01 February, 2012



EFF wants to help Megaupload users get files back from Feds

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 09:22 AM PST

megaupload-kanyeWorried your legal files stored on Megaupload are about to be deleted? The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has offered to help with retrieving legitimate content and returning it to Megaupload users.

For those that haven’t been paying attention, Megaupload was a cloud-based storage company that encouraged users to upload personal files and share them using its service. But the company and some of its employees were fingered in a 72-page indictment issued two weeks ago by the Department of Justice. The indictment against Megaupload alleges it is connected to a vast criminal enterprise that has caused more than $500 million in harm to copyright holders.

But the immensely popular site for file-hosting didn't just allow users to share copyrighted movie and music files — many customers of the site used it to store and send personal files, just like you can on many other file-sharing sites on the web. When the site was taken down, Megaupload fans complained bitterly that the government had taken away access to legal files used for work, as documented by TorrentFreak. Some users are even banding together to sue the government.

Those users who lost legal files and want a chance at getting them back can now visit a site called MegaRetrieval, which has been put together by the EFF and Carpathia Hosting. The site requests Megaupload users to provide details about what data was lost and if possible, the organization will try to resolve their issues through all means at their disposal. While it doesn’t guarantee getting your files back, it’s better than doing nothing.

“EFF is troubled that so many lawful users of Megaupload.com had their property taken from them without warning and that the government has taken no steps to help them,” said Julie Samuels, attorney at EFF, in a statement. “We think it’s important that these users have their voices heard as this process moves forward.”

Filed under: cloud

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Vegas startup Rumgr raises $500K for a better, prettier Craigslist app

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 09:06 AM PST

Startup classifieds service Rumgr has just received funding to be a sort of suped-up Craigslist. It’s a mobile and web location-based marketplace that lets you snap images of your unwanted stuff, browse pictures of other people’s unwanted stuff, sell, trade, barter, and buy to your heart’s content.

You can post items for sale with just a picture if you like, no description needed, then you field offers from would-be buyers. When you decide to accept an offer, the app has a private chat mode for you to arrange for payment and pickup.

The app also has an “Inside Your Garage” feature to track your items, your sales, and others’ items you’re watching.

And perhaps best of all, the location-based aspect means you stand a better chance of not having to drive an hour and a half across town to pick up that $50 vintage davenport from a sketchy dude’s garage. Yes, with Rumgr, you can do all that within a five-minute drive, instead.

The startup has just raised an initial $500,000 round of funding from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, Resort Gaming Group founder Andrew Donner, and a handful of other Zappos executives.

The new funding will be used to expand Rumgr’s service to new markets across the U.S. and also to continue product development efforts.

Since Zappos and RGG both have strong roots in Las Vegas, it makes sense that both the investors and the startup founders are excited about putting time and effort into building a presence in the Vegas startup scene.

"What makes VegasTech so interesting is how organically it started and how fast-tracked it has been with Tony Hsieh's efforts,” said Rumgr CEO Dylan Bathurst in an email to VentureBeat.

“It started with a group of tech and creative people based in Vegas who were sick of not having a community. We started gathering downtown at [the Last Vegas Jelly coworking space], and simply by twerd-out-mouth (Twitter word of mouth) our community grew quickly.”

Around that time, Zappos was making its move into downtown Las Vegas. “Tony, the Downtown Project, and Zappos were able to support a lot of efforts people were starting, such as Startup Weekend, Ignite Vegas, LaunchUp, etc.,” Bathurst said.

"We were some of the first people in this community,” the CEO continued. “Whether it’s getting user or more professional feedback about the product, we have it. We're also very good about making sure we give that help right back to the community.

“It’s one thing to move away from Vegas to be completely immersed in the SF tech culture, but there's also something very exciting about being involved in building your own tech community from the ground up."

Image courtesy of webraconteur.

Filed under: deals

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Digital Capital wants to play matchmaker for investors and digital entertainment startups (exclusive)

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

A new firm in Zug, Switzerland is launching today to act as a matchmaker for investors and digital interactive entertainment and video game startups.

Digital Capital describes itself as a “funding vehicle” for game developers, offering opportunities for investors and a fair deal for developers. The company says it provides partnership opportunities, management and advisory services, and access to capital to produce projects. The company will work with projects across mobile devices, smart TVs, console, and PC.

The company was co-founded by Todd Tribell, who has spent a couple of decades as an advisor trying to commercialize Russian-made technologies for the rest of the world.

"With the growth of digital distribution there are so many opportunities for investors," said Tribell. "Our focus will always be on quality, with the sole aim of bringing success to all of our partners – both developers and investors."

"Our view on game developers is not dissimilar to musicians or actors.  They are the creative force – and as such, we want to work closely with them to maximize their financial participation in order to properly reward them for their ideas,"  he said.

Digital Capital is being mysterious. Tribell has no experience in the game industry but will be announcing an unnamed chief operating officer soon. And it has not identified the source of its funding or the amount of money it has raised. It will be announcing its first development partners in the near future. The company has one employee now and expects to have three by March. It will add others as required to run projects.

The company has rivals, of course, among traditional venture capital firms as well as game-focused entities such as the similarly named but unaffiliated London-based firm, Digi-Capital.

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

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Sony appoints Kaz Hirai to replace Howard Stringer as CEO

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 07:28 AM PST

Sony has officially appointed Kazuo Hirai as its new president and chief executive effective April 1.

As expected, Hirai replaces Howard Stringer, who will become chairman. Hirai, currently executive deputy president of Sony, said in November that "management is feeling a serious sense of crisis about the seven years of losses."

Rivals like Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft are not going to make the coming years any easier. Sony has seen its grip on consumer electronics fade as Apple came on strong with iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Samsung has tightened its hold on the flat-panel TV market, and even Microsoft has outrun Sony in the past year with stronger sales of video game consoles.

Stringer has been on the ropes for more than a year, while Hirai’s rise has been obvious. In April 2011, he was named executive deputy president, and then he was promoted to Sony Computer Entertainment chairman. Now he will take the reins of an $85 billion company.

Hirai, 51, also took responsibility when the PlayStation Network was hacked last year and went down for six weeks before Sony could bring it up again in a secure manner. Gamers were infuriated, and Hirai stood on a stage and bowed in apology.

Hirai was one of the key executives who helped make the PlayStation a success in North America. Under PlayStation creator Ken Kutaragi, Hirai headed the North American game operations for Sony as the original machine took the leadership away from Nintendo. In interviews, Hirai has always had a sense of humor and he speaks English and Japanese fluently.

Stringer said in a statement, “Kaz is a globally focused executive for whom technology and the cloud are familiar territory, content is highly valued, and digital transformation is second nature. I believe his tough-mindedness and leadership skills will be of great benefit to the company and its customers in the months and years ahead. I look forward to helping Kaz in every way I can so that succession leads inevitably to success. It was my honor to recommend him to the Board for the positions of President and CEO, because he is ready to lead, and the time to make this change is now.”

Hirai said that Sony is going through challenging times and he credits Stringer with steadying the company. Hirai said, “The path we must take is clear: to drive the growth of our core electronics businesses – primarily digital imaging, smart mobile and game; to turn around the television business; and to accelerate the innovation that enables us to create new business domains.”

He added, “The foundations are now firmly in place for the new management team and me to fully leverage Sony’s diverse electronics product portfolio, in conjunction with our rich entertainment assets and growing array of networked services, to engage with our customers around the world in new and exciting ways.”

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Samsung: No Galaxy III smartphone at Mobile World Congress

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 07:28 AM PST

Despite numerous rumors to the contrary, Samsung has confirmed that it will not debut its much-anticipated Galaxy S III smartphone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month.

“Samsung is looking forward to introducing and demonstrating exciting new mobile products at Mobile World Congress 2012,” Samsung told The Verge. “The successor to the Galaxy S II smartphone will be unveiled at a separate Samsung-hosted event in the first half of the year, closer to commercial availability of the product.”

The Galaxy S II is one of the best-selling Android smartphones ever, so news about its successor is anticipated from Android fanboys and tech watchers alike. Sales from that phone and the Galaxy Note phone/tablet hybrid helped Samsung earn a record profit of $4.7 billion for its startling fourth quarter.

In my hands-on with the U.S. versions of the Galaxy S II, I found the phone to be one the best Android devices ever at that point. On top of the phone’s powerful hardware, Samsung will update the software to Android Ice Cream Sandwich in the first quarter of this year.

While the Galaxy III will not debut at MWC, the company will likely introduce other powerful smartphones and tablets. Our own Devindra Hardawar will be on the ground at Mobile World Congress when the event starts on Feb. 27, so look out for more details at that time.

Filed under: mobile

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Dylan’s Desk: 6 things you should know about the Facebook IPO

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 07:20 AM PST

Conceptual art showing a social networkOur creepy, socially-networked future.

If Facebook files its paperwork for an initial public offering this week, as many expect it to do, we’ll be on the road to one of the biggest tech IPOs in recent history.

The offering will probably raise $10 billion in cash for the company and will value Facebook at somewhere between $75 and $100 billion, making founder Mark Zuckerberg, who holds an estimated 24 percent of the company, a billionaire many times over. That valuation is not far off the implied valuation of about $80 billion that the company currently has on secondary market Sharespost.

It’ll likely be priced to pop, unlike Zynga’s IPO. In other words, the underwriters will set a share price that’s slightly lower than what they figure the true market valuation will be, so the stock will pop up to its “natural” level on the first day of trading, like an air balloon held underwater and then suddenly released.

But, like a balloon, what happens to Facebook next will depend on many factors.

We don’t yet have access to detailed financial data about Facebook — that will come when the company files its S-1 forms — but here are some things we do know about the company.

400 million people use Facebook every day.

Facebook claims it has 800 million registered users worldwide, and that half of them check into the site every day. It won’t be long before the company reaches a billion customers which is a milestone few other companies have reached. Microsoft, Nokia, and Walmart have probably done it — though they all have a billion paying customers, whereas Facebook’s registered users don’t pay to use the service, they just provide the attention that advertisers pay Facebook for.

Still, paying customers or not, 400 million is a lot of people. Social networks have come and gone, as the party moved from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, but no social networking company has ever reached this volume. That alone is significant.

Facebook has more than twice as many U.S. users than Google did at its IPO.

VentureBeat contributor Rocky Agrawal points out that Facebook now has 100 million more U.S. users than Google did at the time of that company’s IPO. In December, Facebook had 162.5 million unique users in the U.S., according to Comscore Media Metrix. By contrast, Google had 61.9 million when it went public in August, 2004. Google was then the No. 4 web property, Agrawal points out — the same position Facebook now holds.

According to Comscore, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all attract more unique U.S. visitors each month. But the web is a lot bigger now than it was in 2004, so Facebook is starting with a much bigger pool of regular users than Google had in 2004.

When I spoke to a group of about 70 high school students recently, every single one of them raised their hand when asked if they were on Facebook. When someone asked if anyone was not on Facebook, only two people raised their hands — and they were both teachers.

People spend time on Facebook. A lot of time.

When you look at Nielsen’s ratings of the top U.S. web properties, Facebook comes in at No. 2, after Google, with an audience of 153.4 million. But the time those people spend on Facebook dwarfs every other site in Nielsen’s top 10, with Facebook visitors spending an average of 6 hours and 51 minutes per person per month.

That means people in the U.S. spend more than one billion hours per month using Facebook, every month.

By contrast, Nielsen reports that people using Google only spend 1 hour 37 minutes per month on the site (for a total of 280 million hours), while users of No. 3-ranked Yahoo spend 2 hours and 17 minutes on that site (for a total of 330 million hours).

It makes sense, when you think of how people use these sites. At Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and even Wikipedia, most people come to the sites to look something up, then they move on. At Facebook, it’s hard to visit without getting sucked into the latest updates from your friends, clicking on interesting videos they’ve shared or looking at your childhood friend’s latest photos of his baby.

Facebook may not be making the best use of this time — its revenue figures will tell more — but that level of what used to be called “stickiness” means it has an awful lot to work with.

Facebook is building a new operating system for the web.

Facebook is not just a social network, it’s a development platform upon which you can build applications. With a new array of developer tools and the ability to share information about what people are doing in real time on its Open Graph, Facebook is attempting to make itself into the platform of choice for any web developers.

Facebook started with one verb — you could “like” things or not — but is now expanding its lexicon, so Facebook apps can let you “watch,” “read” or “eat” things. In time, any human experience will be able to be codified in a Facebook app and recorded on your Timeline.

I don’t know whether developers will flock to Facebook. For now, building an application on your own website gives you far more control, as well as ownership of any customers you bring in. If you start using Facebook to help authenticate visitors, or to manage your comment system, as many website builders have done you are ceding some of that value to Facebook.

As long as Facebook offers value to developers that exceeds the loss of control it demands, it will be able to attract them to its platform. But at what point do they decide that enough is enough?

Facebook is trying to become the new Aol.

The reason investors get so excited about Facebook is the same reason those of us who love the open web get nervous about it: Facebook is building a walled garden that will give its customers everything they could possibly want, from cat videos to news analysis by the Washington Post, in one place. Unlike the open web, Facebook will control everything, making the experience consistent, ensuring safety, enforcing rules about decency and copyright and identity, and taking a cut of every transaction.

Here’s another way to look at it: Facebook is trying to do what Aol failed to do in the 1990s: Create a safe, family-friendly, completely controlled alternative to the open Internet.

That has enormous implications for Facebook’s potential future earnings. Of course it makes people like myself, who came of age during the Internet’s early days, exceedingly wary.

Only one company has made significant money from that platform so far.

Despite Facebook’s massive reach, stickiness, and the all-encompassing nature of its platform, there’s one shortcoming: It’s not actually monetizing itself very well right now.

In fact, there’s only one company that’s been truly successful building apps on the Facebook platform, and that’s Zynga, which grew to a $9 billion powerhouse largely on the basis of its Facebook relationship. While many companies have built apps, Zynga is the only company to have gotten big enough from its use of the Facebook platform to hold a big IPO itself.

As Forrester analyst Nate Elliott writes, marketing on Facebook doesn’t actually work that well, and the company’s revenue model is pretty simplistic.  That may be one reason why it hasn’t attracted much corporate spending to date, and each Facebook user is actually worth less to the company’s overall value than Google’s users are to it. In order to grow into a meaningful platform that will attract and retain many developers, and resist onslaughts from better-organized platforms, Facebook will need to solve both of those problems.

A big pile of cash from its IPO could certainly help.

Image credit: Shutterstock/De Mango

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Richard “Lord British” Garriott in space: “I might just sit up in my window in orbit and write the next game” (interview)

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

Richard Garriott is best known as Lord British, the designer of video games that have been enjoyed by tens of millions of people over the past three decades. But thanks to the documentary film Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott’s Road to the Stars, he is also now known as a pioneer in commercial space travel who paid about $30 million for a trip to the International Space Station.

The story shows how Garriott dreamed of following his father into space, only to be stymied by NASA’s restriction on prohibiting anyone with eyesight flaws requiring glasses from being an astronaut. At 13, with his hopes dashed, Garriott started plotting how to launch his own trip into space as a civilian. His entrepreneurial approach to space travel eventually paid off with the trip of a lifetime in 2008.

The film, by Mike Woolf and First Run Features, tracked Garriott’s trip into space on board a Russian Soyuz rocket. In chronicling his preparations, the filmmakers went behind the old Iron Curtain to reveal the way the Russians train their cosmonauts at a once-secret training base in Star City, near Moscow, then send them into space from a base in Kazakhstan.

Beyond making games, from Ultimate to Tabula Rasa, Garriott has been one of the primary investors in the X-Prize and Space Adventures, the private company that takes private citizens to the space station. He used his passion and profits from games to make his space dream come true.

The film is touching because Richard relied upon the advice and help of his father, Owen Garriott, a scientist-astronaut who flew aboard the Skylab space station in the 1970s. The younger Garriott is the first second-generation astronaut in the U.S.

We interviewed Richard about the film, which is available on demand and is showing in select theaters. Here is an edited transcript.

GamesBeat: Thanks for doing the call, and congratulations on getting the movie out.

Richard Garriott: Yeah, thank you. We’re very excited about it. We broke the top 10 on a number of the documentary charts, so not bad so far.

GB: That’s good, that’s good. So how far back did you guys start thinking about that as a documentary? The footage seems to go pretty far back.

Garriott: Well, interestingly, we were at a friend’s wedding together, and I knew that these guys produced documentaries, I’ve known them for some years, but honestly it hadn’t really crossed my mind. As you might imagine, preparing for a space flight is a non-trivial thing to arrange. Especially while you’re still trying to keep your day job going, if you know what I mean. It really had not crossed my mind at all. But the year before I started training was a year where I had to do a lot of medical preparation for the flight, including a surgery to remove a chunk of my liver. While at my friend’s wedding… When you get together, you say, “What are you up to?” “Well, what are you up to?” I was going around showing off this 16-inch scar I had on my belly from having a chunk of my liver removed, since it was the most recent event in my life, and that’s when Brady (Dial) and Mike (Woolf) both came up to me and said, “Richard, surely by now you have had somebody think about documenting this, haven’t you?” I said, “Well, no, honestly I haven’t.” They said, “Richard, we beg you, let us come to Russia with you to document this, this is such a special opportunity. They already knew that my father was an astronaut, that I would be becoming the first second-generation astronaut, but they were completely unaware of the medical activities, the training I was about to jump into. As soon as they mentioned it, it made enormous sense to me too. And from that point forward they became my surrogate family over in Russia.

GB: Did you know their work from before, had you seen other things that they had done and liked it?

Garriott: Yeah, Brady has actually done a very well-known, well-received IMAX movie about cowboys. Mike Woolf and his team here in Austin, I’d seen their work in advertising and music and other areas. I’ve known both of their work for some time. It had really never crossed my mind, thinking far enough ahead to think about documenting my trip.

GB: What was the idea that drew them? The connection between you and your father, then?

Garriott: No… They knew that civilian space flight was a new industry that I had helped open. And if you combine that with the fact that… I’m the one that helped open it, I’m one of the first people ever to fly, I’m a generational astronaut, that just added up to them… They were saying, “Look, this is definitely a historical moment.” And they also knew that nobody in the West, especially, has ever really had the chance to see the space program from the Russian perspective. And so they knew the footage that we’d be able to capture was not only historical, but also would have this very unique aspect of living and filming from the Russian side of the international space program.

GB: So it had a lot of different hooks there.

Garriott: The story threads, as is often the case with documentaries — you sort of discover the story as you go along. The experiments I was going to perform weren’t set at the time, how we were going to arrange the mission, what part my dad would play through the whole thing. Not this film, but I mean… What his role would be through my mission had not even been fully revealed to us. Even by then. We just knew it was an important story to capture.

GB: How do you feel about how the film turned out?

Garriott: Of course, I think it turned out great. It’s funny, the first rough cut that I saw was about three hours long. When I saw the three-hour version I was just, “Wow, that’s truly amazing, I don’t know how they’re going to ever get this down to an hour and a half.” Because by definition you think they’re going to lose half the content. When they cut it down to 90 minutes, I actually looked at it and said, “Wow, not only is this much better, but I really couldn’t tell you what, if anything, was left on the floor.” It was such a more powerful movie, just by giving it a good editing. Interestingly, I have seen them try to get it down to 60 minutes, because they were debating a 60-minute release as well for television. At 60 minutes you can tell there are some story threads that have had to be left behind. But at 90 minutes I think it’s a really powerful documentary.

GB: The whole story, it has quite a few twists and turns there, it seemed like there were a lot of times where everything could have been cancelled, right?

Garriott: Oh, yeah. In fact, there’s even more that aren’t in the film. But for me, my journey to space had lots of potential dead-ends. The first was my investments in a company called Spacehab, which did fly hardware, but NASA would never let them take systems. Then, when I finally did arrange for the space flight, the internet stock market crashed, so I had to sell my seat to Dennis Tito. But there’s even things, all the way up to the eleventh hour… Of course there’s the medical issues. When they first found that anomaly on my liver, they said, “By the way, you have a disqualifying medical condition.” It could have ended right there. But literally, right up until days before the flight, there were international politics that in theory could have derailed the whole thing. It’s interesting. Even I was holding my breath and crossing my fingers… Up until you board the rocket and it’s about to start. Then you say, “Well, nobody can stop us now.”

Filed under: games

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Android fragmentation: it’s not as bad as you think, so long as you compromise

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 06:02 AM PST

There has been a lot of hand wringing in the developer community about fragmentation on Android. There are different manufacturers making dozens of unique units with their own screen size and resolution. Adding to that, there hasn’t been any way for Google to ensure that phones running Android stay up to date on the latest release of the operating system.

A new study from Localytics presents a mixed bag. “Across all apps using Localytics, a full 73% of Android usage came from devices running a variant of Android 2.3. While the build, known as “Gingerbread”, is not the most recent, from a fragmentation perspective it should be good news to developers that such a large majority of users are running the same Android OS version,” said the study.

See, a ton of Android phones may be out of date, but at least they are all left behind together. Localitics is clearly a glass half full kind of company. “Add Android 2.2 "Froyo" to the mix, and the majority becomes even more convincing – 23% of Android user sessions were running some flavor of “Froyo”. Between the two, Android developers can be confident that they only need to actively target two Android OS builds in order to achieve 96% compatibility with the Android ecosystem,” the study concludes.

When it comes to screen size, Localytics takes a similar tack, pointing out that Android developers can cover most of the bases by going after the most popular form factors. It’s possible, for example, to lock in more than 75% of the smartphone market with  just two screen resolutions.

For developers interested in quantity, this is probably good news. But for apps more interested in quality, there is still a wide range of devices that need to be accounted for to ensure that customers get the best experience.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Senate Democrats don’t like the idea of a Netflix Facebook app

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

Al FrankenStreaming video service Netflix recently appealed to a panel of U.S. senators to update an old law that forbids the company from launching a Facebook application within the country.

The antiquated law, the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), prohibits companies like Netflix from sharing a person's movie-rental history. The law was passed in 1988 after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video rental records were published in a news publication. At the time, the law seemed to make sense because a person's video rental history does have the potential to affect public opinion about that person — especially when running for public office or being nominated for a public position.

Last month, the House passed an updated version of VPPA that allows consumers to give a one-time consent to release their rental data — regardless of if the movies are streaming. Such a measure will allow streaming media service Netflix to finally take advantage of social features on social media network Facebook's open graph platform. Netflix subscribers in Canada and Latin America already have access to the Facebook integration, which lets users see what streaming videos their Facebook friends have been watching.

Unfortunately, a number of prominent democratic senators don’t agree that a streaming service that provides unlimited access to movies is much different from a brick-and-mortar video rental shop from the 1980′s. (Netflix’s streaming service, for instance, lacks the annoying late fees, membership ID cards, and that door in the back covered in hippie beads that only adults are allowed to enter.)

Among those who spoke up against passing the House’s updated bill was Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who not only authored the 1988 VPPA legislation, but also the highly protested Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

At the hearing Tuesday, Leahy described the House’s bill as “dominant corporate interests (enticing) a check off in order to receive what may seem like a fun new app or service.” And while this seems like a reasonable observation, further comments by the senator indicated that he really has no clue how the hell Facebook works — especially not in regards to the new news ticker feature the giant social network implemented in September.

“A one-time check off that has the effect of an all-time surrender of privacy does not seem to me the best course for consumers,” Leahy added. A one-time “check off” that allows Netflix to do whatever it wants to with your viewing history probably wouldn’t be in a person’s best interest. However, under Facebook’s terms of service, a third-party application can only gain access to your Facebook profile for as long as you allow it to. Therefore, Leahy’s point is sort of invalid, and at the very least ill-informed.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who is chairman of the subcommittee in charge of the hearing, criticized the House bill because it was unclear whether it would make movie rental companies obtain permission for every single movie a person rents.

“Streaming is the future of video, but no judge has ever decided whether or not the VPPA covers stream video companies,” Franken said. “I think it’s clear that the law does cover new technologies like streamings because it doesn’t just cover ‘pre-recorded video cassette tapes’ but also… ‘similar audio/video materials’”.

Franken said there’s a good chance that a judge may decide that the current VPPA law doesn’t include streaming media, which is why he doesn’t want to leave “the future of video privacy up to a judge”.

While I’ll agree with Franken on the necessity to update old laws to include new technologies, I disagree that “streaming” video privacy is any different than regular privacy. Currently, none of the other streaming media services (music, television shows, or radio/webcasts) are hindered by the VPPA. Yet, a revised law could change that.

Do your think we need new laws specifically for streaming media to protect privacy? Give us a shout with your thoughts in the comment section.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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AOL stems the bleeding: reports advertising revenue gains for Q4

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 04:43 AM PST

AOL Revenue

AOL reported a 10 percent increase advertising revenue in the fourth quarter to $363.8 million, compared to $331.6 million during the same period last year. However, the company’s overall revenue slipped by three percent, or $576.8 million, compared to $596 million last year.

Still the fourth quarter revenue numbers mark the first increase for AOL in four consecutive quarters.

“AOL took a large step forward in Q4 and I am very pleased with the way we ended the year,” said AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong in the release. “Our Q4 results highlight AOL’s ability to methodically improve our consumer offering and financial performance”

Over the past few years, AOL has attempted to shift away from its roots as a dial-up Internet service provider in favor of growing its media and advertising business. However, some of the company's biggest investors have previously expressed concern over AOL’s media business, due in part to poor profit returns on acquisitions, like the $25 million purchase of TechCrunch and the $315 million purchase of The Huffington Post. The company has also suffered from a number of top-level talent losses this year.

AOL attributes its ad revenue gains to increased display revenue from Patch, the company’s local news blog initiative, which investors accused of being a waste of time and money. On the call, Armstrong stated that the number of local “patches” that earned over $2,000 in monthly revenue went from 33 in Q1 to 401 in Q4. That’s still not a huge percentage of overall revenue, but at the very least the company is reporting growth.

“Patch is a highly scrutinized investment by our management team and our board, but Patch is not a pet project,” Armstrong said. “Patch is a business that meets deep consumer and advertiser needs.”

Fourth quarter 2011 highlights:

  • AOL grew global advertising revenue by 10 percent — its third consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth.
  • Total revenue decline was its lowest rate of revenue decline in 5 years.
  • 15 percent growth in global display revenue — AOL’s fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth.
  • AOL reported the lowest rate of search and contextual revenue decline in approximately 3 years, due in large part to growth in search revenue on AOL.com.
  • Dial up subscription revenue declined 18 percent (lowest rate of decline in five years), with a monthly average churn of 2.2 percent year-over-year.
  • AOL’s Adjusted OIBDA expensess, excluding Traffic Acquisition Costs (TAC) and an $8.5 million legal settlement were $360.4 million, down from $391.3 million and $368.0 million in Q2 and Q3 2011, respectively.
  • AOL’s operating income and Adjusted OIBDA grew $46.2 million and $37.4 million sequentially. Both declined year-over-year due to lower total revenue, strategic investments and an $8.5 million legal settlement. Net income declines year-over-year also reflect the gain on sale of AOL’s investment in Brightcove in Q4 2010.

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Facebook app Bday Gift Finder launches with $2M in funding

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 04:30 AM PST

Finding the perfect gift for a friend’s birthday can be tricky. Bday today launched the Bday Gift Finder, a Facebook app that scrapes your friends’ profiles to recommend the perfect presents. And the company has already secured the best gift of all for itself: $2 million in funding.

The Bday Gift Finder is a simple concept. After the app connects to your Facebook profile, it scans and analyzes your friend’s “likes” from top brand pages. You can click on a friend’s profile to see from which retailer, physical or online, they might like a gift. You can use the app to buy the gift, which actually comes in the form of a gift card. (The company doesn’t deliver it for you, you’ll have to go through the retailers website.)

Bday plans on making money through partnerships with retailers — ideally it will process the gift-card payment directly in Facebook and taking a percentage of the transaction. However, as of right now, the company is simply driving shoppers to the retailers, which may be the first step in proving its relevancy and landing those partnerships.

Numerous Facebook gifting apps have popped up recently, including Giftiki, which focuses on group gift giving based on friends’ gift requests. There are also some outside of Facebook, including GroupGifting which recently launched CoachGifter.com, a way for groups to easily buy gifts for their coaches.

The main differentiator for Bday Gift Finder appears to be its emphasis on sentiment. The company claims that it can tell if a “like” is either positive or negative. For example, if a friend is protesting a brands environmental regulations, then you wouldn’t want to send them a gift card for that brand, because they were “liking” a negative aspect of it. The company says it uses man-power to scan for these types of brand pages and does not include them.

The Tel Aviv, Israel-based company, founded in 2011, secured the first round of funding from Tel-Ad Electronics Ltd., a technology company in Israel. The financing will be used to further expand Bday's technology and product portfolio.

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Growing and profitable, Longform releases its first app for iPad

Posted: 01 Feb 2012 04:22 AM PST

Over an ice coffee on an unseasonably warm January day, Longform co-founder Aaron Lammer took VentureBeat for a test drive through the startups new iPad app, which debuts today at noon. The company, which curates the best long form journalism from around the web, is taking a gamble on an expensive $4.99 app, hoping its passionate audience will pony up for a premium experience.

“Right now our users are spread across Twitter, our website, Instapaper, Readability, and Kindle. The idea behind the app is to help people avoid finding our link on Twitter, following it to the website and then saving the story to Readability. They can do all that just by opening the app,” said Lammer.

The company is still mostly the two co-founders, Lammer and Max Linsky. They built the app with the help of a developer in D.C. and have expanded their editorial staff to a core group of about a half dozen. “We’re profitable now, thanks to ads and sponsorship on the website,” said Lammer. “The last few months have seen around 66% growth in our traffic.”

So far the startup has maintained good relationships with the publishers it relies on for reading material. The iPad app automatically takes users to the publishers web page first, meaning they get all the benefits of a page view for their advertisers. A simple toggle strips those out using the Readability API. “Right now, all we’re focused on is creating the best reading experience possible. But it’s important to us that the app is a great opportunity for publishers, too, and we’re totally up to work with them to make sure their own advertising is effective within Longform,” said Linksy by email.

For now the company isn’t interested in trying to accelerate its organic growth. “We talked to a bunch of venture capitalists and they had some ideas for how we could proceed that they might fund. But what we’re doing right now, that’s kind of exactly the thing we want to do,” said Lammer.

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Japan’s DeNa moves into Chinese smartphone game market in deal with Baidu

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 11:02 PM PST

Japan’s DeNA is bent on being a global powerhouse in social games on mobile platforms. Today, the company announced it will put its Mobage mobile gaming social network on Baidu-Yi smartphones in China.

As the market for games becomes global and more competitive, game companies are spreading out and moving into emerging markets such as China in a race to make social and mobile games ubiquitous.

Baidu, China’s leading internet search provider, has formed an alliance with DeNA’s China subsidiary so that DeNA can offer the Mobage platform and its games on smartphones. Baidu’s official mobile app store, the Yi Store, comes pre-loaded on smartphones and it will have a dedicated section for Mobage.

Users can tap twice to move from the default screen to the Mobage platform on an Android phone. Baidu’s first Yi-based smartphone — manufactured by Dell — went on sale in China on Jan. 13.

The Baidu Yi platform is compatible with Android apps and integrates Baidu’s intelligent search box, cloud services and mobile apps. Baidu has about an 83 percent market share for internet searches in China.

DeNA first launched its Mobage China for Android in July 2011, and on iOS in November 2011. DeNA is a billion-dollar company that has 1,800 games played by 35 million users in Japan.

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Announcing the 2011 Crunchies Awards winners

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 09:22 PM PST

Ah, the Crunchies Awards; the glitz, the glamour, the tech innovation. This awards show gathers the best and brightest startups and tech companies from 2011 to celebrate their achievements and amazing technology.

VentureBeat, GigaOm, and TechCrunch hosted the event, which took place Tuesday night at the glamorous Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The event was filled with tech celebrities and entertaining personalities, including host Harris Wittels, a “Parks and Recreation” alum and #humblebrag curator, and San Francisco’s mayor Ed Lee, who spoke about his tech jobs initiative for the City of San Francisco.

The votes have been tallied, the judges have spoken, and without further ado, here are the 2011 Crunchies Award winners!

Best Technology Achievement (2010 winner: Google Self Driving Cars)
Tesla Flat Pack Battery

Apple's popular voice recognition personal assistant took the 2011 Best Technology Achievement Crunchies award.

Best Social Application (2010 winner: DailyBooth)
Facebook Timeline
The New New Twitter
Path 2.0

Google's breakout social network snagged the award in the Best Social Application category.

Best Shopping Application (2010 winner: Groupon)
Gilt Groupe
Lot 18
Warby Parker

Best Mobile Application (2010 winner: Google Mobile Maps for Android)
Task Rabbit

Best Location Application (New category for 2011)

Best Tablet Application (2010 winner: Flipboard)
Eventbrite At the Door

Best Design (2010 winner: gogobot)
Path 2.0

Best Bootstrapped Startup (2010 winner: addmired)
One Sheet
Tap Tap Tap (Camera+)

Best Cloud Service (New category for 2011)

Best International Startup (2010 winner: Viki)
Peixe Urbano

“Groupon for Brazil” Peixe Urbano took the Best International Startup Crunchies award.

Best Clean Tech Startup (2010 winner: SolarCity)
Alta Energy
Array Power
Eco Motors

Best New Device (2010 winner: iPad)
Galaxy Nexus
iPad 2
iPhone 4S
Kindle Fire

The coolest thermostat created thus far, Nest, nabbed the Best New Device Crunchies award.

Best Time Sink (2010 winner: Cityville)
Modern Warfare 3
Words With Friends

Zynga’s addictive word game won the Best Time Sink Crunchies award.

Biggest Social Impact (New category for 2011)
Charity: Water
Khan Academy
Practice Fusion

Angel of the Year (2010 winner: Paul Graham)
Ron Conway
Paul Graham
Reid Hoffman
Keith Rabois
Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi
Kevin Rose

VC of the Year (2010 winner: Yuri Milner)
Marc Andreessen & Ben Horowitz
Matt Cohler
Vinod Khosla
Aileen Lee
Yuri Milner
David Sze

Founder of the Year (2010 winner: Mark Pincus)
Leah Busque (Task Rabbit)
Brian Chesky (Airbnb)
Jack Dorsey (Square, Twitter)
Susan Feldman & Ali Pincus (One Kings Lane)
Drew Houston (Dropbox)

CEO of the Year (2010 winner: Andrew Mason)
Dick Costolo (Twitter)
Daniel Ek (Spotify)
Phil Libin (Evernote)
Mark Pincus (Zynga)
Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn)

Best New Startup of 2011 (2010 winner: Quora)

Best Overall Startup of 2011 (2010 winner: Twitter)
Gilt Groupe

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Business intelligence startup Domo pulls in another $20M

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 09:00 PM PST

Josh James, founder of business intelligence company Domo

Domo, which is building a dashboard for real-time business intelligence, has landed another $20 million without even trying.

The funds come from Silicon Valley-based Institutional Venture Partners, which also invested in Domo founder Josh James’ previous startup, Omniture. It brings the company’s total funding to $63 million.

“There’s probably three people a week that I turn down, who want to put money into our company,” said James, in an interview with VentureBeat. He agreed to accept IVP’s investment because the venture firm has a good track record and James has worked with it before.

“We thought it made sense to take additional money,” James said, but added: “We’re always trying to build the company in a way that we won’t need more money.”

The company is calling this second round of investment its “Series A-1″ tranche, to indicate that it has the same terms as its $33 million Series A round (but at a higher valuation). Previous investors include Benchmark Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Ron Conway and David Lee of SV Angel, and Hummer Winblad.

Domo hopes to give executives and managers a single, customizable, sharable view of the business metrics that matter to them, delivering its product as an online service, similar to the way Salesforce.com, Omniture, Microsoft's Office 365, and other software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions work. It will aim at collecting a slice of the estimated $10 billion annual market for business intelligence services.

James’ previous gig was Omniture. After cofounding the web metrics company, he led it to its initial public offering in 2006 and subsequent $1.8 billion sale to Adobe in 2009. He left Omniture in July, 2010.

Domo is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and currently employs about 100 people, mostly engineers, James said. However, once the product is ready to go, he plans to kick the sales organization into high gear.

“We will definitely be a sales-driven organization,” James said. “Right now we’re in the process of making sure the product is absolutely right, and then we’re going to sell it to every man, woman, child and retired person I can find.”

Photo courtesy Domo.

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Boxee to remove PC application from its website

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 06:59 PM PST

Boxee Box

It’s no secret that streaming media startup Boxee is no longer supporting the PC version of its media center software, but after today it might be hard to find.

Boxee is known for producing streaming media software that allows you to access web content from your television set and manage your digital media collections. Last month, the company announced that it would end support for its PC applications, and instead, focus all resources on connected devices, such as the company-branded D-Link set-top box (Boxee Box), the iPad, and others.

As the next logical step towards Boxee’s realigned strategy, the company will remove all copies of its PC-based application (Mac/Windows/Linux) from its website at the end of today, reports Gigaom.

“We believe the future of TV will be driven by devices such as the Boxee Box, Connected TVs / Blu-Rays and 2nd screen devices such as tablets and phones,” wrote Boxee Vice President of Marketing Andrew Kippen in an old blog post announcing the company’s new strategy. “People will continue to watch a lot of video on their computer, but it is more likely to be a laptop than a home-theater PC and probably through a browser rather than downloaded software."

Many long-time Boxee users have criticized the company’s decision to end PC support, but the move does make sense. Boxee needs to improve its product before getting eliminated by powerful competitors, like the Apple TV and a variety of Google TV-enabled devices. While the PC software might have initially been a way for Boxee to lure in tech-savvy cordcutters (a.k.a. people who end their cable or satellite television subscription and rely entirely on web media), it’s no longer helping the company boost revenue. Also, the finite resources Boxee dedicated to building and maintaining the PC applications can now be channeled into creating new features for the part of the business that is lucrative.

People who want to continue using a PC-powered media center software for their televisions can either download Boxee’s PC app before tomorrow, or check out alternatives like XBMC or Plex.

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Amazon stays frustratingly silent on Kindle Fire sales data

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 03:28 PM PST

Kindle FireWith the rumblings from Amazon about the early success of its new Kindle Fire over the holiday season, the company’s disappointing fourth quarter results came as a surprise.

More surprising was Amazon’s silence regarding total Kindle Fire sales for the quarter. During the earnings call, Amazon’s executive team deferred questions about the device to the press release, which simply regurgitated sales data from December.

The Kindle Fire, which is Amazon’s 7-inch Android-based tablet device, did phenomenally well during its initial launch in November. The company reported selling at least 3 million Kindle readers (including the Fire and Amazon’s other e-ink readers) three weeks after the launch — or about a million devices per week over the 2011 holiday shopping season.

Some analysts have estimated that Amazon sold about 6 million Kindle Fires for the quarter, which would make the company the second largest seller of tablet computing devices. Those estimates, if true, would also make the Kindle Fire the best-selling Android-based tablet in the world — beating high-profile tablets from Samsung and Motorola. (For some perspective, even the most optimistic Kindle Fire sales estimates are nowhere near industry leader Apple’s iPad 2, which sold 15.4 million units in its fiscal first quarter.)

While the Kindle Fire’s initial spike in sales could be attributed to its relatively low $200 price and the proximity of its launch to the largest shopping “holiday” of the year, it’s possible that Amazon saw a sharp decline in the following weeks. Essentially, that means Amazon may not have sold as many devices as it projected, which would explain the company’s silence during the earnings call.

Another explanation for why Amazon didn’t mention Kindle Fire sales in its quarterly earnings report could have something to do with digital media sales. Unlike Apple and Samsung, Amazon is selling the Kindle Fire at a loss and making the money back on digital media sales and application purchases. Some analysts estimate that the company is making at least $136 in additional revenue from every customer who bought a Kindle Fire. If digital media sales are down for the quarter, it could reflect poorly on the Kindle Fire’s success.

Still, Amazon is definitely serious about growing its presence in digital media sales — and not just by offering premium content from the biggest media companies. Last month, Amazon started a $6 million annual fund to encourage more independent authors to publish their works on Kindle before other platforms. The company is also hiring new employees to work on its digital media strategy.

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Firefox 10 gets developer-friendly with Inspector features

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 03:10 PM PST

firefox 8Firefox 10, the latest version of the Mozilla web browser, was released today and brought a bunch of developer tools with the new update. Non-developers get a few new features too: faster updates and better add-on compatibility.

Page Inspector, a new feature in this release, lets developers view a page’s layout and HTML structure. Firefox highlights the page area you want to inspect and display the HTML tag for the part of the page. Want to know the what font you are looking at? Use the Style Inspector to reveal CSS information for the page. Both Inspector features reveal how the page is structured and the rules used to create the page. You can even spend sometime playing around with the page, changing margins, font sizes, and more which is especially cool for those who’ve never worked with HTML or CSS before. Nothing is changed in the website’s real code, but developers can get a visual idea of how their pages will look.

Another new feature is Scratchpad, a code editor that highlights syntax for JavaScript developers. You can build and test code, all while looking at the webpage the code will be used on.

Firefox has also released the Mozilla Full-Screen API so developers can build full screen apps and games and deliver full screen video content. The latest release also includes support for 3D Web experience with WebGL, a standard for running 3D graphics.

For all the non-developer Firefox devotees, Mozilla touts that version 10 gives you a simpler update process and much better add-on compatibility. However, this writer didn’t notice much difference with how the update was applied.

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Facebook said to be filing $5B IPO, Morgan Stanley selected to take lead

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 02:59 PM PST


Social network king Facebook will likely file its first papers with regulators on Wednesday morning for a $5 billion initial public offering, “sources close to the deal” have told Reuters subsidiary IFR.

We heard at the end of last week that the social network could file papers for its initial public offering as soon as Wednesday, so it’s not unexpected that more details are leaking like a well-worn faucet. The timing aligns with a recent report that suggested that Facebook would like to make its stock market debut in May. In order to comply with the Securities and Exchange Commission's guidelines, Facebook would need to file its papers soon.

If IFR’s report holds true, the $5 billion IPO would be looked at as smaller than expected. Rumors had been swirling that Facebook would be putting up a $10 billion offering on a $100 billion valuation. IFR suggests that if Facebook sees higher demand (which it most certainly will), it could raise its offering to a higher amount.

Facebook has selected five bookrunners to help get its offering processing, and it has put Morgan Stanley in the lead-left role. Goldman Sachs, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, and JP Morgan will also help with the deal. The bank in the lead-left role typically earns a larger share of fees collected for handling an IPO.

It’s unclear at this point if Facebook will end up on The New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq, but both are said to be aggressively battling for the listing. Facebook has reserved the ticker symbol "$FB".

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Warner Music Group chairman loves Spotify, calls Google Music an “oxymoron”

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 02:17 PM PST

Google Music is an oxymoron and Spotify is a friend to the artist, Warner Music Group chairman Edgar Bronfman, Jr. said Tuesday on his last day on the job.

Bronfman, Jr. expounded obtusely on the reasons why Warner Music Group has yet to sign a deal with Google and talked up the potential of all-you-can-stream music service Spotify in an interview with Peter Kafka at the D: Dive Into Media event in Dana Point, Calif.

In November, Google officially launched Google Music, its free cloud service for listening to music and downloading tracks from the Android Market. The locker and store hybrid offering has the backing of EMI, Universal, and Sony, but not Warner Music Group.

“We don’t have a beef with Google,” Bronfman, Jr. said, dancing around the exact reason why negotiations have yet to come to fruition. Google, he said, has to decide if it wants to be a content platform. Once they make that decision, he added, Warner will do a deal with the company.

“Every deal ultimately comes down to economics,” Bronfman, Jr. said, insinuating that Google’s terms were unfavorable to its artists. Google is unclear in how it wants to deal with the content industry, Bronfman, Jr. said, and that attitude is manifested in the terms of its music deals. The search giant has a conflicted ideology around content that dates back to its origins as a company focused on the value in the organization of content and not the content itself, he added.

In a perfect world, however, Bronfman, Jr. would like to see a deal between Warner Music Group and Google get done.

And while Google may not have the blessing of Warner, Spotify (Warner has a small equity stake in the streaming music company) absolutely does, Bronfman, Jr. made clear today. Spotify, he said, has been an incrementally positive development and is not slowing down the sale of downloads. Instead, Spotify gives individual tracks a much longer shelf life, he argued, saying that Spotify offers artists a real revenue stream. It is ultimately beneficial to the artist, he said.

The exiting chairman also spoke positively of Amazon, even though the company launched its own music locker system without a deal in place with Warner. Amazon, he said, has historically been a friend to the content industry, and he would like to see Warner support Amazon’s music platform in the same way it already supports Apple’s platform.

[Image via AllThingsD]

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Amazon disappoints with dramatically lower profits for Q4

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 01:33 PM PST

flickr-jeff-bezosAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos is probably not a happy man today, with the company reporting disappointing fourth quarter 2011 earnings, including a dramatic 58 percent decline in net income.

Many analysts were unsure where Amazon would stand this past quarter with the launch of the much-hyped $199 Kindle Fire tablet. The device wasn’t estimated to be immediately profitable for Amazon, but the company expected people to purchase media for their devices and was counting on those book, music, movie, and TV sales to make up for it. One analyst predicted Amazon sold 6 million Fires this quarter but Amazon would not say how many units were sold.

“We are grateful to the millions of customers who purchased the Kindle Fire and Kindle e-reader devices this holiday season, making Kindle our bestselling product across both the U.S. and Europe,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in a statement. “Our millions of third-party sellers had a tremendous holiday season with 65 percent unit growth and now represent 36 percent of total units sold.”

From a revenue standpoint, the company did fairly well with $17.43 billion in sales — a 35 percent increase from the year-ago period. But the company missed wide on profits, with net income decreasing 58 percent to $177 million, or $0.38 per diluted share, compared with net income of $416 million, or $0.91 per diluted share, a year ago. Operating income for the company was $260 million in Q4, compared with $474 million in the year-ago period.

Unfortunately, even the revenues did not meet steep Wall Street expectations of $18.3 billion, according to estimates from FactSet Research.

Amazon’s stock price in after-hours trading reflected the disappointment, and has gone down between 8 and 10 percent in the past half hour.

Jeff Bezos photo: James Duncan Davidson/Flickr

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CardSpring links coupons directly to your credit card, raises $10M

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 01:23 PM PST

CardSpring, a company that creates mobile applications specifically for credit and debit cards, announced today it has raised $10 million in its first round of funding.

CardSpring has produced an Application Programming Interface (API) that developers can use to make online applications for your credit or debit card. Each time you swipe your card, the card’s information is sent over the payment network to process the purchase. CardSpring has created a link between that payment system and other online process, such as coupon redemption or loyalty programs so every swipe can do more than just complete a purchase.

“When we looked at the payment system, we realized that everyone had a different point of view on how to connect credit and debit cards to it,” CardSpring chief executive Eckart Walther told VentureBeat in a interview,”We built a platform that delivers a simple interface for developers to use to connect to the payment system.”

The types of apps that can be connected to cards is limited only by the developers’ imaginations. In CardSpring’s current platform, the first apps are likely to focus advertising and promotions. Developers will likely create apps that encourage patrons to review businesses after they make a purchase there or offer promotional discounts after a card is swiped.

While mobile discounts and loyalty apps have caught on in recent years, CardSpring eliminates the need for business specific smartphone apps, or even a smartphone at all. CardSpring bridges the gap between developers and the payment network — a system that is traditionally hard to access due to strong security measures. The API lets developers build apps quickly that access the payment network without compromising the security of your information.

“It’s a really new platform and we are working on building it up now,” said Walther, “We will use the funding for scaling the team and scaling the platform.”

CardSpring launched its private beta today, which developers can request access to on CardSpring’s website. The series A round announced today was led by Accel Partners and Greylock Partners, with participation from SV Angel, Morado Ventures, Felicis Ventures, and WIN. CardSpring is based in Palo Alto, California. less than 20

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Spil Games has 170M monthly visitors who spend as much as $60 a month

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 01:21 PM PST

Spil Games said today that it has 170 million monthly active visitors to its various teen-girl-focused game sites.

People who play the free-to-play social games, where users can play for free and pay real money for virtual goods, spend as much as $60 a month on transactions.

The company said that in 2011, players played 11 billion game sessions, or 350 games started every second. The top game was Bubble Shooter, in which 5.3 billion bubbles were blasted.

Since introducing social games to its stable of web games in July 2011, Spil Games, based in Hilversum, the Netherlands, has grown its global average revenue per user by 30 percent each month.

Teen boys generate some of the highest average revenue per paying user, resulting in $60 per month per user spending in Germany.

“The breadth of our offering and the personal approach available to developers is driving the kinds of numbers we’re seeing on our platforms,” said Peter Driessen, chief executive. “Players clearly want to go to a platform specializing in online gaming.”

Developers of top games could make $5 million per title in 2012 on the Spil Games platform, Driessen predicted.

Spil Games supports in-game payments in 60 countries. Players spend 85 minutes per month playing online games. Brazil and the U.S. have the most online gamers.

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Romney clobbers Gingrich in Florida-based online traffic

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 01:07 PM PST


Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich may be duking it out tonight in Florida’s high-stakes Republican primary, but when it comes to attracting online traffic from Floridians, Romney is the clear winner, according to Experian Hitwise.

Strong Internet buzz doesn’t translate to a proportionately high number of votes, as demonstrated by Ron Paul in the recent Iowa caucuses. Social media predictors had Ron Paul highly favored to take the Iowa caucus, but he trailed behind Rick Santorum and Romney at the end of voting. But perhaps online traffic trends could be a better indicator, if we look closer at data and trending patterns.

Unlike social media channels, which are often hard to analyze, online traffic might actually be a better indicator overall because it shows a level of interest in a candidate and voters’ willingness to learn more about them. Experian Hitwise spokesperson Matt Tatham took the time to give us traffic numbers related to the last few primary contests, and some data points make a fairly compelling argument for traffic translating to votes.

For four weeks leading up to Jan. 10′s New Hampshire primary, Romney was easily ahead of all competitors in attracting New-Hampshire-specific traffic. Romney easily won that contest with 97,532 votes, or 39.3 percent. Ron Paul grabbed 22.9 percent of the vote and Jon Hutsman got 16.9 percent.

South Carolina is another story. Romney attracted more traffic to his site from South Carolina voters than all of his competitors, but he still lost to Gingrich by a 13-point margin. Tatham said there is an interesting data point, though, that correlates with Gingrich’s surprise win. During the last week before South Carolina voting, Romney’s traffic fell considerably lower and Gingrich’s traffic surged.

Now we have tonight’s Florida primary. During the past four weeks, Romney’s campaign site has received the majority of visits from Florida, while Gingrich is leading in site traffic for the entire U.S. Gingrich was garnering more traffic from Florida citizens through Jan. 14, but since that time, Romney’s numbers have come up considerably and Gingrich’s have gone down.

“Getting the most online traffic can mean quite a few things,” Tatham said. “In the case of Florida, perhaps voters feel like they already know enough about Gingrich or maybe they heard a quote from Romney and wanted to find out more about him.”

With tonight’s highly contentious primary in Florida, we will be able to test these numbers once again. And if Romney does prevail, as he is predicted to, it will be another indicator that online traffic and interest can in fact help predict voting patterns.

“A lot was made of Obama’s deft use of the Internet and social media,” Tatham said. “This year, it will be amplified even more.”

Mitt Romney photo: nmfbihop/Flickr

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HTML5 versus Adobe Flash (infographic)

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 12:13 PM PST

One of Steve Jobs’ last major acts before passing was to launch an attack on Adobe Flash. Mobile Apple devices began blocking Flash-powered content, and Apple even went so far as to prevent iOS developers from using Flash — one of the most popular multimedia programming platforms — in their apps. Apple positioned HTML5 not as an alternative, but as a replacement. A few months later that decision was reversed based on “developer feedback” (i.e. Internet outrage), but the battle between HTML5 and Flash rages on.

OneMoreLevel.com has crafted a side-by-side comparison of the two. There’s a lot of interesting data to be found, and it’s all sourced down at the bottom, but it is fair to note that OneMoreLevel is a Flash gaming site. We’ll let the data speak for itself:

For an even more detailed analysis (and more pictures!) from a neutral party, check out this breakdown from technology-specialist firm Periscopic.

Normally, I don’t shamelessly solicit comments, but as a budding game developer myself, I’d genuinely like to know if any of our readers have had an experience one way or the other. Does this data all ring true?

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The 3 Facebook IPO risk factors that matter

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 12:09 PM PST

When Facebook’s S-1 filing comes out (which could be as soon as tomorrow, if you believe the Wall Street Journal), we’ll see a lot of risks in it.

The S-1 is the first and most significant document that a company fills out, and the Securities and Exchange Commission publishes, prior to an initial public offering. If it’s typical, we’ll see many boilerplate risks, such as an earthquake wiping out Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, a global economic meltdown, and the world deciding en masse that the Internet is boring. Lawyers include so many of these risks — in Groupon’s S-1, the risks section went on for 20 pages — that it can be hard to isolate the meaningful ones.

Here’s a look at what I believe are the three biggest risks to Facebook’s business.

The rise of mobile and Android. Mobile phones will be the centerpiece of social networks. They’re already tremendously important and will become even more so. This is especially true in the developing world, where the phone may be the only device consumers use to get online.

In this space, Google has strong assets that Facebook does not. I fully expect that Google will attempt to shove Google+ down the data pipe of every Android user. Google+ will eventually come pre-installed on nearly every Android phone, much as Google Maps does today.

Google has already built some interesting features into its Google+ app. For example, although I’m not a big fan of Google+ in general, I do like the feature that automatically uploads pictures I take to Google+. From there, it’s easy to share them. The easier you can make it for people, the more they’ll use your service.

An often-overlooked asset that Google has is Google Voice. Social networks like Facebook miss a key piece of the social graph: the people you call and text. For my closest friends, I tend to text with them regularly. That is data that Facebook currently doesn’t have.

To the extent that Google can deeply integrate Google+ features into Android, it has a significant advantage.

Facebook itself is no slacker on mobile. More than 350 million people access Facebook on mobile devices, the company says. In developing countries, Facebook has worked with mobile carriers to launch its Facebook Zero initiative, which gives people a way to access a low-bandwidth version of Facebook for free. Facebook also has a strong enough brand that it can push on carriers to have its app pre-installed.

Advertiser spending and attention shifting to Google+. With Google’s new Search plus Your World integration of Google+ into Google’s dominant Web search tools, marketers have a strong incentive to focus attention on Google+.

Although I wouldn’t recommend Google+ to advertisers on its own merits as a social network, I do recommend it based on its impact on Google search engine rankings. Marketers can move their pages from search oblivion to the front page of Google results by engaging with their customers and prospects on Google+.

When Google adds advertising to Google+, it can also make the ad buy integrated into AdWords purchasing. (Or even make it a bundled buy.)

Facebook still has so much traffic that advertisers will need to continue using Facebook, but it doesn’t have the social world to itself anymore.

Privacy-related regulations. Facebook’s greatest strength is the amount of data it has on hundreds of millions of users and their interactions. But it’s also a potential challenge when it comes to privacy regulations.

For the U.S. market, this isn’t a huge challenge, as privacy advocates have relatively little sway in government. But European regulators take a much tougher approach to privacy. (In some cases, such as Google’s StreetView Wi-Fi data collection, I think it’s absurd.) In December, Facebook agreed to make 35 privacy changes in Europe.

Even with privacy regulations in place, Facebook can still grow its ad business. The bigger concern is the degree to which compliance with a patchwork of global privacy rules takes away engineering resources and inhibits the implementation of new features that consumers may want.

Rocky AgrawalRocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social, and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org and tweets at @rakeshlobster.

Top photo: Rupert Ganzer/Flickr

Filed under: social

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Google defends its new privacy policy in letter to Congress

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 11:59 AM PST

Google Privacy Policy updateGoogle is defending its privacy policy changes yet again, this time to the United States Congress.

“Last week we heard from members of Congress about Google's plans to update our privacy policies by consolidating them into a single document on March 1,” said Google director of public policy Pablo Chavez in a blog post. “Protecting people's privacy is something we think about all day across the company, and we welcome discussions about our approach.”

In response to this letter from Congress, Google has publicized its reply in the hopes of clarifying the issues of privacy controls and opt-outs. You can read the full text of the letter below.

The company recently consolidated its privacy policies from over 70 — one for each of its broad range of products — to just a handful. Sixty of these policies were consolidated into one, big privacy policy, which allows Google to share user data across its products.

In the letter, Google stresses that it is not collecting any new information about its users, nor selling it to advertisers. The difference users will notice are new integrations of their data from one product being used in another. For example, Google currently lets you upload events into your Google calendar if the company’s Gmail technology believes text in an email is referring to a time and place. Another example is its recent launch of Search Plus Your World, which takes data from your Google+ account and provides it as search results in Google’s web search product.

Google is also trying to calm to seas by continuing to provide granular privacy controls within each product.

“The privacy policy changes don’t affect our users’ existing privacy settings,” Google’s letter explained, “If a user has already used our privacy tools to opt out of personalized search or ads, for example, she will remain opted out.”

Facebook committed a similar misstep when it made changes its site-wide privacy settings. Instead of alerting users, however, the company changed their settings to the site’s new default, resulting in a complaint filed with Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The case was settled with Facebook promising to undergo 20 years of privacy audits, and include its security and privacy departments in all product development.

According to Google you can still “opt-out” of the new privacy changes by simply not using the products while logged into an account, but this restricts what products you can use as some require an account to get the full experience.

We have contacted Google and will updated upon hearing back. Check out the full letter to Congress below.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Android users are more likely to have sex on first date

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 11:50 AM PST

A recent survey by Match.com has revealed Android users need lovin’ a little quicker than iPhone and Blackberry users.

The survey was broken down by Match.com’s "Relationship Insider" Kimberly Moffit, who revealed that 75 percent of Canadian singles believe e-mail and texting have significantly improved their dating life. "More so than zodiac signs or astrology, smart phones are the new way Canadian singles can decode their dating style and determine if they've met their match," wrote Moffit.

So, what does your smartphone say about your life love?

iPhone Users: The Office Romantic

  • iPhone addicts are the most likely to date someone in their workplace. Nearly a quarter of iPhone singles have had an office romance in the last five years.
  • After a first date, iPhone users wait just one day to reach out, while Android or BlackBerry users will wait until after 2-3 dates.

BlackBerry Users: The Drunk Dialer

  • If you're dating a BlackBerry fan, prepare to imbibe. BlackBerry users are most likely to drink alcohol on a first date – 72 percent will have a boozy beverage on a first night out.
  • A whopping 67 percent of BlackBerry users say they have experienced love at first sight.

Android Users: The Seducer

  • Android users are most likely to be seduced on a first date. 62 percent of Android singles say they've done the deed after date number one, compared to 57 per cent of iPhone users and 48 percent of BlackBerry users.
  • Out of all smart phone users, Android fans are most likely to have a one-night stand (55 percent).
  • 72 percent of Android fans have visited an online dating site, compared to 58 percent of iPhone users and 50 percent of Blackberry users.

Unfortunately Boost Mobile users did not factor in to the survey. We’ve reached out to Match.com to demand answers (not really).

Via The Canadian Press

Filed under: mobile, offBeat, VentureBeat

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5 years later, Viacom still suing YouTube out of “principle”

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 11:26 AM PST

A five year-old legal battle between Viacom and Google-owned YouTube over copyrighted content continues to clog up the U.S. court system because Viacom, parent company of Paramount Pictures and MTV, believes there’s an important principle at stake, president and CEO Philippe Dauman said Tuesday.

Dauman, in an interview at the D: Dive Into Media event, defended his company’s ongoing litigation against YouTube, the purveyor of user-generated content, despite a 2010 federal ruling establishing that the video-sharing site is protected under the “safe harbor” provision of the U.S. copyright law, and is ultimately protected from liability so long as it removes infringing content at the request of rights holders.

“The U.S. justice system works in a slow and deliberate way,” Dauman said somewhat facetiously.

Viacom first brought suit again YouTube in 2007 for $1 billion in damages over the unauthorized use of Viacom content, inducing the use of clips from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” between 2005 and 2008. The case was dismissed in June of 2010, in what was deemed a landmark victory for YouTube. But the decision didn’t sit well with Viacom, and the company sought to resuscitate the suit in October 2011.

Dauman referred to the status quo of needing to report infringed content as a “whack-a-mole system,” and argued for a more seamless technology solution that ensures copyright content is not infringed upon in the first place. He said Viacom is still fighting Google (a company Dauman referred to as “great”) out of principle, and is hopeful for a decision to a single legal issue that he believes will establish an important precedent for the entire industry.

The Viacom president, who fielded a variety of questions from interviewer Peter Kafka, also expressed his ongoing support for both the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). There was a lot of rhetoric and misinformation around SOPA and PIPA, Dauman lamented, that amounted to a “religious dogma” and created a “mob mentality.”

Ultimately, Daumen believes that PIPA, which would have been the dominant bill should it have passed, would have emerged as a very “responsible” bill.

“There are two great innovative industries where there are world leaders … that’s the content industry and broadly speaking the Internet industry,” Dauman said. The industries are symbiotic, he said, and should combine forces and create innovation. “We should be working together.”

Image via AllThingsD

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Sumo Logic raises $15M, drops its stealthy status

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 11:22 AM PST

Sumo Logic, an enterprise log management and analytics company, announced today it has raised $15 million in its second round of funding. Sutter Hill Ventures led the round with participation from Greylock Partners and angel investor Shlomo Kramer.

The company also announced its emergence from stealth mode and the release of its Software-as-a-Service log management and analytics service with Elastic Log Processing and LogReduce technologies.

Computer and server logs are important for many companies to correct errors and keep their services running smoothly. Sumo Logic analyzes and manages the data these logs put out, helping companies stay on top of any technical issues that may arise. With the software, companies can find opportunities to improve their systems, track data trends, and find security flaws.

Sumo Logic’s entire service plays into the Big Data phenomenon, where companies amass such large amounts of information that they cannot manage it easily. The company’s goal is to organize and manage massive amounts of data for companies with easy-to-use analytics tools. The service is entirely cloud-based and maintenance free, according to the company.

"Until now, enterprise log management solutions have consisted of expensive, complex deployments that are difficult to scale and have been unable to deliver on their promise of true analysis and insights," said Kumar Saurabh, acting CEO and VP of analytics at Sumo Logic, in a statement. "Based on our decade-long experience in the space, we understood that a fundamentally different approach was needed. We're excited to now unveil our cloud-based service and deliver the first platform that can provide valuable operational insights across enterprise log data in real time and at unprecedented scale."

The Silicon Valley-based company has raised $20.5 million to date. It competes with Splunk and Loggly, two companies hoping to make sense of log data as well.

Spy girl image via Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, deals

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