30 November, 2011



Live at Spotify’s “new direction” press conference

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 09:05 AM PST

What’s in Spotify’s future? We’re following along with the company’s press conference in New York City today, where the company said last week that it would announce a “new direction” for its music streaming service.

A few reports have taken a stab at what Spotify could be up to. Some evidence seems to point to Spotify opening up its API to allow app developers to have better access to its library of music. The Wall Street Journal also believes that Spotify will announce an app platform, similar to Facebook’s apps, that will allow third-party developers to develop apps for use inside of Spotify’s desktop software.

Spotify CEO and founder Daniel Ek hit the stage to kick off the event, which is the first of its kind for the company. He began by giving a (very) brief history of digital music, and talked about how Napster was a major influence on him.

“You need a better product than piracy to get people to start paying again,” Ek said.

Developing, refresh for updates.

Filed under: media

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Despite heavy Witcher 2 piracy, CD Projekt still rejects DRM

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 09:04 AM PST

Witcher 2

PC fantasy RPG The Witcher 2 has been a massive success for the developers at Poland’s CD Projekt, with over one million sales since the game’s May launch. But that sales success is dwarfed by what the company’s CEO and co-founder Marcin Iwinski estimates is over 4.5 million pirated copies of the DRM-free game downloaded via BitTorrent.

Iwinski  generated the estimate by looking at online BitTorrent trackers, which registered an average of 20 to 30,000 people illegally downloading the game at any one time in the weeks following its launch. Assuming an average six-hour BitTorrent download for the 14GB game, that represents close to 5 million unpaid copies downloaded over an 8 week period, he told PC Gamer.

Despite all these illegal copies floating around, Iwinski says he’s not been tempted to add some form of digital rights management to CD Projekt’s games — mainly because he doesn’t think it would be effective.

“In my almost 20 years in the industry, I have not seen DRM that really worked (i.e. did not complicate the life of the legal gamer and at the same time protect the game),” he told PC Gamer. DRM solutions, in Iwiniski’s view, always end up either too light, and therefore easy to crack, or too heavy, and therefore disruptive to the paying players that you’re trying to encourage.

“DRM itself is a pain for your legal gamers – this group of honest people, who decided that your game was worth the 50 USD or Euro and went and bought it,” Iwinski said. “Why would you want to make their lives more difficult?”

Indeed, publishers from Sony to EA have faced player outrage in the past for overly restrictive DRM schemes that installed hard-to-remove “rootkits” on players’ systems, which hampers system performance and reporting on potentially private usage data.

More recently, Ubisoft faced criticism for re-introducing a DRM system that required a persistent internet connection for some of its popular PC games. The publisher scaled back the effort after an outcry from players, and eventually released a patch to remove such DRM from god game From Dust.

Yet, Ubisoft had previously touted such DRM schemes as a success, telling PC Gamer in June that it saw "a clear reduction in piracy of our titles which required a persistent online connection.”

For his part, Iwinski encourages gamers to “vote with their wallets” by refusing to support games with restrictive DRM. Only then will “the excel guys” (the guys who monitor a game’s bottom line via spreadsheets) realize that trying to lock a game down is not the best way to encourage people to buy it, he said.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Video chat service Rounds continues to focus on entertainment with the addition of nine new games

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 09:00 AM PST

Rounds, described as the world's only "communitainment" platform, combining video chat and social apps into a single experience, today announced that nine new games will be added to its service by 2012.

Tel Aviv, Israel-based Rounds sees its entertainment apps as a way to stand out from its competitors in the busy live chat sector, and is using significant investment to expand further in this area. It’s another example of entertainment companies turning to games to improve fan engagement.

Founded in 2008 by chief executive Danny Fishel and chief operating officer Ilan Leibovich, Rounds offers a web based chat service, that gives users a unique range of entertainment apps to participate in while they are chatting. Currently featuring a number of real time games, such as Tetris, Truth or Dare and Chess, along with video effects and animations, Rounds is now enhancing its gaming portfolio to help hook users with an experience it likens to hanging out in the real world.

Rounds is a free service that operates through a variety of channels, with its Facebook application, which launched in August 2010, now boasting over 3 million unique users. More than 600,000 daily video chat sessions are typically taking place, with users typically spending an average of 40 minutes per session. The company has noticed a significant increase in user interaction and engagement as it has added more games to the service, which has prompted it to continue expansion in this area.

The nine new games being added to the Rounds service, which will include Whack-a-Friend, Charades, Super Drift 3D and Mad Pet, have been developed with the help of a recent $3 million investment to expand the platform. This has taken total investment in the company to $5.5 million. Unlike Google Hangouts  and TinyChat, the chat on Rounds is restricted to one on one, but the company hopes that its expanding app entertainment features are what will help it stand out from the competition.

Fishel said, “The need for a place to hangout online, one that mimics our encounters in the real-world is something that has become more and more apparent. Rounds is the perfect mix between communication and entertainment."

Rounds is also open to third party developers, with its easy to use applications programming interface (API) allowing outside content to be integrated into the platform. This is something that Rounds hopes will allow it to target different markets and niches, simply by creating different games and activities, and having the Rounds chat platform embedded in different websites.

It will be interesting to watch the development of Rounds as a potentially major player in the currently buzzing 'alive web' scene. Its focus on entertainment certainly seems to give it the upper hand in terms of user engagement, which may prove to be a key factor for success in this fast moving and highly competitive area. Meanwhile, you can take a look at this neat infographic, which outlines some of the main differences between the key players in the chat arena:

Filed under: games, social

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Tobii keeps an eye on distracted drivers

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 08:47 AM PST

The most dangerous part of any motor vehicle is the driver. Swedish eye-tracking pioneers Tobii just announced a platform to detect drowsiness and distraction in drivers.

There are 41,000 road traffic fatalities a year in the U.S. according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration while Eurostat recorded 35,000 fatal accidents in Europe. It is estimated that about 25 percent of all fatal accidents are caused by driver fatigue and, if you add in distracted drivers, that figure is probably even higher.

“The eyes tell it all,”  says Tobii’s OEM manager Jan-Erik Lundkvist. ”You can see this by observing a sleepy person. It is not difficult to see when he  is falling asleep. You can also very accurately see what a person is paying attention to. Our platform is just a technological means to do the same thing.”

The Tobii platform consists of two camera sensors, placed at different angles, and operating at near-infrared frequencies to eliminate interference from external light. The system can distinguish whether the driver's eyes are open or closed or if the driver has turned his head. The sensors can track even when the driver is wearing glasses or sunglasses.

Distraction is detected by registering the direction of the driver’s attention using head pose algorithms and eye tracking. Eye openness and blink characteristics such as blink speed and blink duration, and the ratio between them, indicate whether the driver is sleepy.  Tobii claims that its current system can detect distraction in 95 percent of cases and that the company expects to achieve 99 percent accuracy by the time the system is on the market. Rival driver assistance technologies use steering wheel input,  lane departure sensors or brake assist control based on an individual's driving pattern to draw conclusions about distraction and sleepiness.

Tobii’s platform covers detection only. It does not inform the driver about his level of sleepiness or distraction. This needs to be determined by the car manufacturer, which could integrate it into an existing safety system or provide a sound or a visual alert on the dashboard of the vehicle. We previously reported on another Swedish startup, whose Anti Sleep Pilot iPhone and iPad application calculates the driver’s fatigue level in real-time, maintains alertness via reaction tests and alerts the driver when it is time to take a rest break.

“We are confident that these types of systems will be integrated in high volume vehicles within 5 years from now,” said Lundkvist. “Many Tier 1 suppliers to the automotive industry, and car brands themselves, have shown significant interest in Tobii's technology. The technology will not affect the price of the vehicle significantly. However, the price and package is a question for the manufacturers.”

Currently, eye tracking is mainly used in research, including market research, usability and scientific research where eye trackers collect and analyze gaze data, and assisted communication where eye tracking is used to control and interact with a computer. “In the next year or two this will change greatly,” insists Lundkvist. ”Eye tracking will add gaze interaction to mainstream computers to give the user an interface that can be directly eye-controlled, but that is also adaptive to your gaze, preferences and attention.”  Earlier this year, Tobii introduced a prototype of the world's first eye controlled laptop in partnership with Lenovo.

Tobii is located in Stockholm, Sweden, has 330 employees and was founded in 2001. The company has raised $30 million in funding from Investor Growth Capital, NorthZone Ventures and others.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Battlefield 3 sales top 8 million copies

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 08:42 AM PST

Battlefield 3

Electronic Arts‘ military-themed first-person shooter Battlefield 3 has now sold over 8 million copies since its October 25 U.S. launch.

EA CFO Eric Brown mentioned the sales figures during a presentation at the Baird Technology Conference, according to a report from Game Informer. That’s a decent continuing sales pace after the game surged to sales of 5 million copies in its first week on the shelves –  a mark EA said made it the fastest-selling game in the company’s long publishing history.

But EA still faces an uphill battle in its stated goal to “take down” sales leader Modern Warfare 3, which sold its first 6.5 million copies just 24 hours after going on sale, according to publisher Activision. Also worth noting, online gameplay tracker Raptr showed Modern Warfare getting 40 percent more launch day play than Battlefield.

Of course, Battlefield 3‘s launch day numbers were hampered by some serious server problems, which have since been fixed for the most part. Those initial problems don’t seem to have seriously slowed down the game’s sales potential.

Last month, Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter predicted Battlefield 3 would sell 8 million copies in the entirety of 2011. The current sales figure puts the game an entire holiday month ahead of those expectations. The analyst also predicted that Modern Warfare 3 would end up selling two times as much as Battlefield 3 this holiday season, and that sales of the two games alone would make up a startling 15 percent of new retail game sales for the entire year.

The DICE -developed Battlefield series has sold over 50 million units since its 2002 debut, Battlefield 1942.

Filed under: games

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SalesForce shows off its updated social media monitoring platform Radian6

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 08:19 AM PST

salesforce, Marc BenioffEnterprise cloud computing service SalesForce is showing off the potential of its newly revamped Radian6, the web-based social media monitoring platform, at the company’s CloudForce event in New York today.

SalesForce purchased Radian6 earlier this year for $326. Until now, the company has resisted integrating it into its own suite of cloud-based enterprise products. Radian6 is used by a number of well-known brands, such as Dell, Southwest Airlines and Kodak.

The point of Radian6 is to create meaningful interaction between customers through social media. This is somewhat of a problem for large companies with millions of fans, even with a handful of people dedicated to monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Its integration with SalesForce’s other products will allow for a greater understanding of how the business is doing, which translates to better business decisions.

The updated Radian6 basically collects and organizes all the social activity (from sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others) that mentions your brand or company. It’s “a 360 degree look at how your customers are reacting,” said SalesForce’s Dan Darcy at the event.

The service also lets you set rules for specific types of activity. For example, when customers praise the company on Twitter, you can automate a response that send them an exclusive digital coupon. Radian6 also gives its clients a way to sort through all of the data and provide analytics to measure the impact of a company or brand through social networks.

Filed under: cloud, social, VentureBeat

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Interview with Nexon America’s Min Kim, head of new Live Games division

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

Nexon America Inc.'s head of Live Games Min KimGame developer and publisher Nexon America has named longtime marketing executive Min Kim as its head of Live Games. Kim has also been elected to the Merchant Risk Council advisory board, a merchant driven organization dedicated to preventing online fraud and promoting secure e-Commerce.

As head of Live Games, Kim will focus on monitoring and managing production, marketing, and communication efforts, working with both Nexon America and developers in Korea. Kim was one of the earliest advocates of free-to-play games, which Nexon pioneered a decade ago and helped turn into a multibillion-dollar business worldwide.

Nexon America has been a member of the MRC for years and, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat, Kim says he is honored to take a more active role on the advisory board. He says the publisher is committed to the safety of its players and there is considerable focus and effort on both account and game security. Earlier this week, the Korean Herald reported that a hacking attempt on Nexon’s free-to-play massively multiplayer role-playing game MapleStory may have compromised the private data of more than 13,000 players. However, Kim says Nexon is doing very well on the security front.

“Currently, we only require a valid email address and birth date to play our games,” he said. ” Storing payment information like credit card numbers could lower payment friction, but Nexon America decided early on to opt out of this for security reasons. Our business model allows us to do well with the top up model, and we have seen great success with various payment methods including credit cards. However, we are extremely proud of our prepaid card which still falls under my new responsibility in Live Games.”

Nexon recently decided to phase out its prepaid game card for a new one called Karma Koin. Available in $10, $25 and $50 amounts, these new prepaid cards will donate one percent of purchases made to charity. Kim says it’s all about empowering customers with the ability to do good. “The difference is about making a difference,” he said. “When we add all the one percents together, we can collectively do a lot of good.”

The first charity to benefit from Karma Koin purchases will be Charity: Water, an organization that seeks to provide clean drinking water and sustainable water solutions to developing areas. Kim says Nexon chose the non-profit because it does an amazing job of education and empowerment. “Further, Charity: Water donates 100 percent of public donations directly to water,” he said. “We believe they are doing a lot of good, and we are proud to back this very important cause.”

Filed under: games

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FCC report blasts T-Mobile merger, AT&T cries about it

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 07:52 AM PST

att, tmobile mergerThe Federal Communications Commission last night released a damning 157-page report (PDF) against AT&T’s proposed $39 billion T-Mobile takeover, which concludes that the merger would ultimately hurt US consumers and the wireless market.

AT&T, not surprisingly, is none too pleased. The company objected to the release of the report, calling it merely a “draft” that doesn’t have any legal standing, reports Politico. AT&T also took issue with the fact that it didn’t get to see the report before the FCC released it to the public.

Last week, AT&T and T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom withdrew their FCC application for the merger, a move which was thought to allow the companies to focus on getting the deal approved by the US Department of Justice. It’s possible that the companies also heard murmurs of this massive FCC report, and hoped that by dismissing their application the FCC wouldn’t release it to the public.

In August, the US Department of Justice sued to block the merger, a move which was supported by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. It was at that point that AT&T likely realized its hopes were dashed for a smooth acquisition.

The FCC report takes issue with pretty much all of the benefits AT&T has said about the merger. For example, the report found that the merger would cause significant job losses, even though AT&T said that it would create more jobs. AT&T also claimed that it wouldn’t be able to build out its 4G LTE network without the acquisition, but the FCC found that the company would have had no issue achieving nationwide LTE coverage on its own.

And while AT&T has been saying for some time that the merger would lead to an increase in wireless innovation, the FCC reports that it would lead to anti-competitive effects in 99 of the biggest 100 markets in the country. The agency also didn’t buy AT&T’s claims that the merger would lower wireless prices and improve reception.

So where does this leave AT&T and Deutsche Telekom? The companies have said that they will continue to pursue the merger, but it’s clearly going to be a tougher nut to crack now. AT&T is reportedly considering a deal with Leap Wireless to offload some of T-Mobile’s customers and spectrum, which could make the merger less anti-competitive in the eyes of the government.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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The cloud is real, but IT executives are still hesitating (exclusive survey)

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 07:31 AM PST


Companies love to use the term “cloud” when hyping their internet-based services. But what do technology executives really think about the cloud?

With our exclusive conference on cloud computing, CloudBeat 2011, starting today, we decided to ask.

VentureBeat commissioned an exclusive survey of technology executives at companies of at least 250 employees. The results show that yes, the cloud is real: It’s already playing a significant role in IT executives’ decisions about what technologies to deploy, and many large companies are already embracing cloud services to a significant degree.

The main reasons for embracing the cloud are cost reduction, cost control and agility of deployment. Those just happen to be the same reasons that cloud merchants tout as advantages of their applications, so clearly there is some reality behind the marketing.

However, companies are holding back on throwing their most critical business applications to the cloud. Concerns over security, regulatory compliance and the difficulty of integrating complex apps into a new, internet-based infrastructure are the big concerns. There’s also some reluctance to commit business applications to a cloud provider that might suffer from occasional outages, or could be affected if legal actions target another one of the provider’s clients.

What cloud providers need to do to win over the next wave of applications seems clear: Ensure the security and reliability of their services, facilitate integration and migration of existing apps, and provide assurances that customers will be able to move their apps and data elsewhere if need be.

Read on for more details about our survey.

We created a simple questionnaire with free-form answers to three key questions: Why are you using (or considering) cloud, in what cases aren’t you considering using it, and what needs to change in the next year to speed adoption of cloud services.

We used Maven, a network of qualified domain experts that are available for “micro-consulting” (basically answering questions like these) in exchange for fees. Maven directed our questionnaire to a set of IT executives working at companies of 250 employees or more.

Of the 25 respondents, 64% were chief information officers, vice presidents or a similar executive title, while the remainder were senior managers or IT directors. 40 percent were at companies of 250-1,000 employees, and 28 percent were at companies with more than 10,000 employees. All have had decision-making responsibilities for choosing cloud-based technologies within the past 6 months.

Here are the specific questions we asked, along with a sampling of answers to each.

Why cloud?

Please describe in 3-4 sentences your organization's primary motivation for evaluating and/or using the cloud.

Many respondents cited cost as the primary factor, with rapid implementation or simplification showing up in many other responses. Variability of cost, flexibility of deployment and “agility” were other reasons for considering cloud services.

Some pointed to specific accounting reasons: The desire to avoid capital expenditures (CapEx) and move costs to operating expenses (OpEx) or, perhaps, bury them in employee expense reports — a trick I’ve used at previous jobs to get needed services that IT wouldn’t approve.

“Cost reduction and simplification of support and maintenance.”

“Managing IT services infrastructure and owning it is not core to our business – in addition we cannot ever hope to stay up to date with technology without funding which would have to be taken from elsewhere in our business.”

“Major shift from CapEx to expense budget.”

“A tablet approach allows the use of a pdf annotation application and eliminates paper for this and board report documents as examples. Cloud storage, such as DropBox or Box can be used to upload the weekly files to the tablet. … [Bring Your Own Device] is another driver — the cloud delivery methods can eliminate the need to manage a user's device directly and instead deliver PIM, email and other data to a secure canister on the device.”

Why not cloud?

Please name a process, workflow, application, or data set that your organisation has deliberately decided NOT to move to the cloud. Please explain why you made this decision.

Keeping control of mission-critical business processes, ensuring security and maintaining lower costs on certain services were the main reasons cited for not using the cloud. For example, one respondent noted that large files were simply cheaper to store on local file servers at this point. Similarly, one company kept its own Exchange servers, noting that with a really large installation (over 1,500 seats) it was cheaper to maintain in-house.

Applications that have been carefully woven into a company’s business processes, integrated with a host of other software, is also difficult to move to the cloud.

In some cases, security concerns are particularly pressing, such as with medical records governed by HIPAA.

“We would like to cut costs and simplify the support and maintenance efforts involved in storing [large] files. But, to date, it is much more economical to maintain that storage in-house.”

“Core policy administration systems: these are largely back office systems, they are large-scale legacy systems with a great deal of intellectual capital as well as containing our customers' and agents' personally identifiable information (PII), so any kind of security breach, or outage, would pose a significant business risk.”

“Clinical applications. Not quite sure of the HIPAA complications of storing Patient Data in a public cloud.”

“The bank's core applications are considered too sensitive to move to a cloud model. Cloud vendor security cannot be reliably assessed or guaranteed, a big concern for heavily regulated industries. Application availability cannot be reasonably assured as well and there are several cases that can be pointed to in this area. A vendor's environment being seized by the FBI has also affected some companies using these services. Having an internal cloud delivery model that leverages two internal datacenters is what we have implemented to address this concern.”

What’s next?

Please describe at least three key pain points (e.g. governance, spend management, multiple languages/frameworks, open standards, interop, etc.) that you believe will be solved in the next year to make cloud adoption easier. Why do you choose these items?

Management of the environment in the cloud was a concern of several respondents. How do you maintain your software, enforce service-level agreements, and make sure you’re not completely locked in to any one vendor?

The answers here also hearkened back to the concerns over regulatory compliance with, say, banking regulations or HIPAA. Trusting data to a cloud provider is a whole different ballgame when that trust puts you at the risk of very severe regulatory penalties.

“Comfort with the term cloud and education to understand that it's not an either/or decision, the cloud can be private, hybrid or public depending on needs.”

“Support for multiple Hypervisors, especially HyperV, because customers are demanding it and most cloud providers are mature enough with their first VMWare support…but recognize they need to support others in the event of hybrid cloud setups.”

“Bandwidth, spend management, and open standards are current pain points that I expect to be resolved in the next year.”

“Data residency: complexity/variability of global compliance rules makes it hard to adopt cloud for certain types of data.”

“Mobile access: HTML5 based access via mobile devices makes usage more ubiquitous.”

“Ability to manage the dynamic environment that results from cloud adoption, the ability to manage SLA's, performance, availability and reliability across multi-vendor cloud solutions, ability to maintain portability so one can still have strength negotiating contract renewals.”

For the entire survey results, check out the embedded PDF below.


Filed under: cloud

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U.S. immigration chief getting serious about startups & immigrant entrepreneurs (exclusive)

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 07:00 AM PST

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Alejandro Mayorkas is getting serious and moving fast when it comes to reforms for immigrant entrepreneurs.

A group of VCs, academics and thought leaders recently petitioned Mayorkas about the roadblocks to foreigners doing startups in the United States.

To their great surprise, Mayorkas responded immediately and quite positively, asking for more advice and promising swift action to welcome more foreign entrepreneurs.

Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur, academic and columnist, was on the list of signatories petitioning the director and said he was surprised at Mayorkas’ response.

In an email exchange with VentureBeat, he said, “I expected this would be a battle I would have to fight through the media and through policy makers. I believe that Alejandro is serious in his intent and genuinely wants to fix the problem. The question is whether the bureaucracy will let him.

“If he does follow through, it will make a real difference. Great job-creating entrepreneurs… won't be deported, they will be welcomed.”

Problems and recommended solutions

This issue has been raging since at least the Startup Visa Act was first introduced in Congress in 2010. While Feld, Wilson, Paul Graham and scores of others have supported the Act, it has yet to undergo judiciary committee review.

In a previous post on American brain drain, Wadhwa wrote, “During the last twenty years, we admitted record numbers of international students and highly educated foreign workers on temporary visas. But we never expanded the number of permanent resident visas that allow them to stay permanently.”

For this reason and others, Wadhwa continued, “72 percent of Indian and 81 percent of Chinese returnees said that the opportunities to start their own businesses were better or much better in their home countries.” As a result, America was losing new jobs and new businesses.

Last month, USCIS announced an Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative, spearheaded by Mayorkas. The goal of the initiative was “to ensure that our policies and processes fully realize the immigration law's potential to create and protect American jobs," as Mayorkas said at the time.

As part of the EIR initiative, USCIS asked industry experts to recommend policy changes that would have a positive impact on American entrepreneurship. In response, a group of leaders ranging from investors such as Fred Wilson and Brad Feld to academics such as Benn Konsynski and AnnaLee Saxenian to the United States Chamber of Commerce wrote Mayorkas an open letter.

In this letter, the group recommended improved training materials and certain “changes to the Adjudicator's Field Manual (AFM) to guide adjudicators in assessing petitions by prospective entrepreneurs under the Startup Initiative.” In simple terms, the group found that the process of setting up a legal business and establishing residency in the U.S. was needlessly complicated for foreign entrepreneurs of small startups, leading to the impression that the U.S. did not truly welcome talent from outside its own borders.

First, the group recommended a basic training video for government officials who decide on whether or not a foreign entrepreneur passes muster. These adjudicators, the group said, needed simple education on what a startup is, its phases of development and how it grows into a full-fledged business.

Second, the group stated that the manual for adjudicators needed some changes along the same lines, “to promote and encourage foreign entrepreneurs to start businesses in the United States, as well as facilitate the process of adjudicating those petitions.”

Utimately, “We believe these changes will help level the playing field for entrepreneurs interested in starting businesses in the
United States,” the group concluded.

In response, Mayorkas has written, “Your ideas are excellent, and I would like to follow up on them immediately.”

Mayorkas said the training video specifically was a good idea and that he wanted “a suggested training video outline identifying the major points you believe need to be communicated to adjudicators handling entrepreneurs' petitions.”

As for the manual for adjudicators, Mayorkas wrote, “I will schedule and host a public engagement focused on the discrete sections of the Adjudicators' Field Manual that are most relevant to entrepreneurs' petitions, with the goal of revising those sections as needed. If you have suggested revisions already in mind, I would appreciate receiving them.”

The director finished, “I want to move as quickly as possible. We are focused on ensuring that the laws' full potential to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent is realized.”

Image courtesy of prashant_zi.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Former Marvel CEO invests in kid’s superhero MMO Herotopia

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 06:00 AM PST

Herotainment, developer of popular children’s massively multiplayer browser game Herotopia, has announced a new round of investment from Cuneo & Co., headed by former Marvel chief executive Peter Cuneo.

The amount of investment from Cuneo & Co. was not disclosed. The funds will be used for further development on Herotopia, an online game that lets kids create their own superhero avatar and explore fantasy worlds with other players across the globe. The game was launched this past May. A significant expansion is currently in the works for the game, as well as an iPhone, iPad, and Android spin-off title called Tango Chase. The mobile game is slated for a release early next year.

Peter Cuneo — who served as CEO of Marvel for a decade, from 1999 to 2009 — will join the Herotainment board as part of the deal. He currently serves as managing principal at Cuneo & Co. Co-principal Gavin Cuneo will also join the board.

“Herotainment's flagship product, Herotopia, has a strong brand, great characters, and a story that is being embraced by children worldwide, and applauded by children's media experts,” Peter Cuneo said in a statement. “We are excited to support the continued rise of this new, uniquely focused children's brand, both online and offline, through other media and consumer products.”

According to the company’s website, Herotainment has plans to expand the popular online game across multiple entertainment mediums in addition to the announced mobile game, including books, an animated television show, licensed products, and more. Previously, Herotainment signed a publishing deal with Transformers Universe and Runescape developer Jagex Games Studio, as well as a partnership with the children’s division of Penguin Books.

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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Salesforce’s AppExchange now points smartphones to cool cloud apps

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 05:00 AM PST

AppExchange, SalesForce’s cloud app marketplace, has just received a facelift to spotlight mobile apps for iOS and Android devices.

For Salesforce, a cloud business software giant, the revamped AppExchange will be a useful avenue for suggesting cloud mobile apps to its users — something it previously didn’t have before.

The AppExchange has been around for five years and has generated over 1 million installs, Salesforce’s Mike Rosenbaum, VP of the app marketplace, told VentureBeat in an interview today. Currently, there are over 1,300 apps featured on AppExchange.

With the new design, you can visit the AppExchange on your iPhone, iPad, or  Android phone or tablet and be presented with a selection of apps compatible with your device. When you click through to install an app, you’ll be redirected to either the iTunes Store or Android Market. There’s also an HTML5 app featured that simply pushes you to a website (expect more of these in the future).

One glaring omission from the redesign: support for BlackBerry devices. Rosenbaum says that Salesforce is considering BlackBerry support, but a dearth of useful cloud apps kept it from supporting the platform early on.

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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EA shows mobile and social games for winter fun, from Battlefield 3 Aftershock to a new Tetris

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 10:20 PM PST

Electronics Arts showed off its new mobile and social games for the holiday season and beyond today at an event in San Francisco. Among the big titles were Battlefield 3 Aftershock for Apple devices, a free version of The Sims for Apple, and a refresh of the classic Tetris game for both Apple and Android.

Battlefield 3 Aftershock (pictured above) is an iPhone and iPad game that was still in an early alpha state. The game is a mobile version of EA’s Battlefield 3 console and PC game with its own unique mobile-focused game play. The title follows up on EA’s mobile version of Battlefield Bad Company 2 and it features very good graphics for an iPhone or iPad game. In the game, you’ll be able to play various combat scenes as part of a campaign game. Each battle is set up in an intricately detail arena, like a town square. You can maneuver your character pretty much anywhere in that arena, so you aren’t stuck on “rails,” or moving only in a certain predetermined direction. You job is to clear the arena of wave upon wave of enemies charging at you.

You can change your aim by touch the right side of the screen and moving your target reticle over enemies. Then you can tap an icon on the right side to fire. You can also tap an icon in the lower right side to change weapons. On the left side, you can put your index finger on the screen and see a movement circle on the screen to move your character in different directions or change the facing. So when you’re engaged in combat, both of your hands are moving over the screen. That means you either have to have a stand or lay your tablet on a tablet to get the best results. I tried it out and it wasn’t so easy to maneuver and shoot as fast as you could on a console. In that respect, first-person shooter games on the iPad and iPhone are still a work in progress. It will probably be good if EA allows for screen control customization on this game.

The game has no release date or details on the single-player game or multiplayer combat yet.

The Sims FreePlay was another big title coming soon for the iPad and the iPhone. In contrast to paid games such as The Sims 3, this game embraces the free-to-play model, where you play for free and pay real money for virtual goods. In this case, you can buy either Simoleans, the currency in the Sims games that you can use to buy furniture or other goods, or Lifestyle points, which can be used to speed up game play and reduce waiting times. As you progress, you can unlock new items.

In the game, you can control up to 16 Sims in a virtual 3D neighborhood. You can have cars and pets. You can choose where your Sims live, their careers, and customize how they look. The play progresses in real time and you can earn Lifestyle points or Simoleans by doing tasks like getting three people to attend a party at a house. The game debuts for free on the iPhone and iPad on Dec. 15. An Android version is in the works. The game will be linked to EA’s Origin online game network and feature leaderboards at some point in the future. The game will likely appeal to people who don’t want to pay upfront for other Sims games.

Tetris — Tetris has been out on the iPhone forever. But coming this Wednesday, the old version will disappear and a new one will be available on Thursday on the Apple App Store and the Android Market. Under license from Henk Rogers’ Blue Planet Software, the new game has several play modes.

I liked the easy-to-use One-Touch mode, where you can see three projections at the bottom of the screen where you can instantly guide your blocks to fall. This gets around the touch-based problem where you often guide the blocks down to the wrong spot and in the wrong orientation. With the one-touch mode, the game changes and assumes a faster pace. The block falls where you want it to fall and you can move on quickly to thinking about your next move. If you don’t like any of the six or so options, you can swipe sideways on the screen to get more options.

You can also play in the more traditional way with the Marathon mode. Or you can play in Galaxy mode, where you can earn power-ups to crush through barriers and move up from one level to the next in an endless challenge. The new Tetris Log delivers challenges and tracks lifetime accumulated “cleared lines” across multiple mobile devices. You can be assigned an official Tetris Rank. Overall, it’s a pretty good re-imagined game.

Plants vs Zombies — This game is as addictive as ever, and it’s quite playable on the new Kindle Fire from Amazon. As always, you defend your home from zany plant-eating zombies with 49 different defensive plants against 26 types of slow-moving zombies. The game is frenetic and it looks great on the Kindle Fire’s 7-inch touchscreen. While the Kindle Fire’s screen is smaller than the iPad’s, it is still quite playable. The game is available now.

Fancy Pants Adventures — The stick-figure side-scrolling game is a fast-action title that has been a hit on the PC, Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. Now it’s coming to iOS (iPhone, iPod touch and iPad) in January, courtesy of EA’s Chillingo division. The title looks good. Although EA displayed it while connected to a big screen, the game doesn’t support Air Play, a feature in the latest iOS version that lets you wirelessly cast the screen of your iPad to your TV screen via an Apple TV connection. One of these days, all of the titles will do that. As you can tell from the picture, the bigger the screen, the better.

Other titles include: Spice Invaders for the iPad (December); Home Sheep Home 2 for iOS (December); Order Up! To Go for all platforms (January); Diggin’ Dogs for all platforms (January); Sticky Sheep for all platforms (January); Need for Speed: The Run for iPhone and iPad (TBA); Trenches II for iPhone and iPad (winter 2011); and Bejeweled 3 for DS and Xbox 360 (available now).

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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White is the new black — on all Google products

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 09:13 PM PST

Leave it to Google to dispel the myth that one shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day. The search giant and social network contender has stripped off the ominous, horizontal black bar hovering atop its pages to reveal a milky-fresh new hue for each of its web-based products.

The new Google bar occupies the same space as the Google logo and search box in most products and now provides people with one- or two-click access to its other services via a drop-down menu. It has started appearing on some users’ accounts already and will soon be coming to all accounts.

Essentially, that tacked-on navigation-meets-notification bar that debuted with Google+ is no more. What’s left in its wake is a bar-like experience that’s better woven into the essence of each product through the Google logo.

“We're now ready for the next stage of our redesign — a new Google bar that will enable you to navigate quickly between our services, as well as share the right stuff with the right people easily on Google+,” technical lead Eddie Kessler said. “Instead of the horizontal black bar at the top of the page, you'll now find links to your services in a new drop-down Google menu nested under the Google logo.”

The bar introduces a space-saving, polished style to Google products, but it also dramatically alters the way people engage with and navigate to Google entities like Gmail, Docs and Reader. Will web denizens find Google’s new look to be a fashion do or don’t? We’re still waiting for the bare bar to hit our browsers before we cast our vote.

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Hold onto your mustache! Foursquare gets Scoutmob location-based deals

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 08:09 PM PST

Two great mobile apps have gotten together to make deal-hunting and city exploration an even better experience, as Foursquare has integrated Scoutmob deals.

Scoutmob is a deals app for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry that lets users claim deals only once they’ve reached a destination. Two things make Scoutmob distinctive: One, customers don’t pay Scoutmob to get these deals, they just press a button and receive the deal as an e-mail coupon; and two, the designers of the app and website are obsessed with mustaches (they’re everywhere).

Foursquare is the leading location-based check-in service for smartphones, with more than 10 million users. The tie-up with Foursquare suits location check-ins, because they happen at the push of a button, just like claiming Scoutmob deals.

“Paying for a deal on a third party app in Foursquare’s app is not a great user experience, and the Foursquare guys will tell you that,” Scoutmob co-founder Michael Tavani told VentureBeat. “Our deals will integrate with their system a lot better. I think it will be a better user experience for what users of Foursquare are already familiar with.”

ScoutMob has integrated its local deals with other services in the past, such as Foodspotting, a visual guide to local food that features user-contributed photos of dishes.

Scoutmob is based in Atlanta and its deals are currently available in 13 cities, with seven more coming online soon. Scoutmob has more than 800,000 users.

"Of all the deal integrations we've done, the Scoutmob partnership most closely aligns with our own Specials format, where no payment is required to redeem deals spontaneously," said Tristan Walker, Foursquare’s director of business development, in a statement.

Tavani says that another reason why he’s excited about partnering with Foursquare is because the majority of Foursquare check-ins happen at a restaurant or a retail location. Scoutmob deals are heavily weighted towards restaurants and retail locations, with 75 percent of their deals inventory concentrated in dining establishments, and the rest at shops and merchants, Tavani says. This further differentiates it from many other deals providers that are trying to sell to customers based on location.

“Doing teeth whitening or whatever doesn’t work so well for Foursquare,” says Tavani. He also said that the deals in the Scoutmob inventory aren’t flash sales that must be purchased within a one or tw0-day window. All Scoutmob sales expire three or six months after they begin.

Foursquare has been serving up daily deals on its platform for some time, but with mixed results. In July the company partnered with Groupon to offer real-time, location-based deals. This arrangement may not have done much for either side. Groupon earned just $2.6 million from Groupon Now offers in its first six months. Foursquare also inked real-time deals agreements with LivingSocial, Zozi, Gilt City and now-defunct BuyWithMe. Gilt Groupe purchased BuyWithMe after the  deals site failed in its bid to compete on a national level with Groupon and LivingSocial. Foursquare recently unveiled an update to its website that brings location-based deals and other offers to the desktop.

Filed under: mobile, social

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World of Warcraft patched as Blizzard Entertainment tries to reverse declining subscriptions

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 07:58 PM PST

Blizzard Entertainment  released a huge patch on Tuesday for its hit game World of Warcraft, as part of an effort to turn around a significant drop in subscribers. As we reported earlier this month, player numbers dropped from 11.1 million to 10.3 million in the third quarter of 2011, and parent company Activision Blizzard must surely now be looking over its shoulder at the upcoming big budget rival Star Wars: The Old Republic.

A fourth expansion to World of Warcraft, entitled Mists of Pandaria, was unveiled at Blizzcon in October, and marked the start of a push to reverse the declining user base of the hit massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). This patch is the latest move in a public relations drive that has also seen a new series of TV ads, starring kung-fu legend Chuck Norris, debuting on prime-time TV. Mike Morhaime, head of Blizzard, said during the last earnings call that Blizzard would make bigger efforts to keep the subscriber base high, and these latest efforts all seem to be part of that promise.

In addition to pressure from within, World of Warcraft could potentially lose more subscribers after Dec. 20 when Electronic Arts’ massively multiplayer online game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, launches. Never one to mince his words, Activision Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick dismissed this thought, casting doubts on whether the publisher EA will even turn a profit on its upcoming game.

"Lucas is going to be the principal beneficiary of the success of Star Wars,” Kotick told Reuters, referring to Star Wars creator George Lucas, who has licensing rights to the game. “We’ve been in business with Lucas for a long time, and the economics will always accrue to the benefit of Lucas, so I don’t really understand how the economics work for Electronic Arts.”

The contents of World of Warcraft patch 4.3, which releases today, and is available to all players, is as follows:

  • Raid Finder – Players can quickly and easily form a raid for a specifically tuned version of the Dragon Soul raid; works much like the Dungeon Finder feature
  • Dragon Soul – The most epic 10- and 25-person raid encounter Blizzard has ever designed
  • Transmogrification – Customize the appearance of your weapons and armor
  • Three new 5-person dungeons – Continue the storyline of Thrall and Deathwing as players embark on all-new adventures in End Time, Well of Eternity, and Hour of Twilight
  • Void Storage – Players of all levels can now open up 80 slots of long-term storage space
  • Fangs of the Father – Legendary rogue quest line
  • The all-new Darkmoon Faire – Darkmoon Faire has been completely redesigned and offers all-new games and rewards for players to experience

You can also check out this video, which gives provides a somewhat more dramatic interpretation of the changes:

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Berg creates Little Printer with plans for connected device household line

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 06:51 PM PST

Peace PCs, Internet connected devices are taking over the household, with Berg’s Little Printer and new Internet connection box called BergCloud.

Berg believes that small household products that are connected to the Internet can become like a part of the family, with much more characterization and meaning with the power of the Web behind it. The first of these products is Little Printer, which is surrounded by a bigger picture than just one it can print out. While in and of itself is useless, but shows how connected devices are taking over the PC as the only way to enjoy what the Internet has to offer.

Little Printer is wirelessly hooked up to a box, which plugs into your broadband router. This box connects Little Printer to a variety of web content chosen through a smartphone. For instance, if you want foursquare updates, along with Google calendar reminders, Little Printer will pull those from the Internet, store them temporarily until you press the print button located at the top of the printer. Then you get a stream on Internet consciousness, which you can tape to refrigerators or use as bookmarks (just not in your ebooks).

“We love physical stuff. Connecting products to the Web lets them become smarter and friendlier,” said Berg in a blog post, “Plus paper is like a screen that never turns off.”

According to Berg, BergCloud can handle the web-enabled signage of a cityblock. Handy if you want to print Times Square from your Little Printer.

Honestly, Little Printer is a lilliputian gadget that, while cute, performs an unnecessary function: putting trivial Internet content such as games and photos of Arup’s buildings on paper. However, the little guy is giving connected devices, such as televisions with Internet capabilities, or smaller gadgets a firmer place in the home.

BergCloud itself is also giving mobile devices more responsibility in connecting the real-world-home with Web content. For instance, BergCloud could be an easy connection for those who want to print anything from the smartphone. According to Berg’s blog post, the smartphone acts as Little Printer’s remote control, which may be a path to other mobile-dependent devices.

Berg plans to release more products after Little Printer’s release in 2012.

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

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Business network Viadeo buys Soocial for cloud-based contact management

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 05:53 PM PST

Intensifying the competition among professional social networks, French company Viadeo has acquired Soocial, a Dutch startup that manages contact details in the cloud.

Soocial, which operates on 500 platforms and messaging services, unifies your address book across devices. When someone else on the Soocial network changes their contact information, Soocial automatically updates your address book. If a contact gets a new phone number or changes jobs, you can stay connected to them without the hassle of having re-enter any of the details. Cardflick and Cardcloud are two apps with similar missions to bring professional contact management to the cloud.

“Soocial is a great tool that will help us with our viral growth, especially in emerging markets,” Viadeo co-founder and chief executive officer Dan Sefarty told VentureBeat.

The acquisition is strategic for Viadeo, which owns a network of branded social networks in a range of world languages.

Viadeo is the second largest profesional social network in the United States after LinkedIn, and is the No. 1 non-English professional networking destination in the world. Tianji is Viadeo’s site in Chinese and China’s No.1 professional social networking site, with more than 8 million users. Viadeo sees tremendous growth potential places such as China, Latin America and West Africa. Viadeo has African offices in Senegal and Morocco, both of which are francophone countries.

“We think that there is room for many players, and we are the local player,” says Sefarty.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Soocial was founded in 2006, and has four employees based in Amsterdam. Soocial raised a $403,000 angel round in June of 2007, and is listed as a Global Grid Capital portfolio company.

Filed under: cloud, deals

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New Apple TV may be optimized for motion sensitive controllers & Siri

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 05:17 PM PST

Apple might be planning a new version of its Apple TV, the $99 set-top box that lets owners stream media to their television, according to component information found within the code of iOS 5.1 beta.

The code references the next generation Apple TV (3,1) that could contain Bluetooth 4.0 technology as well as a more powerful A5 chip, reports 9to5Mac. What does this actually mean for you? Well for starters it means, a better remote control and the possibility turning the set-top box into a mini gaming device. [Although, as GamesBeat lead writer Dean Takahashi has noted (most recently), Apple doesn't really get gaming. So, games on an Apple TV would either be a bit of a stretch... or a huge disappointment.]

The addition of Bluetooth 4.0 in the Apple TV would allow it to connect with a greater number of wireless devices faster and more reliably. Either Apple or third-party manufacturers could certainly take advantage of this by creating motion sensitive game controllers or remote controls that took advantage of Apple’s voice assistant feature Siri. Of course, for Apple to really take advantage of gaming it would have to give Apple TV owners access to the Apps Store in some capacity.

The point is, there is plenty of potential for Apple to take advantage of Bluetooth 4.0 technology within an Apple TV.

On a more practical note, adding voice and motion sensitive controls to the Apple TV will keep the device competitive. And now that Microsoft’s Xbox is beefing up its media center capabilities, it would certainly be a smart move on Apple’s part.

Filed under: games, media, VentureBeat

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Review: Gua-Le-Ni game brings art and science to the iPad

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 04:05 PM PST

A fun new iPad game is pushing the limits of psychology and gameplay. Gua-Le-Ni, Or: The Horrendous Parade is a beautiful series of memory puzzles that are supposed to give you the jitters.

The object of the game is to match disjointed paper drawings of animals with cubes that have different sections of animals’ bodies on each side, all while the drawn critter marches across the screen. For example, the drawing might have the the head of a tiger, the body of a wartho and the tail of a lobster. You manipulate the cubes below the drawing by pinching and turning them to find the corresponding animal bit.

The $4.99 Horrendous Parade draws upon the PhD work of Italian game designer Stefano Gualeni, for whom the game is named. It was developed by game studio Double Jungle at the Academy for Digital Entertainment at NHTV Breda University of Applied Science, where Gualeni is conducting his thesis research.

While creating the game, developers hooked tester players up to monitors that tracked their heart rate and blood flow, and monitored their facial contractions with cameras. This was done in order to better understand player responses, and to build a game that would stimulate them on as many levels as possible.

Rather than being invasive, the team thinks they’re pushing the boundaries of gameplay for the iPad. “Most design is based on this type of feedback loop, [Horrendous Parade] is just more defined,” Gualeni told VentureBeat. The result, the designers hope, is a game that creates the maximum thrill and engagement, by intentionally striking a nerve.

“I think it's no better or no worse than traditional design philosophy in terms of ethics,” Gualeni said, and his sentiments were elaborated in a press release:

By observing the way stress and anxiety changed in our test subjects together with the changes in the game while designing and tuning it, we were capable — we believe —  [of having] a better, more thorough and more objective insight [into] what it is like to play our game than would ever be possible to achieve with traditional quality assurance procedures. This experimental way to approach game design was never even attempted in the casual sector of the industry, we are very proud of this pioneering effort too.

Gualeni also said that the developers for console games such as Left 4 Dead and NBA 2K11 rely upon observing the same types of bodily reaction to create the maximum response and enjoyment in players. Gualeni also cited products like Gmail that carefully track user metrics as a way to constantly improve design and user experience.

“Gmail is one of the most used services in the world, and they heavily rely on user metrics to refine the product,” said Gualeni. “What we do is push it to a more objective and embodied version. Personally I see it as a useful tool. I wouldn't be surprised if more people start to use it.”

My first impression was that if the intent of the game is to provoke anxiety, it may work too well.

The interface of the game is supposed to evoke images of a leather-bound field journal from an old library. The book is filled with gorgeous illustrations, and flipping the page grants access to the next set of challenges. But as the only mode of controlling the game, the touch controls felt sticky and slow, and it was hard not to get frustrated.

I was flummoxed by the game mechanics at first, too. It took while to get a handle on the pinch and twist gesture that is familiar to any iOS user. After a block was placed, it was easy to accidentally dislodge it. As I went along I quickly realized that part of the trick to doing well is to remember which parts of each animal were on each colored cube, such as the humps of the camel or the snout of a salmon

“We only give the player two basic mechanics,” Gualeni said. “There are three hidden, unexplained mechanics.” Rather than spell it out for users at every turn, Gualeni said the game is meant to be an experiment in exploratory game play. “Most casual games treat the users as minors,” said Gualeni. ”I hope someone will discover all the secrets and play the game in advanced mode,” said Gualeni, insinuating that game itself is full of secrets.

The initial level of difficulty was higher than expected, and an “ease-in” period would have been nice. Because some of the mechanics were unfamiliar, I thought about bailing before I mastered the techniques.

Even though the game took some getting used to before becoming fun, once I was up to speed, it was definitely worth the investment of time and energy.

It’s still too early to know whether the team behind the Horrendous Parade has a hit on its hands, but the developers have pushed the boundaries of science and game play in a beautiful and highly engaging iPad app that’s unafraid to be misunderstood.  And just like a clomping, camel-headed rabbit-tailed beast with the body of salmon, it may not be love at first site, but you have to respect it.

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Dylan’s Desk: How I learned to stop worrying and love “the cloud”

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 03:30 PM PST

VentureBeat HQ, alongside the picturesque San Francisco Bay, is surrounded by fog.

As I write, the VentureBeat offices sit enveloped by a cloud. In all directions, the fog wraps our office building in a soft, gray fuzz, obscuring the views of downtown San Francisco, the bay, and the ocean.

It’s not unlike the cloud of marketing and hype surrounding “cloud” technologies. A fog of jargony words and needlessly ugly acronyms obscure understanding and make everything look like the same, soft grayish fog.

IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, cloudware, private clouds, cloudsourcing, utility computing … even the word “platform” gets overused and abused, rendering it nearly meaningless. What do all these terms mean? It’s easy to get lost in them if you’re not already deeply wrapped up in the cloud.

So I’ll be honest: Even though VentureBeat has a cloud channel and we’re planning a cloud conference that’s happening later this week (you should go!), I started out as a serious skeptic of all things “cloud.”

classic network diagram with a cloudHere’s why: The cloud was originally a symbol used in network architecture diagrams, where it stood for “the Internet” — basically, a bunch of servers and networks that the network architect didn’t really want to think about in detail. Thanks to the standardization of communications protocols like TCP/IP, it wasn’t necessary to think about all those other servers and networks — you could treat them as a single, addressable resource that did some magic, transmitted some data from one place to another, and then brought it back to earth in another part of your network.

The cloud was the network architect’s equivalent of “then a miracle occurs.” But thanks to the Internet, it was a miracle that happened every single day, until it became so commonplace that we didn’t even notice it any more.

Eventually, it seems, product marketers latched onto that cute little “cloud” icon scrawled in these diagrams and decided that it would make a friendlier face for their Web applications.

“Cloud” is a more approachable term than “Web application” or “Internet-based service,” after all, so the marketing shift makes perfect sense. But it doesn’t have much content. You could substitute “Internet” anywhere you see the word “cloud” and it would mean just about the same thing.

However, there is some hard reality underlying the, um, fog of hype.

“In my mind, cloud is a somewhat vague term, but it has a very specific implication, which is it’s all about making IT more responsive to the needs of business,” Dan Scholnick, a general partner at venture capital firm Trinity Ventures, said in a recent VentureBeat interview.

Business IT services delivered over the Internet — what we can call, in general, cloud services — are in fact driving a major shift in the way companies think about and use information technology. Cloud services are cheaper and faster to deploy, at least initially, because there’s no on-premise hardware or software installation needed. Cloud services can scale more quickly than software or services that you run yourself. If you need to add 100 more users to your contact-management system, you can turn them on in minutes using a cloud-based service provider like Salesforce.com. If you need to subtract 100 users, it’s just as easy.

By contrast, if you are running your own salesforce management software on your own servers in a datacenter somewhere, every time you want to add a significant number of users you’ll have to buy additional hardware, install it, get additional site licenses, make sure all the software was up to date, and so on. If you then go through layoffs, you’re left with a bunch of capital that you can’t get rid of easily.

Indeed, in some cases cloud services are making it possible for companies to have tools and resources that previously were only available to the largest of corporations.

To take one relatively minor example, Stitch Labs’ inventory management system gives small-time Etsy sellers the ability to get sales-channel reports and customer insights that you used to only get if you were willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an enterprise resource management system.

“We couldn’t have existed before the cloud,” Eloqua CEO Joe Payne told me recently. His company uses at least a dozen cloud-based services, including Salesforce.com and his own company’s marketing automation tools, but also including cloud-based Web-conferencing, accounting, contract management, payroll processing, software version control, collaboration, recruiting and training. It may sound like overkill, but all those services give Eloqua flexibility and speed that it never would have had before, and have helped drive the company to grow its revenues at a cumulative 54 percent per year over the past 5 years.

It’s hard to say exactly how big the market for cloud services is, partly because the term is so broad that it comprises a whole bunch of disparate categories. To take just one slice of the pie, cloud infrastructure services, awkwardly called “infrastructure as a service” or IaaS, are a $4 billion market by themselves.

Software-as-a-service, which most people call SaaS but which I think could be more simply called “software services” or “cloud software,” has been a $21 billion market in 2011.

On the consumer side, services delivered over the cloud are already huge. Online games were a $19.3 billion market in 2010. Services that let people store data online (storage-as-a-service, which could also abbreviated SaaS by cloud terminology chumps) will hit $3 billion by 2012, IDC predicts.

And, heck, if you consider webmail a cloud service, there are approximately a gazillion people using email-as-a-service, or EaaS. (I just made that last term up.) Of course, most of us don’t pay anything for webmail, and we don’t consider it a “cloud” service, which leads me to my final point:

By the time an Internet-based service gets truly ubiquitous and everyone is using it, we no longer think about the Internet part of it. We don’t send each other “Internet emails,” we just email each other. We don’t look things up on the Web any more, we just look them up.

Eventually, companies won’t be buying “cloud services,” they’ll just be buying services — and those services will be delivered, like everything else, over some combination of public and private networks, all of which are based on underlying Internet protocols and technologies.

In short: And then a miracle occurs.

Note: I’ll be talking with Payne about Eloqua’s use of cloud services at our upcoming CloudBeat 2011 conference later this week. I’ll also spend some time onstage with Jeff Lawson, the CEO of Twilio, and Adrian McDermott, the vice president of engineering for Zendesk, talking about how their respective cloud-based services work with each other. There’s more on both of those CloudBeat sessions here. If you haven’t registered for CloudBeat 2011 yet, there’s still time. And if you’re coming, look me up: I’d like to hear what you think about the cloud.

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Golden Gate bridge photo credit: jazure/Flickr.

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At $1.25B, Cyber Monday was biggest ecommerce shopping day in history

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 03:05 PM PST

This year’s Cyber Monday was the biggest day in online spending ever, with $1.25 billion spent at online retailers, up 22 percent from a year ago.

Market researcher comScore reported that the first 28 days of November generated $15 billion in online sales, up 15 percent from $13 billion in the corresponding days a year ago. This year’s Cyber Monday — as the first Monday after Thanksgiving is called — was the second day ever to pass the billion-dollar threshold, comScore said. Cyber Monday is typically the most popular online sales day because gift givers are confident their packages will arrive before Christmas day.

On Thanksgiving, sales were $479, up 18 percent from a year ago. Black Friday sales were $816 million, up 26 percent from a year ago. On the Thanksgiving weekend, sales were $1.03 billion, up 16 percent.

"Cyber Monday was yet another historic day for e-commerce, with online spending reaching a record $1.25 billion," said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "While last year saw Cyber Monday rank as the heaviest online spending day of the year for the first time ever, it will be interesting to watch the next couple of weeks to see if any future individual days in 2011 manage to leapfrog this year's highest day-to-date.”

Average spending per buyer is up 9 percent and the number of buyers were up 11 percent. About 10 million people bought online on Cyber Monday. The average online buyer conducted 1.9 online transactions for a total of $125 in spending. Half the dollars spent online at U.S. web sites originated from work computers, so that means people were shopping while they were supposed to be working.

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Need an abortion, Plan B or birth control? Don’t expect Siri to help you out

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 03:03 PM PST

Siri, the iPhone 4S’s virtual assistant, has a puzzling new glitch — one with significant moral and political overtones.

If you ask Siri to direct you to a Planned Parenthood, you get the results you’d expect. But if you ask for an abortion clinic more generally, Siri will not return any results, even if they’re available. In some cases, Siri will even return results for “crisis pregnancy centers” that counsel women against abortions.

Similarly, if you simply say, “Siri, I need an abortion,” Siri will respond that there are no abortion clinics nearby, even if the opposite is true and even though Siri clearly understands your intent and language. And its response proves Siri knows the term “abortion clinic.”

Siri was able to tell us that there were four Planned Parenthood locations near our downtown San Francisco location. However, when we specifically asked for abortion information, we were told nothing was available.

We decided to test a range of related queries, starting with emergency contraception. Siri drew a natural-language-processing blank when it came to Plan B, the brand name for the commonly available emergency contraception pill. Apparently not having the data to interpret the phrase “Plan B” as a brand name, it returned other local businesses containing similar words or phrases.

When we asked for the product with a more general term, emergency contraception, Siri recommended nearby emergency rooms — irrelevant, but better than nothing, we suppose.

When we point-blank asked for “the morning-after pill,” as it is also commonly called, Siri replied with, “Ok,” and “Is that so?” but did not offer any retailers or directions. (Judgey much?)

Moving to the proactive side of the equation, Siri was able to tell us the location of drugstores where we could buy condoms. But when we asked for birth control pills, Siri said nothing was available nearby.

While it’s not in our purview to offer bald-faced speculations on the reasons for these discrepancies, VentureBeat CTO Chris Peri’s professional opinion is that the supposed glitch is actually “purposeful programming.”

Peri elaborated, “Given how well Siri interprets other requests, and that Google and Bing will give you the proper responses when doing a search, and [that Siri] offers [anti-abortion] CPC sites… this has to have been something placed in the code or taught to Siri by someone(s). If this is the case, then we have a problem here.”

While Apple has been known to hand down judgements on moral issues such as pornography, we’re not certain Siri is taking any sides on a particular moral battleground. After all, it’ll still find you an escort service if you ask for a prostitute.

We’ve reached out to Apple for clarification and will update you, dear readers, as soon as more information is available.

[The Abortioneers via Gizmodo]

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Xbox 360 sees biggest sales week in its 7-year history

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 02:06 PM PST

Xbox 360 console with KinectMicrosoft today announced it sold more than 960,000 Xbox 360 consoles in the U.S. during the week of Black Friday, making it the biggest sales week in Xbox history.

The company says more than 800,000 of the 960,000 consoles sold this week were sold within a period of 24 hours. More than 750,000 Kinect sensors were also sold this week, both bundled with the 360 console and as a standalone product. The current holiday sales season is critical for game companies, as 40 percent to 50 percent of game revenues are generated in November and December.

Retailers like Best Buy see these sales figures as a testament to the continued popularity of gaming. "Xbox 360 was among the best-sellers at Best Buy this Black Friday,” said Chris Homeister, senior vice president and general manager of Home Entertainment at Best Buy. "We have seen tremendous excitement from customers for our hot holiday gaming offers.”

With a robust holiday portfolio, an updated Xbox Live dashboard and the launch of Xbox Live’s new TV service on Dec. 6, Microsoft says it expects the holiday momentum to continue, driving Xbox 360 to finish the year as the number one console in the U.S.

Nintendo announced earlier that its flagship games The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword and Super Mario 3D Land sold more than 500,000 units each through the Black Friday holiday.

Filed under: games

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How to be a better venture capitalist: Run a startup

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 01:26 PM PST

Editor's note: Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank is the author of Four Steps to the Epiphany. This story originally appeared on his blog.

Venture capitalists who are serious about turning their firms into more than one-fund wonders may want to have their associates actually start and run a company for a year.

Running a company is distinctly different from simply having operating experience, such as working in business development, sales or marketing. None of that can compare with being the CEO of a startup facing challenges such as a rapidly diminishing bank account, your best engineer quitting, working until 10pm and rushing to the airport and catching a redeye for a "Hail Mary" close of a customer, with your board demanding you do it faster.

Today, you can start a web, mobile or cloud startup for $500,000 and have money left over. Every potential early-stage venture capitalist should take a year and do it before he or she makes partner. Here's why.

Why have a startup

Venture capital as a profession is less than half a century old. Over time, venture firms realized that the partners in the firms needed a variety of skills:


  • People skills (ability to recognize patterns of success in individuals and teams)
  • People skills
  • People skills
  • Market/technology acuity (patterns of success, domain expertise)
  • Rolodex/deal flow (deal sourcing/ability to make connections for the portfolio)
  • Board skills (Startup coaching, mentoring, strategy, operational/growth)
  • Fund raising skills

Some of these skills are learned in school (finance), some are innate aptitudes (people skills), some are learned pattern recognition skills (shadowing experienced partners, hard won success and failures of their own), and some are learned by having operating experience. But none of them are substitutes for having started and run a company.

How to become a VC

Early-stage Venture Capital firms grow their partnerships in different ways, some hire the following people:


  • Partners from other firms
  • Associates and put them on a long career path
  • Venture/operating partners to get them into new industries
  • An executive who had startup "operating experience"
  • Rarely a startup founder/CEO

In surveying my VC friends, I was surprised about their strong and diverse opinions. The feedback varied:

".. because culture is such an important part of who we are, we will probably never hire a partner from another firm. The idea of bolting on someone from another firm is somewhat antithetical to who we are. We think that our venture partner role is the most likely path to general partner."

..we have a partner-track associates program.  We want to find someone who has a lot of consumer internet product experience as either product manager, founder, VP Product, etc. with 3-7 years of experience."

"…we do not even try to train new partners. We bring people into our firm who have learned how to be VCs at the partner level somewhere else and have demonstrated their talent in boardrooms alongside of us. We completely and totally punt on the idea of "training a VC."  It's an ugly and painful process and I don't want to be part of it."

"…if they don't have operating experience  the odds of them knowing what they're talking about in a board meeting for the first five years is low.."

Carrying the cat by the tail

When I finally became a CEO, it was after I had spent my career working my way up the ladder in marketing in startups. I did every low-level job there was, at times sleeping under my desk (engineering was doing the same.) By the time I was running a company, having some junior employee tell me why they couldn't do something because of "how hard it was" didn't get much sympathy from me. I knew how hard it was because I had done it myself. Startups are hard.

What running a company would do is give early-stage VCs a benchmark for reality, something most newly-minted partners sorely lack. They would learn how a founding CEO turns their money into a company which becomes a learning, execution and delivery engine. They would learn that a CEO does it through the people — the day-to-day of who is going to do what, how you hold people accountable, how teams communicate and more importantly, who you hire, how you motivate and get people to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Further, they'd experience first hand how, in a startup, the devil is in the details of execution and deliverables.

My hypotheses is simple:  What most VCs lack is not brains or rolodex or people skills, but hands-on experience as a startup CEO — knowing what it's like trying to make a payroll while finding sufficient customers while you're building the product.  Sure, a year as a CEO won't make them an expert, but it will change them quicker than 10 years in the boardroom.

Does it matter?

There's a school of thought that says the skill set of a great early-stage VC (awesome people skills, curiosity, likable) versus the attributes of a great entrepreneur (pattern recognition, tenacity) may not have much overlap. Early stage investing is not a spreadheet, quantitative driven exercise, nor is it about technology — it is a deal business and people drive the deals. And while having experience as a startup CEO may make you a better board member, it may not substantively contribute to your career as an early stage investor, which depends on many more important skills.

Steel in their eyes

Ten years ago starting a company required millions of dollars and first customer ship took years. Now it's possible to build a company, ship product and get tens of thousands of customers in a year with less than $500K. For venture firms who want to groom and grow associates or operating execs into partners (rather than hiring proven partners), here are my suggestions:


  1. Have them start as an analyst (search for deal flow and people, due diligence).
  2. Then take a year as a product manager in a startup in the firm's portfolio.
  3. Then come back as an associate for a year – shadowing board and partner meetings.
  4. Then take a year and $250-500K to start and run a mobile, web or cloud company. See what it's really like on the other side of that boardroom table.
  5. Then return as a partner.

This process will create a new generation of venture capital partners, ones who have been battle tested in the trenches of a startup, hardened by hiring and firing, tempered by making a payroll and losing orders, and will never forget it's all about the people.

These VCs would return to their firms with steel in their eyes. They'd be relentless about accountability from board meeting to board meeting with laser like focus on the one or two issues that matter. They would understand the CEO-VC-board dynamic in a way that few who hadn't lived it could. They'd be ruthless in their choice of people and teams, looking for those few who have natural curiosity, a passion to win and who won't take no for answer.

[Folder image via Shutterstock]


Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Scripted is a writer smorgasbord for those in need of community outreach, gets $700K

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 01:14 PM PST

As a small business, it’s hard to keep up excited web content due to time costs, commitment to a full time community manager, and more. Writer marketplace Scripted, however, has a cheaper option and a seed round of $700,000 to execute it.

Hiring someone internally can cost a lot of money and is a big commitment for many companies that may not have the resources. Because of that, many companies fall short, and lack in outreach to its community and potential customers. This is where Scripted comes in.

Scripted originally began as a Wikipedia-esque way to crowdsource screen plays for the entertainment industry. The company soon amassed a database of over 80,000 ready and willing amateur writers and realized it could do more with its resources. Soon thereafter, jeans company Levis asked them to do a project outside of the entertainment business. It was so successful, c0-founders Sunil Rajaraman, Ryan Buckley, and Orion Richardson decided to shift the whole company toward connecting writers and small businesses in need of blog posts, social media posts, newsletters and more.

“Things like humanities type work are going to skew toward e-work rather than direct hire based,” said Rajaraman, co-founder and chief executive of Scripted, in an interview with VentureBeat. “There’s a huge demand for remote work.”

Scripted’s typical writer is a little over 30 years old, has a day job and just needs a little extra money on the side. The company is focused on amateur writers and is generally sought out by small businesses in need of someone to writer 2 or so blog posts a week. Companies are given writers based on level of skill and industry preference. For instance, if a sports company wants writers, Scripted can quickly pull together a range of sports writers fitting that company’s preference.

Rajamaran believes the US job market is no longer in favor of the humanities, but is instead turning toward engineering, which puts Scripted in a unique position to help writers connect and be discovered. Around 80 percent of his writers are US based. In fact, one writer even made over $30,000, which many call a year’s salary.

The company has served a number of recognizable customers including Levi’s, Viacom, Spike TV, and MailChimp. Scipted recently partnered with MailChimp and Constant Contact to offer e-mail newsletters to its customers.

Scripted was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in San Francisco, Calif. The company currently has five employees and will use the funding to expand that number. Crosslink Capital led this round with participation from Liveops founder Douglas Feirstein, and Shopzilla chief information officer Jody Mulkey.


Filed under: deals

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Google Maps 6.0 for Android makes interior layouts 3D (and can find toilets, too)

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 01:10 PM PST

Google Maps 6.0 on Android, displaying interiorGoogle Maps for Android has just launched a new update  that tackles some of the toughest navigation challenges around: the interior world.

With Maps version 6.0, which arrived on Android devices today, users can now find the nearest bathrooms, ATMs and the locations of individual departments inside some of the largest retail stores, such as Ikea, Home Depot, and Macy’s locations nationwide.

The maps update will also provide detailed location information for 18 major airports in the U.S. and mass transit stations in the U.S. and in Japan.

“Today when most people go to an airport, or a shopping mall, or a large retail store, they try to hunt  down an information kiosk to figure out where they are, and find where they need to go,” Google Maps product manager Steve Lee told VentureBeat. “What we’re trying to do with Google Maps 6.0 is bring that information kiosk with you on your phone.” The new update gives accurate interior information within 5 or 10 meters (15 to 30 feet).

Getting the familiar blue dot to work properly indoors was one of the biggest hurdles, and the 3D environment of a store or transit station, with multiple floors,  added to the difficulty. ”One of the big challenges indoors is that GPS is not always available, or is not as strong.” said Lee. This was overcome by getting detailed floor plans from Google’s partners, so that even on the fourth floor of a building the app still knows right where the user is. “Instead of a static ‘you are here,’  symbol on that information kiosk, the Google Maps blue dot will show you where you’re at inside any of these venues.”

Google has been making a very aggressive push lately to chart alternative spaces. In October Google Streetview added business interiors to its Maps product, and the in early November parks across the world  were also included.

iOS users will certainly be interested to see Maps 6.0 come to the iPhone and iPad, but Lee said there is no announcement for any other platforms at the moment. Since the iOS Maps application is made by Apple and still lacks plenty of features that Google has brought to Maps on Android, I wouldn’t hold my breath for these newer features.

Filed under: mobile

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Verizon’s FiOS Xbox 360 plans: 26 live TV channels with Kinect support

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 12:58 PM PST

Xbox, Verizon FiOSChristmas comes early for gamers on Verizon’s FiOS cable and Internet service. The company finally dished out plans for its previously announced Xbox 360 integration today, which includes an initial bundle of 26 live channels with Kinect voice and gesture support.

The FiOS channels will be accessible through a new app on the Xbox 360, which will be available in December. Additionally, Verizon announced a new triple-play bundle today (TV/internet/phone service), which starts at $90 and includes 12 months of Xbox Live Gold service and the recently released game, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.

With such a limited amount of channels available initially, the new integration won’t turn the Xbox 360 into a full replacement for your FiOS box, but it could be useful for bringing television into additional rooms without paying for extra FiOS receivers. To use the Xbox 360 FiOS app, you’ll need to subscribe to both FiOS TV and Internet service (which is to be expected). The amount of channels you’ll have available on the service is dependent on your FiOS subscription.

Verizon says that more FiOS channels will be made available on the Xbox 360 over time. In October, Microsoft announced that it had reached deals with Verizon, Comcast, and other companies to expand the Xbox 360′s video offerings.

Filed under: games, media, VentureBeat

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Cyber Monday? It was more like Mobile Monday, according to eBay & PayPal

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 12:58 PM PST

If the name “Cyber Monday” makes you think of your shameful AIM exploits in the late ’90s, a new trend may make your day.

According to data from eBay, PayPal, IBM and GSI Commerce, mobile activity spiked yesterday as early holiday shopping took off.

Traditionally, the Monday after Thanksgiving has been a heyday for online retailers. But with more and more consumers accessing the web from smartphones and tablets, a fair amount of Cyber Monday shopping is going down via mobile channels.

Today, eBay Mobile stated U.S. shoppers spent two and a half times more on the online auction and shopping site’s mobile channel than they did on Cyber Monday last year.

According to data from IBM, Cyber Monday saw an 10.8 percent in mobile visitors to ecommerce sites, up from 3.9 percent in 2010. And it wasn’t just empty traffic; mobile sales were up, too, from 2.3 percent last year to 6.6 percent yesterday.

Also, PayPal Mobile said it saw a 552 percent year-over-year increase in global mobile payment volume for Cyber Monday activity. PayPal also saw global mobile payment volume more than double (a 154 percent increase) compared to activity on an average Monday and a 17 percent increase over Black Friday 2011 activity.

And ecommerce firm GSI Commerce said its clients saw a 374 percent increase in U.S. mobile sales between Cyber Monday 2010 and yesterday.

An eBay spokesperson said the company “expects that mobile shopping will remain popular with shoppers throughout this holiday season.

“As we are apt to say, both consumers and retailers are set to benefit from the convenience provided by shopping via mobile anytime, anywhere."

Overall, Cyber Monday sales were expected to reach a record $1.2 billion, this year, with mobile sales doubling year over year. The number of mobile shoppers rose from 3.6 million consumers in 2009 to 7.3 million in 2010 and an estimated 17.8 million this year.

"A new retail is emerging where online and offline shopping have merged due in large part to mobile technology and its continued growth," said Steve Yankovich, eBay’s vice president for mobile, in a statement today.

"eBay… is enabling this new commerce landscape by helping holiday consumers shop anytime, anywhere, and by being the partner of choice for retailers and sellers of all sizes."

The most popular Cyber Monday categories on eBay Mobile were Clothing, Shoes & Accessories; Computers & Networking; Jewelry & Watches; Collectibles; Toys & Hobbies; Cell Phones & PDAS; and Sporting Goods.

eBay Mobile and PayPal Mobile shoppers hailed predominantly from LA, New York, Houston, Chicago, Miami, and Athens, Georgia.

And since we know y’all want to know the Android/iOS split, here’s the skinny from IBM: The iPhone and iPad were number one and number two for driving mobile retail traffic. iPhones accounted for 4.1 percent of traffic and iPads served up 3.3 percent. Android delivered 3.2 percent.

Also, iPad shoppers, said IBM, “continued to drive more retail purchases than any other device, with conversion rates reaching 5.2 percent compared to 4.6 percent.”

Image courtesy of joshb.

Filed under: mobile

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Shop online, try it out in person: Kembrel gives hybrid retail sales the old college try

Posted: 29 Nov 2011 12:49 PM PST

If I told you that the flash sales sites of today would give birth to the offline retail experience of tomorrow, you’d probably laugh in my face. Who would want to take the “e” out of e-commerce in uncertain economic times such as these? Bright-eyed recent Wharton MBA graduates looking to reinvent retail, that’s who.

Aymeric de Hemptinne, Cherif Habib and Stephan Jacob, co-founders of Kembrel, a one year-old flash sales site geared toward college kids with expensive tastes and limited budgets, are expanding their vision to give customers a more tangible experience with a brick-and-mortar retail location in Philadelphia.

The trio hope to open boutiques on college campuses and marry offline and online commerce in a way that hasn’t been done before, Jacob told VentureBeat in an exclusive interview.

They are, befittingly, doing it in a scrappy, college-like manner on dime-store budgets. Kembrel’s co-founders have pooled together a meager $1 million round of funding from MentorTech Ventures, Blazer Ventures and their own couch-cushion piggybanks to finance the endeavor.

The Philadelphia store, which opened on November 18, is a small, one-employee shop outfitted with furniture on consignment. The team has plans to target distressed, low-rent retail properties for future locations.

“What we’re trying is a minimal investment retail concept,” Jacob said when asked about the risk involved in taking an online business to the streets. “The key is in the linking of the two [offline with online], and using a physical presence as a branding tool. We’re giving customers the option to shop, try and engage with brand offline, but we still offer … the convenience of online shopping.”

Just 11 days after opening, Jacob said the store is already proving that the model can work. “We’re already seeing conversions … people coming from the website into the store, and customers visiting the store and later returning to the website,” he said.

Kembrel’s online-only approach to selling to college students has worked marginally well. The startup has accrued 32,000 online subscribers and 400 VIP members who pay for the privilege of extra benefits with site partners. It has even been touted in CosmoGirl and TeenVogue as the perfect site for young, penny-pinching trendsetters.

“College students are at the very beginning of the consumption and branding lifecycle … and they’re building preferences now,” Jacob said. “But brands are struggling to reach this demographic in a genuine manner. We can be a vehicle for these brands to reach the demographic … by incorporating customers in the experience and the curation of the product, and providing them access to merchandise that they would not be able to afford.”

The formula heretofore has been centered around introducing fashion labels to consumers-in-the-making, with actual students serving as conduits between brands and entry-level fashion buyers. The Kembrel website features both discounted, college-lifestyle-themed collections for boys and girls, and an outlet store for limited-run flash sales events.

The newly added in-store experience is designed to help the company, and its brand partners, connect with customers on a more intimate level, as well as develop the association between the Kembrel name and cool college wares. The stores will provide customers offline access to Kembrel’s online collections, and feature crafted products from local designers, but the outlet element will remain web-only.

“We’re creating a holistic experience for anyone walking into the store, and replicating that experience on the web,” Jacob added.

Kembrel, founded in 2010, is based in Philadelphia and operates a satellite office in Montreal, Canada. The startup has six employees and already has plans to open a second store in Philadelphia.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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