29 November, 2011



How to spike last minute holiday sales by using mobile marketing & multi-channel communications

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 09:00 AM PST

Mobiile MarketingThis post is sponsored by Trumpia.

Each year, big box retailers and other large businesses seem to push the holidays on us earlier and earlier. This always seems unfair for smaller businesses that might not have the resources, budget or wherewithal to start their holiday promotions months in advance.

The good news for businesses of all sizes, however, is that in today's increasingly social business landscape, consumers are starting to pay less and less attention to the glitz, glamour and overbearing vibe of conspicuous holiday marketing.

Mass media has been increasingly giving way to a new trend. It is one whereby businesses directly contact consumers, using approaches that involve them more interactively, and promotions that are increasingly timely and targeted.

Here are a few SMS and Multi-Channel Marketing tips to help you make this holiday season matter when it comes to winning the attention of your ideal customer. You'll have a lot to gain because you will distance your marketing from those annoying holiday direct mailers and flyers that seem to arrive just as the leaves barely begin to fall.

1. Focus on deals

An economy in the doldrums and the barrage of information available today are enough to make anyone's head spin. So you'll want to focus your SMS marketing, email marketing and social messaging on what's likely to be most effective — coupons or offers that provide the deal of the week for exciting products or services. Optimize your website for both computer and mobile shoppers so that they can quickly navigate to your sale items, or be led to your special offers from your SMS text, email and status updates on Facebook and other popular social media sites.

2. Make it easy for customers to opt-in to your marketing database

Make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to capture information from people while they are reviewing your website or Facebook fan page. By placing a QR Code on your site, you can make it fun and easy for them to use their cell phone to take a simple picture, scan and then automatically opt-in to your mobile text marketing database. Add a contact collection widget (a small embeddable program) on your page to collect email addresses and phone numbers. You can also set up a mobile keyword, fun voting event or interactive alerts to encourage people to sign-up to be included in your database. All of your traditional marketing materials such as posters, flyers, and print advertisements can prominently display how to opt-in to receive alerts about your events or engage in a continuous relationship and conversation with you. These are all sure fire ways to increase the likelihood of a greater response rate and more in-store traffic the next time you send out a campaign.

3. Orchestrated timing is everything

Relying solely on your email marketing campaign that you send out a week before your sale — especially when it comes to important retail events like Black Friday — is a sure fire way for it to get lost in the shuffle. Instead, consider sending out multi-channel messages to increase your audience's mind share for your products and services. You need to touch your audience multiple times before your message achieves any level of priority placement in people's minds.

KenSend a blanket email campaign 10 days before your event. Then, post a social media update a few days later. A picture text message can also add to the excitement. You can even send out an instant message or SMS text message with a coupon a few days prior and, again, first thing in the morning on the day of your sales event.

Remember, when it comes to a popular shopping day like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and even the day after Christmas, your customer will have a lot of choices. Separating your sale from the holiday rush by holding your event again on a different day is another way you can gain a unique competitive advantage this holiday season.

If you haven't already done it, you'll want to incorporate your SMS text and multi-channel marketing campaigns into your overall marketing action plan for the holidays. Using software like Trumpia's All-In-One, Multi-Channel Marketing platform, you'll be well-equipped to deck your halls with greater foot traffic, customer engagement and sales conversions.

Orchestrate campaigns across SMS text, email, IM, voice broadcast and social media messaging. And you just might watch your revenues go through the roof.

This post was written by Ken Rhie, CEO and co-founder of Trumpia, the only All-In-One, Multi-Channel Marketing platform, and an active management participant for start-up companies in Silicon Valley and Asia. Ken also serves as a featured speaker at venues including universities and conferences and on topics such as the Ten Most Common Mistakes of a Startup, Silicon Valley Marketing Checklist, and Writing a Business Plan for Successful Funding.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Kinect 2 may be so accurate it can lip read

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 08:38 AM PST

Microsoft’s next-generation Kinect device may be accurate enough to read your lips. It has also been stated that future Xbox consoles will ship with Kinect 2 built in.

Sources speaking to Eurogamer have claimed that the unannounced Kinect 2 will be able to read facial expressions and detect a variety of emotions through the user’s tone. Improved motion-sensing and voice-recognition technology are expected to be installed.

The depth sensor in the current Kinect device was set to 30 frames per second upon the November 2010 launch, offering a 320×240 resolution limit. The universal serial bus (USB) controller interface has the potential to run at 35 megabytes per second, but only utilizes around 15 to 16 megabytes per second. The limitation comes as multiple USB devices can be simultaneously used on an Xbox 360 console.

Kinect 2 will be able to send more information, providing a higher-resolution charge-coupled device. Sources say, “It can be cabled straight through on any number of technologies that just take phenomenally high res data straight to the main processor and straight to the main random access memory (RAM) and ask, what do you want to do with it?”

Although these reports are unconfirmed, Kinect 2′s potential is obvious. It would be interesting to see games such as L.A Noire expanded on by reading the player’s emotion and tone, as the technology may be able to detect truth from certain body language and facial gestures. If the rumors are true, this is exactly the kind of advancement  to expect.

Filed under: games

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Apple approves, then yanks, iTether for iPhone (updated)

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 08:34 AM PST

For some strange reason, Apple approved an app that lets you bypass monthly carrier tethering plans to share your iPhone’s wireless connection with your computer. (Update: The app has been removed from the App Store.)

Dubbed iTether, the app connects to Mac and Windows software to share your iPhone’s web connection for a one-time $14.99 fee. In comparison, AT&T and Verizon offer iPhone tethering functionality for an additional $20-a-month.

Given that Apple has previously banned similar apps, you’d think that iTether must have slipped past the company’s notoriously scrupulous approval process. But according to Tether.com, the Canadian company behind the app, Apple knew exactly what it was up to: “We were very clear with Apple what our app did. They asked us a bunch of questions and then approved us,” the company said on Twitter last night.

While it may seem like a killer deal, you do give up some tethering conveniences with iTether. The app only works over USB, and it doesn’t allow any sort of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth tethering. That limitation likely led Apple to think iTether wouldn’t compete with full-fledged tethering plans, but it’s still annoying for anyone used to the freedom of wireless tethering.

Since the app went live last night, iTether’s homepage has been overloaded with traffic. As MacRumors points out, the app also seems to authenticate with iTether.com whenever you launch it, so the actual tethering service has been facing issues as well. Due to the insane demand, Tether.com says it has added 20 additional web servers.

Even if Apple approves of the iTether app, that doesn’t mean the carriers will play nicely with it. Carriers can’t stop the app from working, but they can certainly scrutinize users who end up using lots of mobile data. Data used via the app will still count against your monthly allotment of mobile data, so it’s wise to keep an eye on your bandwidth limits as well.

Via MacRumors

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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AT&T hopes a deal with Leap Wireless will save T-Mobile merger

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 08:28 AM PST

att, tmobile mergerAT&T is hoping that a new deal with Leap Wireless will save its plans of merging with Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile USA.

The deal would see Leap purchasing both T-Mobile’s customer base and most of its wireless spectrum, while AT&T would retain a smaller portion of the spectrum, according to a New York Times report yesterday.

Leap, which owns and operates the Cricket Wireless brand is primarily in the business of prepaid wireless service. If the AT&T merger does not go through, Leap could purchase T-Mobile’s assets, as it doesn’t look like Deutsche Telekom is interested in continuing its U.S. business. Such a purchase would certainly raise Leap’s national profile, too.

AT&T and Deutsche Telekom first announced plans for AT&T to acquire T-Mobile USA for $39 billion in March 2011. T-Mobile, which is the fourth largest wireless carrier, has struggled to compete against Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. So, selling to a competitor for a large sum is an attractive option, while AT&T is interested in swallowing up T-Mobile to improve its wireless network infrastructure.

As VentureBeat previously reported, AT&T might be willing to divest as much as 40 percent of T-Mobile USA's asset. It's thought that a divestiture of this size could change the minds of the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission — both of which have taken issue with the merger.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Review: Saints Row: The Third is crazy, crass and a whole lot of fun

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

Saints Row: The Third, the latest third-person action game from developer Volition and publisher THQ, blasts its way into the hectic Winter gaming marketplace, with more spectacular set pieces than a blockbuster movie, a huge array of customization options, and absolutely no sense of shame whatsoever. Following the two previous Saints Row titles, this latest installment lets you play the leader of the 3rd Street Saints, who are embroiled in a turf war with The Syndicate, a rival criminal gang in the fictional city of Steelport. Playing out in an open-world environment that encourages exploration, experimentation and general goofing around, the game makes clear its intentions from the beginning, namely to provide gamers with an exciting, fun and downright crazy experience, albeit not one for the easily offended. No longer just a street gang, the Saints are now a full-fledged crime syndicate.

Who do you want to be today?

Following the game's first mission, you arrive at the character customization screen, and get to create the leader of the Saints, whom you will play as for the duration of the story. The range of customization options available invites you to be creative, with a generic action hero type being one of the least attractive options. Everything from permanent tattoos to double chin height is definable, and there is a range of skin tones that can make your character look more like something from a comic book, than a traditional action game.

In the custom settings, there is a cheeky option to alter 'sex appeal', which essentially reduces something that psychologists have argued about for decades, to the simple act of enlarging a man's manhood, or a woman's breasts. While that particular option is not subtle, there is no doubting the overall depth of the effects on offer, when you see some of the creations that the Saints Row community have come up with. (THQ released the avatar creator early to get the community stoked) As well as new unique characters, users have managed to craft realistic models of Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Lara Croft, and Peter Griffin from Family Guy, to name but a few. Personally, I was quite happy with the Mohawk-touting cross between Tony Soprano and the Silver Surfer that I managed to piece together in about ten minutes.

Dressing your character is also a mini-adventure in its own right, with a basic range of clothes available to begin with, plus more that can be unlocked through completing missions or shopping in the Saints stores. From wristbands and glasses, through to giant monkey masks and gimp suits, there is literally something there for everyone. If you don't wish to show off your sartorial elegance, however, you can always choose to run around Steelport in the buff, with some carefully placed pixelation hiding the more personal details. In true Saints Row style, Volition has even built-in a side mission that requires you to shock passers-by, by streaking near them.

Anything but dull

While playing through the first few missions in Saints Row: The Third, you soon come to realize that the game won't be forcing you to do anything dull. Barring a few more low-key events, the missions are generally bold, brash, funny, and chock full of gun-fights and explosions. As you progress further through the story, the missions get exponentially more insane, along with the weapons and vehicles that you can use to complete them.

Volition has certainly taken a refreshing approach in the making of Saints Row: The Third. While some games are striving to reach new levels of realism and immersion, Saints Row is quite content just to be a game, and in doing so it offers some really crazy experiences, that simply could not be reproduced in any other medium. Without wishing to proffer too many spoilers, some of my personal highlights included parachuting into a nuclear reactor, beating a masked wrestler around the head with a giant shark, causing waves of 'infected' citizens to explode with a gun ripped from a virtual reality game, and a gloriously inappropriate use of the Joe Esposito song "You're The Best Around".

Third person shooting

Whilst you start Saints Row: The Third with a limited arsenal of weapons, over the course of the game you accumulate some incredible pieces of technology, and can also upgrade some very basic weapons to be devastatingly effective. I found nothing more satisfying than sending a room full of enemies into a coughing frenzy with a casually tossed 'fart in a jar', before mowing then down with a pyrotechnic sub machine gun. Other personal weapons of choice included the RC Gun, which allows you to take remote control of any vehicle and explode it at will, and the sex toy bat, a giant purple dildo which is a particularly effective means of bludgeoning people around the head.

The gunplay in Saints Row feels pretty tight, with the third-person view working no better or worse than it generally does for shooting. There is no cover system in place, which is quite rare to see in a third person shooter these days. Whilst it is nice to be free of the problems a cover system sometimes brings with it, it does sometime feel like you are a sitting duck at a carnival sideshow, with nowhere to hide and bullets flying at you from all sides. Having said that, Saints Row is anything but a stealth game, and the best form or defence is usually attack, something which is eminently satisfying here, as bodies and vehicles fly around, amidst seas of explosions.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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The top 10 family games of 2011: Kinect Disneyland, Sesame Street, and more

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

They may not be the most glamorous ticket in town during the holiday buying season, but family games are one of a very small number of video game genres where the adults can have as much fun as the kids. Family games have seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to the advent of motion-gaming technologies like Nintendo’s Wii, Sony’s PlayStation Move and Microsoft Xbox Kinect that simplify play mechanics beyond memorizing button placements or manipulating two analog joysticks in tandem. Family games are more about getting everyone in the room involved than spending 18 hours clawing and scratching your way through a singular adventure.

Not only are family games simple for all to enjoy, in recent years some of the world’s most recognizable brands have gotten in on the fun. While that doesn’t always spell success in the video game world, 2011 has seen the likes of Sesame Street and Disney get in on the fun with some worthwhile family titles of their own. Which are the ten best of the year that was? Here’s our definitive list.

Kinect Disneyland Adventures
Developer: Frontier Developments/Disney Interactive Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Release Date: November 15

If you’ve never taken your kids to Disneyland or never had the chance to go yourself, Kinect Disneyland Adventures is the game for you. It’s structured to deliver similar experiences to what you’ll find in the park itself, but without those annoyingly long lines. Many of the rides that you know (or at least have heard of) are represented in virtual form as mini-games for one or two players. When you’re not racing through Splash Mountain you can take some time to visit with one of the many hallmark Disney characters wandering around the park. Using the Kinect camera sensor you can take pictures with Mickey, Goofy and the gang and interact with them with some pretty interesting ways. All while never leaving the safety confines of the living room. Not only does Kinect Disneyland Adventures deliver the sights and sounds of the park, it truly captures the spirit of Disney while also delivering fun and simple game play mechanics for players of all ages. See VentureBeat’s review.

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
Developer: Double Fine Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Release Date: October 11

Few franchises are more identifiable in the eyes of children than Sesame Street and no game has captured the essence of those lovable furry character in the way that Double Fine managed. The game’s Creative Director, Tim Schafer, is more known for sculpting original off-the-wall characters and eccentric worlds, but Once Upon A Monster showcases the talents of Schafer’s development studio in a slightly different light. With plenty of mini-games that utilize the Kinect camera sensor in simple, intuitive ways, there’s plenty for the whole family to play together. See our interview with Schafer and co-creator Nathan Martz.

LittleBigPlanet 2
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: January 18

One of the very best in family gaming came to us very early in 2011 in the form of Media Molecule’s sequel to one of the best PlayStation 3 games of all time. Thankfully, LittleBigPlanet 2 did not disappoint as Sackboy’s second adventure delivers a more fully featured bag of tricks. While players can still hop into the game’s lovable story mode and play through Mario-style levels, expertly crafted by the developers, what truly sets LittleBigPlanet 2 apart is its creation mode. It’s extremely rare for a game to deliver both accessible action as well as the ability to exercise one’s creativity. With the creation mode people can cobble together levels and even entire games of their own, then upload them for others to check out. While youngsters might find the abundance of creative options daunting, sitting down with them and watching their amazement as ideas from their mind turn into a (virtual) reality on the screen is a great way to pass the time this holiday season.

Dance Central 2
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Release Date: October 25

While dancing like a fool in your living room might sound like more of an embarrassment than a way to enjoy some time with the rest of the family, Dance Central 2 does a great of making you feel like a superstar, no matter how red your cheeks get. The second game in the promising series from the development studio that brought the world the original Guitar Hero and Rock Band has plenty for both veterans and newcomers. For starters, the series gets its first simultaneous multiplayer mode so two people can hop into the action and dance cooperatively or in a head-to-head dance battle. And if you’re not so confident in your moves on the dance floor, never fear, Dance Central 2 has a great teaching mode called Break It Down that will have you busting a groove in no time.

Just Dance 3
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: Wii
Release Date: October 7

Not to be left out of the dance party, Just Dance 3 on Wii delivers some wonderful game play for up to four players, provided you have the requisite number of Wii Remotes and Nunchuks. The third game in the series follow the standard set by the first two entries as players swing their controllers around their body, keeping the beat and following the on-screen cues to more than 40 tunes that span a solid breadth of genres. Not only will Just Dance 3 improve your abilities on the dance floor, but it also presents players with a new Just Sweat exercise mode to help fight the turkey, pumpkin pie and egg nog that inevitably come with the holiday season.

Kinect Sports Season 2
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Release Date: October 25

While not quite as well received by critics as the first entry in the series that was released alongside Kinect last year, Kinect Sports Season 2 still brings plenty of fun for the family to enjoy together. Six sports are aptly represented. There’s golf, tennis, American football, darts, skiing, and baseball. All of them feature accurate motion controls thanks to the Kinect camera sensor and up to four players can take part in the fun. Some sports – like football, baseball and tennis – are slightly more enjoyable than the other activities, but that doesn’t mean the other parts of the package won’t bring enjoyment to you and the little ones alike. VentureBeat’s review here.

Fruit Ninja Kinect
Developer: Halfbrick Studios
Publisher: Halfbrick Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Release Date: August 10

One of the greatest games on iPhone and iPad made its way to Xbox Live Arcade earlier this year. For ten bucks you get a familiar experience, but instead of a touch-screen and using your finger to break apart all of the fruit on-screen you’ll be flailing your arms around as the Kinect camera sensor tracks your every move. Not only do you get the standard challenge mode, but there’s also a party mode where two players can work either cooperatively or competitively. Fruit Ninja Kinect may not be the longest of the ten games on our list, but there’s no arguing with the fact that it’s both instantly accessible and immediately fun for gamers of any age.

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure
Developer: Toys for Bob/XPEC
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii
Release Date: October 16

While video games and toy action figures are a common pairing in the minds of most children, but never before had they appeared in quite the same manner as in Skylanders. Players are able to scan different action figures directly into the game, perform missions in the story mode (either solo or with a co-op partner), and then take those action figures to a friend’s house and put them into their version of the game. Cooler still is the fact that characters can be ported into any version of Skylanders, regardless of platform. The price tag of $70 is undoubtedly steep for a title that will be enjoyed mainly by children, but being able to live out the fantasy of putting physical action figures into a virtual world and trade them with other kids in the neighborhood just might be worth the cost. See VentureBeat’s story on the making of the game.

Cars 2
Avalanche Software
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: June 21

Movie franchises and video games typically don’t mesh well together with most virtual representations of the silver screen being relegated to the bargain bin of a video game store within a few weeks of release. Thankfully Cars 2 is a good example of how to leverage a Hollywood property while still delivering worthwhile game play. Those who’ve experienced the joys of playing Mario Kart with the family will feel right at home here with cute characters, fast action, power-ups and more right at their fingertips. Not only that, but the PlayStation 3 version is the only edition of the game that will allow up to four players to play in split-screen mode while taking full advantage of that swanky new 3D TV you bought during the holiday season.

Nintendogs + Cats
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: March 27

There’s no doubt that this sequel to a Nintendo DS classic doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to innovating on the game play of the original, but it still excels in being a fantastic time waster for kids. Kids are charged with caring for their virtual pets and competing goals every so often. It’s not the most difficult game in the world and is instead more about playing with the cute and cuddly animals represented on-screen. So maybe this isn’t the best game for the whole family, but you’d be hard-pressed to find something more appropriate for young children during those long, trying family road trips.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Kinect’s first year Japanese sales are disappointingly low

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 07:24 AM PST

Despite being the fastest selling consumer electronic device of all time , Microsoft's Kinect gaming device has struggled to make an impact on the Japanese market during its first year on sale. Japanese sales to date have totaled only 114,000 units, according to figures reported by Andriasang. This represents less than a 10 per cent uptake on the device amongst the Japanese Xbox 360 user base.

Kinect's strongest month in Japan was December 2010, when it sold 43,200 units, but over the past six months, sales have dropped to an average of less than 3,000 per month. Japan remains a strategic market for Microsoft, as it is still one of the largest video game markets in the world. But it’s not surprising, given that Microsoft hardware has always sold poorly in Japan.

Chris Lewis, Microsoft's vice president of interactive entertainment, spoke to Eurogamer recently about the company's struggles in the Japanese market, but he remained upbeat about the future of Kinect in Japan, saying "Nintendo, particularly with the Wii, have opened up a market opportunity there. We’ve leapfrogged that handheld technology with Kinect. What we’re seeing is users love using their own body without worrying about how to work a controller. So we see ourselves as, frankly, a company that does bring an awful lot of firsts, and we’ve enjoyed fabulous success with Kinect."

These disappointing first-year hardware sales figures don't support this vision of a bright future for Kinect in Japan though, and the first year Kinect software sales figures are equally disappointing. Only Kinect Adventure! sold more than 25,000 units, and that was because it came bundled with the Kinect system. Supposed 'system sellers' such as Dance Central and Kinect Animals (Kinectimals in the US) came in with sales of just 8,690 and 5,350 respectively. The highly rated Child of Eden, created by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the man behind such classic titles as Rez, Space Channel 5 and Sega Rally Championship, didn't even make the top ten, meaning it sold less than 3,470 units. The top ten Kinect games in Japan over the last twelve months read as follows:

  • 01. Kinect Adventure! 114,000 sales
  • 02. Forza Motorsport 4: 24,900
  • 03. DanceEvolution: 22,400
  • 04. Kinect Sports: 13,000
  • 05. You Shape Fitness Evolved: 12,300
  • 06. Dance Central: 8,690
  • 07. Kinect Animals: 5,350
  • 08. New Brain Training 4,930
  • 09. Sonic Free Riders: 4,160
  • 10. Fighters Uncaged: 3,470

While worldwide sales of the Kinect hardware have been strong, with over 10 million unit sales so far, there are concerns that 8 million of those came within the first two months of release. Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft, which published Child of Eden, has his own thoughts on this sales trend: " It’s not healthy to just sell in the holiday, or 90 percent of your units in the holidays. We would really like to see them [Microsoft] have some major launches during the non-holiday part of the year. That will help keep the visibility of the machine high and enable better catalog sales throughout the year."

In spite of these problems, Kinect seems integral to Microsoft's ongoing Xbox 360 strategy, with the new Xbox Live Dashboard, which plays heavily on voice and motion controls, launching on December 6. Microsoft are also reportedly planning to release a Kinect 2 device, that will be significantly more powerful than its predecessor, enabling games to lip read, detect when players are angry, and determine in which direction they are facing. According to Eurogamer, this Kinect 2 device will come bundled with all future Xbox consoles , and may bypass the existing USB connectivity in order to help improve performance.

Filed under: games

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The real cloud revolution is all about consumerization

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 06:00 AM PST

Businessman pointing at a cloud diagram

Everyone is talking about the “cloud,” but is there anything new here? How is the "cloud" different from "internet" or "web?”

There is something new — and it’s a big deal — but it’s not what everyone usually talks about.

A few years ago, when someone would store his photos on Picasa, he would say, "I am using this website to store my photos" or "I put my photos on the Internet.” Now he would say, "I store my photos in the cloud." What's the difference ? In most cases, none. In consumer language, the word "cloud" has replaced "Internet" or "web" — it is just more trendy!

And yet, something real is happening.

In the business-to-business world, the word "cloud" is just as pervasive as it is in the consumer world. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has even attempted to define it, although the definition is incredibly complex:

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

This is actually accurate. But what is revolutionary and new here? Based on this description, the cloud is an evolution, not a revolution. It is the continuation of a series of changes initiated in the nineties with the advent of the commercial Internet, but its roots go back even further.

The first network-accessible “cloud” computing resources were already coming online some 50 years ago when American Airline launched SABRE in the early sixties.

In the eighties, bulletin board systems (BBSes) and Minitel were full of applications that were used through a network. The leading applications were yellow pages (search), travel reservations, order input systems and online dating.

In the late nineties, online services all converted to the Internet to benefit from lower costs and larger audience. Shortly after, a new concept appeared: "SaaS" or Software-as-a-Service. Some innovative software vendors realized that the Internet had become reliable enough for corporations to depend on it. We all know the success of Salesforce.com, essentially continuing and enhancing the order input systems from the BBS era.

A decade later, bandwidth has become so ubiquitous that it is in the air, and it is now common to access the Internet using smartphones. Most users have multiple devices from which they want to access their service, to the point that location has become nearly irrelevant.

With decades of improvement in available bandwidth and reliability, it is increasingly possible to rely on systems that are not on the same premises as the end user of the system. An innovative vendor, Amazon.com, saw that not only software but the computing infrastructure itself could be offered as a service. And thus the cloud was born. But fundamentally, there is not much difference between provisioning an instance on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and using a distant computer on a BBS 30 years ago.

And yet, a revolution is happening, but it is elsewhere. It is the consumerization of IT.

How consumerization has driven infrastructure

For decades, innovation in information technology has been driven by enterprises, government, and military needs. With the cloud wave, the place for innovation has changed, and it is now the consumer which is the driving force in IT.

Serving consumers at the scale of the Internet is mind-boggling. The service has to be on, all the time, for everyone, despite the variety of situations, devices, time zones, character sets…. When you address such a large population, there are no 'safe' maintenance windows. You can be almost certain that someone is using your service at any weird hour of the day or night, even on Christmas eve! Not only do you need to deliver 24×7, ubiquitous, highly reliable computing, but you need to do it cheaply, so cheaply that you can sell it for pennies or make money from advertising.

Large web sites such as Amazon, Google and Facebook have faced these challenges since the mid-2000s. They have independently found the same solution: distributing IT over many generic servers in a completely distributed architecture, where components can fail and be upgraded or changed individually without material impact on the whole system, thus reducing manual operations to a fraction of those required with traditional IT systems. This approach is now the foundation for the cloud wave.

Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos documented through many interviews the process by which Amazon became the leader of public cloud services. Here is an excerpt of an interview with Bezos in Wired:

Approximately nine years ago we were wasting a lot of time internally because, to do their jobs, our applications engineers had to have daily detailed conversations with our networking infrastructure engineers. Instead of having this fine-grained coordination about every detail, we wanted the data-center guys to give the apps guys a set of dependable tools, a reliable infrastructure that they could build products on top of. The problem was obvious. We didn't have that infrastructure. So we started building it for our own internal use. Then we realized, "Whoa, everybody who wants to build web-scale applications is going to need this.”

Google and Facebook had to build similar technology; they just took different business routes to get there. Google kept everything in-house powering its multiple applications, simply publishing a few white papers on what it had created (notably MapReduce, which is the foundation to Hadoop). For its part, Facebook contributed much of its infrastructure work to the open-source community (including projects like Cassandra and OpenCompute.org).

This kind of infrastructure has revolutionized software development. Now instead of having to deal with infrastructure as a hindrance (because it is too slow or too expensive) developers can program the infrastructure to deliver exactly the amount of computing power, network resources or storage capacity that is required.

A new kind of developer

I am too old to talk about this revolution with any level of detail. However, I can notice that the kids developing applications today use completely different languages and paradigms than what I was using twenty years ago. Their approach to development is completely focused on what they want the application to do. They do not have to manage the hardware in any way.

Typically these applications leverage a “web service” type of software architecture, making it extremely easy to link applications together. Look at how easy it is to have your Twitter feed show on Facebook and LinkedIn at the same time, or how you can easily log in to a site using your Facebook credentials. This is the result of a web service architecture.

Furthermore, since the infrastructure is programmable, these developers can treat the infrastructure itself as just another service. Now, an application can request 1,000 servers but only for the time it needs to get your result, and then free up these 1,000 servers for some other task, all without any manual intervention. That's the cloud!

In fact, the NIST definition with "with minimal management effort or service provider interaction" is really a understatement. If an application becomes popular and requires more resources, it will simply request those resources from the Infrastructure-as-a-Service. This is what has made Amazon Web Services so popular with start-ups. Now developers can program the infrastructure and operations as part of their software development. That’s led to a new term, “devops,” that makes explicit the merger of what used to be completely different skill sets, software development and IT operations.

This new style of application development results in applications which are more fun, easier to use, more practical, and more reliably scalable, both in terms of functionality and capacity. All of this can be achieved with a higher productivity in the development process.

The old man's initial reaction is to dismiss the young kids’ approach. But when you see the success and stability of applications that have been built this way, such as Facebook, SmugMug or Dropbox, to name a few, I am willing to bet the opposite. Within ten years, this style of development will have become standard in the enterprise.

On the hardware side also, innovation is also driven by consumer technology. The cost of silicon-based components is mostly capital cost: the cost of R&D plus the cost of building a fab. Consequently, the cost of silicon based components is inversely proportional to the number of components sold. This is how solid state drives, which were originally used for digital cameras, smartphones and USB keys, got down to a cost point where they are now competitive with hard drives for certain business applications. Without the billions of SSDs sold to the mass market, there would be no way for startups to use SSDs as a viable storage alternative today.

Employees seizing control

Finally, there is yet another way in which consumer technology is driving innovation. Until recently, employees had to make do with what was supplied by their IT department. They would sometimes complain that an application was slow, or a process not practical, but at the end of the day, they would use the tools they were given.

With so many applications and business processes now available through the web, this has changed. How many times have I tried to send a large attachment to someone, and after it was rejected by the corporate mailbox, the person recommended I use their private Gmail account? Actually, the more senior the person and the more confidential the document, the more likely it is to happen!

The tables are turning. Employees are savvy users of IT at home. Devices such as the iPad, Kindle, and Android smartphones, websites such as Facebook or Netflix, applications such as Xfinity, Skype or Evernote have become part of daily life. People can easily listen to the same music at home, in their car, or on vacation. With Xfinity, they can select a movie on their iPad and launch it on their home HDTV. They can share pictures and videos of their last party with all their friends, or with only some of them at the touch of a button.

And then they arrive at work, only to discover that it is impossible to validate a purchase order from their corporate enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from their smartphone. The gap between the amazing technologies they have at home and the lame ones they have at work is widening, and it is becoming intolerable for employees. Intolerable situations cause revolutions.

The consumerization of IT is the real revolution. It is the wind pushing the cloud. The real debate is not about public or private cloud. The real challenge for corporate IT is to embrace this revolution, and accept the fact that an IT made of many simple web processes and many generic servers actually delivers better applications, more functionality, more agility and more reliability, at a fraction of the cost of the big iron.

It is counterintuitive, but it is real. This is what the cloud is about.

Jerome Lecat, CEO of ScalityJérôme Lecat is the chief executive of Scality, a large-scale storage management startup. He is a serial entrepreneur and business angel with 15 years of internet start-up experience.

Top image credit: Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock

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

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Cisco: Global cloud traffic will increase 12-fold by 2015

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 05:00 AM PST

Cisco Cloud TrafficBetter grab an umbrella, because it’s about to get real cloudy. A new study by Cisco estimates that global traffic generated by cloud computing services will increase a staggering 12 times by 2015 compared to cloud traffic in 2010, while data center traffic will increase at a less-showy-but-still-impressive four times traffic by 2015.

As one of the biggest cloud computing solutions providers in the world, Cisco has an interest in tracking and estimating how big its services and clientele could potentially be in the next few years. The company’s Global Cloud Index, from which the eye-popping traffic numbers originate, is based on measured data center traffic, analyst equipment projections, and academic studies that show current usage and projections for worldwide data usage.

Cisco has tracked and estimated future data center traffic for several years, but this is the first time it has looked at purely cloud based traffic. The study confirms what many experts expect: that cloud service adoption will greatly accelerate in the next several years as more companies and consumers realize the potential of cloud solutions and storage. Global cloud traffic will increase from 130 exabytes (EBs) in 2010 to a projected 1.6 zettabytes (ZBs) in 2015, a 12-fold increase that will take the cloud to the “zettabyte era.”

“The study was key learning for us,” Thomas Barnett, Cisco senior manger for strategic communications, told VentureBeat. “Many users don’t realize that sending a file doesn’t generate an equal amount of traffic because the file has to go through servers and such. Sending a 5-megabyte file, for example, actually generates around 50 megabytes of traffic.”

Global Cloud Traffic Cisco

In terms of pure data center traffic around the world, traffic is projected to go from 1.1 ZBs in 2010 to an estimated 4.8 ZBs in 2015, four times the amount. 4.8 ZBs is a hard-to-imagine number, so Cisco has quantified it to equal 66.7 trillion hours of streaming music at 160 kbps, 15.5 trillion hours of standard-def web conferencing or 4.8 trillion hours of online streaming 720p HD video.

Barnett also said the study indicated the average server will go from supporting 1.4 workloads in 2010 to 2 workloads in 2014. By that year, Cisco expects more than 50 percent of all workloads will be processed in the cloud instead of in local data centers, something that would indicate an enormous shift of resources and the way IT is managed for the enterprise.

The most notable reason for shifting from local data centers to cloud data centers? Cold hard cash. As an enterprise company uses more servers operated by cloud companies, the cost per server greatly decreases. When a company reaches the 1,000-server mark, the cost differential between using local data centers and cloud data centers is nearly 50 percent.

An infographic with more details from the Global Cloud Index study can be viewed below:

Cisco Global Cloud Index 2011 Infographic

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

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Applied Materials launches a breakthrough tool to reduce chip power consumption

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 04:30 AM PST

Applied Materials has announced a new tool for reducing the power consumed by chips, thereby enabling a new generation of powerful new gadgets with longer battery life.

The innovation is built into the chip equipment manufacturers newest tool, the Applied Producer Onyx film treatment system being announced today. Each semiconductor chip — which serve as the brains of electronic gadgets from laptops to iPhones — has miles of microscopic electrical wiring built into it these days. The new Onyx effectively wraps those wires in a layer of insulation that can be accurately built at tiny dimensions.

"This is a big breakthrough,” said Bill McClintock, vice president and general manager of Applied's Dielectric Systems and Modules business unit, in an interview.

He said that interconnect accounts for a third of the power used in a chip, and improving its power consumption results in higher performance and longer battery life. With Onyx, Applied Materials will enable the most power-efficient and strong interconnects in the industry.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Materials is the world’s biggest chip maker. The new Onyx fits in line with its other chip-making chambers, which process wafers and move them to the next machine. Eventually, those wafers are sliced into individual chips and used in electronic devices.

Chip makers who buy the new system would introduce it in a chip factory (which can be built these days for $4 billion) as one of many machines in a manufacturing line. The Onyx would handle eight to 16 processes, which would be followed by as many as 150 other processes before the chip is finished.

Currently, the low-k films that serve as the insulation for wiring on each chip are often inaccurately or indiscriminately laid upon the interconnects. The Onyx can optimize the molecular structure of the films so that they more precisely cover the wiring. As a result, the interconnects will be able to withstand 3D packaging techniques that typically cause damage to wiring in subsequent processing steps.

“Doing this with ten layers of metal wiring and dealing with the downstream effects isn’t easy,” McClintock said.

The new Onyx system costs millions of dollars each. Only the top chip makers will likely buy them, but each of those chip makers is likely to need millions of systems. So McClintock believes that the new tool will be part of a $100 million market by 2014.

The new tool can help chips reach the 22-nanometer level and beyond, partly because it strengthens a chip and enables a higher yield, or ratio of working chips to total chips in a given batch. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. A damaged part of a wire might be only 200 angstroms. But at 22 nanometers, a section of a wire might only be 700 angstroms long, so the damaged portion is magnified.

The new tool can be used to make just about any logic chip, or most of the processing chips made, not counting memory or analog devices. As chips move to each new generation, they get smaller and smaller and the width between wires also gets smaller, increasing the chances of failures from crosstalk or parasitic capacitance. That wastes power and slows speed. The new tool can reduce those chances of failure.

Onyx drives a combination of carbon and silicon into the porous dielectric film to reinforce insulation at the atomic level (pictured left). Relatively few changes in interconnect have happened in recent years. One big switch was a move from aluminum wires to copper a decade ago. The Onyx took about a year to develop. Potential rivals include Novellus and ASMi.


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Is this the best and worst time for online startups, or just the best?

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 04:00 AM PST

AkamaiThis post is sponsored by Akamai. VentureBeat and Akamai are hosting a webinar today at 11am PST. For more info and to sign up, go here.

We are living in an exceptional time for online startups. The cost and resources required to launch an online company are at a significantly lower threshold than ever before. On the other hand, startups have a much higher threshold of performance required to be successful, particularly in the crowded (and some would argue noisy) media and entertainment space. This aside, startups need to prepare for hyper-growth in order to break out of the crowd, as we have seen with a number of startups such as Groupon, Zynga, Twitter, Foursquare and others.

These startups, which have become market leaders, are the poster children for what we're talking about. Many other startups are experiencing the variety of factors that have come together to create a perfect-storm favoring hyper-growth opportunities for startups. These factors include a high penetration of broadband networks, smartphones, tablets and other connected devices; consumers coming of age that have grown up with the Internet; migration of businesses to online channels, and revenue opportunities for such businesses through advertising, subscriptions, virtual goods and other business models.

At the same time, this environment also creates new challenges since online startups today need to hit their stride very quickly. This applies to companies in almost any category including video, social, music, publishing, mobile and location based services, SaaS and others. They need to perform and deliver end-user experiences at a level of well established, even mature services from the outset.

It can be argued that startups need to deliver better experiences than established companies. Startups are actually in a more critical position than their established counterparts in some cases. This is because a sub-optimal experience due to poor network conditions or delivery of a startup's websites is more likely to result in users abandoning such sites as they still need to be convinced of the offering and experience offered by the startups. For example, an outage on Facebook will bring back users after the outage has been restored, but an outage on a new service site may not be tolerated so easily.

The Internet was not designed for such rich media, streaming, social and interactive services that are being pioneered by online startups. Increasingly we're finding that startups are partnering with us early and in many cases even before they launch their new services because scale, performance, and reliability of their websites is a requirement for them from the very start. We can offer such startups the requirements for a reliable internet performance independent of the amount of users: our advanced features and services such as accelerating dynamic content, security, and high performance video streaming.

Time will tell which of these startups will become the next mega brand, but from our vantage it certainly seems to be an exciting time to be an online startup.

We're teaming up with VentureBeat for an in-depth discussion about how to build new media startups for growth. The discussion will be in the form of a webinar with an interactive audience Q&A portion, and it’s happening today at 11am PST. Lead VentureBeat writer Dean Takahashi will host the webinar, with participants including: Mark Barron, Principal Solutions Engineer at Akamai; Jacques Chamberland, CEO of Huge Monster; Tal Chalozin CTO & Co-Founder of Innovid; and Max Haot, CEO & Founder of Livestream. You can sign up here.

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Sojo Studios’ WeTopia social game lets players do good in the real world

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 03:00 AM PST

Sojo Studios is announcing its first online social game, WeTopia, which is designed to be part of a series of games where players can have fun playing while doing good in the real world by raising money for children’s charities.

WeTopia is a free-to-play Facebook game where players can create villages and help their neighbors. By doing so, they produce “joy,” a currency which can be converted to contributions for nonprofits that provide children and families with basic needs, healthcare, and education in the real world.

Lexington, Ky.-based Sojo Studios has lined up an impressive number of partners, including a variety of children’s charities, as well as celebrity partners such as Ellen DeGeneres.

Players can track their contributions inside the game through pictures, videos, blogs and posts in-game. The goal is to combine fun and tangible help, so that rewards in games are more than just a collection of points.

"At Sojo Studios, we believe in collaborative play as a force for social good,” said Lincoln Brown, founder and chief executive at Sojo Studios. “With WeTopia, players can have fun with friends and family in-game, and experience the joy of supporting projects that help children in the real world. Best of all, players can see and track the progress of these real world projects.”

The idea of playing for good isn’t new. Zynga has donated millions of dollars to causes via its Zynga.org group. The Game Developers Conference sponsors a conference and special interest group focused on Games For Change. That group has been around since 2004 and it focuses on the creation and distribution of social-impact games that serve as tools for humanitarian and educational efforts.

But Sojo’s WeTopia has an impressive list of partners. They include Save the Children (www.savethechildren.org), buildOn (www.buildon.org), and the Children's Health Fund (www.childrenshealthfund.org), among others. Dave Morin, CEO and founder of Path, and tech investor Esther Dyson are advisors.

One of the unique things about Sojo’s approach is that players do not have to pay in order to trigger a donation. If they earn “joy” points by playing the game, they can view ads from sponsors who can make the donations.

Some of the nonprofits will offer limited-edition social goods (or virtual goods) such as food stuffs or specialty shops. Each purchase results in a direct donation to a real world cause. Buying an in-game fountain, for instance, leads to the contribution of a donation of clean water. Actual projects related to the donations have already begun in the U.S. and Haiti and will soon be in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

"Save the Children is thrilled to be part of Sojo Studios' innovative approach to social gaming," said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. "WeTopia will help to build awareness about important social issues and give people a fun way to make a lasting difference for children in need. Thanks to Sojo, millions of people can become important partners in the work we do each day."

Brand partners for Sojo include Clorox, Mattel and Dippin' Dots. Those brands assist with the donations. Sojo itself is donating 50 percent of its net profits to nonprofit groups around the world. Sojo has about 20 employees and was founded in 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti.

Brown, the founder, had been going to Haiti for years and was there after the quake. He saw a need for improving how people could contribute to a social cause in a more sustainable way. He was inspired that so many people were playing games online and he wanted to tie that to causes in a transparent way. The company has offices in New York and Los Angeles. The company has raised $8 million to date from private investors. The game has been in a closed beta test in six countries.

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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Could a new game violence study and potential game addiction disorder affect the game market?

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 12:21 AM PST

The age old debate over the effects of video games on the brain is back. On Monday, the Radiological Society of North America released information on a new research that shows violent video games can effect the brain. At the same time, News.com Australia reported that mental health professionals in Australia are considering video game addiction and internet addition as official mental disorders.

These studies are far from definitive, given the large volume of game studies over the years. But if games are classified as harmful or addictive, that could limit their reach. Parents might proactively decide to crack down on violent video games, which have become a big part of the mass market. Studies like this are a force that could shove gamers back into the closet.

The new research conducted by the RSNA took 22 young men, ages 18 to 29, and instructed 11 of the 22 males to play 10 hours of violent video games for one week and then stop playing completely the second week. Then, the other 11 men were instructed to not play any violent video games throughout the two week period.

Before, during and after the two week period, the subjects were given tests via MRI's to monitor their brain function. The results showed that after the week of game play, there was less activity in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional test and less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting test. Yang Wang, a medical doctor and an assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine said, "These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long term effect on brain functioning."

While these findings are coming to light, mental health professionals in Australia are being asked by parents to include video game addiction and internet addiction in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The professionals might declare the  addictions as an official disorder called pathological internet misuse. If that happens, parents are hoping this will encourage further study on the matter.

The news stirs up old memories of the negative stigma often associated with video games. As video games jump into the mainstream more and more every year, studies and alleged official disorders like the ones mentioned are likely to pop up from time to time and thwart the advance of games as a universal medium. It also shows that, despite a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, the issue of violent video games is far from dead.


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For super-fast laptops, Seagate launches next-generation hybrid flash/hard drive

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 12:01 AM PST

Seagate is now shipping a second-generation drive that combines chip-based flash memory with a mechanical hard disk. The combination results in a high-speed, high-capacity drive for laptops and the fastest personal computers.

The hybrid technology is innovative because it combines the speed of flash chips with the low-cost and high storage capacity of hard disks. And Seagate uses software that is smart enough to disguise the storage from the user, who will never know if their data is store on a chip or the hard disk. It means that everything from games to music, video, spreadsheets, and documents will run faster.

The new drive is three times faster than a typical hard drive, said Joni Clark, product marketing manager at Seagate, in an interview.

“The user doesn’t have to worry about where the memory sits,” she said. “It can be used in any kind of situation.”

The first-generation hybrid drive came out in May 2010 and sold more than a million units. No original equipment manufacturers (computer makers known as OEMs) launched when the drives first came out. But now Seagate has lined up seven OEMs to ship new laptops with the Seagate Momentus XT drive.

Seagate’s drive uses Adaptive Memory and Fast Factor technologies. Adaptive Memory learns a user’s patterns, identifying data storage patterns and then moving the most frequently retrieved data into the faster chip memory for quick access. Adaptive Memory tailors the hard drive’s performance for each different user and the applications they use.

Fast Factor technology blends the strengths of flash chips and hard drives for faster access to applications, quick boot-up, and higher overall system speed.

The new drive competes with stand-alone hard drives, which have high capacity but are slower, and flash chips known as solid state drives, or SSDs. SSDs typically cost a lot more per amount stored, or about $2.50 to $3 per gigabyte. A hard drive can store data at 25 cents per gigabyte. Momentus XT is 70 percent faster than the prior Momentus drive and three times faster than a traditional hard disk. The new drive can also store 750 gigabytes of data, or 50 percent more than last year’s model. The drives include 8 gigabytes of single-level NAND flash chips, or double the storage from a year ago. It has double the interface and read-write speeds of the prior product.

Clark said that the flash portion of the Momentus XT will likely be more reliable than SSDs, which often wear out because they have to be written and overwritten so much. Those are taxing tasks when it comes to reliability, whereas the Momentus XT uses the flash chips as a read cache more so than for writing. And if the flash chips fail, it isn’t catastrophic. The hybrid drive would then function as a normal hard drive.

The Momentus XP 750GB drive will sell for $245 and is available at online retailers Amazon, Canada Computers, CDW, Memory Express, NCIX, Newegg, and TigerDirect. The drive isn’t made in Thailand so supply shortages due to floods have not affected its availability.


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Mario and Zelda score record sales on Black Friday

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 08:49 PM PST

Nintendo's newest flagship video games, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Super Mario 3D Land, have both sold over 500,000 units in the U.S. alone, according to an interview with a Nintendo executive.

Both of the games are critical to Nintendo’s sales this holiday season, which has turned out to be a very competitive season among game publishers and hardware makers. Roughly 40 percent to 50 percent of annual U.S. retail sales take place in November and December, according to Anita Frazier, analyst at market researcher NPD. Super Mario 3D Land is Nintendo's newest addition to their handheld, the Nintendo 3DS, and was released on November 11. Soon after, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was released the next week on November 20 for the Nintendo Wii.

With the help of Black Friday, both games broke sales records by being the fastest selling handheld Mario title and fastest selling Zelda game to date. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told USA Today that Super Mario 3D Land sold more than 500,000 units while The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword sold 535,000 units since launch.

Along with the game sales, the Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Wii saw big sales as well with 3DS sales tripling from early November and the Nintendo Wii selling 500,000 units during the Black Friday sales period.

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Teach your robot new tricks this Cyber Monday at the RobotsAppStore (video)

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 08:46 PM PST

If you haven’t gotten a gift for your robot this Cyber Monday (what, you don’t have one yet?), you might want to think about visiting the RobotsAppStore, the Internet’s first portal for paid robot apps. The RobotsAppStore hosts a variety of programs created by enthusiasts worldwide who want to extend the functionality of robots everywhere.

A”programmable robot” is something of a misnomer if you stop to think about it. In order for a robot to do anything, it had to be programmed by somebody.

“The robot itself is just a device without the software,” says RobotsAppStore founder and chief executive officer Elad Inbar.  ”The software is actually what is giving it the core, or the benefits that we humans want.” Reprogramming a robot to do something new really isn’t a leap. Neither is connecting it to the Internet in order to in download new programs. Hundreds of millions of smart phone owners do it every day to get Angry Birds, Yelp or apps that tell us when the next bus is going to arrive. Soon connecting a robot will be no different.

The smart phone revolution, which was ushered in by Apple’s iPhone, began little more than four years ago. Today there are more than 500,000 apps in the iTunes App Store.

There are 17 million personal robots in the wild, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Inbar says that there are 6 million Roomba units alone. Roombas are robots that automatically sweep and vacuum,  and use infrared to find their way around. They’ve been modified in a number of amusing ways, such as  being programmed to select a Guinness from a row of beer cans.

RobotsAppStore predicts that the market for robot apps will grow from around 500 apps today, to 750,000 unique apps within four years. At that rate there will 18 billion downloads, worth $3 billion.

Inbar brought a Nao humanoid robot to the VentureBeat office to demonstrate the capabilities of an App-store connected robot. Designed by Aldebaran Robotics from France, The Nao costs about $15,000, and is  just shy of two feet tall (57 centimeters). It walks upright and  has the same range of motions as a toddler. However, because it’s loaded with sensors, it has the ability to navigate a room, track objects and respond to people and faces.

In the video above, you can see the robot following a red ball based on programmer’s instructions. At 1:04, you can see Nao dancing along to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,’ and someone programmed the robot to mimic the choreography from the classic music video. What it could do someday is bound only by the limits of the human imagination. With such a wide variety of robotic forms already available, there are almost no end to the possibilities.

“They’re actually smart computers with motors, with cameras with sensors and so-on,” says Inbar.  ”Applications is the next evolution. Applications is trivial. It has to happen.”

There are currently five members of  the RobotsAppStore team, and the company has received $250,000 in angel funding from friends, family and colleagues. The company is currently looking to raise a new round of investment.

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Postmen bags get lighter, Google Catalogs app out on Android

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 05:45 PM PST

Google CatalogsShopping on the Android tablet got a little prettier today with the addition of Google Catalogs, an easy way to flip thought all of your catalogs digitally.

Google Catalogs was created as a tablet friendly way to view the many catalogs people receive in the mail from their favorite stores. Many may consider paper catalogs to be just another form of junk mail, as well as their email counterparts, but catalogs are also often very aesthetically pleasing and a nice way to look at the season’s retail picks. Google has partnered with Neiman Marcus, Sephora, Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, Williams-Sonoma and more to bring the products to an interactive screen.

To improve on static paper catalogs, Google Catalogs lets you flip through pages, click on products to get more details, see more photos, or place an order. It also allows retailers to insert interactive media such as videos, which users can access straight in the catalog interface. You can also search for products, not just within a specific company’s catalogs, but across all of companies loaded on the tablet.

Once you find products you want to remember, Google allows your to save them, find them in local stores, and create collages that you can share with friends.

Google wanted to release the Android tablet in time for the holidays. The new launch means Kindle Fire, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and other tablet users will have access to the digital window shopping app. Google’s digital catalog app first came out for the iPad on October 31 of this year.

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PayPal sees 514 percent increase of mobile payments on Cyber Monday

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 04:26 PM PST

PayPal AppMaybe “cha-ching” should be “ra-ring,” as PayPal had a 514 percent increase in mobile payments this Cyber Monday from last year.

Just as people adapted to purchasing online, now they are becoming more accustomed to buying through their smartphones. PayPal is seeing a six-fold increase in mobile payments, as smartphones move toward owning half of 2011′s mobile marketshare. A recent Nielsen study states 43 percent of mobile phone owners are smartphone users, 62 percent being 25 to 34 year-olds. The payments company saw an even bigger mobile increase, 516 percent, this past Black Friday.

“Based on the volume of mobile purchases made throughout the weekend, it seems that as we predicted throughout 2011, mobile shopping has hit its stride this Holiday season,” said PayPal Shopping Specialist Claudia Lombana in a blog post.

The boom in PayPal’s Black Friday mobile purchasing happened between 1 and 2pm. Today’s 514 percent only reflects mobile purchases made as of 11am Monday, and the company says it will reveal more details Tuesday morning.

According to IBM, retailers’ website traffic was 11.85 percent mobile users as of 3pm Pacific Time today. iPhones accounted for the majority of the mobile traffic, followed by Android devices and lastly the iPad.

On the other side of eBay, the e-commerce site saw an impressive response to its iPad 2 sale. The company offered white 16GB iPad 2s for $50 off the retail price, and sold out its entire stock in less than 2 hours. eBay says it had four iPad purchases a minute in the time it took to sell out the offer.

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Facebook’s New Year’s resolution: Go public

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 04:26 PM PST

With 2011 winding to a close, talk of Facebook’s long-rumored 2012 initial public offering is crescendoing to cacophonous levels. A new report purporting that Facebook is targeting an IPO date between April and June of the upcoming year is adding to the orchestra.

Facebook is looking to raise $10 billion at a $100 billion valuation through the offering, has its paperwork ready to go, and is already in talks with the Securities and Exchange Commission about timing, according to a new Wall Street Journal report.

The world’s largest social network may even file its papers to go public before the end of the year.

We’ve heard most of this before. In June, a CNBC report claimed that Facebook was targeting an early 2012 IPO with a potential $100 billion valuation.

Six months later, the timing appears to remain in limbo, even as the company continues to inch closer to April 30, 2012 — the date that Facebook would have to disclose its financials under the SEC’s 500 investor rule. Facebook has yet to select bankers to underwrite the offering and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has not made any final decisions, sources said.

When reached for comment, a Facebook representative said, “We’re not going to participate in speculation about an IPO.”

[Image via M.POLLO Menswear/Flickr]

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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Kiip and GameSalad integrate ad-based rewards directly into game development platform

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 04:00 PM PST

Kiip and GameSalad are announcing a partnership today that could ensure lots of new mobile games will have ad-based rewards baked into them from the start.

Kiip has a reward system that gives people real-world prizes for achievements in games. GameSalad’s game development platform makes it easy to create mobile games. Now all a mobile developer has to do to integrate Kiip rewards into a game is click a checkbox in GameSalad’s tools, said Brian Wong (pictured), chief executive of Kiip, in an interview.

Kiip was founded last year by 20-year-old Wong to create a network of advertisers that offer rewards if a gamer hits a certain level in a game. Once the gamer gets an achievement, a small banner appears on the screen from Kiip. If they tap on the banner, they can redeem the reward, such as a $5 coupon for merchandise or a free coffee.

The system is simple and it generates revenue for the game developers, since the advertiser is willing to pay good money to reward a gamer at the right moment of happiness, Wong said. When the company was developing the system last year, the team realized, “every single game had one thing in common: the achievement. It was everywhere and it had an emotional impact on the player.” The big idea was to find a way to automatically connect rewards with real-life value to the achievements.

The result so far has been fewer players dropping out of games before hitting major achievements and rewards, Wong said. On the network, the number of achievements per user grew in the past month from 11 to 15. In other words, Kiip help improves the engagement of users with a product.

By integrating Kiip into GameSalad, the number of Kiip-enabled games could skyrocket. Right now, about 60 games with 35 million users total have integrated Kiip. That’s a pretty good number, given that Kiip is so young. But that number could go into the hundreds now that GameSalad is automating the process for rewards integration.

“For us, this changes everything and allows us to scale up,” Wong said.

GameSalad’s goal is to turn everyone into a game developer by creating simple tools that turn game making into a drag-and-drop processor. Mobile game developers will be able to map out their games’ benchmarks, such as high scores or leveling up, and then check a box to enable branded rewards. that will make it easier to monetize games.

“We’ll be part of the mobile game development cycle from inception,” Wong said.

Steve Felter, chief executive of GameSalad, said game developers will be able to use GameSalad Creator to tap an innovative form of monetization and build loyalty among players by offering real-world rewards. The rewards for in-game achievements are an alternative to traditional banner ads, which Wong criticizes because they do not catch a gamer at exactly the right moment. Kiip, by contrast, creates an emotional connection with gamers because it gives them a reward at the exact moment when they have accomplished something difficult. If the gamer doesn’t want the particular reward, he or she can immediately send it to a friend as a gift.

Kiip’s brand advertisers include Kodak, Best Buy (pictured) Popchips, 1-800Flowers.com, Vitamin Water and dozens of others. The eCPMs (effective cost per thousand impressions) is $5 to $6, much higher than other kinds of ads, Wong said.

The new version of GameSalad Creator with the Kiip integration is in limited release with GameSalad’s premium developer. The general release is slated for early December. GameSalad has more than 200,000 developers who have created more than 20,000 games.

San Francisco-based Kiip was founded in September 2010 by Wong, Courtney Guertin, and Amadeus Demarzi. The company has raised money from Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, True Ventures, and Crosslink Capital. San Francisco-based GameSalad was founded in 2007. Kiip has 20 employees.

Filed under: games, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Google chronicles the evolution of search (video)

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 03:05 PM PST

Have you ever wondered how Google’s search got so good? An insightful new video released by Google uses employee interviews and engaging graphics to show how Google’s core search product has evolved since it began in 1997.

While it's easy to focus on evolving Google products like Gmail and Google+, Google still makes most of its revenues on search and advertising. And its core search product is still one of the most helpful ways to find content, pictures and videos around the web.

The video features short interviews from Google employees such as Vice President Marissa Mayer, Fellow Amit Singhal and Director of Product Management Johanna Wright. Each person helps explain a piece of how Google’s search evolved, including landmarks like AdWords, Google News, image search and Google Instant.

On top of adding new features, Google has stayed committed to delivering better and faster search results over the past few years. In June 2010, Google debuted a new search indexing infrastructure called Caffeine that improved the the frequency of real-time results by aggregating more pages and indexing in half the time. In early November, the company also tweaked its basic search algorithm to promote fresher content, affecting 35 percent of searches.

The image above, which is featured in the company’s blog post announcing the video, can be clicked on and expanded if you want to better see the chronology of search features that have been added to Google over the years.

And, finally, the fascinating six-minute video can be viewed below:

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Bieber fever afflicts nation: Pop star most searched person of 2011

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 02:46 PM PST

Did Bieber fever get the best of you this year? Join the club. The YouTube sensation and current cause of adolescent ague was the most searched person of 2011 on Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Bieber beat out 2010 Bing champion Kim Kardashian for the top spot. But don’t feel bad for the soon-to-be-divorced reality star; Kim still nabbed the number two position and was the most searched female of the year on Bing.

President Barack Obama, however, barely cracked the top 50 — the man at the top plummeted to the bottom and placed 49th on the list of most searched people. Last year, Obama dominated the leader board in the fifth position, but this year he fell well behind the likes of Jennifer Aniston (third), Lindsay Lohan (fourth), Jennifer Lopez (fifth) and Britney Spears (sixth), in terms of cultural relevance as defined by search queries.

Even Selena Gomez, girlfriend to the search-almighty Biebs and newfound tech investor, bested the president and secured the 11th spot on the list. What that says about our society or means for Obama’s odds at reelection are yours to unravel.

Bing aggregated billions of search queries to also uncover the most searched news stories, sports stars, musicians, consumer electronics, TV shows, movies, celebrity events and destinations of 2011.

On the consumer electronics side of things, Microsoft’s Xbox reigned supreme — which is not exactly a shocker considering that Bing is a Microsoft property and Kinect was a big hit with gamers. Amazon’s Kindle took second place, Sony’s Playstation nabbed third, the iPhone 5 — that chimeric phone that may one day come into existence — was fourth, and Apple’s iPad came in as the fifth most searched consumer electronics device of the year.

The Casey Anthony trial, somewhat surprisingly, trumped Osama Bin Laden’s death as the most searched news story of the year, and Tiger Woods was still the second most searched for sports star (Maria Sharapova ranked first) of the year. Continuing on with pop culture phenomena, the royal wedding topped Bing’s most searched celebrity events list, while Kim Karadashian’s extravagant (but ill-fated) wedding came in third for the year.

Of course, Bing only accounts for roughly 15 percent share of the U.S. market, so the search engine’s 2011 analysis only partially reflects the nation’s predilection for Justin Bieber.

The top 10 most searched consumer electronics, Bing 2011

[Justin Bieber image via Shutterstock]

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Google’s Motorola Mobility acquisition will get a decision from EU in January

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 02:10 PM PST

Regulators in the European Commission will give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility sometime in January 2012.

Google must get the approval of both U.S. and EU officials before the acquisition can be completed. Since the deal would put the search giant into a particularly close relationship with an Android manufacturer — one of many such OEMs — anti-trust concerns hang in the balance.

EU officials have set a provisional deadline of January 10 for their decision.

Already, Motorola Mobility shareholders have voted to go through with the deal. Around 99 percent of share holders sided in favor of the acquisition in a recent special meeting.

Google first announced it intended to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion back in August 2011. The deal was brokered largely to secure the Android operating system and ecosystem of manufacturers against patent lawsuits.

When the Android patent suits began, Google held fewer than 1,000 patents. Some of the companies suing Google and its partners held in the range of 20,000 to 40,000 patents. Motorola Mobility currently holds around 17,000 patents, with an additional 7,500 patents pending approval. Many of these patents deal with very early cell phone technologies, making Motorola Mobility the perfect pairing for Google’s Android — at least from a patent law perspective.

While some (VentureBeat staffers included) have doubted whether Google can be fair to other equipment manufacturers while maintaining ownership of Motorola, Google says the survival of Android depends on that kind of fairness.

As a result, the company doesn’t think that anti-trust behaviors will be part of its reality.

The U.S. Department of Justice is still evaluating the deal.

Image courtesy of laihui.

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StyleCaster grabs $1M from Zynga exec David Ko, Owen Van Natta and others

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 01:37 PM PST

StyleCasterFashion-focused media company StyleCaster has raised $1 million in a new bridge round from investors including Zynga chief mobile officer David Ko and Zynga board member and former MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta. The move will help the startup make further inroads with Silicon Alley and Silicon Valley.

StyleCaster’s main web site, Stylecaster.com, and its social channels offer news and features related to style, fashion and celebrities, and the company focuses intently on fostering conversations around those topics. Stylecaster.com and sister site Beautyhigh.com, attract more than 2 million uniques visitors per month, and the company sells ads through other blogs as well.

“It’s not all about the Anna Wintours of the world,” StyleCaster CEO and co-founder Ari Goldberg told VentureBeat. “Anyone who wants to have a voice in fashion can do so through StyleCaster.”

StyleCaster will likely become profitable this year, Goldberg said. The next step for the main site will be a strong re-design that will go live early in 2012. It will also “unveil a proprietary and exclusive take on commerce.”

The addition of Van Natta and Ko to StyleCaster’s list of investors will almost certainly draw more attention to the company. Former MySpace head Van Natta stepped down as chief business officer from Zynga earlier this month and reportedly gave up millions of pre-IPO shares in the social games company. Ko has been helping Zynga transform mobile gaming with popular games like Words With Friends, CityVille, FarmVille and Zynga Poker.

The new funding round was led by previous investor Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Other participants in the bridge round include Mike Keriakos, President of Everyday Health; Abbey Doneger, President of Doneger Group; Jamie Driver, Managing Director of Morpheus Media; Joel Perlman, President of Copal Partners; and Josh Linkner, CEO of Detroit Venture Partners.

“We're honored and humbled that we were able to get such high-quality investors involved in our business,” Goldberg said.

StyleCaster has now raised a total of $5.5 million, including the new round.

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Three ways to find great engineers outside of Silicon Valley

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 01:17 PM PST

I’ve often been asked, “Why did you found ZestCash in Los Angeles?” This is polite code for “You’re an idiot. There are no good software engineers outside of Silicon Valley. You can't build a technology company anywhere else.”

Robert Solow won a Nobel Prize in Economics for arguing that labor is the source of comparative advantage. If it is possible to address Silicon Valley's comparative advantage in engineers, then technology companies must acquire talent equivalent to that in Silicon Valley to succeed.

If you want to build a great startup outside Silicon Valley, finding great talent is all that matters. There are really only three ways to get talent: You can grow it from scratch, you can train it or you can poach it. Your ability to do any of these three — especially the third — is driven largely by your company’s culture.

Grow your own talent

Growing engineering talent from scratch means hiring people straight out of college. In our case, we've hired new grads fresh out of CalTech, Cal and Harvard, among others. You get brilliance and high energy, but you still have to build basic work skills. You’ll need to teach recent hires how to communicate with a team in a work environment, and assume they will have limited productivity for three to six months. It's a tax, but after you pay it, you get top-notch talent trained exactly how you want.

Alternatively, you can retrain software engineers from other domains. Although they don't know your language, environment, or process, as long as they're crazy smart, you can teach them all that.

We do this by creating "starter projects," which are complete projects, each lasting about four weeks, that require use of the entire stack: technology, infrastructure and process. The goal of these projects is for experienced engineers to get their hands dirty with each element that they will use on your products. After a month, the engineers know enough about your technology to join one of your core projects and, on the way, have built something useful.

Beg, borrow — steal!

Another way to get technical talent outside of Silicon Valley is to poach it from larger companies that are in Silicon Valley. Startups have a real advantage here: Big companies tend to get sclerotic. It becomes harder and harder to launch products, there are more politics and hierarchy, and each line of code makes less of a difference.

Thus, the startup advantage: We don't have enough people to have politics, and everyone has to contribute or the work doesn't get done. In my experience, great engineers want to know the work they do every day and are often willing to leave their "mother ship" for such an opportunity.

There are, however, two big issues with the poach approach. First, you will have to relocate the engineers. This probably scares some startups that think it is expensive, difficult and time-consuming. We've found it's no more expensive to relocate a great engineer than to pay a recruiter fee to find one, so the cash costs are a wash.

The second — and far more important — issue is that you have to build a culture that is appealing to engineers who might want to leave a big, established (safe) company in the Silicon Valley to come work for you in, say, Hollywood.

Build a culture where engineers matter

Part of what makes the Valley work is that most of the companies are flat, non-hierarchical and communicate openly. Everyone can talk about everything. Although the resulting chattiness is sometimes annoying, engineers want to feel they are involved in the company as a whole, not simply whatever task they are coding.

To entice great engineers to leave their sinecure to come to your risky startup, you have to double down on culture. Engineers have to feel the future of the company depends on them. If they have a bad day, something bad will happen — a feature won't launch, a sale won't happen — and, in contrast, when they do well, the company is materially better off.

Your strong, distinctive identity is your corporate culture. Building a culture that engineers want to be a part of will allow you to grow, retrain, or poach the best engineers out there.

Douglas Merrill (@DouglasMerrill) is the CEO and founder of ZestCash, a financial services technology startup committed to serving the needs of the underbanked. He is the former CIO and Vice President of Engineering at Google and author of "Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff Out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right."

[Image: NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr]

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A look at the history of Cyber Monday (infographic)

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 01:13 PM PST

Cyber Monday thumbThe current holiday season is shaping up to become the most lucrative ever for businesses, as VentureBeat has noted in many reports today.

Cyber Monday sales may reach $1.2 billion this year, up from $1 billion last season. Part of that increase might be due to shoppers either not finding what they wanted on Black Friday or wanting to avoid its crushing crowds altogether. Ultimately, it seems that the fictitious capitalist holiday is here to stay.

Of the businesses that are benefiting, none have had more of a boost than online retail giant Amazon. As VentureBeat’s Jennifer Van Grove notes, Amazon sales jumped 30 percent on Thanksgiving Day and continued to climb throughout the weekend. With that kind of growth, along with some killer deals, Amazon’s Cyber Monday might end up being the climax for the entire holiday season.

But Cyber Monday is hardly a recent phenomenon. In fact, it first kicked off six years ago as a way for online retailers to compensate for the lack of brick and mortar store locations. Check out the infographic below for a deeper look at the history of Cyber Monday (click image to enlarge).

[Infographic via YouNeverLose.com]

Cyber Monday History Inforgraphic

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Best Buy sells out of PlayBook, cancels Black Friday orders (updated)

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 12:56 PM PST

Best Buy PlaybookBest Buy sold out of Research in Motion’s PlayBook tablets this Black Friday, leading to speculation that the company was canning the tablet altogether.

Best Buy confirmed to VentureBeat that it is not canceling the PlayBook; it’s just temporarily sold out.

After purchasing PlayBooks for the sale price of $199 on Best Buy’s website, customers reported having credit cards charged, with e-mails following soon after stating Best Buy was not going to deliver the tablet. Some said inventory issues were blamed, but others were given no explanation. While this looked like another bump on RIM’s road to recovery, it could be a positive for the company. After all, having its Best Buy inventory wiped out online and in-store is a sign that people actually want to buy RIM’s tablet.

The mobile company has been losing steam for some time now, amplified by recent outages to its Blackberry service, a push back of updates to its PlayBook operating system and now the steep PlayBook holiday sale price, $300 off the regular price of $499. The company’s second quarter revenue was down ten percent year over year. PlayBook sales topped out at 200,000 shipped units, half of the 400,000 units expected. The price drop seems to have helped the tablet, however, making it more competitive with eReaders on the market, instead of the iPad and its Android competitors.

One customer detailed his experience on Best Buy’s customer forum. The person ordered a PlayBook to be picked up at a local Best Buy. The next day, he received an e-mail saying the store did not have any PlayBooks in stock, but he could call the general Best Buy number to check availability in other stores and receive free shipping on the tablet. He decided to wait for the PlayBook to come back in stock online and when it did that day, he placed a second order. The next day Best Buy sent him a second e-mail saying there was “a change to the status of your order,” and his credit card would be credited.

To figure out what was going on, he called customer service, who said it was a fraud issue and sent him to the fraud department. The fraud department didn’t know why his order had been rescinded and stated that this was not a fraud issue. The customer service representative, which he returned to, said it was a stock availability issue.

Electronista reported calling a Best Buy which confirmed canceling all shipments.

It’s wouldn’t be surprising if Best Buy did want to strip its shelves of the PlayBook, however. Others such as Sprint have already done so when it decided not to order RIM’s 4G version of the tablet in August.

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Facebook’s entire business model is under fire in the EU

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 12:26 PM PST

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”

Facebook (and just about every other free Web service) has built a business on that saying and its implications, and the European Commission is taking the social network to task for it. The EU is considering a ban on Facebook’s practice of selling demographic data to marketers and advertisers without specific permission from users.

First, let’s have a primer on how Facebook makes money: The company gets you to willingly enter all kinds of demographic and behavioral information into a massive database. Advertisers, big brands and Facebook’s sales team call it “data.” You call it your profile, your likes, your check-ins, your comments and everything else you do on the site.

Facebook then uses that data — in an aggregated, anonymized form, of course — to sell media space to brands and advertising agencies. The data lets them know exactly how, when, where and to whom to market their wares for maximum effectiveness. It also means you’re less likely to see a completely irrelevant-to-you advertisement on the social network.

Now, however, the EC is planning to ban such activity unless users themselves specifically agree to it. The EU’s data protection working group is currently investigating how Facebook tracks users, stores data and uses that information to serve targeted ads. The ban may take effect as soon as next year.

While agreements to personal data usage are present in the current Facebook Terms of Service, few of us actually read those terms before we agree and use the site.

“Facebook should ensure that any data it collects should be used in the manner that its users expect,” the UK Information Commissioner told reporters. “If personal data is being passed on to a third party or used for targeted advertising, then this should be made clear to the user when they sign up to the site and reinforced when users are invited to use an application.”

However, Facebook maintains that users prefer seeing ads that are linked to their interests and lifestyles. Also, the company reminds us that private information stays private, even when data is used to sell ads, because information is collected in aggregate and is anonymized.

Facebook is on track for $4.27 billion in revenue this year, largely due to its wildly successful ad platform. The company also has a full 16.3 percent of the overall share of U.S. online display ad revenue.

Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell.

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10 disruptive cloud companies we’re excited about

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 12:22 PM PST

cloud-companiesThere is so much happening right now in emerging cloud computing — the entire economy is being disrupted by the trend.

With publicly-traded giants like Amazon, Google, VMWare, Microsoft, Cisco and Salesforce lurching around with new and improved services that can help businesses with cost and efficiency gains, sometimes it’s easy to miss the hot players that are up-and-coming.

We’ve assembled a list of ten private cloud companies that we think are particularly intriguing — focused on massive opportunities and leading the disruption in the sector they’re targeting.

Any venture capitalist would be psyched to have invested early into this portfolio of ten. Frankly, there are hundreds of exciting companies that could have made this list — we’ve seen and like a lot of them — but as editors, we’ve forced ourselves to winnow it down to ten. Seven companies on the list improve the way things work in the enterprise. Three give consumers better services via the cloud. VentureBeat has covered all of them fairly recently.

On top of this, with our first-annual CloudBeat 2011 conference coming up quite soon, this is be a great time to show off some of the innovators. Many of them, including Box.net, Workday and Zendesk, will be represented at the conference. You can sign up here.

Here are the ten cloud companies:


Box.netLed by young, charismatic CEO Aaron Levie, Box.net is a leading provider of cloud storage services for the enterprise. To date, the company has more than 7 million users and 77 percent of the Fortune 500 have deployed its service in some form.

Box recently raised a recent $81 million extension round of funding, and also has launched the Box Innovation Network, a network for third-party developers who work on enterprise apps. The Innovation Network includes strategic partners including Heroku, Rackspace, Cloud Foundry (a division of VMWare), Appcelerator, SnapLogic, and Twilio. We eat our own dog food too. VentureBeat uses Box and couldn’t be happier. We can save our docs — any kind of docs — in a single place, and share everything easily.


Cloud storage startup Dropbox is on quite a roll. It now has over 45 million users in 175 countries that save upwards of a billion files every three days and the company just closed a $250 million round of funding in mid-October. A report earlier in the year suggested the company was valued a staggering $5 billion.

While the company had a widely reported security snafu back in June, Dropbox’s basic philosophy of helping consumers (and businesses) with file management and syncing folders across computers and mobile devices is catching on. The service said recently that it is on track to triple its user base by the end of this year. It’s often considered comparable to Box.net, and we also use Dropbox for some of our files. Its user interface is incredibly simple. But we went with Box company-wide because of its focus on the enterprise and security features. Dropbox, amusingly, declares it is not a cloud company, and is going after the consumer and small business (not enterprise). But we’re calling it a cloud company anyway.


Evernote, logoMulti-platform note-taking service Evernote helps its customers with keeping notes organized and synced across various operating systems. Super easy, and pretty fun to see it in action. It has a community of over 5,000 third-party application developers and offers apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows, Mac, and more.

Back in June, Evernote reached 10 million registered users, with more than 400,000 of those customers paying $5 a month for a premium plan that enables bigger uploads and better collaborative tools. The company has raised $95.5 million in total funding to date, with a $50 million round in July.


Marketo is a marketing automation firm that offers software and services focused on improving and managing sales lead generation. While that might sound a little dull, it’s a surprisingly fast growing and important type of service that can help enterprise sales teams succeed. The company also recently launched Spark by Marketo, a lead-generation engine for small businesses rather than its typical enterprise and mid-size clients. The company has raised $107 million to date, with its most recent round this month worth $50 million.

In the marketing automation category, we also want to give a shout out to Eloqua, the SaaS company that filed for an estimated $100 million IPO in August. The company helps its clients with clients with analytics to help predict revenue performance and its IPO, which could happen in the next few months, could help validate just how important and big marketing automation is right now.


OnLive is easily the most consumer-focused cloud company on this list and that’s OK because it’s pretty freaking cool. The company uses to cloud to provide games in an on-demand fashion over the web, allowing users to play A-class titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution straight from the web with no locally stored content.

Its service has been available in the U.S. about a year and in mid-September OnLive launched in the U.K. with more than 150 games. The service is available on web-connected TVs, PCs, Macs and tablets. OnLive has raised $56.5 million, with $40 million coming from HTC.


PanzuraPanzura equips enterprises with cloud storage hardware that’s faster, more advanced and more secure than typical “tier 1″ storage solutions. The company’s aim is to simplify the way file-based storage is deployed, managed, and protected using its multi-site file system and PanzuraOS. Additionally, it emphasizes its ability to encrypt data so it can be sent over networks safely. It scored a $12 million round last December, with funding led by Khosla Ventures.


rightscale_logoRightScale takes a software-as-a-service approach to cloud file management with a browser-based interface to help businesses manage their cloud networks without having to physically interact with servers. Its service is built on top of Amazon’s cloud and incorporates third-party apps like Alfresco. Its customers include Zynga, A&E, Patheos, Loggly, Coupa and Break.com. The company has raised about of $43 million total so far, with a $25 million round in September 2010.


Tidemark came out of stealth mode in October with its take on cloud-based enterprise performance management apps. Its apps help decipher critical enterprise data and extract information that can help managers, strategists, operations planners and forecasters with judging business performance and overall health. CEO Christian Gheorghe told us previously that business intelligence hasn’t kept up with the advances of the cloud, but Tidemark helps solve that problem. The company has raised a total of $11 million in two rounds, with backing from the likes of Greylock Partners and Andreessen Horowitz.


Workday provides more than 230 companies with cloud services for human resources, payroll and financial management. Although it could be considered a “cloud 1.0″ style SaaS, Workday’s depth of customers and resources are impressive — those 230 companies account for more than 2 million users. It helps accommodate users through most web browsers and in mobile with native applications for iPad and iPhone. The company has raised an eye-popping $250 million total, with its most recent $85 million funding round happening in October. The company is reportedly valued at $2 billion and will most likely go public in the next year.


Zendesk provides on-demand help desk services that greatly assist with managing customer support, including tools like email-ticket integration, online forums and widgets. In August, the service opened a new office in Denmark and gave several startup incubators its customer support software to build word of mouth and goodwill.

In September, the company launched the Twilio-powered Zendesk Voice, which lets customers set up cloud-based call centers for much less money than old-school call centers. The company has raised $25.5 million in three rounds of funding, with a $19 million round in December 2010.

Cloud photo via Kevin Dooley/Flickr

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

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Timeline: A chronology of the life of Zynga

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 12:06 PM PST

Zynga is expected to go public any day now. The social game maker could raise more than $1 billion at a valuation of as much as $20 billion as it seeks to spread its social games to all platforms where gamers congregate.

Founded by Mark Pincus (pictured right) in 2007, Zynga has has packed an interesting and colorful history into its four and a half years. Here’s our chronology of the life of Zynga.

Nov. 21, 2011 — Zynga’s CastleVille hits 5 million daily active users; Zynga has 206.8 million monthly active users and more than 2,500 employees.

Nov. 17, 2011 — Owen Van Natta steps down as Zynga’s chief business officer, but stays on board at the company. Zynga discloses it acquired 15 companies in 2011.

Nov. 14, 2011 — Zynga launches CastleVille; Best Buy launches FarmVille plush toys.

Nov. 10, 2011 — Wall Street Journal reports Zynga leans on some workers to surrender pre-IPO shares.

Nov. 7, 2011 — Bloomberg reports Zynga eyes post-Thanksgiving IPO.

Nov. 4, 2011 — Zynga reports profit growth slowing; Net income is $12.5 million in third quarter ended Sept. 30, down 54 percent from a year ago. Revenue was $307 million, up 80 percent.

Nov. 3, 2011 — Zynga describes its upcoming CastleVille game.

Oct. 14, 2011 — An accounting change, which allows Zynga to show better profits, alarms some analysts.

Oct. 13, 2011 — Zynga says it will trade on Nasdaq as ZNGA once it goes public.

Oct. 12, 2011 — Raptr reveals The Sims Social has stolen millions of players from Zynga.

Oct. 11, 2011 — Zynga says it will launch 10 new games in services at a press conference at its new San Francisco headquarters. The company announces Hidden Chronicles, CastleVille, Mafia Wars Shakedown, Project Z, and Mafia Wars 2 on Google+. Zynga also unveils Zynga Direct, a new way of distributing games.

Sept. 30 2011 — Year-to-date revenue hits $828.8 million and year-to-date net income is $30.7 million.

Sept. 29, 2011 — Zynga announces Enrique Iglesias promotion in CityVille.

Sept. 26, 2011 — Zynga launches CityVille, its most popular game, on Google+.

Sept. 20, 2011 — Zynga launches Hanging With Friends on Android. Zynga announces Mafia Wars 2.

Sept. 16, 2011 — Zynga announces it will add Indiana Jones to Adventure World.

Sept. 8, 2011Adventure World launches.

Aug. 26, 2011 — Zynga gives 70 times more voting power to CEO Mark Pincus.

Aug. 24, 2011 — Zynga adds game card distributors in Europe and Turkey.

Aug. 21, 2011 — Zynga hires EA’s Jeff Karp as sales and marketing chief.

Aug. 16, 2011 — Zynga buys Astro Ape game studio.

Aug. 12, 2011 — Zynga launches Pioneer Trail add-on for FrontierVille.

Aug. 11, 2011 — At Google’s social network games debut,  Zynga launches poker game on Google+.

Aug. 1, 2011 — Zynga launches Words With Friends on Facebook.

July 25, 2011 — Zynga to take version of CityVille to Tencent’s network in China.

July 12, 2011Filing reveals minority investors Google, Peter Thiel, Softbank, and others. EA buys PopCap games for $750 million. PopCap reportedly turned down a higher offer of $950 million from Zynga.

July 8, 2011Zynga buys Five Mobile in Toronto, its 15th acquisition in 13 months.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, social

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