14 December, 2011



Mobile malware will become profitable in 2012, PC attacks mirrored on the phone

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 10:12 AM PST

Android target

Attacking your smartphone with malware is to become a profitable business in 2012, according to a report by Lookout Mobile Security. Criminals took an estimated $1 million from Android owners this year, and the threat is only getting bigger.

“Bad guys will always follow the money, and with the meteoric growth of mobile devices there is more money to be made in mobile fraud than ever before,” the company said in a blog post.

It has taken mobile malware writers two years to accomplish what took many over 15 years on the PC, according to Lookout’s chief technology officer Kevin Mahaffey. Mobile is, in essence, the new frontier for people who make money through cyber attacks, and their efforts aren’t going to waste. The Android operating system continues to be a target for mobile malware. Users can expect to encounter attacks four percent of the time, a three percent increase from 2011′s prediction. Web browsing is also becoming a big threat with 38 percent of Android owners encountering a malicious link, 40 percent if you live in the United States.

So what exactly is infecting our phones? Smartphone specific, more cases of SMS fraud are arriving in the marketplace. But many of these attacks have similarities to PC counterparts. For instance, botnets, malicious advertising and web browser links are becoming more of an issue for mobile devices.

RuFraudSMS fraud allows a criminal to take over your phone’s messaging permissions to send and receive text messages to a “premium rate number.” Every time the number is used, that malware writer can charge you money. Some instances saw charges of up to $9.99 with the GGTracker Android infection, an attack which focused on US users. More recently, the RuFraud scam was identified. This attacked mostly Eastern European users who downloaded an app skinned to look like a horoscope, Twilight wall paper app, or free versions of popular games such as Angry Birds. When the person clicked through the initial start screen they “agreed” (see photo right) to a terms of service clause that allowed the app to take over messaging privileges. The ToS was less than legitimate, however, and buried under links so users could not find it. Google removed 22 applications with the RuFraud scam inserted. Lookout expects that a few infected apps will re-enter the marketplace every few days.

Botnets, or a series of interconnected mobile phones which can work together to infect other phones at a large scale have been found. These have not, however, been used to their full potential. Attacks such as Geinimi, which originated out of China, have the ability to take over your phones after receiving commands from a remote server. They can take your information and can attempt to infect other phones from your own.

Malicious advertising and web links are most similar to their PC counterparts. In order to become affected by malware, a smartphone users must simply click an infected link or advertisement that takes them to a malware website. This is where Apple’s usually protect iOS is actually put at risk. Jailbreaking is not uncommon with the iPhone and many use jailbroken phones for interesting hacks intended for personal use, instead of malicious attacks. For instance, some break into their iPhones to create interesting uses for the Siri application, run different carriers’ services, or port incompatible apps to older operating systems. Some of these jailbreaking websites, however, come with malware that piggy backs onto your newly vulnerable phone.

In-app advertising doesn’t come out unscathed either, with some “malvertisements” popping up right in the app itself.

There are new ways to speed up the process, which can save a malware writer time and money, and new mobile vulnerabilities to exploit. Like in any business, the less money you spend on operating costs, the more you get to keep when the revenue starts pouring in. Mobile criminals want to find new, faster, cheaper ways of distributing their malware, and have seemingly figured out a way to automate the “packaging” process. That is, a criminal takes legitimate, existing applications and re-packs them with new mobile malware. The app still looks legitimate, but has picked up a malware hitchhiker. Lookout Mobile is seeing the rapid repackaging of apps exceed rates that are possible when done manually. Some repackaging attempts have been successfully completed in only seconds, thus criminals must have developed a technology to allow them to do this faster.

The other issue with the mobile operating system is the time it takes to update vulnerabilities. Sending patches out to the OS take time, which means criminals can ring a vulnerability dry before a fix ever comes through the wires.

Apps that are most likely to come with these mobile attacks are gaming, utility (such as flashlights and battery saver apps), and porn applications. Be careful when downloading these, particularly if you are downloading them from third party app stores such as GetJar. According to Lookout Mobile, these external marketplaces are where malware writers try out their new tricks.

As we always advise, be careful what you click, particularly if you are an Android user, and keep a discerning eye in 2012.

Filed under: mobile, security

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Web store builder Ecwid secures $1.5M in funding

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 10:04 AM PST

Russia has been a bit of a rough neighborhood for tech startups, but a Ulyanovsk-based startup called Ecwid just received $1.5 million in its first round of funding from Runa Capital, the first serious angel investment group in Russia. Ecwid builds seamlessly integrated online stores for any website or social media page.

The company has produced a cut-and-paste widget that quickly builds a web store for any website in less than five minutes. The widget works with any existing website, including major content management systems such as WordPress and Joomla. It can also be used to create a web store on Facebook and accepts payments from major payment systems such as PayPal and Google Checkout. The service starts at $17 for stores with over 100 products, and Ecwid offers a free widget for smaller stores.

"Ecwid is unlike any other e-commerce application, as it allows a store owner to retain his/her existing site, design and CMS," said Ruslan R. Fazlyev, Ecwid's founder and CEO, pictured left. "Installation is as simple as dropping in our code, so adding an online store to any existing web and social network presence is as easy as embedding a YouTube video."

Ecwid plans to put this round of funding towards opening its first U.S. and U.K. offices in the spring of next year. The offices will be based in Mountain View, Calif. and London. Ecwid’s goal is to grow sales to include small business owners and web studios.

Ecwid was founded in 2009, growing out of Fazlyev’s first start-up, X-Cart. The company currently has eighteen employees. Runa Capital is the first serious angel investment group in Russia and has helped build up the tech startup industry there.

Filed under: deals

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Double Fusion buys assets of in-game ad firm NeoEdge Networks

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 09:56 AM PST

In-game ad firm Double Fusion has acquired the assets of rival NeoEdge Networks, which focused on social and mobile in-game ads.

The consolidation reflects lots of changes in the market for ads that run inside games. Much of the revenue in social and mobile games are moving toward the free-to-play business model, where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods. About 95 percent of Zynga’s revenue is based on virtual goods.

The in-game ad companies insert advertisements inside games at appropriate points, such as when a round of game play ends. NeoEdge can add a 30-second video ad to an online game to help publishers make money from free games. On Saturday, we broke the news that in-game ad firm IGA Worldwide laid off seven of its 22 employees.

NeoEdge raised a round of $3 million a year ago, but it also had a messy fight between company executives and one of its venture capital investors, VanEdge Capital, headed by former Electronic Arts executives Paul Lee and Glenn Entis.

Double Fusion has also added a New York sales office and added distribution in Canada. NeoEdge and its partners add over 100 million monthly video impressions in numerous casual and social games to Double Fusion, which has a global network of 3 billion monthly impressions in games from publishers such as Ubisoft, THQ, and 2K Sports.

"This acquisition highlights our commitment to deliver a complete 360 degree in-game advertising solution for our clients and partners," said Dan Chambers, Double Fusion's head of sales, in a statement. "Gaming has become much more than the entertainment of choice for males 18-34.”

Now, with the rise of social and casual gaming, ads aimed at gamers can target women as well as young people of both sexes. Market researcher Gartner says that spending on games will exceed $74 billion this year, up 10.4 percent from 2010. By 2015, spending will reach $112 billion, with online gaming rising from $11.9 billion this year to $28.3 billion in 2015. Leveraging that growth, in-game advertising as an industry is positioning itself as a must-have for media buyers, in direct competition with ads on radio, print, or TV.

Double Fusion’s ad partners include McDonald's, Twentieth Century Fox, Dr. Pepper, State Farm and Toyota.


Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Top tech execs write open letter opposing SOPA (full text)

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 09:37 AM PST

anti-sopaA group of influential and iconic tech entrepreneurs have written an open letter of opposition to the recently proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which has been published as a paid advertisement in several major U.S. newspapers today.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith in late October, gives both the U.S. government and copyright holders the authority to seek court orders against websites associated with infringing, pirating and/or counterfeiting intellectual property. So for example, a website that provides a collection of links to sites that illegally stream copyrighted video content could get shut down and taken to court under SOPA, despite the fact that the site isn't streaming the content itself.

The opposition letter warns of the dangers that SOPA would bring to business and innovation. It’s signed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin,  Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Netscape co-founder and prominent investor Marc Andreessen, PayPal and Tesla founder Elon Musk and several others.

“We’ve all had the good fortune to found Internet companies and nonprofits in a regulatory climate that promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, the creation of content and free expression online,” the letter states. “However we’re worried that the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act–which started out as well-meaning efforts to control piracy online–will undermine that framework.”

In the letter, the entrepreneurs also warn that Congress is seeking internet regulation that’s on par with China and Iran — governments that are notorious for censoring potentially unpopular opinions under the guise of maintaining order. I can’t help but feel like this is also a direct response to remarks made by former U.S. Senator and current Motion Picture Association of America Chris Dodd, who referenced Google complying to the Chinese government’s request to block access to some sites as justification for SOPA.

In addition to those top tech executives, several companies and organizations have publicly come out against SOPA. Open-source online encyclopedia Wikipedia is even toying with the idea of staging a blackout in protest of the proposed law.

We’ve pasted the full letter below as well as a list of entrepreneurs who signed it.

An Open Letter to Washington

We’ve all had the good fortune to found Internet companies and nonprofits in a regulatory climate that promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, the creation of content and free expression online.

However we’re worried that the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act–which started out as well-meaning efforts to control piracy online–will undermine that framework.

These two pieces of legislation threaten to:

  • Require web services, like the ones we helped found, to monitor what users link to, or upload. This would have a chilling effect on innovation;
  • Deny website owners the right to due process of law;
  • Give the U.S. Government the power to censor the web using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran; and
  • Undermine security online by changing the basic structure of the Internet.

We urge Congress to think hard before changing the regulation that underpins the Internet. Let’s not deny the next generation of entrepreneurs and founders the same opportunities that we all had.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google
Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square
Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr and Hunch
David Filo, co-founder of Yahoo!
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn
Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post
Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube
Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive and co-founder of Alexa Internet
Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal
Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist
Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay
Biz Stone, co-founder of Obvious and Twitter
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation
Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger and Twitter
Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

The 100% electric-powered, zero-CO2 emissions Ford Focus Electric is progressive to its core

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 09:25 AM PST

This sponsored message is brought to you by Ford.

Gas-free driving is here. And the new Ford Focus Electric demonstrates just how viable – and enjoyable – this next era of car travel will be.* It is the embodiment of progressive movement: 100% electric-power and zero CO2 emissions.

Part of what makes Focus Electric so special, is that it comes fully loaded and features an impressive combination of technology and engineering designed to maximize the performance and impact of the car's electric power.

Focus Electric gets all of its power from an advanced high-voltage lithium-ion battery system, which means you’ll never need a drop of gas or an oil change. A full charge can be achieved in approximately 3 – 4 hours with the available 240-volt home charging station.

SYNC® with MyFord Touch, a tech tool that Ford drivers may already be familiar with, has been equipped with unique EV content to help the driver enhance the car's electric performance. The system displays battery charge status, energy surplus status and more to help you maximize efficiency and range.

The MyFord® Mobile app lets you monitor and schedule charging from anywhere. It gives you remote charging status updates, existing charge levels, available range and keeps track of your charge schedule. It helps you also locate the nearest charging stations.

Aesthetically speaking, Focus Electric looks as smart as it performs. Its kinetic design exudes energy, giving it a feel of constant motion. Eco-conscious materials inside and an illuminated charge port outside project its advanced nature.

Learn more about Focus Electric at Ford.com.

*Coming spring 2012. Limited availability.

Filed under: green, VentureBeat

T-Mobile makes its Lumia 710 official, coming January 11 for $50

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 09:19 AM PST

nokia lumia 710

Confirming not-so-secret rumors, T-Mobile announced today that it will offer Nokia’s Lumia 710 Windows Phone, making it the first U.S. carrier to offer Nokia’s new line of smartphones.

The Lumia 710 will be available on T-Mobile on January 11 for a mere $49.99 with contract. In its press release today, T-Mobile said that the phone is aimed at the 150 million Americans who haven’t yet jumped on the smartphone bandwagon.

And at just $50, I think the phone will be tempting to quite a few consumers. It’s basically a cheaper alternative to the Lumia 800, Nokia's flagship Windows Phone. It features the same 3.7-inch display and 1.4 gigahertz CPU as the 800, but it packs in less storage (8 gigabytes), a lower-quality 5 megapixel camera, and slightly less battery life (6.9 hours of 3G talk time). The 710′s rear covers will also be swappable, allowing you to mix and match your color scheme.

Nokia announced last week that it has begun shipping the Lumia 710 to international markets, so it’s nice to see the phone available on T-Mobile in short order.

We’re still waiting to see when the Lumia 800 will reach these shores though, especially since it’s a particularly important device for both Nokia and Microsoft. A few days ago we reported that both AT&T and Verizon Wireless were testing LTE 4G versions of the Lumia 800, which is a sign that we won’t see those phones in the US until Microsoft updates Windows Phone to support LTE.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Sonic CD blasts onto console and mobile today

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 09:09 AM PST

Sega of America has announced that Sonic CD is now available across a multitude of platforms today. Originally released in 1993 for the Sega CD, this version of Sonic CD  comes boasting both the Japanese and US soundtracks, and the exclusive ability to play as Tails, Sonic’s flying sidekick fox. The game will likely appeal to older gamers who are nostalgic for the games of their youth.

"Sonic's 20th Anniversary has been a banner year for him – as well as for everyone at SEGA," said Haruki Satomi, Senior Vice President of Digital Business at SEGA of America. "Gamers around the world are rediscovering their love of Sonic through his adventures, new and old. Whether you are a long-time hedgehog aficionado looking to enjoy a favorite moment from Sonic's past, or a brand-new player who wants to join in on the fun, there is no better place to start than with one of Sonic's most celebrated games, Sonic CD."

Targeting games at nostalgic gamers is pretty common, now that multiple generations have grown up with video games. Sonic CD was known for its unique time-traveling aspect (completely optional, for those who prefer to blast through the game as quickly as possible), inventive level design, and the first appearance of the villainous Metal Sonic. Oh yeah, and it has one of the most awesome opening theme songs in video game history:

Sonic CD is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for a mere $5. Android and iOS versions will be available by December 15, for a limited-time price of $1.99. PlayStation owners will have to wait until December 20, when Sonic CD is released on the PlayStation Network for $4.99. A Windows Phone version is planned for next year.

Filed under: games, mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

ReadWriteWeb acquired by SAY Media, Dan Frommer joins up as editor-at-large

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

readwritewebSAY Media has acquired technology blog ReadWriteWeb, the company announced today.

ReadWriteWeb was founded in April 2003 by editor-in-chief Richard MacManus and has been a staple for technology fans for years. RWW will be the third blog SAY has acquired this year, with Dogster in April and Remodelista in August. SAY Media CEO Matt Sanchez said RWW will “further strengthen” the company’s technology channel, which “reaches more than 75 million global consumers each month.”

SAY also announced that former Business Insider editor Dan Frommer will join RWW’s staff as Editor-at-Large, a position that will give him freedom to write for his own blog, SplatF, while also helping the RWW team. “ReadWriteWeb covers the tech industry with a high level of integrity and intellectual curiosity,” Frommer said in a statement. “I can’t wait to add my voice to the site.”

Frommer will help the site generate more engaging content after lead writer Marshall Kirkpatrick stepped down in November to spend more time on his startup Plexus Engine. Kirkpatrick still writes for the site but does so with much less frequency.

In a blog post announcing the acquisition, MacManus said the site will see some big changes soon. RWW will be adding more writers to the staff, expanding the site’s focus into international and cultural news and redesigning the site.

Looking back what has occurred from 2003 to today, MacManus writes:

It’s been an eventful and fun journey since I founded ReadWriteWeb back in April, 2003. Over that time, ReadWriteWeb has grown to be one of the biggest blogs in the world. More importantly, we’ve stuck to the site’s core goal from Day 1: provide thoughtful analysis of the latest Web technology products and trends. Along the way, we’ve had many talented people contribute to ReadWriteWeb’s growth. Chief among those is our team today, led on the business side by our COO Sean Ammirati and on the editorial side by Managing Editor Abraham Hyatt and Channels Editor David Strom.

Filed under: deals, media

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Microsoft confirms Windows Phone Mango SMS exploit, fix on the way

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 08:54 AM PST

nokia-lumia-800Microsoft has confirmed the existence of an SMS denial-of-service exploit for Windows Phone that can reboot devices and kill access to messaging functionality.

The company says it’s exploring the issue and working on a fix, reports The Verge.

The exploit, first discovered by WinRumors yesterday, simply involves sending a text message to any Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) device, which causes the phone to reboot and disable the messaging hub. It can also be triggered with a Facebook or Windows Live message. WinRumors tested the exploit across multiple devices and found that it’s likely rooted in the way the Windows Phone OS messaging hub functions.

Luckily, it doesn’t appear that the exploit is widely known at this time, so Windows Phone users shouldn’t have too much to worry about yet. Microsoft has the ability to push updates to Windows Phone devices over-the-air, which it will likely take advantage of to make sure users are fully protected.

Both iOS and Android have faced SMS exploits as well, though WinRumors notes that this particular issue seems more like a bug with Windows Phone rather than a sophisticated security breach.

Check out a demo of the exploit below:

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

List of 10 free GBA games for early 3DS adopters emerges

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 08:51 AM PST

Free Gameboy Advance games will be made available to early 3DS adopters by Nintendo, as part of its ambassador program, according to game site NeoGaf.

Nintendo recently decided to reward customers who purchased the 3DS console prior to the massive August price drop, by giving them 10 NES and 10 GBA games to download for free. The free NES games are already available, and include the original Metroid, Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda games. That’s not a bad strategy, considering that rival platforms such as the iPhone and Android have tons of free content.

Now, the list of GBA games is finally here, and it is mighty impressive. The 10 games  will be available to download in Europe, Australia and Japan on Dec. 16. There is no word on the download date, or confirmation of the titles, for the US yet, but I would expect an announcement very soon.

Here is the list of GBA games in full:

  • F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
  • Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island
  • Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
  • Kirby & The Amazing Mirror
  • Mario Kart: Super Circuit
  • Mario vs. Donkey Kong
  • Metroid Fusion
  • Wario Land 4
  • WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames

It is certainly a quality round up of classic Gameboy Advance titles, and it should go some way to putting a smile on the face of gamers who purchased the console at its original launch price of $249. The August price drop to $169 came as part of Nintendo’s efforts to boost initially slow sales of its unique handheld console.

To be eligible for the 3DS ambassador program, you need to have connected to the Nintendo eShop or performed a system update on your console before 11:59pm Eastern August 11, 2011.

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Dylan’s Desk: Android hates me, and it doesn’t like you either

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 08:30 AM PST

Suit-wearing Android toyI’ve come to the conclusion that my Android phone hates me.

It probably hates you, too.

The breaking point came today when I tried to use my phone to Google the word “Edsel.” Instead of delivering the answer, my phone — a cheap LG model from Virgin Mobile — spontaneously rebooted itself.

I wasn’t exactly surprised, since my phone has a tendency to reboot without warning at least once a day. The irony didn’t escape me, however. The Edsel was Ford’s “experimental” car, introduced in 1957 after two years of development. While it had tons of features, such as oil level warning lights and an innovative “Teletouch” shift system, the Edsel was poorly marketed, didn’t have a clear target customer, and was too expensive. It also suffered from reliability problems.

Android phones aren’t exactly Edsels (they don’t have a big front grille that looks like, well, lady parts). But they are similar in a couple ways: Packed with features but also saddled with a dismaying lack of reliability and a lot of stray details that reveal just how little its designers care about you. It’s the ultimate triumph of the lame “good enough” philosophy.

Again and again, I run into little annoying details in the Android interface that reveal how I’m really just an afterthought to Google’s engineers.

Some examples:

  • The built-in onscreen keyboard is so half-assed that there’s a thriving subclass of apps designed to replace it, including Swype and Swiftkey. Fortunately, thanks to Android’s openness, this is actually possible.
  • When you’re adjusting a time or date setting, the finger that you use to adjust the numbers upward obscures your view of the actual number.
  • In the Gmail app, to switch out of your Inbox to a different folder, you press the button labeled “inbox.” This is a perversity comparable to pressing the Start button to shut down your computer.
  • Some apps can be moved to SD card storage. Others, such as the rather large Google Maps app, cannot. It’s not clear why not. It’s also not clear why those apps stuck in the phone’s main storage need to keep updating themselves, so they get larger and larger.
  • When you’re scrolling through a screen, sometimes it jumps halfway down (up?) without warning, leaving you bewildered about where in the page you are.
  • Music playback is constantly getting interrupted by new mail alerts and other sonic warnings. Switching your phone to silent mode helps, but only slightly: The bleeps become tiny quarter-second blips of silence interrupting the music instead.
  • Every single account that I’ve ever added to the phone for syncing information is now requesting to update various apps.
  • Sometimes the search button doesn’t work. (Calendar app, I’m looking at you.)
  • Sometimes the back button takes you to the previous application, and sometimes it takes you to the previous screen in the current app, and it doesn’t seem to matter what you were actually doing before.
  • You still can’t copy and paste text from email messages. Seriously?

Now, I am not using the most recent version of Android. I am using Android 2.2.1 (“Froyo”) on a crummy phone that I bought for $150 at Target because I could get it without a contract, and Virgin Mobile offers unlimited data and all the voice minutes I need for $40 per month.

The fact that this crummy phone exists at all is Android’s great advantage, but it is also its fatal flaw. Unlike more restrictive mobile operating systems, Android offers you the freedom to buy a crap phone that barely works.

That’s why Android is now the most popular smartphone operating system. And, yes, I am grateful for the opportunity to have a cheap phone. I just wish its design didn’t betray such obvious indifference to the people who try to use it.

Photo: Robert Occhialini/Flickr

NOTE: Subscribe to my newsletter and you can read these columns a whole day before they appear on our website.

Filed under: mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Tagged acquires social network Hi5

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 08:23 AM PST

We’re seeing some social network consolidation happening: Tagged has acquired Hi5. The move will double Tagged’s online community from 10 million to 20 million active users.

The deal ends Hi5′s attempt to transform itself from an international social network to an online gaming community squaring off against Facebook. That turnaround effort was headed by Alex St. John, a gaming guru and former president and chief operating officer of Hi5. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Hi5 is well past its peak active user count, having fallen from 50 million or so to 10 million. Full told, San Francisco-based Hi5 has more than 230 million registered users, while Tagged has more than 100 million registered users. Both companies will continue to operate as two independent and freestanding brands, with updates arriving in the coming months. San Francisco-based Tagged is a network for meeting new people through social games, custom profiles, and virtual gifts.

"An opportunity of this magnitude is uncommon and exciting as the addition of Hi5 immediately doubles our overall active user base and grows combined registered users past 330 million members," said Greg Tseng, Tagged co-founder and chief executive, in a statement. "Hi5's global footprint complements Tagged's and instantly builds on our leadership position as the world's first, largest and best social network to meet new people.”

St. John said that Tagged is the perfect home for Hi5 as it continues to prove itself as a major contender in social. Hi5 was created in 2003 with the help of Stanford doctoral candidates Johann Schleier-Smith and Greg Tseng. But in 2005, Tseng and Schleier-Smith decided to dedicate themselves full-time to Tagged.

St. John was a colorful character. In the picture above, he wrestled a champion Sumo wrestler as part of a publicity stunt at a game trade show. Hi5 raised a round of $14 million in 2010, when it had about 40 million monthly active users and was trying to square off against giant Facebook, which had 500 million users at the time.

Filed under: deals, games, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

TaskRabbit raises $17.8M to hop into more cities

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 07:32 AM PST

taskrabbitTask outsourcing startup TaskRabbit has closed a new $17.8 million round of funding, the company announced today.

TaskRabbit lets people outsource errands, commitments and tasks to other people. TaskRabbit users then make bids for each of those tasks and the lowest bid is assigned to do it. The service is available in a handful of cities, including Boston San Francisco, New York City, Chicago Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. It has plans to expand into Atlanta, Austin and Dallas in the future.

The startup intends to use the additional capital to hire new employees and expand service within the U.S. as well as internationally. The new round was led by LightSpeed Venture Partners, with participation from existing partners, Allen & Company and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s The Tornante Company.

Founded in 2008, the San Francisco-based startup previously raised a $5 million round of funding in May. TaskRabbit has a total of $22.8 million in investment to date.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Content discovery platform Outbrain doubles funding with $35M round

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 07:16 AM PST

Outbrain, a company that focuses on recommending interesting content to readers, announced today that it has landed a massive $35 million in a fourth round of funding led by Index Ventures.

The company is now making greater strides in video and mobile web recommendations, and it says that the funding will help it to expand its reach across devices and various content types.

“There are other screens and devices where people consume their favorite content, and we'd love for Outbrain to be of service in those places,” Outbrain CEO and co-founder Yaron Galai wrote in a blog post today.

The funding more than doubles Outbrain’s existing funding, and it shows that now, with smartphones and tablets on the rise, there’s an even greater interest in content discovery than in previous years. Outbrain originally launched in 2006, in a time before smartphones were ubiquitous and tablets were viable consumer devices.

The company provides content recommendations to major publishers like CNN, Fox News, and Ziff Davis. (VentureBeat also uses its recommendations below every story.) Outbrain’s recommendations are viewed more than 3.5 billion times every month and lead to over 200 million clicks.

Outbrain says that the funding will also be used to expand its platform to other countries and languages (it added France and Germany this year). It’s also aiming to improve the quality of its recommendation algorithm and scale its infrastructure to handle the increased demand.

Outbrain has offices in New York City and Israel. This latest round brings its total funding to $64 million, and existing investors Carmel Ventures and Lightspeed Venture also participated. As part of the funding, Index partner Dominique Vidal will also be joining the company’s board.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Shodogg will let you pause and restart video from any device (exclusive)

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 07:00 AM PST

shodoggThere’s a series of DirecTV commercials where a TV viewer is immersed in an action scene but easily pauses and begins the scene where he left off in a different room. While that idea is easy to grasp, it’s not fully realized because our homes have more screens than just TVs. The viewer can’t begin watching again, on say, his smartphone.

Shodogg, a startup focused on consuming and syncing video easily across platforms and devices, wants to change that. The company, which has been in stealth mode since early this year, could fill in that gap with its patent-pending technology that lets you jump from TV screen to phone screen to laptop screen without missing a beat.

Shodogg first told the world a bit about its technology at VentureBeat’s DEMO event in New York City in October, but many details were still held at bay because the company will officially debut its service and apps at the CES conference in Las Vegas in early January. Shodogg CEO and co-founder Herb Mitschele decided to share a few more details behind his promising-sounding startup beforehand to give us a better idea of what his technology can do.

The company’s grand vision is to change the way “people discover, watch and share online videos.” If you can start watching a movie on the iPhone 4S on your train ride home, then tap a button and move it to your big-screen Samsung TV when you arrive, the barriers to how you actually consume video almost evaporate. Apple, Google, Viacom, News Corp, NBC Universal or other media companies aren’t making you to pay more to enjoy that content somewhere else or buy other devices to enable it.

However, the company stressed that it does not want media companies to think of them as a disruptor of their content and sales strategies and wants them onboard as partners. While that notion might be a tough sell, Mitschele said Shodogg’s technology will actually help “preserve branded content” but just make it possible to watch it on a more convenient or better-looking screen. The media company still gets your dollars to buy or stream a movie, but Shodogg enables the viewer with more options for how to consume it.

“The next step is to secure a lot of media deals,” Mitschele said. “We will display content partners we’re working with at CES.”

The company’s patent-pending technology is still young, and as such, it has limitations. Outside of working on almost every standard browser (IE10, Chrome, Firefox, Safari), it only works on connected TVs that have a browser and through Shodogg’s applications for iOS 5 and Android 2.1 and up. Those applications are not in Apple’s App Store or the Android Marketplace as of this writing, but Mitschele said the apps will be available in January.

For real use cases, Mitschele said YouTube was the service’s starting point because of its open API. You can watch a YouTube clip or movie through the Shodogg app on an iPhone, then open the same clip through Shodogg on your desktop browser and the clip will begin right where you left off. It is working on hooking up with other video services to make the experience as seamless as YouTube.

One powerful example Mitschele illustrated to better explain how Shodogg works was this: Mitschele set up Shodogg on his mother’s home computer. Now, he can be hundreds of miles away from her house and share videos from his phone to her computer without any hassle. “I call her up and say ‘Hey Mom, go sit in front of the computer and then send the video to her screen,” Mitschele said.

The Valhalla, New York-based company has thus far raised $1.6 million in funding from several “senior media executives.” It has a nice list of advisers on hand as well: Gregg Spiridellis, founder and CEO of JibJab; Linda Yaccarino, NBCU President of cable and digital ad sales; and Jerry Needel, COO of Buzzmetrics.

A slick promo video that shows off more about Shodogg can be seen below:

Filed under: media

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

This week on Xbox Live: Expansions for Battlefield 3, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, and Gears of War 3

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 07:00 AM PST

Microsoft has expanded Xbox Live to enable new entertainment options such as YouTube and Verizon’s FiOS TV, but the bread and butter of the Xbox 360 remains games. This week sees a slew of attention-grabbing new content on Xbox Live for some of the year’s biggest titles. Battlefield 3 finally gets its Back to Karkand expansion, available for $15, or free to those who purchased the Battlefield 3 Limited Edition retail package. Gears of War 3 kicks off its 12 Days of Gearsmas celebration with the RAAM’s Shadow campaign. You can read my review here. I didn’t like it. And Assassin’s Creed Revelations receives the first of several content bundles with the Ancestors Character Pack, which adds a few new faces to the multiplayer.

On the Xbox Live Arcade side, Sonic CD and the highly-regarded PlayStation 3 fan favorite, Joe Danger, both see special editions released today.  The complete listing and prices are below:

Xbox Live Arcade Games

  • Joe Danger Special Edition- 1200 MSP*
  • Sonic CD – 400 MSP

Downloadable Content

  • Assassin's Creed Revelations Ancestors Character Pack – 320 MSP
  • Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand – 1200 MSP
  • Duke Nukem Forever The Doctor Who Cloned Me – 800 MSP
  • Fruit Ninja Kinect – Holiday Pack – Free
  • Gears of War 3 RAAM's Shadow Expansion – 1200 MSP
  • Magic the Gathering 2012: Deck Expansion Pack 2 – 240 MSP
  • Orcs Must Die! Lost Adventures – 320 MSP
  • Pinball FX 2 – Marvel Vengeance and Virtue Table Pack – 800 MSP
  • Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012 Bundle #1  - 560 MSP
  • Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012 DLC 1: Back in Shape: Lose It – 400 MSP
  • Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012 DLC 2: Jump Rope: Survival Mode – 320 MSP

Deal of the Week: Japan's Finest (Dec 13–19)

  • Bangai-O – 400 MSP (50% off)
  • Guwange – 400 MSP (50% off)
  • Hard Corps Uprising – 600 MSP (50% off)
  • Radiant Silvergun – 600 MSP (50% off)

*MSP = Microsoft Points. 80 MSP equates to one US dollar. 

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

TwitchTV sees rapid growth for game tournament video streams

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 06:00 AM PST

TwitchTV, the video game broadcasting community, said today it has grown to more than 12 million unique viewers a month. The San Francisco company also said that it has more than 1,000 premium partners and its iPhone app has been downloaded more than 80,000 times in a month. All of that adds up to fast growth, according to the company.

Back in July, the company had just 8 million unique viewers.

“The tremendous growth we have experienced over the last six months is indicative of several burgeoning trends," said Emmett Shear, chief executive of TwitchTV. "Not only are gamers elevating their interest in watching others play in a community-driven fashion, but our partners providing the content have taken streaming to new heights.”

TwitchTV wants to be the destination for top players, teams, leagues and events when it comes to game video streaming, where users watch tournaments and other programming over the web. TwitchTV launched in June and unveiled a revenue-sharing plan for top content producers. Partners now include  Electronic Sports League (ESL), Day[9]TV, IGN Pro League (IPL), Major League Gaming (MLG), and North American Star League (NASL).

Sven Hoffman, managing director of ESL TV, said that TwitchTV exploded over the past year along with the popularity of eSports, where spectators watch the best pro gamers in action. The TwitchTV site has grown 11 percent a month since launching in June.


Filed under: games, media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Apsalar’s analytics tools delve deeper into mobile app engagement and monetization

Posted: 14 Dec 2011 05:00 AM PST

Analytics is becoming the big science behind mobile games. And the folks at Apsalar are aiming at becoming the biggest propeller heads in the business.

The San Francisco company, a veteran of DEMO,  is announcing today two new analytics tools aimed at measuring engagement of players and its relationship to higher revenues per users. The tools can be used together to create a user engagement index and to optimize the revenue generated from each user.

The tools will be part of a free suite of ApScience analytics tools that Apsalar already provides to more than 2,000 customers with 45,000 apps in the mobile app stores. Those apps have been downloaded 20 million times. Customers are already using the tools because they give mobile app publishers unprecedented levels of information on users, their progress in games, and just how much time they spend playing. They can then group users into cohorts, a groups of individuals with similar characteristics, and then run analyses related to how much revenue those users generate. Apsalar calls the engagement tools its Mobile Engagement Management platform for both iOS and Android apps.

Publishers use the numbers to figure out what to do next. Apsalar also provides targeting tools that it charges for. Those help the publishers target special offers to users who can be prompted to get more engaged or to spend more money. The resulting information includes average engagement per user and average revenue per user. That data helps publishers predict how much money they can make from a game. If publishers make macro changes to their mobile apps, they can measure the change in engagement and revenue.

One of the company that plans to use the new tools is Gameview Studios, a mobile game maker acquired by DeNA of Japan. Riz Virk, chief executive of Gameview, said the data is critical in helping to guide product and business decisions. It can be used to calculate the lifetime value of a customer, or how much revenue that customer will generate over the life of a game. Figuring out who pays and who doesn’t is very important to mobile game publishers, who are largely shifting to the free-to-play model, where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods. Through careful analytics and promotional targeting, companies can raise the percentage of users who pay and how much they spend.

With the tools, developers can track anything, such as a player reaching level 5 in a game and its correlation to the likelihood of that user buying virtual currency. The point is to provide customers with actionable data about their users, said Michael Oiknine, chief executive of Apsalar, in an interview.

“We’re taking analysis to the next level,” he said. “We’re already monitoring a few billion events a month.”

Apsalar was founded in 2010 and its backers include Thomvest Ventures, Battery Ventures and DN Capital. the company has raised $6 million to date and it has 20 employees. Rivals include Flurry, Claritics and in-house analytics at game companies.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Nexon shares fall in first day of trading: not good for Zynga

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 11:48 PM PST

Online game company Nexon saw its shares fall in its first day of trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange following its $1.2 billion initial public offering.

The deal was Japan’s biggest IPO this year and it doesn’t augur well for Zynga, which plans to start trading shares on Thursday.

Nexon sold more than 70 million shares. It closed at 1,270 yen, or $16.31 a share, compared with its opening price of 1,300 yen, or $16.70 a share. Nexon has one more day of trading before Zynga goes out, but it may be tough. The broader Nikkei market fell 0.4 percent, and rivals Gree fell 2.7 percent and DeNA fell 4.3 percent.

Zynga hopes to raise around $1 billion at a smaller valuation than it initially hoped because of weak financial markets. The IPO is going to be a nail biter, as at least one analyst said Zynga’s price range of $8.50 to $10 a share seems too high.

Nexon’s market capitalization is less than $7 billion, while Zynga is shooting for $8.9 billion. But Nexon is more profitable than Zynga, with year-to-date profits at $260 million, compared to $30 million for Zynga.

Nexon, which pioneered the free-to-play and virtual goods business model, grew up in Korea and recently moved its headquarters to Tokyo. It is part of a $49 billion games market, and Nexon said it expects growth across all markets.

“Part of the problem is that they priced it at fair value, so it wasn’t going to come on at a huge premium,” said David Gibson, an analyst at Macquarie Capital Securities in Tokyo, in an interview with Reuters. Some Nexon shareholders were allowed to sell their holdings immediately. Nexon has more than 77 million monthly active users.

Filed under: games, mobile, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Is Apple vulnerable in 2012? You bet

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 10:33 PM PST

[This story originally appeared on CNET and is republished with permission.]

The battle is on to unseat Apple where Steve Jobs made it shine – and mighty Apple is already looking at risk.

It took Microsoft 10 years to catch up and exceed the Mac OS after Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985. That was with Windows 95. Now, Jobs is gone and Apple is once again in a position of clear market leadership with competitors gunning to match its products.

Apple's rivals aren't taking a decade, however. Far from it. Google, Amazon and Microsoft, along with partners such as Intel, Samsung, HP and Lenovo are all heading into 2012 with impressive products aimed squarely at Apple's hits – the iPhone, the MacBook Air and the iPad.

The iPhone alternatives

When you hold the Samsung Galaxy 2, the Nexus Galaxy or other versions for the new generation of Android devices, it's clear why Samsung phones are now outselling iPhones and why Apple is suing various Android handset manufacturers. These devices are a huge threat to the iPhone. The screens are bigger than the iPhone's. They weigh less and they're speedier.

The new version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, is almost at parity with the beauty and ease-of-use of iOS. Plus, the emergence of apps from Pandora and Spotify, both amazing music streaming services, make the iTunes library lock-in hardly a lock-in at all. In fact, more than 370,000 apps are now available for Android, including most of the ones that people want. Apple is adding great new features such as Siri, but let's not forget that Apple acquired Siri and the underlying  voice recognition technology is provided by Nuance. Android already has similar apps and Microsoft's TellMe will not be far behind.

Conclusion: Even before all these advances, Android was already outselling iOS. Apple's position in this war is weakening.

Up in the air

Here come the MacBook Air clones. Air-like notes based on Intel's next generation Ultrabook components are going to be announced en masse at CES in January. I recently played with an Asus Zenbook, the Asus version of an Ultrabook. The Asus looked great and even had stylish metal keys that are far nicer than I had expected from the photos. It's not as if Apple has an exclusive on making computers lighter and batteries last longer. Apple was just the first to perfect it because it controls the entire system — the operating system and hardware right through to retail — and has the will and pricing power to push for what it wants among the component makers.

I use both Windows 7 and Mac OS on a daily basis and really can't tell the difference between the two anymore, mainly because I spend most of my time on Google's Chrome and Microsoft Office. Windows 7 actually has better desktop management – when I open or select a document, it only brings that document to front, not every other document already opened by that particular app. Yes, the Mac OS is easy-to-use and stable, but stand next to the genius bar at a Mac store and you will see that many people have many problems, just like Windows 7.

Conclusion: Most notebook computers will have this new form factor, and Windows-based computers will maintain their market share if not begin to erode the Mac market share.

King iPad's throne is at risk

Tablets are a category that Apple completely dominates, with 80% market share. Android competitors have flailed, but Amazon's Android-based Kindle Fire is likely to outsell the iPad in 2012 due to its low price ($199). Amazon is marketing the Kindle as a cheap, content consumption device rather than full-fledged tablet, and it's subsidizing the price in exchange for people subsequently purchasing movies, apps and physical goods from Amazon.

While the Kindle Fire will nibble at the iPad from the low end, at the higher-end, $500+ price range, full-fledged computers based on the Ultrabook and Netbook form factors and Windows 8 Metro will begin to compete with the iPad, including hybrids with pivoting screens and detachable keyboards that effectively merge an ultra-lightweight notebook and tablet.

Conclusion: The iPad will dominate through 2012, but after that the iPad will be squeezed on the low end by the Kindle and on the high end by full-fledged touchscreen PCs.

Of course, Apple is not sitting idly by. It is rumored that Jobs left years of product plans behind and Apple is widely expected soon to enter the TV set business in order to further ensconce consumers in its vision of gadgetry. Apple's vast manufacturing volume enables it to get the next generation of components, such as screens and processors, before its competitors.

However, technology is accelerating faster than ever before, and it doesn't take long for the competition to catch up. Apple's ultimate attribute, that of design and "taste," is almost like fashion. And as with fashion, being first doesn't mean you will rule the market; it just means that you are going to get copied. Remember, H&M sells a lot more Prada-like designs than Prada.

Peter Yared is the CTO of CBS Interactive and has founded four e-commerce and marketing infrastructure companies that were acquired by Sun, VMware, Webtrends and TigerLogic. You can follow him at @peteryared.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Click tease: New collaborative Hipstamatic app makes you wait for photos

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 09:10 PM PST

Back in my day, we had to fill a roll of film with 24 photos, drop it off at the Fotomat, and then wait an hour (or a day!) to see the final printed product. The makers of retrotastic photo app Hipstamatic have deeply romanticized memories of those analog times. They pine for the suspense, the unpredictability and the photo-foreplay, if you will, of film.

Synthetic, the company behind Hipstamatic, announced its latest app today, which combines the disposable cameras of yore with the Hipstamatic aesthetic. The free D-Series iOS app (“D” is for disposable) requires you to shoot 24 photos before you can see what the images look like. You can invite other people who have the app to share a “camera” with you, and each photo a member of the group takes counts as one of the 24. Once that final photo is snapped, everyone gets a push notification and the roll is downloaded to their iPhone or iPod touch.

Synthetic hit it big two years ago with the 99-cent retro-filter photo app Hipstamatic, which in the film spirit, makes you pick a filter before taking a photo. Hipstamatic has over 4 million paid users today, and makes a chunk of its income from in-app purchases of lens, flash and film effects. The company has released other apps, Swankolab and Incredibooth, but neither managed to make the same splash as Hipstamatic.

“These are the most authentic faux-vintage photos you can possibly make,” is how Lucas Buick, CEO of Synthetic, described the Hipstamatic look at a D-Series demo on Tuesday. That authenticity is hugely responsible for Hipstamatic’s success so far. The app was hyped organically, thanks to attention from celebrities, mainstream photographers, and major corporations.

It has been a natural marketing partner, hosting sponsored contests and making branded custom lenses for advertisers. Synthetic hopes to make those kinds of lucrative partnerships easier with a new creative design kit (CDK), also announced Tuesday. Through this CDK, companies will even be able to start their own D-Series groups, based on location or time-based projects.

The idea of waiting to see a digital photo is ridiculous sounding at first, but the social aspect does give it some charm and party potential. The D-Series creators seem so smitten with the old ways of photography, that they’re overlooking how today’s smartphone users consume photography. Cameras used to be disposable, but now the images themselves are. Increasingly, phone photography is less about having a photo to admire later, and more a way of announcing on social networks in real-time, “I’m here now, doing this cool thing.”

Refreshingly for a Bay Area startup, Synthetic hasn’t received any VC funding. Lucas Buick and Ryan Dorshorst built the original Hipstamatic app with just $300, including Apple’s developer fees. Over the past two years, the duo has grown into a full company with fresh digs in San Francisco, in a remodeled building that used to be a coffin factory.

Here are some screenshots of the new app:

And here’s an adorable video of hard-partying cartoon characters demonstrating the app:

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Groupon co-founders invest $1M-plus into an anti-Groupon: Belly

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 08:59 PM PST

Belly loyaltyBelly, a loyalty and customer rewards program for small and medium sized businesses, launched today in Chicago, announcing it has received more than $1 in seed capital from Lightbank, the firm owned by the co-founders of Groupon.

In a way, New Belly can be considered the opposite of Groupon. Groupon is known for helping businesses with customer “acquisition,” and has been criticized for being a pump and dump sort of business — maximizing customers for businesses, but not caring about customer loyalty.

By contrast, Belly tries to offer loyalty. It says it replaces the traditional 'buy 10 get one free punch cards' with rewards that “fit the personality of the business and connect consumers on a much more personalized level.”

The company says it will be the first digital universal loyalty program that goes wherever you go: with a single physical card, iPhone App or Android App, that lets you earn points and redeem rewards at your favorite local businesses by simply scanning the card or app on the provided iPad. "Other reward programs don't effectively cater to both consumers and businesses, and most are horribly ineffective,” said Belly co-founder and CEO Logan LaHive in a statement. “Consumers don't want to carry several different cards.”

Granted, there are plethora of other companies that are offering digital reward programs, and who are also boasting single physical cards and apps. But the company says its biggest difference is that it also provides training and an in-store iPad with every subscription.

Belly says it is already installed in over 200 businesses in the Chicago area (see the map above; that’s a pretty impressive density).

The company is apparently trying to take some of the whimsy known in Groupon’s marketing, and applying it to loyalty. It’s boasting funny rewards, including one from a comic book store that offers customers a chance to punch the owner in the stomach, to a bakery that rewards customer 10 minutes for all you can eat cupcakes. It also lets you arm wrestle a sandwich restaurant owner or ride along in a food truck that will let its best customers "egg" the truck as it drives by.

Lightbank is the investment firm of Groupon co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell.

Here’s a list of some of the projects:

  • Galleria Market: Free Pint of Haagen Daaz / Ben & Jerry Ice Cream
  • Dairy Queen: Free Blizzard or Smoothie
  • Devil Dawgs: All You Can Eat Chicago Dawgs (10 Minutes In-Store)
  • Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet: Kiss A Lobster – Then Take It Home With Dirk’s Famous Recipe and Dressings
  • Cheetah Gym: Refer a Friend, Get a Free Month
  • Heat Kitchen: Free Wild Game Sausage & Truffle Fries
  • Papa John’s: 1 Pizza (one topping), Order of Wings, 20oz Pop, and Order of Breadsticks
  • UPS Store: Free Ground Shipping
  • AlleyCat Comics: Punch Staff Member of Choice in the Stomach
  • Dog-A-Holics: Portrait of You and Your Dog On Our Wall
  • Chicago Bagel Authority: Owner Will Write a Song For You!
  • Molly’s Cupcakes: Name Your Own Cupcake for a Day!
  • Molly’s Cupcakes: 10-Minute-All You Can Eat
  • Gaztro Wagon: EGG the Truck – 60 Eggs & Egg the Truck as it Cruises By
  • Southport Grocery: VIP – Cut the Line

[Update: This story originally called the company by its earlier name, Bellyflop. That has been corrected].

Filed under: deals, media, mobile, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Louie CK’s web-only special makes $500K in 4 days

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 08:58 PM PST

louie ckComedian Louie CK has divulged the results of his $5 web special experiment, and the numbers look good.

In just four days, the special has sold over 110,000 copies making over $500,000, CK said in a statement today. He made a profit of over $200,000 so far, after spending $170,000 on the production of the video, and around $32,000 on a website able to withstand his throng of fans.

“This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you about $20 for the video,” he wrote. “They would have given you an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely.”

Many had expected CK’s web special — which was notable for its lack of digital rights management restrictions, or DRM — to be a smashing success. After all, he’s a popular comedian with a loyal fan base. But the numbers are still a good sign for CK, and for web distribution in general. The special will likely rake in $1 million within the next week, which could certainly convince other entertainers to take distribution into their own hands.

As for the production itself, CK said it was shot with six cameras over two performances at the Beacon Theater in New York City. He directed the special himself (he also directs his self-titled TV series), which was definitely another useful cost-saving measure. CK also revealed that the special sold 50,000 copies in its first 12 hours available, making over $250,000.

CK gave some further insight into the project yesterday in a thread on the social news site Reddit.

He also didn’t seem to be too concerned about the few people pirating the special: “If anybody stole it, it wasn’t many of you. Pretty much everybody bought it. And so now we all get to know that about people and stuff.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Tweets Per Second record shattered by Japanese animated movie, Twitter says

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 08:50 PM PST

Castle in the SkyTwitter has announced that a recent Japanese television program has triggered a new record for the highest tweets per second.

As you might guess, the “tweet’s per second” (TPS) measurement is determined by measuring the number of times the world mentions a specific subjected over the course of a single second in time. With 25,088 TPS, the new record holder goes to the Dec. 9 screening of Castle in the Sky, an animated Japanese program about sky pirates in a post apocalyptic society.

The previous record of 8,868 TPS was held by pop singer Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement during MTV Video Music Awards show in August. Other notable records include a recent U.S. women’s soccer team game (7,196 TPS), Japan’s New Year’s Eve 2010 celebration (6,939 TPS), the sad news of Steve Jobs’ passing (6,049 TPS), the death of terrorist Bin Laden (5,106 TPS) and the 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan in March (5,530 TPS).

Basically, Japanese celebration and tragedy seem to dominate the records across the board. But, nothing comes close to how people feel about their classic post-apocalyptic animation.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Musicians connected with Facebook in 2011, top 250 grab over 2B likes (infographic)

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 05:15 PM PST

facebook musicFacebook is a hub for many things such as looking at photos, updating friends and family on your life and stalking just about anyone. Since it’s September developer conference f8, Facebook has also become a go-to for media including music and news.

RootMusic, a company which created a Facebook application for musicians called BandPage, realized over 250 different artists have collectively seen over two billion likes through the social network. Facebook has become fertile grounds for musicians to promote themselves because of all the interactive features you can add to your band’s fan page. For instance, you can supplement your pages with different multimedia add-ons, users can share songs they are listening to and invite friends to listen along. Indeed, we’ve already listened to 1.5 billion songs on the social network alone.

Facebook itself has over 800 million active users to date, with 89 percent of top music artists using some form of Facebook application to promote their work. One of those top artists includes Rhianna, who found love and grew to be the most popular female artist on Facebook this year, with 47.5 million likes.

Fans who do visit Facebook for their musical fix generally check out the artist’s Facebook wall first, however. Applications, such as VEVO for music videos, follow afterward. Artists keep in touch with their fans through the wall, sending posts at least 1.6 times a day.

Check out the infographic for more on how bands and music artists are using the social network:

Music on Facebook Infographic

[Image based on a photo from 4elevenpix.]

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Private chats become the new suicide hotline on Facebook

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 04:57 PM PST

A suicide prevention program is only as effective as its ability to reach people in times of crisis. Facebook, in partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, has introduced features to encourage its users to confidentially report suicidal comments when and where they’re most likely to see them — on Facebook.

The new features, available in the U.S. and Canada as of Tuesday, are the equivalent to a suicide hotline for the Facebook generation, where the old-fashioned dial-in is replaced by a Facebook-click-to-report and chat-based counselor outreach system.

“With this initiative we are hoping to expedite the process of getting people in crisis to the help they need,” a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat.

Here’s how it works: Should a Facebook member come across a suicidal message in her stream, she can click on the update to report it or fill out a form (pictured below). She’ll then receive an email from Facebook with a link to begin a confidential chat session with a Lifeline crisis worker. The email response will also include the phone number for the free hotline.

Facebook and Lifeline have been partners since 2006, but Tuesday’s release marks the first time that Facebook has integrated instant crisis support into the social networking experience.

“Although the Lifeline on average handles 70,000 calls per month, we have heard from our Facebook fans and others that there are many people in crisis who don't feel comfortable picking up the phone,” Lifeline project director John Draper said. “This new service provides a way for them to get the help they need in the way they want it.”

And when it comes to suicide prevention, being in the right place at the right time is critical. Of course, speed matters too, and this program could drastically accelerate the time between a person’s suicidal comment and potentially life-saving intervention.

[Images via vtdainfo and Pulpolux/Flickr]

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Google kills off controversial Google Shoot View

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 04:30 PM PST

Google has killed off a controversial third-party Google Street View app dubbed “Google Shoot View.”

The app, created by a Dutch ad agency, lets users walk the streets of many real-life cities with an M4A1 assault rifle and shoot all of the scenery. Erwin Kleinjan, creative director at Pool Worldwide, the Dutch agency, said that Google pulled its permission to use the Street View visual-mapping service due to a violation of terms of service.

Pool Worldwide used the Google Maps API and added an assault rifle and some shooting sound effects. As our writer Sean Ludwig said, when you shoot at people, cars and buildings, nothing actually happens. It’s not as visceral an experience as playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or the latest Grand Theft Auto, because when you shoot people in those games, they bleed and die.

Filed under: games, media

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Online gaming giant Nexon raises $1.2B in Toyko IPO (updated)

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 03:37 PM PST

It’s good to be a gamer, and not so bad to be a game publisher either.

Online-gaming firm Nexon went public today on the Japanese stock market, raising $1.2 billion in a move that will call a lot of attention to the virtual goods and online gaming markets.

Nexon’s online gaming business has grown fast in Asia over the past decade, and it has become a worldwide success built on the free-to-play business model, where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods in small transactions. Nexon pioneered the model that Zynga is using to make its own play for an IPO in the social gaming market. While Zynga has gotten more attention, it will be interesting to see if, as Business Week suggests, Nexon gets more attention with its stock than Zynga.

Next to Zynga’s expected IPO, the Nexon deal is one of the biggest pending IPOs in the video game industry and it’s an example of the continuing strength of Asian online game companies. Nexon in particular has pioneered the top business model of the day: free-to-play games where people play games for free and pay real money for virtual goods. It’s a growing business: Market researcher Strategy Analytics expects the virtual goods market to grow from $6.8 billion in 2011 to $12.7 billion in 2016.

As we noted earlier, the prospectus for the offering says that Nexon has 1.2 billion cumulative registrations, 77 million monthly active users as of September, 600 million virtual items sold in 2010, and 500 billion minutes played in 2010.

Nexon is one of Asia's largest online game publishers, with games including MapleStory, Mabinogi, Vindictus, Combat Arms, Dragon Nest and Dungeon Fighter Online. The games take anywhere from two years to five years to develop. To juice sales of the games, Nexon sells its virtual currency game cards in 45,000 stores in the U.S. alone.

The Nexon IPO is the biggest IPO in Japan in 2011, and the largest one since Otsuka Holdings raised $2.05 billion in December 2010.

Nomura Securities, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs are lead investment managers. After the IPO, Nexon could have a market value of about $7.69 billion to $8.97 billion. That compares to $6.99 billion for Electronic Arts.

In its IPO filing, Nexon said it has eight games with more than $100 million in lifetime revenues. Of those games, three had more than $300 million in revenue and one had more than $400 million in revenue. The two games combined have generated lifetime revenues over $1.5 billion. Nexon noted that as of last year, Dungeon Fighter accounted for 30.9 percent of revenues and MapleStory was 26.3 percent of revenues.

In 2010, Nexon’s revenues were $903 million, up from $668.2 million a year earlier. Net income was $107.5 million in 2010, compared to $229.2 million a year earlier. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2011, revenue was $853.5 million, up 26.5 percent from a year ago. Net income was $260.1 million, up 14.6 percent. Overall, Nexon expects to continue growing for the full year in 2011. Nexon has been profitable since 1996.

Much of the revenue is spread across multiple territories. For instance, only 35.2 percent of revenues for the Mabinogi game comes from Korea. In the U.S., virtual goods typically sell for 50 cents to $5. In MapleStory, there are 2,000 virtual goods items for sale in the U.S. version, all designed for a Western audience. They include things like a “summer royal” hairstyle.

Nexon has 3,537 employees, including 1,507 employees in development. Rivals include NCsoft, NHN Games, Hanbit Soft, Neowiz Games, Square Enix, DeNA, Gree, Nintendo, Sony, Tencent, Shanda Games, Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, Zynga, Disney and Microsoft.

More recently, Nexon has been expanding in the U.S., launching a Facebook version of MapleStory and investing in mobile social games. It also invested in social game maker 6waves Lolapps. The company’s overall strategy is to take its games to new platforms and devices, build a global brand, expand its game portfolio, and extend its existing game franchises.

Nexon is planning to issue 70 million shares of common stock on a global basis, including 34.9 million shares to be issued outside of the U.S. and Japan. In Japan, the company will issue 35.05 million shares. After shares are issued, Nexon will have 430.6 million shares of common stock. After the offering, NXC will own 59 percent of Nexon’s shares. NXC is controlled by Nexon founder Jungju Kim.

Among the risk factors, Nexon cited hacker attacks. It said that in April 2011, a server in North America was hacked and that may have led to access to encrypted data on 24 million accounts. Nexon found that virtual currency had been tampered with and it suspended the accounts of users who saw abnormal increases in virtual currency. In August, 2011, another hacker attack in Korea may have provided hackers access to 4.5 million unencrypted cell phone numbers, including 130,000 with other personal information. Nexon said it was also aware of 200 illegal servers that were hosting its games for free.

As of Sept. 30, Nexon had $577.7 million in cash. Nexon was founded in 1994. It began a global expansion in 2005. Over the years, it acquired Wizet, Neople, Ndoors, and GameHi. Revenues from mobile games were not material in 2011.

Now it has 57 online games played in 104 countries. Some 32 of the games are role-playing games, six are first-person shooters, and 19 are in other categories such as social games. Nexon’s KartRider game has more than 270 million registered users.

Among the investors is Min Seo, Sangbeon Kim, Seungchan Lee, Softbank Ventures Korea, NE Partners and Insight Venture Partners. Nexon said that it invested in JC Entertainment on Oct. 24, giving it a 16.3 percent share in the company.

This post was updated after Nexon opened up at 1,307 yen Wednesday on the Japanese stock market.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

NTSB wants nation-wide ban on cell phone use while driving

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 03:25 PM PST


The National Transportation Safety Board has suggested a nation-wide ban on using cell phones for talking or texting while driving, even hand’s-free, in a steep measure that would change how people use their phones in the U.S.

Drivers distracted by electronics are becoming a serious problem in the U.S., with an estimated 3,092 roadway fatalities involving distracted drivers occurring in 2010. This recommendation, if adopted by states, would put an end to all non-emergency calls and texts by any driver. Passengers are in the clear to use phones as they please.

The ban would outlaw hands-free cell phone use on top of hand-held usage. Perhaps unfairly, the NTSB said devices installed in the cars themselves, like Ford Sync, would still be OK to use.

The NTSB decided to issue the recommendation because of a deadly pileup that happened in Gray Summit, Mo. in August 2010. During that incident, a 19-year-old driver sent or received 11 texts in 11 minutes right before a crash that killed two people and injured 38 others.

Many states have already addressed the issue of distracted drivers in their own ways, but not all have. In November, Pennsylvania became the 35th state to ban texting while driving.

Do you think there should be a nation-wide ban on cell phone use while driving?

Driver on cell phone image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Jive stock up nearly 30 percent at close of its first trading day

Posted: 13 Dec 2011 03:03 PM PST

Jive Software

Jive Software kicked off its initial public offering at $12 a share on the Nasdaq this morning, and closed nearly 30 percent up at $15.05.

The company produces social business software, which enterprises use as an internal communication system outside of the traditional e-mail and instant message options. Competitors of Jive include startups Yammer and Moxie, plus Salesforce’s Chatter. Jive filed to go public in August of this year and offered 13.4 million shares, raking in $161.3 million in capital this morning.

“I think it’s super positive,” said Aaron Levie, chief executive officer of cloud storage company Box, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We had a bunch of IPOs in the mid and late 2000′s that were in the enterprise space. Jive is the first really meaningful IPO in this next generation category, this next breed of software.”

Levie’s company, Box, is a partner with Jive, and offers its cloud storage product in Jive’s application marketplace. The company is cheering Jive on from a “friend and partner standpoint.” When asked what this meant for venture backed enterprise cloud companies, Levie repeatedly said that this was a big win. He believes that the rules are changing for enterprise focused companies, and that investors are going to see this IPO and want to push more capital into the vertical.

But some questioned whether Jive was big enough to go public today. During a conference call today, Jive’s chief executive Tony Zingale explained that was simply not the case.

“Oh yeah, if you look at our prospectus, we are in excess of the $100 million run rate for the company,” he said. “Well above the size required to go public.”

In the future, Zingale said Jive may be looking to acquire with its new capital. While he wouldn’t completely reveal Jive’s product roadmap, he did explain Jive is particularly interested in big data, or the mounds of information about consumers and companies stored on the Web through social media and other channels. Jive is also particularly proud of its cloud and on premiss delivery methods, calling it one of its bigger competitive edges.

“[Competitors are] just really jealous that half of the market is not available to them because they don’t deliver out of the private cloud,” said Zingale.

As for the future, Zingale explained that the company isn’t completely shy to being acquired. He couldn’t speak to the intentions of anyone who would be interested in buying Jive, but did say that any offers would be taken to the board to be appropriately considered.

The company’s Nasdaq ticker symbol is JIVE. It’s stock is continuing to go up in after hours trading today and hit a high of $15.81 around 1:40pm eastern time. It closed 29.5 percent hire than its opening price.

“Jive is up 30 percent?” said Levie. “That means the enterprise is now now 30 percent sexier.”

[Chart via Yahoo Finance]

Filed under: deals

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now