

CloudBeat 2011

CloudBeat 2011 takes place Nov 30 – Dec 1 at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, CA. Unlike any other cloud event, 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, Vineet Jain, CEO and co-founder of Egnyte 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, VentureBeat

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Why you’re only 4 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon — on Facebook

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 08:38 AM PST

What happens when more than 800 million people across the world join the same social network and start friending each other? People become more connected. “Sure,” you say with a long eye roll, “that’s the de facto mantra of every social network.” But Facebook has actually proved it.

The world’s largest social network teamed up with researchers at Università degli Studi di Milano to study the social graph. Together, they analyzed 721 million active Facebook users and those users’ 69 billion relationships, and found that any two people on Facebook are, on average, separated by no more than 4.74 connections.

“99.6% of all pairs of users are connected by paths with 5 degrees … 92% are connected by only four degrees,” Facebook said. What’s that mean? Well, simply put, you’re now only four (as opposed to six) degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon — on Facebook.

“The degrees of separation between any two Facebook users is smaller than the commonly cited six degrees, and has been shrinking over the past three years as Facebook has grown,” the company more eloquently said in a note posted to the site.

For two Facebook users in closer proximity, the distance is even shorter: Most pairs of folks in the same country are separated by just three degrees.

In addition to proving that it has narrowed the space between two people, Facebook also discovered a few other interesting tidbits about its social graph. For instance, the average Facebook user has 190 friends, and only 10 percent of users have fewer than 10 Facebook friends. The majority of your Facebook friends also likely live in the same region as you do, and are around the same age as you.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Free-to-play transition brings seven-fold revenue increase for DC Universe Online

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 08:30 AM PST

The potentially risky move of taking DC Universe Online , the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game from Sony Online Entertainment, to a free-to-play model, seems to have paid off, with large increases in revenue being reported .

Earlier this month, we revealed that DC Universe Online had seen one million new players sign up following its transition to a free-to-play business model. What wasn't clear was whether these new players would stick around, and whether they would actually support the title financially, through micro-transactions and optional premium subscriptions.

According to John Smedley, President of Sony Online Entertainment, we needn't have been worried, as 85 percent of daily log-ins are now by returning players, and the user base continues to grow at a rate of 6 percent per day. On top of that, daily revenue for the game has increased by 700 percent, thanks in part to players purchasing additional character slots and new skins for their in-game characters.

It is interesting to note that 53 percent of this revenue is being generated by the Playstation 3 version of the game, with the remainder coming from the PC version. Whilst micro-transactions are certainly not new to console users, these figures suggest that we might see more developers coming to this market with monetised free-to-play games in the future.

Sony Online Entertainment has had a lot of experience with free-to-play games. Even as it operated subscription games, it launched its Free Realms free-to-play online game in 2009. That game now has more than 20 million registered users.

Filed under: games

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Top 10 iOS games of 2011

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

What makes a great mobile game? Eye popping visuals? Solid gameplay and controls? Ease of entry, pick up and play features? Are casual games the best suited for Apple’s disruptive gaming device? What about core gaming, is it yet possible on these magical devices? What about social games, shooters, platformers?

The answer: Yes. All of these make great games, and the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad will play them.

Apple’s iOS devices and operating system have proven to be a popular and disruptive force in gaming. Games of all stripe compete in the same marketplace; there are games for just about every type of gamer – and non-gamer – out there. From simple to complex, intuitive to intelligent, iOS games are the next big thing to happen in the gaming world. Since there are more than 100,000 titles to choose from, we thought it might be fun to take a moment here to look at our picks for the top ten iOS games from 2011.

Dead Space for iPad
Released: Jan 24, 2011
Platforms: iPad & iPhone
Seller: Electronic Arts
The idea that mobile gaming is not competition for dedicated handhelds like the DS or the Sony PSP continues to become more and more outdated, as can be seen with this early 2011 release for the iPhone and the iPad, Dead Space, from game publishing titan Electronic Arts (EA). It’s not a port of the console game, but a sequel set three years after the events in the original. This was the first game that found us just as terrified as we were in the original, with a touch-based combat system that, while initially clunky, does its job and gets out of the way. A fully immersive console-quality game like Dead Space available on your smartphone? Sign us up! The best platform to play this on, however, is the iPad – with the faster processor and bigger screen, Dead Space for iPad shines. Well, as much as a game set in the dark scary vastness of space and the dark stay claustrophobic corridors of a destroyed spaceship can shine. And that’s just the thing. This game scared the crap out of us, both in the creepy settings and jump out at you monsters as well as in the sound design alone. The little creaks, not-quite-far-enough-away scuttling sounds, and distant roars of unknown horrors really take this from third person shooter port to something approaching gaming nirvana.

Jetpack Joyride
Released: Sept 1, 2011
Platform: Universal App
Seller: Halfbrick Studios
Canabalt may have been the indie darling that popularized the endless running genre, but Jetpack Joyride, from industry veterans Halfbrick Studios, is the current ruler of the roost. With so much to do, see, and play in this well designed and just darn fun to play game, it’s easy to get spoiled and just forget there are other endless runners out there. They’re all left in the dust, though, as Jetpack Joyride continues to ride the top of the iOS charts. Halfbrick’s mascot hero Barry Steakfries gets a jetpack in this game, and he uses it to fly through a scientist-filled corridor, full of randomly generated and placed obstacles, like missiles, lasers, and electric wires. Like all endless runners, the sheer speed built up over time becomes its own hazard. Lucky for us, there are other vehicles Barry can pick up along the way, including the motorcycle from Halfbrick’s earlier Steakfries feature, Monster Dash, a cleverly named wing-folding avian, Profit Bird, and a giant mechanical dragon named Mr. Cuddles. There’s an in game marketplace where players can upgrade the jetpack and other vehicles along with purchasing clothing, heads & body styles for the perfect sartorial elegance as well as power ups, known as utilities. These are earned in slot machine mini games played after each level, which are themselves powered by chips picked up within the levels. Players are also presented with challenges, called missions, that include things like getting 500M without collecting coins, or slide a total of 50M on your face. These each earn stars, which then become player levels (“beginner,” “rookie,” etc.). Did I mention there’s a lot to do here? That, the offbeat humor and the simple one touch control system make this a game to return to again and again, if only to see what’s next down the corridor.

Tiny Wings
Released: Feb 18, 2011
Platform: iPhone
Seller: Andreas Illiger
Here’s one of the big success stories of the App Store – one guy, Andreas Illiger, the sole developer of an iOS game, hits it big on his own. Tiny Wings is the pinnacle of the one tap game. Players start the game and the day itself as a sleeping bird, waking it up with a tap. The sun comes up and the bird begins to move, relying on a single tap from the player to fold the little bird’s wings in, reducing drag and causing it to fall, timing each fall with a dip in the wavy rolling hills of each level, or island. When timed right, the bird gains a burst of speed and height, even soaring above the clouds at times. The resulting game play is a fine dance between perfect timing and rhythm, with the aim being to get the bird as far as possible within one day. There are coins and other special items to pick up along the way, as well as achievements for distance and/or perfect timing. It’s precisely this simplicity and nuanced game play that critics and consumers alike keep coming back to again and again, the former as a rallying cry for (or against) the simplicity of the iOS platform, and the latter laying their money down in ever-increasing numbers. It’s a perfect example of the disruptive power of the App Store, allowing one designer/developer to refine an idea to a high gloss, then actually profit from the hard work put into the game.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
Released: March 23, 2011
Platform: Universal
Seller: Capybara Games
Developed by Independent Game Finalists, Superbrothers, and published by Capybara Games Studio (Critter Crunch, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes), Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP is a beautiful looking and sounding adventure game with a distinct story, retro-odd art direction and fabulous soundtrack by Jim Guthrie of Pink Floyd’s The Wall fame (he co-produced and sound engineered the concept album). What makes this one of the best games on the platform? The story is captivating, subtle, non linear, and fairly incomprehensible. The artwork is blocky, pixellated, yet somehow beautiful. The music is ambient and moody, supporting every moonlit path, every momentary pause, every significant story beat. The characters – Girl, Logfella, The Archetype – are all both less and more than the sum of their dialogue and visual design. There’s something happening here, but we’re never really sure what it is, or, at least, what it means. Combat is achieved by rotating the iOS device and tapping the shield or sword icon. Three-eyed wolf beasts are typical foes, though there are others. The player analogue – The Scythian – wonders aloud at many of the scenes and the half-familiar items within it, while also hearing the voices of the other characters. This though dialogue rounds out the divine absurdity of the game, like a dream only partially remembered after waking. Yes, all of that makes this game special and unique, sure to earn a place on every gamer’s device.

World of Goo HD
Released: April 13, 2011
Platform: Universal
Seller: 2D BOY
Yes, World of Goo originally appeared on the Wii and the PC, way back in 2008. The 2D physics puzzler received tons of accolades, but it wasn’t until it appeared on iOS devices that the tactile theme was fully realized. As any fan of the game knows, solving the puzzles of each level requires picking up “goo balls” of various physical composition and arranging them to get to the end of the level, where they are sucked into a large collection container. Using the Wii remote could be more frustrating than solving any particular level, but even the precision abstraction of a computer mouse doesn’t quite get the same level of tactile joy there is in actually grabbing the goo balls with a tap and drag on the iPad, our preferred gaming device for this game. World of Goo is the same gameplay, the same 48 levels as the console and PC versions, but it feels ever so much better to play on our mobile device. The soundtrack is as full of whimsy as the art direction, and is available as a free download by developer and composer Kyle Gabler. Again, this is one of those must-have apps. We show it off all the time, and play it almost as often.

Gem Keeper
Released: October 13, 2011
Platform: Universal
Seller: NCsoft
Tower Defense games are a dime a dozen on the App Store, and there are quite a few good ones, to boot. Gem Keeper, by well-known massively multiplayer online game developer NCSoft (Lineage, Guild Wars I & II), manages to stand above the crowd of solidly good Tower Defense games this year by offering high quality production values, solid gameplay and mechanics, and just the right blend of genre staples to keep players coming back for more. Games of this type of Tower Defense typically include wave after wave of baddies, or creeps, who come in from one side of the screen and follow a fixed path to the goal (generically known as the tower) while the player must place defensive structures (towers) along that path to keep the baddies from reaching the goal. In Gem Keepers, some towers can be placed on movable platforms, which can then be slid back and forth along finite rails, adding another level of strategy to the game. The creeps aim to get to the end goal, steal gems from the tower or towers there, and head back to the entrance of the maze, a game element borrowed from some other dungeon defense titles but polished to a high sheen here, with several strategic elements taking into account this entry and exit strategy.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing
Released: June 22, 2011
Platform: Universal
Seller: SEGA
While we won’t see Nintendo’s flagship mascot on iOS any time soon, Sega has jumped into the world of the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad with abandon. Their main man, Sonic, is present on no fewer than three titles from the gaming giant, including a port of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, a remake of the original game (Sonic The Hedgehog 4, episode 1) and our current game of discussion, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing. This kart racer features the speedy blue hedgehog and many other beloved Sega characters – including Tails, Dr. Robotnik, the Chu Chu Rocket mouse, Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue, and many others – racing along tracks inspired by the selfsame classic Sega games. This game makes all other kart racing type games on iOS in the dust, with solid controls, a nice drifting mechanic and vibrantly fun visuals optimized for the Retina Display on devices that support it. With online play and Game Center support, it’s easy to jump into a kart race with friends or random strangers. Kart racing is here on iOS, brought to you courtesy of the big blue guy with the huge shoes – why does he need a race car, anyway?

Star Legends
Released: August 25, 2011
Platform: Universal
Seller: Spacetime Studios
We’re adding this one to the list because it’s the first original massively multiplayer online game (MMO) that got things right. Well, that’s not quite it. Spacetime Studios used the MMO engine in an earlier game, Pocket Legends, which blew us all away with the online real-time synchronous fantasy themed role-playing game. The problem was one of depth, as they built it up from what seemed originally to be a tech demo. While Pocket Legends is now fun in its own right, Star Legends: The Blackstar Chronicles sprang forth fully formed, unleashed upon iOS and Android gamers alike, allowing both platforms to play together on the same servers, a coup by any measure. Originally created for the PC, The Blackstar Chronicles got stuck in development for many years due to lack of funding support, until the team was able to buy the rights to the intellectual property (IP) and begin work on it for iOS. While this is an MMO, it’s designed for mobile platforms, allowing gamers to hop in, complete a quest or two, and hop out; it never feels to demanding. The controls are solid, the visuals and user interface is easy to figure out, and there are tons of quests and story lines to follow, some of which truly push the boundaries of iOS MMO storytelling. We’re enamored, and think you will be, too.

Real Racing 2 HD
Released: March 11, 2011
Platform: iPad
Seller: Firemint
Firemint has truly created the simulation racer above all others for the iOS platform with Real Racing 2 HD. It looks simply stunning: full of lens flares, reflective surfaces and the sensation of speed. It’s like the Forza of iOS, truly, including 30 licensed cars like the BMW z4 M Coupe, the Chevrolet Corvette c6 Zr1 and Ford Shelby Mustang GT500, just to name a few. The game is made to run on the iPad 2, using the extra horsepower to run the CPU heavy game. The ability to wirelessly stream the game from the iPad 2 to an AppleTV connected high def television set brings the game to a new level of cool, showing many of us the future of iOS gaming. We prefer this game on the small screen, however, as we’re mobile gamers at heart. Regardless, the racing is classic – purchase a car, win races, then buy better cars and enhancements with the proceeds. Fans of less-arcade, more-realistic racing – as well as those wishing to experience the state of the art in iOS games – should definitely try this one out.

Casey’s Contraptions HD
Released: May 18, 2011
Platform: Universal
Seller: Snappy Touch
With the success of Angry Birds, physics puzzle games are all the rage. Thankfully, this indie gem doesn’t copy, rather, it innovates in an already crowded genre space on the iOS platform. Gamers must use eight year old Casey’s 30 different toys across 72 levels to solve the deceivingly simple puzzles. Similar to Scribblenauts, there are many different ways to achieve the outcome of each level, with no specific way being the “correct” one. Players will find joy in the simple pleasures of playing, experimenting, and finding ever more interesting and unique ways to get from point a to point b. much like the PC game, The Incredible Machine. Supporting this “try it and see” ethos is the ability to see shared level solutions from Game Center friends as well as Casey’s own three star solution. Get stuck? See what other gamers and friends have done. An included Level Editor feature kicks it up another notch, as well. Bright, vibrant colors and solid physics modeling keep us coming back time and again to the game, showing folks new to the platform one of the must-have titles in the iOS gaming space.

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RIM drops struggling BlackBerry Playbook to $199

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 07:52 AM PST

BlackBerry PlayBook 4GResearch in Motion has decided to cut the price of its problematic BlackBerry Playbook tablet to $199, at least for the holidays.

RIM has generally struggled to keep up with its mobile device peers, especially Apple and Google's Android manufacturing partners. The company has said repeatedly that its PlayBook tablet and a new smartphone OS, called BBX, would help lead the company to a new phase of innovation, but it looks tired and its latest critical software update to the Playbook was delayed by several months.

The company is likely dropping the Playbook price to better compete with the $199 Kindle Fire, this season’s hot alternative to the iPad. The newer Kindle Fire looks like a better deal all around because it has access to Amazon’s library of content and it does not need a smartphone connected to it to achieve full functionality, like the Playbook requires. The Kindle Fire also has a nicer selection of big-name Android applications and games than what BlackBerry App World offers.

The 16GB model of the BlackBerry Playbook is available for $199 at most retailers offering it, including Best Buy. It will be listed at the $199 price point until Dec. 3, if not later.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Microsoft acquires video search startup VideoSurf for $70M

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 07:30 AM PST

VideoSurfMicrosoft has acquired video search startup VideoSurf for an undisclosed amount, reports Israeli business news site Globes.

A handful of publications have indicated that Microsoft paid an estimated $70 million for the company, according to a report from TechCrunch Europe.

VideoSurf specializes in video search technology that scans several video related sites for results, such as DailyMotion, YouTube, Metacafe, Hulu and others. The site’s results focus on specific episodes of web shows, notable individuals and more. Admittedly, I haven’t used the site much but I have noticed that it takes great care in separating viral/user-generated videos from the production quality videos (e.g. things from College Humor, Hulu, etc.).

It’s likely that Microsoft purchased the company with the intent of strengthening video search in its Bing search engine.

Previously, VideoSurf raised $28 million from several notable investors, including former Vice President Al Gore, Current Media CEO Joel Hyatt, SurveyMonkey CEO David Goldberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as well as funding from Pitango VC and Verizon Ventures.

Founded in 2006, the San Mateo, California-based startup has 35 employees.

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The top 10 Thanksgiving mobile games

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 07:25 AM PST

Heyzap has put together a list of the top ten Thanksgiving-themed mobile games in case you want to get into the holiday spirit and download the games for your mobile phone.

The list includes both Google Android and Apple (iOS) games for smartphones and tablets. It starts with Pretty Pet Tycoon from Animoca, a free game for both platforms that allows you to build up a farming empire. You can become the world’s top fruit-seller in this game, a sequel to Pretty Pet Salon.

The No. 2 game from Ezone.com is more obviously a Thanksgiving themed title, as it enables you to hunt your own cartoon turkey.

The other games include familiar titles such as Madden NFL 12 from Electronic Arts ($4.99), as football is an American turkey day tradition. And at No. 4 is Angry Birds from Rovio, whose smash hit game is probably playable 365 days a year, including Thanksgiving.

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Call of Duty Elite hits more than a million paid subscribers in six days

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 06:59 AM PST

Activision Blizzard said today that its gamer social network Call of Duty Elite hit more than a million paid subscribers in its first six days. Since the launch of the service on Nov. 8 with the debut of the best-selling Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, more than 4 million paid and free gamers have registered.

Still, the launch hasn’t gone extremely well because the company was overwhelmed by a huge number of registrations and other issues that brought down the service, forcing Activision into an embarrassing apology to gamers. Now the company said it is stable enough for gamers to try it out as they wish.

Activision Publishing said today that premium subscription services for Netflix, Hulu Plus, Sirius XM and Xbox Live each took about a year to hit a million paid subscribers. The numbers suggest that Activision Blizzard is marching on its way to getting gamers to pay for Call of Duty on a year-round basis, deepening their engagement beyond a few weeks after a game launch.

Of course, Call of Duty Elite has the benefit of riding on the coattails of the most popular video game in history. Modern Warfare 3 sold more than $775 million worth in its first five days of sales, making it bigger than last year’s Call of Duty Black Ops debut.

But while gamers were able to play the multiplayer version of the game, the servers for the Elite service have been spotty. Daniel Suarez, vice president of production at Activision, told us last week in an interview that the company had been able to restore enough service to guarantee service for those gamers who have signed up for the paid service. But at least half of those who are using the free version of the service aren’t able to log in, so they were still seeing error messages when they attempt to get in. The Elite web site still shows that service is intermittent.

As of last week, Activision had begun to add some services such as game statistics. Beachhead Studios allowed users to start setting up their clans, and 22,000 clans were created in the first 12 hours after that feature was restored. Now more than 80,000 Elite clans have been created, 100,000 users-generated videos have been updated, and the service has had more than 3 million daily logins.

“The response to Call of Duty Elite’s premium service has been beyond our expectations and we thank Call of Duty players around the world for their unprecedented enthusiasm,” said Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard, in a statement. “The number of gamers who have registered for Call of Duty Elite further illustrates how this service is poised to redefine social gaming and set a new bar for interactive entertainment.”

Eric Hirshberg, president of Activision Publishing, said today in a statement that for “the first several days, the service did not perform up to our or our fans’ standards.” It was actually a couple of weeks now. He thanked the fans for their patience and the service is now stable for those who want to try it. Activision has given those who signed up for Elite’s premium service an extra 30 days at no charge. The cost for a year of membership in the paid version is $49.99.


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NYC companies: Get feedback from VentureBeat and RRE Ventures

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 03:00 AM PST

If you're based in New York and looking to launch your next big tech product, join us for a private feedback session on December 13 with one of the city's most respected venture capital groups, RRE Ventures.

VentureBeat is on a world tour, going country-to-country looking for exciting products to be launched at the upcoming DEMO conference, held on April 17-19 in Silicon Valley. I’ve just been to London, and am currently in Istanbul, Turkey. Next, it’s the U.S.

This New York session will give your company a great opportunity pitch to, and receive friendly feedback from, a few RRE partners and myself, no strings attached. Then, if it makes sense to talk about launching at DEMO, we’ll introduce you to key members of the DEMO due diligence team.

We’re also simply looking for amazing companies to write about at VentureBeat.

For 21 years, DEMO has proven to be an incredible launch platform for startups, fast-growth mid-sized companies, and even large-cap publicly traded companies to show off their new tech products to an influential media audience.

The DEMO scholarship program, which effectively makes DEMO free for most early stage companies, and many mid-sized ones, was a big success in the Fall when we introduced it. So we’re going to keep that program permanent. This way, we can continue to invite the very best companies bar none.

Over the years, names such as Google, Sun, Skype, Adobe, Palm, Netscape, Salesforce, E*Trade, TiVo, WebEx, Fusion-io (recently IPO’d), HP and many other hugely successful names in tech have launched some of their early products at DEMO. Now it’s your turn.

If you are interested in presenting your company on December 13 at the RRE offices in Manhattan, please fill out this form. If you are chosen, we will get in touch immediately to provide further details and instructions.

We look forward to seeing you in New York!

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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Review: King of Fighters XIII is right where the franchise should be

Posted: 22 Nov 2011 12:01 AM PST

King of Fighters XII, released in 2009, was notable for administering a much-needed graphical overhaul, something the 15-year-old series was sorely in need of. While it had the looks, it came up short on content, eschewing any story element whatsoever and, among other things, limping in with a paltry 22 characters, one of the lowest in the franchise's history. Two years later and King of Fighters XIII is upon us. Has developer SNK learned anything? The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Expanded roster and gameplay

King of Fighters XIII boasts a serviceable roster of 31 characters, plus a few new console-exclusives over the arcade version. Whereas its predecessor inexplicably eschewed longtime series mainstay Mai Shiranu, this title wisely brings her back along with a number of other welcome, familiar faces. Even with an expanded selection of combatants, it's likely that one of your favorites may still be missing, as KOFXIII is a far cry from the 66 that were featured in King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match. Downloadale content (DLC) has been announced, but so far it seems primarily focused on delivering variations of already included characters.

Regardless, SNK has clearly put a lot of effort into ensuring that fighters have been designed and fine-tuned to provide a broad spectrum of interesting and enjoyable styles. Official teams also make their return, pairing up certain characters in groups of three contextual to the story, but you're free to mix-and-match as you see fit should one of these not fulfill your needs. Battles play out in a three-on-three match, with each round restricted to one-on-one face-offs. If you were forced to simply choose one character and were stuck with them and them alone, the limited movesets would eventually become a concern. Thankfully, the current setup allows you to create teams of characters that keep the game from getting stale. The ability to switch teammates on the fly has been removed (last seen in King of Fighters XI), and especially compared to games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or Street Fighter X Tekken, its presence is definitely missed. Hopefully that's something SNK considers resurrecting for the next installment.

The Guard Attack, Critical Counter, and Clash system have also been removed since King of Fighters XII. In their place is the EX system. Similar to Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter IV, players can use one bar of the power gauge to boost a special move, increasing its potency. There's also the ability to cancel out of special and super attacks, which drastically increases combo potential. While this adds some excellent depth to the game, a lot of the bigger combos boil down to repeatedly canceling and spamming one of a character's few special attacks, then ending it with a NEO MAX desperation move, the final gameplay addition. NEO MAX attacks are essentially ultra powerful super moves that require three bars of the power gauge. These allow players to finish combos and enemies off with impressively flashy and devastating attacks, lending the game some extra visual flair.

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The color of money: Survey sheds light on racial makeup of VC industry

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 09:52 PM PST

The professional venture capital community is more diverse than ever, but employment is still largely dominated by white men, according to the results of a joint census conducted by the National Venture Capital Association and Dow Jones VentureSource, which was released today.

The greatest ethnic diversity  in the venture capital industry is among those who have less than five years’ experience.

"As the venture capital industry continues to contract and the number of professionals declines over the next five years, we could very well see more dramatic demographic shifts within the industry," said NVCA President Mark Heesen in a statement. Among newcomers 77 percent are white, 17 percent are Asian, three percent are African American or Latino, and three percent were of mixed race, according to the survey.

First conducted in 2008, the Venture Census looks at the composition of the entire workforce of the venture capital industry, not just the analysts and general partner roles. The number of female venture capital employees who listed themselves investors decreased to 11 percent in 2011 compared to 14 percent in 2008, while women represent 21 percent of total employment, albeit largely in non-investor roles. The industries with the highest representation of female investors were cleantech and life sciences, where women made up 18 percent and 15 percent of investors respectively.

The purpose of the survey was to gather facts and figures about people who make up the venture capital industry, as well as to assess quality of life issues, such as days spent traveling, and hours worked on weekly basis.

The survey also looked at other indicators of diversity in the venture capital industry, such as the background of investors. Fifteen percent of current venture investors were the chief executive officers of venture-backed startups and an additional 14 percent were CEOs of private, non-venture-backed companies.

Businessmen image via ShutterStock

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner

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As Palm bidding continues, HP wants a sweet deal to keep webOS in printers (exclusive)

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 09:44 PM PST

For some strange reason, HP is still really hot on the idea of mating webOS with its printers — to the point where it has become a crucial part of its negotiations to sell off its Palm assets.

In addition to settling on a good price for the Palm goodies, HP is also demanding that potential buyers license webOS back to it on the cheap for use in printers, a source with knowledge of the negotiations tells VentureBeat.

As for the status of the Palm sale, which includes webOS and Palm’s lovely treasure trove of patents, our source says that Intel has just begun discussions with HP . Our source also says that Qualcomm is still in the running for Palm, but the company has adamantly denied previous rumors about the deal.

Now I’m all for more innovative printers from HP, but it seems like a strange demand when the company is losing money every day it continues to hold on to webOS. (Pictured above, HP’s inexplicable printer/Android tablet combo.) HP paid $1.2 billion for Palm last year, and it revealed in its earnings report today that it spent another $1.66 billion just to wind down its webOS business, as AllThingsD points out.

HP has said previously that webOS could eventually make its way to printers and PCs, but now with a Palm sale imminent, it seems strange for the company to hold true to that initial promise. I can’t imagine that many consumers are chomping at the bit for webOS-enabled printers, and much of the benefit from using webOS as the basis of printer software — including ease of development and potential third-party app support — could be seen by jumping to Android.

Then again, it’s possible that HP has webOS printers near completion, so by licensing the software it’ll still be able to move forward with those products. Given that no major printer competitors are aiming for Palm, a potential buyer shouldn’t have any problem licensing webOS to HP (though that depends on how cheap HP’s demands are for the licensing fees).

And what of Amazon? In September we reported that Amazon was in deep negotiations to snap up Palm, but it’s unclear if that’s still the case now. I still think Amazon would be a good fit for webOS — definitely more so than other alternatives like Intel, Qualcomm, or god forbid, RIM — because it would be able to take advantage of Palm’s software in future tablets. And of course, it wouldn’t hurt for Amazon to be sitting pretty with Palm’s patents.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Nexus TV? Samsung working with Google on new Google TV device

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 09:40 PM PST

Samsung is apparently in “last-stage talks” with Google to produce a new device running the search giant’s Google TV software, reports Reuters.

The Google TV software, which optimizes internet video content for viewing on a television screen, is currently available on Logitech and Sony set-top streaming boxes as well as select Sony smart TVs. With Logitech getting out of the set-top box business, Samsung would take over as the second large electronics manufacturer to produce Google TV-ready devices.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumbling of a Samsung Google TV device. The company has been talking about producing one since April 2010, and even debuted a demo of a Google TV-ready Blu-ray player at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2011.

Now, Samsung’s head of TV division said the company is planning to unveil a Google TV product at an event (not CES) in early 2012, according to Reuter’s report. It’s also worth noting is that Samsung is working with Google directly on the rollout, and the device itself will differ from those produced by competitors.

Google has a good track record when it comes to working with Samsung. The companies collaborated twice on a premium smartphone running the definitive version of Google’s Android mobile operating system. It’s possible that Google could be doing the same to produce a definitive Google TV device to ensure the software and hardware work perfectly together.

The timing would certainly match up. Google recently upgraded its Google TV software to include access to Android apps and YouTube content channels. As VentureBeat’s own Devindra Hardawar noted, these additions could make Google TV live up to its full potential.

Filed under: gadgets, media, VentureBeat

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Peter Thiel will give you $100K not to go to college, opens 2012 Thiel Fellowship class

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 09:01 PM PST

peter thiel“Don’t go to college.” Four words you probably never heard your mother or father say to you growing up. But that’s exactly what famed entrepreneur Peter Thiel is saying, and he’s upping the ante. “Don’t go to college, and I’ll give you $100,000.”

Pete Thiel, who was an early investor in Facebook and co-founder of PayPal, doesn’t subscribe to the traditional notion of finish high school, getting a degree and then moving into the working world. It makes just as much sense to the Thiel Foundation, Peter Thiel’s organization focused on protecting freedoms, to buck the traditional timeline and head straight for entrepreneurship, if the time is right for you. That’s why the Thiel foundation has opened its doors to the 20 under 20 fellowship for the second year, to find and breed innovation in pre-college thinkers.

"Every moment in history happens only once. If you have a good idea, the right time to work on it is right away," said Thiel in a statement, "Our first class of fellows is busy working on difficult challenges to improve the lives of people across the world, and we're looking forward to helping 20 more people skip college and start changing the world."

The fellowship will offer 20 youngsters born after December 31, 1991, $100,000 each to fuel their scientific, technical, non-profit or otherwise imaginative ideas. Teams of up to four are accepted, and must apply by December 31, 2011 at 11:59 pm, Greenwich Mean Time to be considered for the 2012 class.

Those accepted into the program then have two years to develop their ideas under the tutelage of the Thiel Foundation.

“Our world is suffering from a lack of innovation," said Thiel Foundation president Jonathan Cain in a statement. "And you can't build a world-changing company in between classes or while servicing six figures of debt.”

[Peter Thiel photo via The Thiel Foundation]

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Facebook phone could be available in 18 months, sources say

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 04:35 PM PST

The rumored Facebook phone is real and will be manufactured by HTC under the codename “Buffy,” anonymous sources have told AllThingsD.

Although the news site doesn’t indicate where its information comes from, it must have more to report, because this is the first of what AllThingsD says will be a week-long series on the mysterious device. The so-called “Facebook phone” has been at the heart of rampant speculation for more than two years, although the only devices to emerge so far have been fairly standard Android or feature phones with Facebook features slapped on.

“Buffy,” if real, is named after the famous vampire slayer featured in a movie and a long-running television series.

The Buffy phone will run a heavily modified version of Android featuring support for apps developed in HTML5, and could see the light of day in a year to 18 months, according to writers Liz Gannes and Ina Fried.

AllThingsD quoted a Facebook spokesperson who declined to comment directly on the phone, but said:

Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social. We're working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world.

This jibes with Facebook’s overall strategy of putting social features at the heart of an experience, as opposed to layering them on later.

Facebook is the single most popular app in the iTunes App Store, and the social networking giant has more than 350 million mobile users across all platforms.

Buffy image via Zoe Favole/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social

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Netflix needs cash, selling $200 million in convertible bonds

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 04:33 PM PST


Netflix is selling $200 million in convertible bonds to Technology Crossover Ventures after a dismal third quarter earnings report.

The company lost north of 800,000 subscribers in its third quarter, rounding out the number to 35.4 million subscribers of both Netflix’s streaming and DVD-rental services. The major subscriber loss came after the company raised its prices 60 percent and then split the company into two parts: Netflix, the streaming arm of the company, and Qwikster, the new DVD-rental side. After bad reactions from its subscriber base, the company decided to call it quits on the idea and assured its investors the company was done making price model changes.

Now it’s reaching out for cash, as stock prices dip from its summer high of $300 a share, to steadily below $100. The shares TCV is purchasing from Netflix will sell at $85.80, according to the filing, the sale of which hinges on Netflix’s ability to sell $200 million common stock to non-affiliated third party buyers. The company separately put up stock for an undisclosed amount.

A second filing reads, “We intend to use the net proceeds from this offering for general corporate purposes, including working capital and capital expenditures. From time to time we evaluate potential acquisitions of or investment in businesses, technologies, or products that complement our business, although we have no present commitments or agreements to enter into any acquisitions or investments.”

According to a letter to investors, Netflix chief executive officer Reed Hastings and chief financial offer David Wells predict revenue will be lower than anticipated in the fourth quarter, though they have seen cancellations slow. They also see a future for international business and are opening up offices in the UK and Ireland.

[via the Wall Street Journal]

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Cool private companies: Who will IPO in 2012 and 2013?

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 04:28 PM PST

As a software securities analyst, Richard Davis spends 200 days a year on the road visiting software companies. He goes to public companies such as Oracle and Salesforce.com, but he also visits up-and-coming software companies he thinks will go public in the near future. In his new column, Davis is going to talk about some candidates he thinks may be ripe for the IPO class of 2012 or 2013.


In the course of roughly a half decade, we have witnessed the emergence of Software, Platform and Infrastructure as a Service. oDesk is converting talent into Labor as a Service. The firm has built a very cool network of individual contributors — often programmers, but increasingly more disciplines ranging from content creation for web sites to translation services. The firm vets these people beforehand and its software tracks the working activity levels on contributor’s computer (which apparently doesn't bother today's global, younger generation who like the flexibility of being able to "live where you work").

This was my first meeting with the CEO Gary Swart, so the discussion was relatively high level. I've met several firms in this space over the past decade but none has really broken out. oDesk appears to have found the right combination of technology and that old fashioned idea of delivering good value to both sides of the customer base (employers and talent suppliers). This is one of those network businesses, so the firm has the potential to become very big and very profitable as it reaches escape velocity and scale. We'd guess that oDesk is 12 to 24 months away from reaching the public markets.


We had the chance to meet with CFO Josh Siegel in our Boston office two weeks ago. Cyber-Ark provides identity and access management solutions to protect privileged users, applications and sensitive information from both a compliance and security perspective. The firm has been around for nearly a dozen years, during which it has amassed an impressive list of more than 900 customers, including roughly 35 percent of the Fortune 100, and seven of the 10 largest banks in the world.

Cyber-Ark's technology works on-premises, off-premises and in the cloud, so the firm is well positioned to work with nearly any potential customer requirement. The firm has been growing quite nicely, so we plan to visit with more of the management team for a demo at company headquarters (which is on this analyst's way home) in the coming weeks.


I headed to Austin, Texas to visit with, among others, my long-time pal Dave Sikora, CEO of Digby. The company was an early innovator in mobile with its Digby app for the Blackberry, years before mobile apps became hot. Today, the firm is a leading platform that enables physical retail (that’s 93 percent of a $4 trillion market in the U.S. alone) to access, optimize and analyze customer visits via mobile. What this means is that Digby works on mobile and rich applications for iPhone, iTouch, Blackberry and Android devices. The applications are remote storefronts that are accessible on these devices.

Next generation marketing is going to be a very big thing in software. The change in the methodology by which firms encourage and enable consumers to purchase items will have ramifications up and down the software stack. This means BI, big data, e-commerce and especially mobile are about to change dramatically, and the vendors that capture this wave will see extraordinary growth for the next decade. Mark my words, this is a very big deal.

I'm in the midst of visiting a bunch of companies in this space with the goal of writing the first significant research piece from a sell-side research analyst. Digby is one of the quite exciting and promising companies in this space. We're a big believer that management matters, so we are doubly enthusiastic about Digby's prospects because Dave Sikora is in the top tier of all CEOs we know.

Rimini Street, MarkLogic, Intaact, On24 and e2Open

This was not technically a "let's talk in detail about the business" meeting. Instead, I invited the CEOs and CFOs of these very exciting companies to a box at the San Francisco Giants versus Cubs game during the week of Dreamforce. Most of the conversation was social, but each of these companies is doing quite well. We also stopped by the booths of Marketo, Workday, iContact and several other firms. These conversations were mostly with individuals we assume were salespeople. In each case, the products demonstrated were impressive.

Richard Davis is managing director of enterprise software for the brokerage firm Canaccord Genuity. Before joinging Canaccord, he spent 10 years as a senior analyst at Needham & Company. Previously, Davis was at Tucker Anthony, where he was a managing director and launched the firm’s Internet and enterprise software coverage.

[Ice image via Shutterstock]

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Ex-Googlers launch recommendation engine Stamped, with help from Google Ventures

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 02:48 PM PST

A team of former Googlers has launched an iPhone app, funded by Google Ventures, for recommending experiences you might want to partake in.

Stamped connects to your Facebook and Twitter networks. It seeks to turn the social services into fun and useful sources of experience recommendations, but in a structured way. With luck, the makers hope, Stamped will eliminate the last minute group text messages and chain emails searching for the best places to eat, movies to watch, or the best art galleries.

“While there’s lots of ways to do shouts or check-ins about places that appeal to a small demographic of extroverts that like to tell everyone where they are, we still look for better ways for people to put their thumbprint on things, places that they like,” Google Ventures partner Rich Miner told VentureBeat. “I think Stamped makes that real simple. And with a very simple, straightforward metaphor that everyone likes to tell people about the things they like.”

As Google employees, founders Robby Stein, Kevin Palms and Bart Stein impressed the team at Google Ventures with their technical know-how and product chops, Miner told VentureBeat. Google Ventures and Bain Capital put an undisclosed Series A investment into the company, which is based in New York, in April.

In a  blog post the founders of Stamped write:

The problem we're trying to solve is noise. Specifically, there's too much of it today when you try to discover something new online, whether it be a restaurant, book, movie, or song. What does 3 stars from 70 strangers mean? Is that good or bad? Can I trust this person's opinion? Who is he/she? If you've ever asked these questions, you've experienced the weaknesses of current review and rating sites.

What sets Stamped apart from other recommendation services such as Alfred, the digital concierge, is that with Stamped users start off with 100 points called stamps, and can earn more when friends engage with their recommendations. This is similar to “gamification” strategies that are a bit of a business trend at the moment.

Stamped recommendations are not just plain text, like Tweets or Facebook status updates, they are connected to structured data from sites like Google, iTunes, Amazon, or Fandango. That makes the recommendations easier to connect smoothly with an online purchase or other actions, such as bringing up a map.

The news comes on the heels of the sale of Hunch, a personalization and recommendation service, which eBay today bought for a reported $80 million.

Hunch switched gears from a question and answer service to one that personalized the web to each individual. Hunch co-founder and chief executive officer Chris Dixon wrote on his blog last October that personalization was so important to many companies that they were hiring senior executives as the head of personalization.

No one knows more about what you’re likely to enjoy than your friends, and Stamped and Google Ventures think they may be onto something. Merely acquiring the name Stamped.com couldn’t have been cheap, and it’s unlikely that Google would put money behind a me-too recommendation service just because the founders used to work at Google.

Home page image via vipa/Flickr, hands via Roobee/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

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VentureBeat & Akamai to host a webinar on building new media startups for growth

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 02:46 PM PST

AkamaiPlease join VentureBeat and Akamai for an interactive online webinar on how to quickly position a new media startup for growth in online services. The webinar will take place Tuesday, November 29 at 11am PST, and you can sign up here.

Most people know Akamai as a content delivery service for huge brands that have a lot of Internet traffic. But Akamai is also very focused on providing online performance for web startups.

The webinar will be moderated by Dean Takahashi, lead writer for GamesBeat and a longtime Silicon Valley tech writer. Speakers will include Mark Barron, principal solutions engineer at Akamai; Jacques Chamberland, CEO of Huge Monster; Tal Chalozin, CTO and co-founder of Innovid; and Max Haot CEO & Founder of Livestream. We’re expecting a lively discussion about their successful case studies, followed by a full Q&A session at the end.

Online media is experiencing explosive growth. Whether in video, social media, gaming or publishing, the opportunity for emerging media companies is unprecedented. Never before have new online businesses garnered customers, traffic, and in many cases revenue, at the pace that is being witnessed in new media today.

Consequently, emerging media companies need to be built for growth from the beginning, with partners that can deliver scale, performance and reliability, as well as personalized services and suitable pricing models.

These requirements are most critical for new media startups' online delivery partners, which must now also support multiple networks, devices/screens, and cross platform interactivity. Additionally, security and monetization considerations must be tied in to the overall quality of experience.

This webinar will discuss how Akamai's comprehensive solutions for emerging media companies can help your organization by providing:

  • Scale, performance, and reliability designed to facilitate the expansion and evolution of your online business.
  • Support for multiple networks and cross platform three-screen experiences through intelligent processing of content at the edge.
  • Robust security, guaranteed uptime, and data protection across the network.
  • Detailed analytics and reporting to support metrics-driven business decisions.

Join the discussion as VentureBeat and Akamai explore building new media startups for growth. Sign up here.

Filed under: cloud, dev, enterprise

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Meg Whitman: HP getting into research, out of big acquisition deals, and “reducing drama”

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 02:38 PM PST

Meg Whitman said Hewlett-Packard wants to grow more organically in the future.

“If we get out of the big M&A business, we have to invest in R&D,” the chief executive of HP said Monday on her first analyst conference call.

HP is still digesting its $10 billion acquisition of Autonomy, a commercial software company, which was heavily criticized because it commanded so much of HP’s market value in exchange for a gain of about a billion dollars in revenue. That’s a small amount for a company that generates $127 billion in revenue a year. That acquisition, initiated by previous CEO Leo Apotheker, has now closed.

“No large acquisitions in 2012,” Whitman said. “Nothing the size of Autonomy, and maybe more like sub-$500 million.”

She hedged that by saying, “Software may be the one area that may move in 2012, and we may want to be there.” Whitman said HP has to be sure it fills the hole and HP doesn’t pay too much for it.

“We cannot continue to rely on acquisitions alone at HP,” she said. “It’s just the wrong thing to do. We have a lot of runway with our own internal R&D capability, if we run it right.”

Whitman made the remarks as she explained why HP’s earnings expectations for next year are a lot lower than what Wall Street expected. HP is predicting $4 a share in earnings per share, compared to previous expectations of $4.56 a share. HP is no longer providing revenue guidance because HP is now managing for profitable growth, not revenues.

Whitman said she is cautious about 2012 growth because of the macroeconomic headwinds across all major regions of the world, the flooding in Thailand that will hurt PC sales for two quarters at least, and HP’s own specific issues such as higher R&D spending. She said that HP is also hiring more salespeople than it previously did.

Whitman said that HP was surprised at the weakness in the quarter for consumers buying printing supplies and printers. The disk drive shortage is helping HP in part because those who are building their own servers — Google and Facebook — are not able to do so now because they can’t get drives. They are calling HP to get servers, since HP made strategic purchases of hard drives in early October.

“I think this is going to affect the industry dramatically because it is PCs, servers, and storage,” she said.

Whitman said she was excited about Project Moonshot, a new server design that consume 89 percent less energy, 94 percent less space, and 63 percent less space.

Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein, challenged Whitman and said it looked like HP was losing considerable market share in various markets. Whitman said the consumer was weak all year. She said in response that HP’s problems are a third HP’s own doing. She said that some customers thought HP was getting out of PCs and so “we did ourselves in right there,” a reference to Apotheker’s plan to spin off the PC business.

“We have to get out of the news cycle and reduce the drama here,” Whitman said.

Cathie Lesjak, chief financial officer, said that HP gained share in printers, servers, and a variety of other markets. Lesjak said that the huge services group faces a big turnaround task, and that may last years rather than quarters. HP will consider letting go of low-margin services business and investing in high-margin services.

“We are making some long term bets here because we just can’t afford to run the company for the short term,” Whitman said. “We are investing for the next decade.”

Filed under: deals

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Guardian Media to sell PaidContent.org for up to $20M

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 02:34 PM PST

Guardian MediaGuardian Media Group, which is best known for publishing British newspaper The Guardian, wants to sell its ContentNext group of publications, reports AllThingsD.

The sale would comprise all the publications within ContentNext Media umbrella, which includes PaidContent.org (as well as a U.K. spin-off), MocoNews.net and India-based ContentSutra.com.

Guardian Media is reportedly seeking $15 million to $20 million for the group of publications and affiliated conferences, according to AllThingsD’s report, which cites people familiar with the sale. At that price, Guardian Media would be able to recuperate a portion of the expenses it made since purchasing the company about three years ago for $12.5 million.

The sale comes as Guardian Media looks for ways to cut costs and stay profitable. It’s certainly no secret that many large media companies have been looking for ways to shave costs in the face of a difficult digital transition.

Founded in 2002 by journalist Rafat Ali, the ContentNext's news sites chronicle the economic evolution of digital content that is shaping the future of the media, information and entertainment industries. Ali left the company in 2010 to pursue other interests.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Meg Whitman’s first HP analyst call: We’ll get back to business fundamentals in 2012

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 02:24 PM PST

Hewlett-Packard will get “back to business fundamentals” in 2012, said Meg Whitman, the newly appointed chief executive of the world’s largest technology company, in a conference call with analysts today.

Whitman’s words will be closely scrutinized on Wall Street, since HP is seen as a bellwether for the overall tech economy.

At the same time, Whitman warned that the macroeconomic problems of the world economy and flooding in Thailand make the company cautious about its outlook in 2012. HP’s forecast for earnings in its fiscal year ending Oct. 31, 2012, are at $4 a share, far more pessimistic than the $4.56 a share that analysts expected. HP did not share revenue forecasts for 2012, as it previously did.

“Frankly many of the FY11 headwinds are still with us,” Whitman said.

Whitman was optimistic about HP’s future, but she acknowledged the issues that cost the job of her predecessor, Leo Apotheker, who was fired in September. She said she had spent time with employees, customers, partners, and the management team in the past couple of months and is impressed that HP has huge scale and is No. 1 or No. 2 in most of its markets. She said the company delivered on its fourth-fiscal quarter outlook with strong results, and made its decision to keep its PC division, the Personal Systems Givision (PSG).

“There is no question that HP and PSG are better together,” she said.

She added, “I also know we didn’t live up to our expectations in 2011.” She said that HP previously confused its customers and partners about what it would be — Apotheker’s moves were interpreted as HP’s plan to turn itself into a software-only company.  She said HP was in software to help its customers transform their businesses, but not to “change HP into a software company.” She said HP had not done a good job of leveraging “its whole as more than the sum of its parts” and it needs to deliver consistent results.

“No more surprises,” she said. “We need to articulate a clear direction.”

Whitman said that HP will rebuild its balance sheet after the $10 billion Autonomy acquisition earlier this year and won’t be doing any large mergers and acquisitions in the near future. HP saw weakness in consumer demand in desktop PCs and notebook computers.

“We have some of the best franchises in technology, customers who want to do business with us,” Whitman said.

Whitman said that research and development spending was up in the past fiscal year, as HP had under-invested previously, and it would increase again in 2012. In particular, added R&D is limiting profits in HP’s services division.

Cathie Lesjak, chief financial officer, said that HP’s Itanium system sales had been hurt in the quarter because of Oracle’s attempt to undermine it with negative comments and a withdrawal of its contractually required support. Lesjak said that HP had begun to see a slowdown in commercial spending as a result of the financial uncertainty in Europe. She also expects a shortage of hard disk drives because of the flooding in Thailand.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Cyber criminals attempt to hack into AT&T, no accounts compromised

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 01:59 PM PST

Phone lockAT&T was the target of an attack today when cyber criminals attempted to access customer information by connecting phone numbers to online accounts.

“We do not know the intent, but we are concerned they may attempt to deceive our customers by sending them unsolicited texts or emails claiming to be from AT&T and requesting sensitive personal information like Social Security numbers or passwords,” an AT&T spokesperson said in an e-mail to VentureBeat regarding the company’s concerns about affected one percent.

The company explained the attack was “an organized attempt to obtain information,” meaning a number of people working together as opposed to a lone hacker. No accounts were successfully breached, however. Those trying to gain access to customer accounts were using “auto script technology,” according to a company statement, which attempted to link AT&T phone numbers to online accounts.

Currently AT&T is looking into who is behind the attack and what they wanted with the information. “In the meantime, out of an abundance of caution, we are advising the account holders involved,” the company said in a statement.

According to Bloomberg, company spokesperson Mark Siegel says less than 1 percent of the company’s mobile customers were affected. To put this in perspective, however, AT&T recently announced over 100 million wireless subscribers. That means less that less than one percent can still be hundreds of thousands of affected customers. Exactly how hackers affected these customers remains to be seen, other than account information was not compromised.

The company also recently experienced a three hour service outage in the Northeast, but says the downtime and the attack are unrelated.

[Cell phone photo via Shutterstock]

Filed under: mobile, security

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eBay targets couch potatoes with new iPad app feature

Posted: 21 Nov 2011 01:42 PM PST

eBay, iPad appOnline auction site eBay is launching a new feature for its mobile applications today to help boost purchases from customers while they’re on the couch watching TV.

The move is part of eBay’s new “Couch Commerce” strategy. Users that open up the company’s iPad app will see a new “watch with eBay” tab that lets them type in their zip code, cable provider and current channel. Based on your viewing experience, the app will then begin suggesting items from the 200 million listings available on its site.

For instance, if you see one of the characters on Supernatural referencing a monster database on his Samsung Galaxy tablet, eBay will pull up listings for all Samsung tablets as well as competitors.

For people who only casually watch television during the day, this could be a great way to do holiday shopping without having to fight the crowds at major retail chains. As for eBay, this new feature has plenty of potential to boost sales.

The company said it has plans to partner with networks, cable providers and others to help identify those product placement spots that usually go unnoticed within movies and TV shows (that is, unless you watch the CW).

While plenty of people are on a mobile device while watching television (86 percent, according to the company’s research), many of them aren’t always in the shopping mood. It’ll be interesting to see if this type of strategy working in the long-run when the “watch with eBay” feature gets added to the company’s other mobile applications.

It’s also worth noting that eBay is very serious about product recommendation technology. Earlier today VentureBeat reported that eBay acquired recommendation startup Hunch for an estimated $80 million.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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