31 January, 2012



After finding Chinese malware, AlienVault gets $8M round

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 09:13 AM PST


AlienVault, developer of open source security software, announced an $8 million second round of funding after recently identifying Chinese Malware infecting the Department of Defense.

The round comes from Trident Capital who was most interested in AlienVault’s SIEM (security information and event management) software. SIEM is, in essence, what watches your computer networks and alerts you to potentially harmful events within the system. AlienVault’s form of SIEM is different because it uses open source tools and packages them into their OSSIM (open source security information and event managment) product for the company’s to use. OSSIM has been deployed to over 160,000 customers.

The company recently identified a strain of malware affecting US government access cards. The malware, called Sykipot, targeted the Department of Defense and was found to have Chinese origins. It is distributed through phishing e-mails, these in particular were tailored toward DOD interests such as weapons. When an attachment was opened on a Windows computer, the malware would swim through the system to key-card-required access points. These access points are not only used for physical entry, but also entry to certain areas of the network, and to obtain data. Sykipot would wait in the card readers until someone swiped their card, at which point their access credentials would be stolen and used to access the network.

AlienVault was founded in 2007 and is headquartered in Silicon Valley. The company’s previous investor Adara Venture Partners also participated in this round. Adara provided Alien Vault’s first funding round for $4 million in June 2010.

UFO image via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, security

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StormWind seals $4M funding deal for online learning

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 09:01 AM PST

StormWind isn’t just a 1984 single by Swedish heavy metal outfit Europe. Nor is it merely a human kingdom in the MMORPG World of Warcraft.

It’s also an online IT and bespoke-training company that’s just closed a $4 million funding round.

The round was led by GSV Capital, a firm that also has a stake in huge companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Zynga. Also participating in the round is Tim Crown, Insight.com co-founder.

Training employees in information technology is a long, costly, and deadly dull proposition. StormWind says it cuts both the time and price of such trainings in half. Also, it promises to engage learners with “movie-quality” instruction in two-hour sessions and hands-on labs.

For standard topics like Cisco and VMWare, companies can sign their employees up for existing classes. StormWind also creates custom courses for companies that need more specific types of instruction.

“E-learning 1.0 has been a complete and utter failure. It’s boring and painful to take,” said co-founder Tom Graunke in a statement this morning.

“Our one simple goal is to bring back the one-on-one engagement of great classroom learning with the cost effective pricing of e-learning.”

The startup will use the funding to further develop its technology, expand its course offerings, and hire 150 new employees over the next year and a half.

“StormWind has more potential to dominate the stodgy and boring training industry than I’ve seen in the last 15 years,” said Crown of the startup. “I was drawn to StormWind because I think they have something every enterprise is desperate for in this economy… a faster, more effective training alternative that produces better results for significantly less cost.”

The Phoenix, Ariz.-based startup was founded in 2009 by a corporate training specialist and an IT veteran, both of whom thought most corporate training programs lacked any semblance of real engagement (read: they were really, really boring).

So far, StormWind’s clients include the U.S. Navy, Budweiser, Sony, PF Chang’s, and Cisco. Together, these companies bring more than 40,000 employee-students to the StormWind platform.

Image courtesy of holbox, Shutterstock

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Zynga CEO: We aren’t the copycats on Bingo social game (exclusive interview)

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 09:00 AM PST

Mark Pincus, chief executive of social gaming giant Zynga, denied that Zynga copied a rival’s Bingo game on Facebook. Instead, he said in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat that the accuser in this case borrowed from Zynga.

On Sunday, Buffalo Studios in Santa Monica, Calif., alleged that the upcoming Zynga Bingo was a copy of Buffalo’s Bingo Blitz game, which has a million daily players on Facebook.

The story reinvigorated one of the oldest memes in the game industry, where one company accuses another of being a copycat — only to see the accusations reverberate into the past where the accuser is alleged to have copied something else. In this case, Zynga alleges that Bingo Blitz copied one of its earlier games.

To those who hold up screen shots, as Buffalo Studios did, and say one game copies another, Pincus said, “It was a little ironic to look at Bingo Blitz. Pull that lens back. Look at our game Poker Blitz (comparisons below), and then Bingo Blitz, you see striking similarities in those pictures.”

He added, “You can go back to (Zynga’s) FarmVille. Look at Farm Town and say, ‘Those pictures are troubling. They look too similar.’ But you pull the lens back again, and you see Farm Town next to My Farm, and next to Happy Farm, and next to (Zynga’s) YoVille. What you see is a series of games innovating on top of each other. You see Farm Town had a very similar avatar to YoVille.”

“We think there is a massive body of work in the video game industry that is going to be reimagined for decades to come in a way that is free, accessible and social,” Pincus said. “That’s what we’re doing. I don’t think anyone should be surprised when they see us come out with games that they’ve seen before, a decade or more ago. I don’t think there are a lot of totally new games that are invented. We always try. But to us, they are like the crew mechanic in our games. They give you a new way to interact with your friends.”

The “crew mechanic” is a feature of Zynga games where you pick a small number of friends to play a social game with.

“The rest of the industry has followed the things we’ve done,” he said. “The different kind of revenue mechanics we have reimagined. We brought the mystery crate (pictured right) to social gaming.”

To Zynga, it appears that Bingo Blitz itself looks more like a copy of Zynga’s Poker Blitz game, which was launched in March 2010, well before Bingo Blitz launched in late 2010. Zynga later took down the Poker Blitz game in December 2010. But the screen shots below show that Bingo Blitz looks like Poker Blitz.

It’s also worth noting that Bingo Blitz wasn’t the first Bingo game on Facebook. There was also Bingo by Ryzing, launched in June 2010, and Bingo Bash by BitRhymes, launched in January 2010.

Pincus said in the interview that the innovations that Zynga focuses on are things such as the FTUE, or first-time user experience. The company studies data such as how many clicks or how many seconds it takes to get to the point in a game that the user understands what it is all about. Zynga will also simplify a game to make it more accessible to a wider group of people.

In essence, Pincus is not saying that it’s OK to copy someone else’s game. Rather, he is saying that a company can make a contribution to the canon of gaming if it takes an existing game and improves it. That company can reimagine the game and remove all the barriers that stand between the game reaching a billion people.

“I think people in the industry are defining innovation different from the way we are,” he said. “When you define innovation, you have to define what problem are you innovating against. The problem we are innovating against is how do we get a billion people to play together. That’s what we want to solve for. We need to innovate as an industry to make that happen. That’s a worthy goal. I think we are innovating as an industry and Zynga is contributing massively to it on many, many fronts.”

A game can also be differentiated on other fronts. A company can update the game much more frequently than a rival does and thereby differentiate itself based on a higher level of service.

In a letter to all employees, Pincus addressed the issue of copying last week after Nimblebit, developer of the Tiny Tower game on the iPhone, created an infographic that made fun of Zynga for copying Tiny Tower in the upcoming mobile game Dream Heights.

In the memo, Pincus says, “We don’t need to be first to market. We need to be the best to market. There are genres that we’re going to enter because we know our players are interested in them and because we want and need to be where players are. We evolve genres by making games free, social, accessible and highest quality.”

He noted that the Tower genre of games has existed since 1994, when Maxis launched SimTower, developed by OpenBook in Japan. The genre was popularized in 2009 when a game called Tower of Babel launched in China and snared more than 15 million daily active users. Since then, other Tower games on the iPhone include Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, and Tower Blocks.

“You should be careful not to throw stones when you live in glass towers,” Pincus said. “When you pull the lens back, you saw that their tower game looked similar to five other tower games going all the way back to SimTower in the early 1990s.”

In this case, Zynga is evolving that genre further. In our interview, Pincus noted there are “rules of engagement” for creating games in the same genre where others already exist. You can’t, for instance, copy someone’s source card. And you can’t directly lift their art work, as Zynga alleged when it sued Vostu in Brazil for copying games such as Zynga’s Cafe World.

Zynga provided VentureBeat with the full text of the memo that Pincus sent to employees:



There's press today about one of our mobile games, Dream Heights, that just launched in Canada and worldwide soon. As we become the Zynga of Mobile and more broadly, as Zynga grows by further innovating on best of breed social mechanics, we should expect the industry to sit up and take notice of our growing portfolio.

I'm proud of the mobile team's hard work and the industry has taken notice.

For the first time, according to App Data, Words with Friends is the #1 game on Facebook. Scramble with Friends, within 2 weeks of launching, has topped the App Store rankings in multiply categories including top free, top paid and top grossing. Last week, Apple recognized the team's work by featuring Zynga's games on the front of the App Store.

The mobile team is gearing up to launch more play across more genres and platforms. I want to congratulate them for working hard to bring great experiences to players around the world.

Google didn't create the first search engine. Apple didn't create the first mp3 player or tablet. And, Facebook didn't create the first social network. But these companies have evolved products and categories in revolutionary ways. They are all internet treasures because they all have specific and broad missions to change the world.

We don't need to be first to market. We need to be the best in market. There are genres that we're going to enter because we know our players are interested in them and because we want and need to be where players are. We evolve genres by making games free, social, accessible and highest quality.

With regard to Dream Heights and the tower genre, it's important to note that this category has existed since 1994 with games like Sim Tower and was more recently popularized in China with Tower of Babel in 2009 which achieved 15 million DAUs. On iOS there has been Yoot Tower, Tower Up, Tower Town, Tower Blocks and Tiny Tower. Just as our games, mechanics and social innovations have inspired and accelerated the game industry, its 30 year body of work has inspired us too.

And, this has always been the case for our company and the rest of the industry. Zynga Poker, FarmVille, CityVille and Words with Friends, none of these games were the first to market in their category but we made them the most fun and social, and the most popular. Our teams continue to build and improve these games every week which has been an important part of our success model. We run our games as a live service and we continue to iterate, innovate and improve on them to give our players the best possible experience.

As I've said, our strategy since the beginning has been to develop the best game – most fun and most social – for every category of play. We are rarely first since most categories in games go back decades, but we aim to be the best.

A few of you have asked how our approach to genres relates to the situation we faced with Vostu. There are rules of engagement in our industry. Companies have to respect each other's legal and IP ownership rights in the form of copyrights and trademarks. In the case of Vostu, you can see for yourself that Vostu crossed the line and chose to use our copyrighted IP and artwork. That's different than competing to build the best product or out-innovate us in the City category.

Play in the form of social and mobile gaming has become a mainstream activity, but it has the potential to be so much more. It can be one of the primary ways we connect with other people. It can surpass TV as the most popular and engaging medium of the 21st century. In order to make this vision real, we need to work as a company and an industry to continue innovating, improving and hopefully revolutionizing every major genre of games for social play.  Every successful game from developers big and small has pioneered some important new facet of this experience. We are proud of the mechanics we have pioneered that are now industry standards.

Part of what makes our industry cool and dynamic is the idea that small teams can build successful games. But at Zynga we will continue to innovate and expand our possibility space in order to delight our player base too.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who emailed me on this topic. Part of what makes our company special is the open transparent dialog we can all have, and its your passion that is shaping our future.



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Why women are leading the transformation of IT

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 09:00 AM PST

Until just a few years ago, CIOs have largely been defined by how well they could deliver products or solutions to their core customer, the business user.

However, as the cloud emerges as a truly viable alternative to IT, it has become clear that the transformative CIO must rethink the entire IT paradigm and evolve his or her organization into one that delivers competitive services to the business.

This new strategy requires not only a very different approach, but also quite literally a different mindset. In my current role at technology business management provider Apptio, we're seeing an increasing number of women taking the helm of IT organizations, which makes me wonder whether women possess certain qualities that make them particularly well suited to this role of services transformation.

One of the reasons for this shift is that the very nature of IT has undergone its own evolution. No longer is IT focused on managing and delivering a portfolio of IT products. Rather, the advent of providing services has translated into a demand for IT to speak the language of the business.

Consequently, collaboration, communication, and the ability to manage change are now the vital skills for IT leadership.

Women are more inclined to work collaboratively with others rather than implementing changes with an iron fist approach. In a 2008 survey of female IT leaders by the CIO Executive Council, women were reported to take a more cooperative team approach than their male counterparts. The female survey respondents said they try to listen, empathize, and build connections with employees and stakeholders.

Rebecca Jacoby, CIO for Cisco, has proven particularly skilled in managing and communicating with her staff during efforts to re-organize the company four years ago.

As Cisco made structural changes to re-orient their organization into the role of service provider, Jacoby armed employees with the ability to speak their mind and give input on the changes. To do this, Jacoby and other senior management set up "cohorts" comprised of 12 to 15 people and one leader, bringing together employees from various teams from within the organization and enabling them to share their ideas about leadership.

The cohorts at Cisco now meet eight times a year. Each session revolves around a topic picked by senior staff, with at least four related to Cisco's transformation into a services organization. By implementing cohorts, Jacoby fosters open and ongoing cross-functional communication between IT stakeholders and the business.

In addition to working collaboratively, women CIOs are particularly effective at incorporating in-depth knowledge of the business in decision-making. In 2005, research conducted by the University of New Mexico and University of California-Irvine showed that females have more white matter in their brains than do their male counterparts. Since white matter works to network various parts of the brain, this might explain why women are often more effective than men in integrating and assimilating information from distributed regions.

This might also explain why women CIOs are more effective at assimilating data from across the business into something meaningful that leadership can act upon.

Debbie Gash is another IT leader who effectively applied her understanding of multiple parts of a business to make complex decisions. Gash is the longtime vice president and CIO of Saint Luke's Health System, a network of 11 hospitals in Missouri. By surveying the various hospital departments and ongoing technology projects, Gash was able to determine that Saint Luke's needed a new system for tracking the IT budget. Once the new program launched, Gash used her institutional knowledge to determine what problems to tackle first. Gash juggled the needs of distinct hospital groups, employees, and vendors to create a smooth, company-wide system.

A final area in which female CIOs prove particularly effective is their ability to embrace change and guide organizations through periods of major overhaul. CIOs need to influence others who may be resistant of change, and women often bring the flexibility and tact required for such maneuvers.

One female leader who demonstrated grace during major change is Debbie Guild, CTO of Bank of America. When her bank merged with Merrill Lynch, Guild needed to create a unified financial transparency program.

At the time, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch were each using their own applications. Guild needed to assess the existing systems and also consider the complexity of the organization's financials. At the time, Bank of America had 100,000 servers, product costs that changed monthly, and outdated cost forecasts. To top it off, employees within the financial transparency team weren't convinced that they needed major change.

To begin the overhaul process, Guild called a meeting with her team and hashed out the problems. They eventually reached what she terms a "come to Jesus" moment. The team agreed to launch a new project — and made an important decision to brand the project to galvanize the various stakeholders — in order to improve organizational financial transparency.

With her employees, Guild worked to establish guiding principles for the program and develop a new system to bill the actual usage of Bank of America's products. She made sure that the company's head of finance and head of enterprise CTO were on board with what she was doing, and insisted that both verbally agree that they were going down the correct path. Then, Guild recruited people who were enthusiastic about the project and eager for results to move the project forward.

The new program is now producing real results and an improvement in financial transparency. By using both communication and diplomacy skills, Guild effectively steered the company in a new direction and was able to marshal widespread employee support.

In today's service-oriented IT world, the ability to work effectively with others has become critical. Likewise, the role of the CIO continues to evolve from a purveyor of technology to one who delivers capabilities to their business users. Female leaders such as Jacoby, Gash, and Guild represent just a few examples of this changing mindset, one which puts a premium on communication, collaboration, and consensus building.

Chris Pick is chief marketing officer at Apptio, a Seattle-based provider of technology business management solutions. Apptio is focused on changing the world by giving IT and finance leaders the insight they need to minimize IT cost, make ROI-optimized decisions, align IT resources around services that align with business strategic needs, and ensure that business leaders clearly understand the value of IT.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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The secret to finding business jobs in StartupVille

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 08:59 AM PST

Have you noticed that there are very few job listings for business development, marketing, operations, and other business-related functions at startups? It seems like all the non-technical jobs get snatched up before they are even made public.

Well, that is sort of true.

What many people don't realize is that there is a big secret behind finding these business jobs in StartupVille: these jobs usually start with investors.

Aside from money, one of the most important things that investors bring to the table is hiring assistance. Within their portfolio companies lies a gold mine: a pool of talent from previously successful companies.

When a company is raising funds, they have to inform investors about where the funds will be allocated. This includes hiring costs. Therefore, investors know which functions are needed in the company long before these positions are publicly listed. Successful investors are always on the hunt for top talent to strengthen the companies they invest in.

In 2010, I was interested in joining an early-stage technology company in NYC, so I began reaching out to a few investors. Mo Koyfman, an Aviary board member who was recently promoted to General Partner at Spark Capital, thought that I would be a good fit to help with business development, so he introduced me to Aviary co-founders Avi Muchnick and Michael Galpert. I joined the company a few weeks later and the rest is history.

Not a week goes by that I don't get an email from a VC or angel investor looking to fill a business-centric position at a startup they've recently funded. Case in point: a few days ago, a friend passed along an email from an investor looking to fill business positions at Fancy Hands and ChatID, two great startups. I just checked the Fancy Hands job page and there is no business position listing. Maybe it was filled; maybe they haven't had a chance to put it up yet. Regardless, my point remains the same: investors are the best starting point to find a business-related position at a startup.

I emailed a few friends who are active investors in the tech ecosystem, and each admitted to helping fill business positions. However, when pressed for details, some were less forthcoming. One explained that if they were to publicly talk about it, it would open the floodgates for people to blitz them with requests for job placement. Investors don't want to deal with the inbound of people looking for jobs; rather, they want to be selective on who they put in front of their investments to hire.

Two NY-based investors did cite two examples of recent business jobs they helped facilitate. They were very explicit in saying that they didn't give the people the jobs; the candidates earned it themselves. They just initiated the introduction, the rest was up to the person.  David Tisch Managing Director at TechStars/The Box Group told me that he connected Jeremy Bass with Jason Baptiste, CEO of Onswipe, and he eventually joined the team as the director of  biz dev. An introduction made by Sim Blaustein, Principal at BDMI and formerly at High Line Venture Partners, led to Bamboom's hiring of Nick Sallon.

Now that you know the big secret behind finding business jobs in StartupVille, what can you do about it?

Instead of pursuing one company with a single job listing, go after a few investors with many companies in their portfolio. This casts a wide net and gives you the access that you would never have on your own. If you can prove to investors that you would be a valuable asset to any startup in their portfolio, they will make it their duty to get you in front of those companies.

Having trouble getting in front of investors? Exploring that is worthy of another post, but here are a few quick tips:

  • Investors like to be introduced by people they know and trust. They are very busy investing in and helping with startups they like. You need to identify a mutual connection who is close with them and ask them for the introduction.
  • Investors are always on the hunt for good ideas with strong teams. If you know of a company that you think is going places, get it on the investor's radar. Blind reach outs don't usually work, but if the company is compelling enough they might just bite.
  • Networking is one of the very obvious answers, but this is one of the best ways to meet investors. Figure out which events they are going to and get in front of them. Don't scare or stalk them, just casually meet them (or get introduced there by mutual friends).

Alex Taub leads business development and partnerships at Aviary. He blogs at AlexsTechThoughts.com.

[Keyboard image via Shutterstock]

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Dixons CEO John Browett heads to Apple to lead retail division

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 08:39 AM PST

Apple-retail-John-BrowettApple has announced that the John Browett, the now former CEO of UK-based Dixons Retail, will join the company as senior vice president of its retail division.

"Our retail stores are all about customer service, and John shares that commitment like no one else we've met," said Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a statement. "We are thrilled to have him join our team and bring his incredible retail experience to Apple."

Browett has been the CEO of Dixons Retail since 2007. Dixons is Europe’s largest specialty electronics retailer and it operates more than 1,200 stores in 13 countries, including the U.K., Ireland, Norway, Sweeden, Greece and the Czech Republic. So it only makes sense that Apple has picked up Browett to run its retail division, which earned Apple $14 billion in revenues in 2011.

Browett will replace Ron Johnson, who departed last June to become the CEO of department store chain JCPenney. In 11 years at Apple, Johnson helped the company launch over 300 stores worldwide and successfully grow its dominating physical presence. That means Browett will have some big shoes to fill.

John Browett photo via Dixons Retail

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Twitter’s revenue expected to nearly double in 2012

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 08:39 AM PST

Twitter is expected to see $259.9 million in revenue in 2012, up from $139.5 in 2011.

Over the next couple years, the company’s revenue is forecast to reach $399.5 million in 2013 and $540 million by 2014.

Year-over-year revenue growth for 2011 to 2012 is estimated to be at 83 percent; that growth rate is expected to slow to 36 percent by 2014.

For a company that (rather famously) didn’t have a business model just three years ago, it’s been a precipitous climb.

Still these ad dollars pale in comparison to what Facebook will rake in this year, a figure in the multi-billion dollar range.

It’s difficult to imagine Twitter playing at the same scale. According to previous forecasts, Twitter won’t pass $1 billion in revenue until at least 2016.

These estimates come from online intel firm eMarketer.

Twitter’s money comes almost entirely from ad products, with some coming from deals to access Twitter’s Firehose API.

Late last year, Twitter introduced a new ad product that would serve promotional tweets even to users who didn’t follow the Twitter account of the brand or person in question.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said at a meeting three weeks ago that the ad products are selling well and that brands are happy with the results.

"We continue to see great engagement rates,” he stated. “The health of the business is great."

As far as valuation is concerned, eMarketer pegs Twitter’s 2011 enterprise value around $3 billion and its market capitalization around $3.6 billion.

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Andreessen-Horowitz raises $1.5B for third fund in three years

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 08:01 AM PST

Since it was founded in June of 2009 Andreessen-Horowitz has emerged as the hottest new name in venture funding. Part of the firm’s cache comes from its aggressive approach, and today’s announcement, which everyone knew was coming, that Andreessen-Horowtiz has raised another $1.5 billion will only increase that. Overall this means Andreessen-Horowitz has $2.7 billion under management.

The company has a few exits with Skype, Groupon and Zynga. On deck in their portfolio is Facebook, which will likely file for and IPO this week. Rounding things out are growing startups like Foursquare, Fab, AirBnB and Pinterest.

"a16z's Fund III is all about extending our capabilities to more disruptors and pioneers," said Co-founder and General Partner Ben Horowitz in a press release. "We're remaking the modern venture capital firm, and entrepreneurs are responding to our unique approach."

"Software is the catalyst that will remake entire industries during the next decade. We are single-mindedly focused on partnering with the best innovators pursuing the biggest markets," added Co-founder and General Partner Marc Andreessen.

On his blog, Horowitz tries to intercept the doubters in a post titled, “Why Has Andreessen Horowitz Raised $2.7B in 3 Years?”:

Since Marc and I founded Andreessen Horowitz three years ago, we have raised $2.7 billion. That statement begs a few questions. The two most obvious are:

  • Why did such a new venture capital firm raise so much money?
  • How did such a new venture capital firm raise so much money?

What follows is a long spiel about how founding CEOs are better than professional CEOs and Horowitz belief that building a big network of connections is the best way to help companies succeed. All sound principles, but basically a total non-answer in terms of why they need so much money and how they convinced people to give it to them. Are we missing something or is this blog post just an exercise in good SEO?

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SocialFolders backs up your Facebook photos & Google Docs on your hard drive

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 08:00 AM PST

With cloud computing all the rage these days, we often have files and bits of data that live exclusively on a server far away from our hard drives. And while that’s often really awesome, sometimes you want and need a backup of that information on your computer. Enter SocialFolders, a service that backs up your social and cloud data to your hard drive.

"SocialFolders was basically created to help people manage their content on social networks and cloud services and allow everyone to actually own that content," said Social Folders chief operator and co-founder Martin Pannier in an interview with VentureBeat, "We sent out to build this place where you can manage and transfer files, bring all your social and cloud data to your hard drive. We want to bridge the gap between social hard drive.

SocialFolders is an app for Windows and Mac that syncs with Twitter, Facebook, Google Docs, Instagram, and as of Tuesday, Evernote. With SocialFolders, you choose which services you want to connect with and a corresponding folder for each service will appear in your file system, Dropbox-style. When you upload a new picture to Facebook or create a new Google Doc, the new file will automatically sync with your SocialFolders app on your hard drive.

Starting Tuesday, you can add documents, images, and other files to Evernote with SocialFolders; all you have to do is add Evernote as a new service and an Evernote folder will appear on your computer. By dragging and dropping any file into the folder, you can upload it to your notebooks. In addition, any attachments you have saved in Evernote can be backed up to your computer.

While cloud computing has been great at keeping files safe and secure away from fragile hard drives, sometimes people want those files for themselves. On many websites, the terms of service allow the website to use your files however they see fit. SocialFolders created a way for everyone to truly own the content they share all over the web, by backing the files up on their hard drives. Backing up your files also provides offline use and with SocialFolders you can make changes to documents and images, and then sync the changes when you have an Internet connection again.

Currently, SocialFolders supports Facebook, Twitter, Box, Flickr, Instagram, Google Docs, Photobucket, Picasa, SmugMug, and YouTube. Its free service will manage up to 2,000 files for you and you can get more storage space by inviting friends or by upgrading to the premium service.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Just Shopkick it: Mobile shopping app delivers $110M in 2011 revenue for partners

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:52 AM PST

More than just a nifty mobile app for consumers, Shopkick is also helping its retail and brand partners to generate significant revenue. The company announced today that it drove more than $110 million in revenue to its partners in 2011, its first full year in operation.

The news comes on the heels of Shopkick’s massive growth announcements of 3 million users and over 1 billion offers viewed. The success of the free Shopkick app, which allows consumers to earn rewards and deals simply by walking into a store, shows how mobile devices are quickly becoming important to in-store shopping in the real world.

"Some mobile services drive people out of stores, not into stores, with online comparison shopping that turn stores into 'showrooms.' Shopkick does the opposite," Shopkick CEO Cyriac Roeding said in a statement today. "It's a win-win-win between retailers, brands and consumers."

The company’s patent-pending technology has now been deployed in over 4,000 stores and 250 malls cross America. Recent partner brands include Old Navy, Disney, and Levi's.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Shopkick has raised a total of $20 million from Kleiner, Greylock Partners, Reid Hoffman (investing as an individual before he became a partner at Greylock), Citi Growth Ventures & Innovation Group, and Ron Conway's SV Angel.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Clouds in the forecast: Amazon S3 grew 192% year-over-year

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:48 AM PST

cloud virtualizationKeep your eyes to sky because clouds are in the forecast. Amazon Web Services has reported massive growth for its number of objects stored in the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) with a 192 percent increase year-over-year.

Amazon Web Services is by far the most popular cloud infrastructure provider in the world, so measuring its objects stored in S3 can help us quantify just how ubiquitous the service is. Jeff Barr, Senior Manager of Cloud Computing Solutions at Amazon, wrote in a company blog Monday night that at the end of end of 2011, there were 762 billion objects stored in Amazon S3. That’s 500 billion more objects than what was stored at the end 2010.

Barr also noted that the Amazon Web Services now processes over 500,000 requests per second for these objects at peak times. A year ago, Amazon S3 had a peak request rate slightly above 200,000 requests a second.

“Where are all of these objects coming from?” Barr wrote. “Although we definitely made it easier for you to delete objects using Multi-Object Deletion and Object Expiration, we also gave you plenty of ways to upload new objects using Multipart upload, AWS Direct Connect, and AWS Import/Export.”

You can view a growth chart by objects stored in Amazon S3 below:


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Megaupload’s third-party host says user data won’t get deleted (for now)

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:46 AM PST

MegauploadThe hosting companies that stored the files from Megaupload users’ digital lockers, Carpathia Hosting and Cogent Communications Group, has decided not to delete that data from its servers — at least temporarily.

For those of your who haven’t been following, Megaupload is/was a cloud storage company that encouraged users to upload personal files and share them with the outside world (and in some cases, attaining a commission fee for doing so). However, U.S. federal prosecutors accused the company of piracy and proceeded to arrest several of Megaupload’s employees and freeze millions of dollars in assets. Without a way to pay the operating costs of running the business as well as a letter from government authorities stating that third-party hosting companies could begin deleting Megaupload’s data it was thought that the personal files stores by Megaupload users could be lost by the end of the week, as VentureBeat previously reported.

However, Megaupload lawyer Ira Rothken confirmed via Twitter yesterday that the user data has a temporary stay of execution for at least two weeks. And while the U.S. government doesn’t seem very interested in sorting out the copyright infringing files from the rest, it does buy the two parties a bit more time to sort out the issue. The same cannot be said for users who hope to regain access to their personal files.

Additionally, Carpathia Hosting has released the following statement about Megaupload’s user data:

In reference to the letter filed by the U.S. Department of Justice with the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 27, 2012, Carpathia Hosting does not have, and has never had, access to the content on MegaUpload servers and has no mechanism for returning any content residing on such servers to MegaUpload's customers.  The reference to the Feb. 2, 2012 date in the Department of Justice letter for the deletion of content is not based on any information provided by Carpathia to the U.S. Government. We would recommend that anyone who believes that they have content on MegaUpload servers contact MegaUpload.  Please do not contact Carpathia Hosting.

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

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Visa leads $40M in TrialPay’s alternative payments business

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:31 AM PST

Visa has led a $40 million investment round in TrialPay, one of the leaders in alternative payments known as offers.

Mountain View, Calif.-based TrialPay will use the money to expand into new markets and innovate in “transactional advertising.” TrialPay’s business includes ads known as offers, where users agree to watch a video or sign up for a subscription as a way to pay for a virtual good in a game or other kind of app on social networks such as Facebook.

Besides Visa, other investors in the round include Greylock Partners, T. Rowe Price, DAG Ventures, DFJ Growth and QuestMark Partners, with existing investors also putting in money.

"TrialPay's approach to payments is different," said Reid Hoffman, Partner at Greylock Partners. "Their tremendous growth in the last year validates the efficacy of the model. We believe that the next generation of e-commerce depends on the ability to maximize revenue from every transaction, and TrialPay is the only company that has successfully leveraged global advertiser relationships to meet that end."

Since 2006, TrialPay has provided more than 150 million online shoppers and 10,000 sites with alternative payments. Such “transactional advertising” now drives hundreds of millions in revenue globally for merchants in business segments including social games, software, mobile apps, retail and online services, the company said.

TrialPay saw a 7X increase in transaction volume in 2011 and a 4X increase in traffic compared to a year earlier. Now the transactional ad platform reaches more than 70 million monthly active users. Rivals such as Offerpal Media, now known as Tapjoy, faded from Facebook after a scandal tarnished the company, when TechCrunch exposed scam-like offers that signed users up for services they didn’t realize they would be paying for. After that scandal, Facebook focused on TrialPay as its main vendor for alternative payments.

"This investment round validates our role as the leader in transactional advertising," said Alex Rampell, co-founder and chief executive of TrialPay. "Transactional advertising is rapidly changing both the economics of online payments and the way advertisers make meaningful connections with consumers online. We're excited to continue our advancements at the nexus between digital payments and online advertising."

Filed under: games, social

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Moxie Software rides social wave to big growth

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:11 AM PST

Blaze homepage screenshot

Moxie Software, purveyor of social networking solutions for the enterprise, says that 2011 was a strong year for the company — so strong, in fact, that it added 75 new customers and boosted recurring revenues by 40 percent.

Now, there are plenty of vendors who try to bring cloud-hosted social functionality to the enterprise market: Yammer and Salesforce.com’s Chatter come to mind. But Moxie takes a slightly different approach by enabling what it calls “external multi-channel communications,” basically turning any business into its own contact center and enabling customers to communicate with employees directly.

“We’re in the business of questions being asked and answers being delivered,” says Moxie CEO Tom Kelly.

As a privately-held company, Moxie Software isn’t obligated to go into deep financial detail on its 2011 performance. But Moxie is boasting that those 75 new customers translate to an overall 30 percent boost to new customer acquisitions in 2011, with an attendant 40 percent rise in recurring revenues. The company also increased its margins by twenty points.

Moreover, Kelly says that 79 percent of existing Moxie customers deepened their usage in 2011, which contributed to quadrupled sales of the Moxie Employee Spaces collaboration platform from last year.

Going forward, Kelly says that Moxie is in a good place to grow. In fact, Moxie’s press release indicates that the company is angling for 50 percent sales growth and 40 percent revenue growth in 2012, with an eye towards profitability in the second half of the year. Currently, Moxie is primarily funded by VCs Oak Investment Partners and Foundation Capital (though Moxie isn’t disclosing any sums), but Kelly says that the next 12 months will see at least one more round of funding.

It seems like the enterprise market is really ready for social networking. In fact, Kelly says that Oracle’s late-2011 acquisition of RightNow, some of Moxie’s most direct competition, validates his company’s overall strategy.

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Alice.com scores $3M to deliver household goods to your door

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 06:00 AM PST

Alice.com, an e-commerce platform exclusively for household goods, announced today it has received $3 million in funding from private Spanish investors.

Instead of acting as a go-between for manufacturers and customers, Alice.com is a platform for companies to sell toilet paper, laundry detergent and everything else that makes your house needs directly to you. Companies such as Proctor and Gamble, BIC, and 3M partner with Alice.com to sell their products on the site and can offer lower prices since they don’t have to go through retailers. Alice.com also offers auto-shipments of household goods you use frequently — think toliet paper, toothpaste, and soap. Shipping costs are always free and the site offers instant coupons from manufacturers.

Alice.com, which launched in June 2011, has gained a lot of popularity for being a simple marketplace for household goods, especially for those who can’t remember to pick up household essentials before they run out. Unlike its competitors — Amazon, Drugstore.com — Alice.com relies completely on ad revenue to make money, which keeps costs lower than other sites. The company handles the order and shipping processes for the manufacturer, but doesn’t take a cut of the sale. Alice.com also has an iPhone app for on-the-go shopping.

"Over the past several months we have experienced significant momentum and promising sales numbers as more consumers realize they can shop for household essentials online. This round of funding allows us to accelerate our growth and propel us forward as the leading, retail marketplace for household essentials," said Brian Wiegand, CEO and co-founder at Alice.com said in a statement.

Co-founders Brian Wiegand and Mark McGuire sold social shopping company Jellyfish to Microsoft for $50 million in 2007 before working on Alice.com.

Alice.com recently merged with Spanish company Koto.com and has launched a new site for the European consumer market. The company has raised $18.2 million to date from DaneVest Tech FundKegonsa Capital Partners, and private investors. Alice.com is headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin.

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Cost of mobile user acquisition hits all-time high in December

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 05:00 AM PST

The cost of getting new users to try out mobile apps is getting more and more expensive, hitting an all-time high on the Apple App Store in December.

The rush to promote mobile apps during the Christmas holidays caused mobile advertising costs as well as app downloads to peak, according to an index maintained by mobile ad firm Fiksu.

Boston-based Fiksu measures the cost of attaining a loyal user, or one who opens an app at least three times. In December, the index rose to $1.81 per user, up from $1.43 per user in November.

Apple froze the rankings of its App store between Dec. 25 to Dec. 28, causing a mad rush to promote apps via mobile advertising before that lock-in period.

Meanwhile, the Fiksu App Store Competitive Index (which measures the average daily download volume of the top 200 free U.S. iPhone apps) hit a peak of 6.04 million daily downloads in December, up 7 percent from November’s 5.65 million, the previous high.

Micah Adler, chief executive of Fiksu, said the month of December is a “strategically critical month for app discovery.”

"What we witnessed during the month was a 'land rush' in which advertisers earnestly spent marketing dollars in order to achieve ranking before the traditional App Store freeze which then would generate substantial organic downloads through increased visibility,” he said.

Advertisers spent heavily to drive up their app rankings, particularly in the last half of December. Traffic and dollars spent in the final week of December increased 100 percent over prior weeks. Fiksu tracks data from 11 billion mobile app actions, such as app launches, registrations and in-app purchases.

A big reason the download numbers were higher was due to the fact that Apple sold a record 37 million iPhone during the fourth quarter, and Android phone sales were also huge. On Christmas day, more than 6.8 million new iOS and Android devices were activated.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Obama calls on Congress to pass bill aimed at helping startups

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 04:46 AM PST

flickr-obama-google-plusPresident Obama photo: Dave Brenner/Flickr

A day after showing his techno savvy with an appearance in a Google+ hangout, President Obama is calling on Congress to pass new legislation that would aid startups, and put them at the center of an agenda, “Startup America”, focused on creating new jobs.

“The president has made small businesses and particularly start-ups a key aspect of his economic growth agenda because he understands how much the newest and fastest-growing small businesses drive job growth in our economy,”  Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, told the AP.

Talk is cheap, so let’s get down to the brass tacks. The new bill would help stimulate the startup economy by cutting tax rates on capital gains for investments in small businesses. Ok, so that means more venture capital, but what about the basics of running a business. The new law would also extend for a year the ability of all businesses to immediately deduct all of the costs of equipment and software purchases. Microsoft Office for everyone!

“Our small business agenda has a specific focus on removing the barriers that have for too long blocked start-ups and entrepreneurs from getting the financing they need to accelerate their growth and hiring.” Sperling said.

The trade in private shares have been a great source of capital for startups like Facebook and Twitter that are growing but not ready to go public. As Venturebeat reported earlier this month, SecondMarket is hoping to provide access to this kind of capital to lots of companies, not just the stars of the social web.

It seems like the White House is following suit. Obama is proposing to increase the amount companies can raise through small public offerings without the expense of a lengthy and complex registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission registration process. The limit for such “mini public offerings”, according to the AP, would increase from $5 million a year to $50 million. Everyone gets an IPO!

The new law is controversial among state officials and investor advocates who worry that less regulation will lead to ordinary investors getting bilked on bogus stock offerings. Raising tens of millions of dollars without having to provide an audited financial statement…what could go wrong?

The legislative package also includes a $1 billion dollar early stage innovation fund, which basically matches private investment in high growth startups dollar for dollar, targeting the series A squeeze between $1-4 million.

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Rypple, hot off Salesforce acquisition, launches Android app for social management on-the-go

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 04:30 AM PST

rypple-android-aJust a month and half after agreeing to be acquired by Salesforce, social performance management service Rypple has launched a native Android app to make sure managers and employees can connect no matter where they are.

Rypple’s software helps managers improve employee performance through "social goals" and consistent feedback and recognition. It’s in an increasingly competitive market for cloud-based human resource management services. Leading competitors include SuccessFactors, which enterprise giant SAP agreed to acquire for $3.4 billion, Workday, Taleo, Ultimate Software, and Cornerstone OnDemand.

The new Android app will join Rypple’s iPhone app in helping an increasingly mobile work force connect with daily feedback. The key features of the Android app include public recognition for colleague praise, real-time feedback and social goals for tracking priorities.

“The best feedback often comes on the taxi ride back to the office after an important meeting,” Rypple co-founder and co-CEO Daniel Debow told VentureBeat via e-mail. “Rypple’s investment in an Android app lets our users stay aligned with key priorities, get real-time updates, and recognize great work — away from the office.”

The Android app has three versions at different prices: free with basic capabilities; Premium for $5-per-user-per-month with real-time feedback, one-on-one coaching, and recognition applications; and Phenomenal for $9-per-user-per-month with performance review application, Loops, Social Goals 2.0, and integration into existing company work systems.

Before the Salesforce acquisition agreement, San Francisco-based Rypple had raised $13 million in three rounds of funding from Bridgescale Partners, Edgestone Capital Partners, Peter Thiel, and others. The deal with Salesforce is expected to close by the end of April 2012 and when it goes through, Rypple will be re-named as “Successforce.”

You can see a few more screens from the new Rypple Android app below:

Filed under: cloud, enterprise, mobile, social

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Game-like restaurant app MOGL raises $10M for a mixed bag of loyalty & charity

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 12:01 AM PST

MOGL, a customer loyalty platform that’s all about psychology and game mechanics, has raised its second institutional round of funding.

The $10 million round brings the startup’s total amount of venture capital raised to $12.4 million. The new funding round was led by Sigma Partners, with participation from Austin Ventures and Avalon Ventures.

Naturally, the new cash will be used for hiring and bringing more features to the platform. I know, we’re shocked, too.

“We've been tracking MOGL for months and have watched the company exceed our expectations again and again,” said Sigma’s Pete Solvik in a release.

“In less than nine months from launch time, the MOGL team has generated an explosive response from both consumers and restaurant partners, while effectively positioning itself as the most innovative loyalty platform of its kind. In fact, MOGL is the first loyalty program that we would actually use ourselves, and we are excited to be able to play a part in the company's ongoing success.”

MOGL’s product is a bit complicated to understand, but here’s why VCs thought the startup deserved the $10 million: The app combines competition, cash-back incentives and prizes, and social good elements (the ultimate hook for the overprivileged).

MOGL automatically donates a meal to a person in need each time a MOGL user spends $20 through the app at a partner restaurant. So far, the company says more than 27,000 meals have been donated and more than $350,000 cash-back rewards earned by its users.

The app tracks credit and debit card transactions; users pay any restaurant bill with a MOGL-tracked card and the rewards (and donations) get tallied. The app can also find nearby participating restaurants. For restaurants that partner with MOGL, the startup also offers data on their customers and ROI.

The San Diego-based company launched in April 2011 and has partnered with nearly 350 SoCal restaurants so far.

Image courtesy of conrado, Shutterstock

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Salesforce launches Desk.com, slick social customer support software based on Assistly

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 10:14 PM PST

Enterprise cloud powerhouse Salesforce has launched Desk.com, a savvy customer support application that connects agents with e-mail, phone calls, and social channels, the company announced Tuesday.

Desk.com provides small-to-medium-sized companies with cloud-based customer support management to help for field queries through phone, e-mail, web, Twitter, and Facebook. It will join a crowded field of smart customer support startups including Zendesk and TalkDesk.

“This is an underserved market, and we’re handling it a different way,” Desk.com vice president and general manager Alex Bard told VentureBeat. “The help desk must connect on social channels to be effective.”

The debut of Desk.com has many similarities to the launch of Do.com, which was first shown off in November. Do.com re-made Salesforce-owned social productivity application Manymoon into a more polished product with an easier-to-remember name.

Desk.com, on the other hand, is based on the customer service support app Assistly, which Salesforce acquired for a reported $80 million back in September. All current Assistly customers — including big names like Instagram, Spotify, Pandora, Vimeo, Rdio, Grooveshark, and 37signals — will be transferred over to Desk.com’s refined and re-imagined interface starting today.

“While this is based on Assistly, this is a different product because we’ve built this from the ground up using new assets, a new API, and a new mobile client,” Bard said.

As you can see from the photo above, Desk.com makes managing customer questions and feedback fairly simple. With minimal setup, companies can begin tackling questions from phone calls, e-mails, and social networks. And there’s even integration with your customer support knowledge base for fielding frequently asked questions.

“It’s easy to get a new system up running quick,” Bard said. “Bonobos, for example, had this set up and ready for their agents in a single weekend.”

For mobile support, Salesforce has built an HTML5-based site for Desk.com that conforms well to mobile browsers on the iPhone and various Android phones. This can come in handy for managing important customer issues even when you’re not at the office.

Desk.com pricing starts at $49 per agent per month. It also offers “flex pricing” that runs $1 per part-time agent per hour, which could come in handy for managers who occasionally need to step in or a small company that only fields queries a few times a week.

You can look at a gallery of Desk.com screenshots for desktop and mobile versions below:

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Don’t mess with Dick: Twitter CEO speaks out against Google, censorship, and SOPA

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 09:16 PM PST

If Twitter is to become a dominant web company and live up to the accidental potential its original founders never intended, it will do so under the leadership of its well-spoken, quick-witted and confident CEO Dick Costolo.

Costolo, CEO of a company that has historically been as flighty as it name suggests, appeared every bit the able-minded and focused leader Twitter needs to succeed in a social landscape dominated by Facebook and under siege by Google.

Costolo, speaking at the D: Dive Into Media conference, was an unwavering force to be reckoned with Monday night, responding to queries with candor, strength of position, and the occasional joke.

Costolo was firm in his remarks to interviewer Peter Kafka on the subject matter of Google and the hotly debated Search Plus Your World update. Costolo, a former Googler himself, made it clear that the modified Google search experience, which now favors profiles and content from Google’s social network over Twitter content, is not in the best interest of the searcher.

Google should return the search results that people are looking for, he said unequivocally, adding that the search giant has crawled 300 billion Twitter pages to date, and has all the data it needs to include Twitter content in social search results.

But should Google stick to its guns, Twitter would remain unaffected, Costolo argued. Twitter is growing faster than it has ever grown before (it has 100 million active users), irrespective of what Google and Facebook are doing, he said. And in Costolo’s mind, all three social competitors can not only co-exist but succeed on their own merits.

As for whether Twitter is, as has been recently accused, bending to the whims of governments around the world and censoring its content, Costolo said the company is doing no such thing. The CEO stressed that, as VentureBeat originally reported, the company is focused on making sure tweets remain as accessible as possible. If issued an applicable, legal order to remove content, Twitter has the capability to withhold that content from just the users in a particular country and will publish these behaviors to Chilling Effects, Costolo explained.

“There’s been no change in our stance in respect to content on Twitter,” he said. “We want to be able to leave the content up for as many people as possible … this is the most honest, transparent, and forward-looking way for a company to deal with [takedown requests].”

And Twitter, he explained, has no intention to enter or appease China, a country infamous for its censorship of web content. “We’re already 100 percent blocked in China,” Costolo said. “We can’t go into China … We would love for people in China to be able to use Twitter the way we want them to … but the current environment doesn’t enable us to do that.”

The head of the information network also explained away Twitter’s decision to opt-out of participating in a web-wide protest of SOPA and PIPA, two now defunct controversial pieces that were previously making their way through Congress. “When you’ve got an amplifier like Twitter … you don’t pull the batteries out of the microphone,” he said, pointing to the platform’s ability to disperse more than 3.9 million SOPA and PIPA-related tweets that day.

“It is certainly the case that piracy is an issue for content creators,” he added. Twitter, he said, views SOPA and PIPA as flawed legislation created without input form both sides (Silicon Valley and Hollywood), and would have amounted to messy laws. But Twitter hopes for a middle ground, he said, and employs more than 45 people in its trust and safety department to handle piracy-related requests.

Perhaps most demonstrative of a new regime at Twitter was how Costolo managed to weave a question about chairman Jack Dorsey’s role at the company into a way to showcase his individual authority. Ever since Dorsey returned to work at Twitter in March of last year, the original creator has been glorified as the company’s true savior. But Costolo, who stressed that he and Dorsey have a a strong working relationship, made it known that he mans the ship, while Dorsey works to help guide its course. Dorsey, he said, has three primary responsibilities: to be a product visionary, to help with company branding, and to serve as an external Twitter spokesperson.

But if there’s one thing to take away from Monday night’s talk it’s this: Don’t mess with Dick. The CEO demonstrated that he, as PandoDaily put it, has “serious cojones.”

[Image via AllThingsD]

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Touchscreen film maker Cambrios hires new CEO and raises $5M

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 09:01 PM PST

Cambrios Technologies is announcing today that it has hired John LeMoncheck as its new chief executive and raised $5 million in a fourth round of funding from strategic investor Samsung Venture Investment.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.,-based company uses nanotechnology to create a thin transparent film that can conduct electricity. The film turns out to be ideal for adding touchscreen capability to any kind of display, from a smartphone to a big flat-panel TV. It has the dual benefit of being able to conduct well and be transparent at the same time.

LeMoncheck (pictured) said in an interview that his jobs is to help the company develop the sales and marketing chops to sell its solution across a variety of industries.

Michael Knapp, founding president and CEO of Cambrios, will become chairman. The goal of both investment and the new CEO is to accelerate product introductions and commercial growth in the consumer electronics markets. LeMoncheck was previously CEO of SiBEAM, a pioneer in 60-gigahertz wireless networking chips. He sold that company to Silicon Image last year for $25 million. That wasn’t the highest price, but it was the right destination company for the technology and it underscored how tough it is to get new semiconductor companies off the ground, LeMoncheck said.

By contrast, LeMoncheck believes that Cambrios has a unique opportunity to capitalize on its transparent conductor technology in touch, display, solar, and lighting markets.

The technology has interesting roots. It was born from a collaboration of Angela Belcher, a chemistry researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Evelyn Hu of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Belcher saw how abalone and other sea creatures used proteins to build orderly, inorganic films based on calcium and silicon. She found proteins that would do the same with inorganic materials that had industrial applications. They found materials that would self-assemble themselves into thin layers of film.

In 2002, Hu and Belcher created Cambrios and got their first round of funding, $1.8 million, in 2003. They recruited Knapp and raised a second round of $12 million in 2005. The investors included In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“John's successful track record of collaborating with customers and developing essential industry-wide partnerships makes him the ideal candidate to lead and help cultivate new relationships for Cambrios," said Leighton Read, current board member and a partner at Alloy Ventures, an investor in Cambrios.

The Samsung investment will help the company launch the ClearOhm materials, which include a silver-like material that can be sprayed like an ink onto a clear film, creating a web of microscopic wires on the film that can be used to conduct electricity and thereby form the basis for a touchscreen. The coating of ClearOhm works a lot better than the existing solution of indium tin oxide, Lemoncheck said. It results in a much more transparent display that is good at conducting electricity; normally, there’s a trade-off between conductivity and transparency.

Dong Su Kim, investmet director at Samsung Ventures America, said that Cambrios leads the market with the development of this kind of material using nanotechnology.

“We started out with a film, but we did that to seed the market,” LeMoncheck said. “Now we are increasingly selling the ink for that film.”

The ink business is a lot less capital-intensive than the film business, he said.

The first device to use the new displays were a smartphone from China’s Huawei Technologies last year. That device proved the technology and sold in the hundreds of thousands. Synaptics partnered with Cambrios on the technology.The technology can also be used for electro-magnetic shielding for displays, helping them handle touch operations more accurately.

The indium tin oxide market was about $2.5 billion last year, according to LeMoncheck. Cambrios has 43 employees. The film is sold by the square meter and the ink is sold by the bucket, LeMoncheck said.

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Twitter CEO Dick Costolo: 2012 is going to be the Twitter election

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 07:12 PM PST

2012 is going to be the Twitter election, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said at the D: Dive Into Media event in Dana Point, California Monday night.

In an interview with AllThingsD media editor Peter Kafka, Costolo said that a majority of the Republican candidates are buying ads, otherwise known as Promoted Tweets, Trends or Accounts, on the information network.

“Yes,” he said, “they’re buying ads … and they’re going to continue to do it.”

Political ads will represent a significant portion of the company’s 2012 ad sales business, Costolo predicted.

Costolo referenced the “Spilled Milk” moment in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address as a prime example of how Twitter has changed the political landscape. The moment, which spawned more than 14,000 tweets per minute, caused a collective groan that only Twitter could have captured, Costolo argued.

You used to have to wait for pundits to weigh in, Costolo added, but you don’t have to do that anymore. Washington is realizing that, he said, and they’re actively engaging in the real-time feedback loop.

“Candidates that don’t participate on Twitter while the conversation is happening,” Costolo said, “will be left behind.”

Costolo also fielded a number of questions about the company’s stance on controversial pieces of legislation, its response to Google’s Search Plus Your World, Twitter’s policy on withholding tweets, and its status (or not) as a media company (“We’re in the media business. We’re not necessarily a media company,” Costolo said).

As for why Twitter specifically chose not to participate in a web-wide blackout in protest of SOPA and PIPA, the company had a very calculated reason for not doing so. “When you’ve got an amplifier like Twitter … you don’t pull the batteries out of the microphone,” Costolo said, citing the more than 3.9 million tweets posted that day on either SOPA or PIPA.

Costolo has manned the Twitter helm as CEO for fifteen months now. In that time, he has solidified the company’s business plan around Promoted Products and, by some accounts, has single-handedly restored order (while reshaping the board) at the young and sometimes-volatile company.

Twitter has 100 million global active users who are logging in more frequently every day, Costolo said.

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Whistleblowers sue FDA over e-mail monitoring

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 06:22 PM PST

FDA Device Fail

The Food and Drug Administration is being accused of monitoring the personal e-mails of six employees who had previously reported inappropriate device approvals to Congress and the press.

“Whistleblowers” are protected by law in order to ensure that employees feel comfortable reporting misconduct within an organization. People who raise a red flag are supposed to be free from consequence, and are able to take legal action if they are harassed or treated different based on their report. In the case of the FDA, however, six employees are claiming their personal e-mails were subsequently monitored after they shed light on flawed cancer-screening devices, which were later approved by the FDA.

All six employees worked within the Office of Device Evaluation, and worked with various pieces of technology such cancer detection devices, ultrasounds for labor and delivery, as well as osteoporosis detectors. According to the Washington Post, all of these devices had an issue which could have brought harm to the person it ultimately met. For instance, the ultrasound was known to malfunction during use. Despite the teams’ warnings, however, the FDA stilled planned on green lighting the machines, which caused the six to take action.

In the aftermath, two of the employees were fired, two left without renewed contracts and the others “harassed.”

According to the Washington Post, the FDA began intercepting e-mails from the employees in January 2009. The agency posts a warning on its machines telling employees that they have no reasonable right to privacy on their work computers. It also collected screenshots and looked at the computers’ hard drives. The defendants still hold that their rights were violated with the FDA examined their personal e-mail accounts.

via The Washington Post, Photo via The U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Flickr

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Want to teach someone to code? Codecademy’s got an app for that

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 04:01 PM PST

Codecademy, the white-hot startup that teaches even total novices how to code, has launched a new tool: Creators lets anyone create a course on Codecademy and teach technology to over a million budding developers.

“We’re going from being a content company (creating courses) to becoming a platform for others to create courses,” said Codecademy co-founder Zach Sims in an email to VentureBeat.

“This is probably the biggest announcement we’ve made yet.”

Codecademy started out offering just JavaScript tutorials. The Creators user-generated courses will also include courses in Ruby and Python. Course creators will also be able to use the Creators site as a reputation-building tool, and Codecademy will screen course creators’ credentials to keep the riffraff out.

Also new Monday, Sims said, is a redesign for the startup’s site, including a new code editor that “really enhances the learning experience [and] shows line-by-line debugging.” The site now also features challenges, part of what Sims called the site’s “new educational philosophy.”

Codecademy launched last August as a Y Combinator company. It quickly drew a fair amount of attention from the developer community, as well as a quick $2.5 million funding round from the early-stage investor community.

The startup is trying to bring a new focus to web development with its Code Year project, a New Year’s resolution-themed initiative to get more people to learn how to code in 2012.

Filed under: dev

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Speech recognition trial uses DS consoles to help children with hearing difficulties

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 03:38 PM PST

Nintendo is helping to implement the use of speech recognition software in Japanese schools, in partnership with telecom company NTT. As part a project currently being trialed, speech can be captured from a classroom teacher, and relayed as text on a student’s DS handheld console.

Nintendo’s handheld console is no stranger to classrooms in Japan, with it already being used in educational settings for a variety of purposes. There are a broad range of educational titles available for the DS in the region, which focus on topics such as science, math, learning languages or even writing Kanji. This latest use of the console is unique though, in its attempt to improve accessibility in the classroom, for children with hearing or other learning difficulties.

In this trial project, which has just started in the Okinawa and Tottori Prefectures, teachers’ words are converted in to text, which is then saved to a cloud-based server. The text can then be sent to devices within the classroom, including DSi consoles, with children able to read along, while also keeping a record of the lesson to access later.

In March 2010, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto spoke of his desire to roll the DS system out to Japanese elementary and junior high schools. The relatively low cost of the console, together with the flexibility offered by its touchscreen, microphone and wireless capabilities, make it an ideal learning aid. Outside of the school system, the device has also been used by McDonalds in Japan, to train part time workers in its restaraunts, using tailor made software.

You can see a video of the voice recognition program in action below. Unless your Japanese is up to scratch though, you made need to go a few rounds with My Japanese Coach in order to fully understand it.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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“Heroes” actor’s mobile coupon startup Yowza nabs $1.5M (exclusive)

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 03:25 PM PST

YowzaYowza, a mobile coupon startup, secured $1.5 million in its first round of funding, founder Greg Grunberg (a.k.a. the actor who played Matt Parkman on NBC TV show Heroes) told VentureBeat in an interview today.

Yowza is a mobile application that lets you scan your area for stores that offer coupons or sales. To redeem a coupon, you have the cashier to scan the bar code that pops up on your mobile phone. The app, which is available on iOS and Android, only features coupons from businesses that sign up for its monthly service. Right now, Yowza only has a few thousand businesses signed up, including FastFrame, My Gym, REI, McDonalds and a variety of local merchants. However, the number of participating businesses is expected to rise significantly in the next few months, Grunberg said.

While my commitment to professionalism prevented me from asking Grunberg if JJ Abrams is giving him a cameo in the next Star Trek movie, we did chat about why Yowza didn’t need to compete with other popular coupon and deals services.

“There is room for Foursquare, ShopKick and plenty of others. Those guys are in the gaming business as far as I’m concerned, because you have to check-in, accrue points … click like buttons, etc.,” which are all activities that the average person doesn’t have time to do to obtain a coupon, Grunberg said. “My wife and I have three kids, so when we’re at a store we want to pull up a coupon and use it. That’s it.”

That said, Yowza definitely focuses on the simplicity of pointing you to coupons and allowing you to redeem them quickly. And by focusing on being a useful way to scan for coupons rather than a way to interact with my friends, it proves very successful.

Unlike group coupon deal services like Groupon, Yowza doesn’t take a cut of the revenue from each sale. Instead, merchants sign up for the service, which costs $89 per month per location. Merchants can then add or edit any number of coupons or sales that they’d like, as well as view analytics on their customers’ coupon activity. The monthly fee can be less for merchants with a chain of national or regional stores, depending on the type of business and number of locations.

Under the current business model, Yowza isn’t far off from achieving profitability, according to CEO David Teichner. And with more people using mobile devices to save money in brick-and-mortar stores, mobile coupons have a bright future.

Founded in 2009 by Grunberg and August Trometer, Yowza’s investors include Tech Coast Angels, Pasadena Angels, and others. The company has 11 employees.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Five ways data storage is too sexy for your business in 2012

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 03:07 PM PST

Pile of hard drives with their covers removedBusiness owners, chief information officers, and even chief executives are looking at storage with new eyes. They see that storage is a critical component of managing data, "internet-of-things," Big Data, cloud services, and analytics.  Smarter storage is necessary for businesses to stay ahead as data continues to explode. For example, research firm IDC estimates that online content will total 2.7 zettabytes in 2012, up 48 percent from 2011.

In fact, 57 percent of IT decision makers from a 2011 IBM survey stated their organization needs a new storage approach to manage future growth.

As we move forward in 2012 and storage becomes a key business driver, we’ll see new breakthroughs in storage research and business models coming from industries like entertainment and healthcare.

With these new storage challenges and opportunities there will be five storage trends that organizations can take immediate action to address as they emerge in 2012.

1) Storage breakthroughs will nip the "Digital Dark Age" in the bud

Since the early 1990's, an increasing proportion of data that people create and use has been in the form of digital data. That’s brought unprecedented flexibility and fluidity to the sharing of information.

Yet, digital storage can in many ways be more perishable than paper. Disks corrode, bits "rot" and hardware becomes obsolete. This presents a real concern of a possible "Digital Dark Age" where digital storage techniques and formats created today may not be viable in the future as the technology we use today becomes antiquated.

We've seen this happen before. Take the floppy disk for example: It was a storage tool that was so ubiquitous people still click on images of this enduring icon to "save" their digital work. Yet most Millennials have never seen it in person.

New research shows storage mediums can be vastly denser than they are today. New form factors such as solid state disks will help us provide more stable longer-term preservation of data, and the promise of “the cloud” allows access to data anywhere, anytime.

Recently, IBM researchers combined the benefits of magnetic hard drives and solid-state memory to overcome challenges of growing memory demand and shrinking devices. Called Racetrack memory, this breakthrough could lead to a new type of data-centric computing that allows massive amounts of stored information to be accessed in less than a billionth of a second.

This storage research breaks previous theoretical limits to data storage, ensuring our digital universe will always be preserved.

2) Data curation will provide structure in midst of the data deluge

Once we have the capability to preserve our digital universe, we will need a way to make it useful. We need to take the next step past data preservation to data curation.

Data curation is the active and ongoing management of data through its life cycle. This smarter data categorization adds value to data that will help glean new opportunities, improve the sharing of information and preserve data for later re-use.

Social media is a great example of the power of curated data. Sites like FaceBook, Google+, and Pinterest compile our digital lives and give their users a platform to organize their content.

However, there’s also a lot of work involved in selecting, appraising and organizing data to make it accessible and interpretable. The key is bringing data sets together, organizing them and linking them to related documents and tools. If data can be stored in a way that provides context, organizations can find new and useful ways to use that data.

3) Storage analytics will open new business insights

With data curation allowing organizations a platform to better utilize their data, analytics will help turn that data into intelligence and, ultimately, knowledge.

With the information that historical trend analytics and infrastructure analytics provides, you can index and search in a more intelligent way than ever before. By doing analytics on stored data, in backup and archive, you can draw business insight from that data, no matter where it exists.

The application of IBM Watson technology for healthcare provides a good example. Watson collects data from many sources and is able to analyze the meaning and context. By processing vast amounts of information and using analytics, it can suggest options targeted to a patient’s circumstances, can assist decision makers, such as physicians and nurses, in identifying the most likely diagnosis and treatment options for their patients.

Through intelligent storage and data retrieval systems, we can learn more with the information we have today to improve service to customers or open new revenue streams by leveraging data in new ways.

4) Storage becomes a celebrity as new business needs push it into the spotlight

As our digital and data-driven universe expands, certain industries are able to reach new levels of innovation by having the capacity to house, organize and instantaneously access information.

For example, Hollywood is known for its big budget blockbusters, but the big storage demands required by new formats such as digital, CGI, 3D and high definition are affecting not just the bottom line, but studios' ability to produce these types of movies. Data sets for movies have become so large that they’re at the petabyte level.

Filmmakers are beginning to trade in film reels for SSDs as just one day's worth of filming can generate hundreds of terabytes of data. The popularity of these data-intensive formats means studios are looking for new storage technologies that can handle the demand.

The healthcare industry may even be facing an even bigger data problem than the entertainment business. Take a look at the Institute University of Leipzig, in Germany, which has a major genetic study called LIFE to examine disease in populations. LIFE is cataloging genetic profiles of several thousand patients to pinpoint gene mutations and specific proteins. This process alone generates multiple terabytes of data.

Even one 300-bed hospital may generate 30 terabytes of data per year. Those figures will only grow with higher-resolution medical imaging, and new tools or services such as making electronic healthcare records available online.

5) Data hoarders will need an intervention

In this era of Big Data, more is always better, right? Not so – especially when every byte of data costs money to store and protect.

Businesses are turning into data hoarders and spending too much time and money collecting useless or bad data, potentially leading to misguided business decisions. This practice can be changed with simple policy decisions. Companies can also implement existing capabilities in smarter storage technologies. Still, many companies are hesitant to delete any data due to the fear of needing specific data down the line for business analytics or compliance purposes.

Part of the solution starts with eliminating the copies. Nearly 75 percent of the data that exists today is a copy. By deleting and disabling redundant information, organizations are investing in data quality and availability for content that matters to the business.

Consider the effect of unneeded data, costing money by replicating throughout an organization's information systems. This outdated data can also potentially be accessed for fraud.

Raising the quality of data is not costly—not getting it right is.

Steve Wojtowecz, IBMSteve Wojtowecz is Vice President of Storage Software Development for IBM. Steve has enjoyed a 20-year career with IBM in various management roles that has included all areas of software design, development, strategy, marketing, sales, support and services. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

Top photo: Shutterstock/Kovalchuk Oleksandr

Filed under: cloud, enterprise

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$150K Star Trek apartment gets destroyed in divorce

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 02:34 PM PST

Divorce can get ugly. It ruins lives, traumatizes children, and confuses cats. Now, it can also destroy an Intrepid-class starship. Or at least, one man’s apartment-sized recreation of one.

Tony Alleyne began work on the ultimate geek pad when his wife left him in 1994. The 10-year process of converting his 500-square-foot flat into a painstakingly realistic replica of a Star Trek set cost approximately $150,000. Much of the futuristic furnishings were hand-crafted, and include voice-activated lights as well as a transporter room in place of a bedroom.

“I have always considered that of all the Starfleet ships, Voyager is, in terms of interior, the luxury liner of the galaxy,” Alleyne told Daily Contributor in 2009.

Unfortunately, it seems Alleyne’s wife has gotten around to filing those divorce papers, and seeing as how she owns the apartment and has been paying the mortgage since ’94, it’s all coming down.

But who cares about interpersonal drama? Look at all that cool sh*t! If Alleyne had put that effort into opening a Starfleet-themed bar, I might be willing to make a trip out to Leicester, UK to try a Mind Meld Mojito.

I’m now inspired to start my A Song of Ice and Fire apartment project, but I’ll probably get bored and quit before I even finish typing this — yep, there it goes.

via The Escapist

Filed under: enterprise, offBeat, VentureBeat

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Ahead of the Windows 8 beta, Microsoft makes the ribbon smaller based on feedback

Posted: 30 Jan 2012 01:41 PM PST

Showing that Microsoft is making some progress on Windows 8 as it prepares for the late-February beta release, the company today unveiled a slew of changes that it’s making to the OS based on feedback from early testers.

While some of the changes aren’t very exciting — there’s plenty of minutia when it comes to file copying, for example — other fixes related to the infamous ribbon, which replaces the traditional Windows file menu, are more fundamental.

First off, Microsoft has decided to minimize the ribbon by default (see above screenshot). Previously, the Windows 8 ribbon was maximized (just like the Microsoft Office ribbon) and took up a significant chunk of screen space. Microsoft says the ribbon change is about “reducing distractions and trusting users to discover functionality on their own.”

In seeing how Microsoft decides to make major changes, we’re able to catch a glimpse at the data-driven process that fuels most of Microsoft’s design work. For example, based on internal Microsoft usage data, the company found that 71 percent of users didn’t change the ribbon’s setting when it was minimized by default.

But Microsoft says it won’t always change its direction with Windows 8 based on negative user reaction. The company writes:

Our view is that we do need to move the user interface forward and accept that a vocal set of customers are just not happy with the direction we’re going. When looked at broadly, that is balanced out by a majority of people who are happy and more productive with the changes. We remind folks that there are third-party tools available (likely the tools being used by this set of people), that provide a number of different interface paradigms. We do embrace the notion that third-party tools play an important part in the Windows experience.

Other changes to the ribbon include visible hotkeys when users hover over specific functions (mainly, because Microsoft loves shortcut keys), as well as the ability to roam your Windows Explorer settings to other Windows 8 PCs.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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