07 February, 2012



It pays to time your tweets: SocialFlow debuts self-serve platform, moves to bigger office, eyes new funding

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 09:26 AM PST

Image via SocialFlow

SocialFlow, which helps brands and publishers optimize their performance across Facebook and Twitter, is launching its self-service platform today. The company has had a banner year, growing from just 2 employees to more than 30 and graduating from the betaworks building to their own office on the east side of Manhattan.

To get a sense of how the company works, let’s take the example from one of their clients, The Economist. With SocialFlow, which guides which messages The Economist puts out to its followers and when, the venerable publishers has grown its social media fanbase five times faster than average and increased engagement with its audience at a rate eight times greater than before it used Social Flow.

“The best performing Tweet The Economist sent out last year was between three and four in the morning on a weeknight,” said SocialFlow co-founder Frank Speiser. “It was an article questioning the value of a PhD. No human would ever have predicated that was the best approach and the most significant article for their audience. Only an algorithm can key into an opportunity like that.”

SocialFlow’s new product allows anyone to tap into its platform for an affordable entry price of $99 a month. “We think this is something that could benefit a lot of individuals, not just big brands,” Speiser told VentureBeat by phone. “If you have tens of thousands of followers, you don’t want to pollute their stream with errant noise.”

The company’s new office’s on 45th and Lexington will put them in close proximity to Facebook and Twitter’s New York outpost, allowing for increased collaboration. With 2,000 paying accounts, SocialFlow has a sizeable revenue stream for an early stage startup. But Speiser says the company is likely to raise another round of funding this year. “We have so much demand for the product, it just makes sense to hire sales people to capture all that potential.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Venture capitalists favor Silicon Valley, but Silicon Alley is rising fast

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 09:08 AM PST

Top sectors of VC investment, Q4 2011, from MoneyTree surveyVC investment dollars by sector, Q4 2011 (MoneyTree)

Despite a still sluggish economy, venture capital firms poured a total of $28.4 billion into 3,673 deals last year—one of the highest levels of dollar investments of the decade—with the majority of deals going into the software and biotechnology industries.

The annual figures represent an increase of 22 percent in dollar terms and a 4 percent increase in the number of deals compared with the 2010 figures, according to The MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters.

This year's VC funding figures represent the third highest annual investment (in dollar terms) of the past decade.

While the overall annual figures were positive, there was a year-end dip: The fourth quarter numbers saw a 10 percent decrease in dollars and an 11 percent decrease in deals when compared to the previous quarter—with $6.6 billion invested into 844 companies last quarter.

Comparing last year's quarters, the third quarter saw the strongest numbers of the year both in terms of dollar investments and number of deals, with $7.3 billion invested into 953 deals.

Most-funded industries

The industries that experienced some of the largest dollar increases in 2011, according to data from Thomson Reuters, included

  • Consumer Products and Services (103 percent increase);
  • Media/Entertainment (53 percent increase);
  • Electronics/Instrumentation (52 percent increase); and
  • IT Services (39 percent increase)

But despite these high increases, the software and biotechnology industries continued to dominate, receiving the largest overall investments of the year according to The MoneyTree™ Report.

The software industry saw the largest investments with $6.7 billion invested into 1,004 deals.  The 2011 figures for software represent a 38 percent dollar increase and a 7 percent increase in deals when compared to 2010 numbers.  The year didn't end as high for the software industry, as investments fell in the fourth quarter, with $1.8 billion going into 238 deals.  But despite a dip in investment in the fourth quarter, the software industry retained its hold as the number one sector in terms of dollars invested and number of deals in the fourth quarter.

The biotechnology industry was the second largest sector of last year, increasing 22 percent in dollar terms but dropping 9 percent in deals, with $4.7 billion going into 446 deals.  The industry also saw gains in the fourth quarter, with an increase of 10 percent in dollar terms and an increase of 6 percent in the number of deals, as compared to the third quarter.

The medical device and clean technology sectors also saw large investments; the medical device sector increased 20 percent in dollars to $2.8 billion and decreased 2 percent to 339 in terms of deals, while the clean technology sector increased 12 percent in dollars to $4.3 billion and 12 percent to 323 in terms of deals, when compared to 2010.  Last year was the highest level ever recorded for the clean tech sector.

Investments by stage of development

Last year, early stage investments saw the highest increases in terms of both dollars invested and deals—increasing 47 percent in dollar terms and 16 percent in number of deals as compared to 2010.  Early stage investments also saw the highest number of deals last year, but it was the expansion-stage investments that brought in the most dollar investments.

  • Expansion: $9.7B (+9%) in 999 deals (-8%)
  • Later stage: $9.5B (+37%) in 864 deals (-5%)
  • Early stage: $8.3B (+47%) in 1,414 deals (+16%)
  • Startup/Seed: $919M (-48%) in 396 deals (no change)

California leads but New York rising faster

Comparing California and New York VC investments and deals, Silicon Valley continues to overshadow Silicon Alley, with California-based investing almost 6.5 times that of New York-based investing in terms of dollars, and almost 5 times in terms of deals. (See first graph below.)

But when comparing 2011 numbers to 2010 numbers, VC investments in New York are rising 64.3 percent in terms of dollars and 10.2 percent in terms of deals, while investment in California is only rising 24.4 percent in terms of dollars and 5.0 percent in terms of deals (as shown in the second graph below).

VC investments, by dollar, in California vs New York

Percent increase in VC investments, NY vs California, 2011

Predictions for 2012: Which industries to watch

According to predictions by the NVCA and Dow Jones VentureSource, the IT sector is the one to watch this year.  Venture capitalists and VC-backed CEOs predict this year will see investment increases in consumer IT, healthcare IT and business IT. On the other hand, VCs predict investment decreases in the biopharmaceutical, medical device sectors and clean technology companies.

Kevin O'Connor, founder of FindTheBest, O'Connor Ventures and DoubleClick, predicted increased investments in the consumer web, energy-efficient devices and the 3D industry. (Disclosure: FindTheBest contributed this article to VentureBeat, and also provides the product comparisons that appear on our site.)

"The consumer Web will see huge increases this year, as well low-energy components and devices," O'Connor said.  "The crossover hasn't happened yet, but in the near future our mobile devices are going to become our primary device.  Another industry that will see big gains is the 3D industry, especially in the adult and gaming areas.  On the flip side, I think investing in social companies will be more discerning."

While California's Silicon Valley still trumps all other regions in terms of VC funding and the start-up ecosystem, VCs predict New York will provide a more fertile ground than even Silicon Valley this year.  Thirty-four percent of VCs and 42 percent of CEOs see the start-up ecosystem in Silicon Valley improving, while 46 percent of VCs and 41 percent of venture-backed CEOs predict the start-up ecosystem in New York will improve this year.

VC predictions on the presidential elections

Interestingly, when VCs were asked about the upcoming presidential elections, 79 percent predict Mitt Romney would be the Republican presidential nominee with Gingrich coming in a very distant second, according to the NVCA.  But despite strong predictions that Romney will win his party's vote, 56 percent of VCs predict President Obama will be elected to a second term.

Grace Nasri is the managing editor at FindTheBest.com, a data-driven comparison engine.

Filed under: deals

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Razr-like Motorola Droid 4 lands on Verizon Feb. 10 for $200

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 09:01 AM PST


Motorola’s fourth-generation Droid smartphone with 4G LTE data speeds will launch on Verizon Wireless on Friday, Feb. 10 for $200 on a 2-year contract, the company announced today.

The first Motorola Droid smartphone was one of the first great Android devices when it was released in November 2009. Droid 4 closely resembles the Droid RAZR, except the Droid 4 features a full QWERTY keyboard. The Droid RAZR was released to much hype in November, but that hype was later overshadowed by the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

On the spec front, the Droid 4 hopes to grab the attention of the many Android phone fans who desperately need a physical keyboard (like many BlackBerry owners who still crave real buttons). The phone measures .5 inches thick and features a 4-inch screen with 960-by-540 resolution, a dual-core 1.2-GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel camera, 16GB of internal storage and blazing-fast Verizon 4G LTE.

While the Droid 4 will not launch immediately with Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of the Android operating system, Verizon has said the device will eventually be updated to that OS.

If you must have a physical keyboard, I’d say the Droid 4 is one of the best options to choose from. But if you’re in the mood for Android and don’t need a physical keyboard, we would recommend looking at the Droid Razr Maxx, which has better battery life than any other Android smartphone with 4G speeds. That device features a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor, a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen with 540-by-960 resolution, 32GB of internal storage, an 8-megapixel camera with flash, a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video chat, and 1080p HD video recording.

You can see a few more images of the Droid 4 below:

Droid 4 images: Motorola

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Want to rent out the Bachelor mansion or Clapton’s pad? Here’s how you can

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

Say you want to rent out the Entourage house for your birthday or Eric Clapton’s old house for your rock-and-roll-themed wedding reception.

Eventup, a marketplace for hard-to-get event venues, can make that happen.

Eventup is a brand-spanking-new startup launching today in Los Angeles, and we have to say, a startup idea like that could only have come from Los Angeles, the longtime home of entertainment of America.

“More events are thrown in LA than anywhere else; there are more venues here than anywhere else,” said Eventup CEO Tony Adam. “This couldn’t happen in San Francisco … our business could only start successfully here.”

And this particular startup idea couldn’t have happened without Science’s trademark mix of local talent and Valley capital. Science is the area’s newest tech incubator, and Eventup is the first Science company to reach a public launch.

Adam, a former MySpace employee, came by the VentureBeat office in San Francisco to chat about the company.

“You don’t want to be the bride at a hotel ballroom and watch another bride walk by,” he explained. “You want your event to be unique and memorable.”

He and the rest of the Eventup team are focused on creating entirely unique and highly memorable experiences for normal consumers. It’s a bit like Airbnb for upscale events.

“Unattainable properties are now attainable,” said Adam. “Rodeo Drive houses, Malibu beach houses … we even have access to The Bachelor mansion.”

The idea sounds hip enough, but Adam emphasizes the business model behind it, too. The company is “focused on solving a real-world consumer problem,” he continued.

“I’ve planned conferences and I know how hard it is to find a venue. I’ve spent days doing it, and even event planners can take as long as 18 hours just finding a place.”

We talked to one of Eventup’s backers, former MySpace CEO Mike Jones. Jones and Color co-founder Peter Pham founded Science to bring ideas like this one to market.

“When Peter and I were originally working on this, we started with marketplaces, places we could find underused inventory and find buyers for that inventory,” said Jones.

“At first, I said, ‘Venues — is that really that big?’ We eventually realized there are very few aggregated venue directories. We started talking to high-end real estate companies and homeowners, and we realized that these people wanted to rent out their homes.”

Eventup ended up sourcing around 400 venues in the greater Los Angeles area alone, creating a consumer marketplace just as Jones had wanted.

And the fun doesn’t stop with the venues. “We now have access to catering, insurance, DJs, entertainment, valets — once you have the venue in place, it’s just the start of the funnel of the events industry,” Adam revealed. “We’ll be getting into that, too.”

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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At Hit Detection, it’s all about giving feedback to game developers — before anyone knows their games suck

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

Hit Detection is one of those consultancies that has a hidden influence on video games. And if some of the games coming out these days don’t suck as much as they otherwise might, you can thank these guys.

N’Gai Croal (pictured right) was a noted video game critic who left Newsweek in 2009 to become an advisor for game developers. He started Hit Detection in order to offer his keen insights on gaming to developers — before they were too far down the road with their game designs. In an age when video games costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make, getting an early heads-up on what’s right or wrong with a game from a critic’s view is worth a lot.

And today, Croal is bringing on another consultant, Andre Vrignaud (pictured at top), a former game industry professional who will also offer his insights about industry platforms, game technology and games themselves.

Together, they’re building a brain trust that should help game creators make better games and navigate the changing platforms in the years ahead. They’re not only consulting on games, but on consumer technology in general.

Croal has a problem in that he can’t take credit for changing games that are fully created by large teams of game developers at traditional console game publishers or developers. But this says something: His team has grown to five people — including consultants Justin Blankenship and Anibal Arocho — and a bunch of specialist contractors who are brought in as needed to evaluate works in progress. If his services weren’t valuable, he wouldn’t have this entourage of folks around him. And of the top 10 game publishers of 2011, five were clients of Hit Detection. Of the top 20 publishers, seven were clients.

Now Croal and Vrignaud get to be insiders who see all of the cool games before anyone else knows about them across multiple companies. That’s not a bad gig. The only trouble is they can’t tell everybody about all of the games that they’re checking out.

Vrignaud has worked in key technology positions at Intel, Microsoft, and Amazon.com. Vrignaud spent eight years at Microsoft as director of technical strategy at Xbox, where he was involved in everything from Xbox Live to Live Arcade to Xbox 360 and Kinect. He will serve as chief consultant at Hit Detection. In his last job working with Kindle, Vrignaud felt he was getting a little too far from his passion for games. (He was also fighting a big war with his cable modem provider, Comcast; here’s the latest on that).

“I was thinking I need to get back to this and talked to N’gai about it,” he said. “I spent most of my career working for certain companies propagating their world view. At Intel, it was PC-centric. At Microsoft, it was Xbox. But I always had to stay attuned to the competition. I started thinking about working with game publishers more directly, knowing that services were becoming more important.”

There is a lot more for game creators to think about, like services such as Call of Duty Elite or mobile gaming.

“What a console will be is going to be hugely different in the next generation,” Vrignaud said. “The game device is being subsumed into other devices, and this may be the last one with explicit, discrete devices. The interface you use to interact with the device will matter a lot, and the services on top of it will matter the most.”

Consultants aren’t totally new to games. A number of game journalists such as Tom Russo and Blake Fischer have gone into the game industry. Game developers could use more honest feedback. Post-mortems always come at the end of a game project and they’re good for generating best practices for the next title, Croal said. But they come too late for the current game in the market or in production. Game critics, who can be brutally honest and more objective than internal reviews, provide that honest feedback. But it’s also too late to save a game that isn’t going in the right direction.

“We worked with clients at the concept phase,” Croal said. “They may be mapping out their game play, story, and prototypes and are moving into their first playable prototype. “

At first, some developers were hesitant to share anything with an outside consultant. Even after Newsweek, Croal used to write a column for Edge magazine (that ended last year), but he didn’t write about games he was working on and made general observations about the industry. So some folks weren’t sure if he could be trusted to keep secrets. But over time, that changed.

“People are showing us some games from beginning to end, and that includes one that is more than a year away from publication,” Croal said.

Croal thinks that game reviewers have gotten tougher than they used to be in criticizing games. He notes how Epic Games’ Gears of Wars 2 had an average rating of 93 out of 100 on Metacritic, a game review aggregator, even though it had a lot of server problems. Gears of War 3 was arguably better, with multiplayer that worked, cooperative play that was more extensive, and other pluses. But it was rated an average of 91 on Metacritic.

“Everybody wants their game to be rated 90 or more on Metacritic,” Croal said. “If we come in early enough, and they have the right ingredients, it’s possible. But critics are getting tougher on games. So developers are fighting a game of inches, like in football. Any edge they can get, they will take it. They are hungry for feedback.”

Croal said that his team saw a major game in the works during an early stage. After evaluating the game, Hit Detection recommended that the developer pare back and focus. The game makers were creating a single-player campaign, cooperative play, and a multiplayer aspect.

“Even though the marketing perspective was that you need all three of those things to make a successful game, we said that, given where the developer was in their history, they should just focus on two of them,” Croal said. “The path to success was with two modes, not three. We did bang the game loudly on that.”

Croal also gives advice on storytelling, like whether it engages players emotionally but doesn’t drag on so long that they get bored with it. In one major game, Croal’s team suggested they move one part of a game to another part. The team now handles 12 to 15 engagements like this per quarter.

“We operate in the shadows,” Croal said. “Other people deserve their names on the box and in the media. Hopefully, at the end of it, you will see us riding off into the sunset and some kid will ask who was that masked man. They will never know, but they’ll be playing a fantastic game.”

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Canadian cable companies may have fabled Apple iTV prototypes

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 08:58 AM PST

Apple-iTV-conceptNew rumors of the long-rumored Apple-branded television set (a.k.a. iTV) have recently surfaced regarding launch partnerships with major telecom companies as well as the device’s user controls.

Apple has allegedly entered into discussions with Canada’s Rogers Communications and Bell Canada on a iTV launch because the companies are involved in both wireless and broadband markets, according to large Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, which cites unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

Additionally, Rogers and Bell already have a prototype Apple iTV at their respective headquarters. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard something about a prototype device. Previously, it was semi-confirmed by USA Today that Apple SVP of Industrial Design Jonathan Ives had a 50-inch iTV prototype in his office.

In terms of remote control functionality, The Globe and Mail report indicates that users will be able to navigate through the iTV’s user interface using Apple’s voice control feature Siri or with motion-control gestures similar to Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect functionality. These controls allow users to access an on-screen keyboard to switch between media content, surf the web, conduct video chats, and communicate through social networks.

While news about the iTV’s hardware and software is nice, the biggest factor in an Apple-branded television set has to do with what kind of content it offers consumers. Last week, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster outlined three possible content scenarios for Apple’s iTV strategy, as VentureBeat previously reported.

[Apple iTV mockup image by Guilherme Schasiepen]

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Flingo raises $7M to bring social TV to every network

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 08:29 AM PST

One of the largest TV app publishers you’ve never heard of, Flingo announced today that it has raised an additional $7 million from August Capital, which will help the company bring its Social TV technology to more devices and television networks.

Flingo has developed a technology, dubbed SyncApps, that can detect what you’re watching in just a few seconds and communicate that information to your television, smartphone, or computer. Think of it like a location-based service for what you’re watching. SyncApps eliminates the need to track down hashtags or other content related to what you’re viewing, allowing you to seamlessly interact with content while you’re watching it.

For example, Flingo recently launched a service that lets you share what you’re watching on TV with Twitter or Facebook with a single click. While TV check-in apps like Miso are popular among techies, Flingo offers a way for mainstream users to share their viewing habits with friends without much effort. Flingo’s technology could also serve to improve apps like Miso by making it easier to find the content you’re watching.

Flingo already has partnerships with A&E and the History channel to use its social TV framework , but the company expects to use its new funding to reach every network in North America. The company’s technology is already available on over 7.8 million screens in 118 countries worldwide.

Flingo was founded in 2008 by former early Bittorrent employees Ashwin Navin, Alvir Navin, and David Harrison. The company currently has offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and other cities.

TV image via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Microsoft readies Windows 8 app store games

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 08:29 AM PST

Microsoft is preparing a slate of games for the Windows 8 operating system that consumers will be able to purchase on the upcoming Windows Store, according to The Verge.

Some developers such as Arkadium are excited about the opportunity for games to shine on the new Microsoft operating system, whose Metro interface emphasizes ease of use and touch applications.

The games will be part of a new app-like experience for Windows users, making it a lot easier to download free and paid apps for a Windows PC. The developers will be able to submit free apps or charge $1.49 to $999 per app. Microsoft will take 30 percent of the proceeds, the same percentage taken by Facebook and Apple. But Microsoft will reduce its take to 20 percent after an app reaches $25,000 in sales. The preview version of the store is expected in late February.

The new games include:

Hydro Thunder
Toy Soldiers
Reckless Racing
Angry Birds
Rocket Riot
Full House Poker
Crash Course
Ms Splosion Man

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Hackers leak Symantec source code after failed $50,000 extortion sting

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 07:40 AM PST

Anonymous masksA group of Indian hackers leaked what appears to be stolen source code from the antivirus company Symantec Monday night, following a month of fruitless negotiations.

Symantec admitted yesterday that it’s been involved with a sting operation by law enforcement centering on a $50,000 extortion attempt from the hackers, who call themselves the Lords of Dharamaja. After those discussions fell through yesterday, the hackers released 1.27 gigabytes of what they claim to be Symantec source code onto Bittorrent.

Symantec admitted that its source code was stolen back in January, but it said at the time that no consumer data was exposed. The hackers released the code behind Norton Internet Security 2006 shortly afterwards, and eventually demanded money from the company to keep the rest of its source code private.

“When they came to us with what was for all intents and purposes extortion, we went to law enforcement," Chris Paden, a spokesperson for Symantec told Forbes. "From that point on, we turned over the investigation to them."

Negotiations surrounding the extortion attempt were revealed yesterday in a lengthy e-mail chain between Symantec employee Sam Thomas and a hacker calling themselves “YamaTough,” which was posted on the document sharing site Pastebin. At first glance, the e-mails appear to show Symantec trying to pay off the hackers, but in truth Sam Thomas was a false name used by law enforcement to trace the hackers, Paden said.

"Anonymous has been talking to law enforcement, not to us," Paden told Forbes. "No money was exchanged, and there was never going to be any money exchanged. It was all an effort to gather information for the investigation."

As for the leaked code, which appears to be from Symantec’s PCAnywhere software, Paden said the company is still analyzing what was uploaded, but that consumers should be safe to use current versions of PCAnywhere.

Anonymous image via Shutterstock

Filed under: security, VentureBeat

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BlackBerry App World more profitable than Android, says RIM

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 06:55 AM PST

blackberry-7-phonesShowing that it’s not quite dead yet, Research in Motion aimed to “bust a few myths” about its BlackBerry app ecosystem at the company’s Europe BlackBerry DevCon today.

RIM VP of developer relations Alec Saunders pointed out that the company is now seeing over 6 million daily App World downloads, reaching 174 million per month (and over two billion downloads in total). But most importantly, Saunders wanted to dispel the notion that developing for BlackBerry isn’t profitable, the Verge reports.

Saunders said that the App World generates 40 percent more revenue than the Android Market, which makes RIM’s app ecosystem the second-most profitable behind iOS. He cited data that suggests the App World gets 43 percent more daily downloads than the iTunes App Store, as well as more paid downloads than the Android Market. 13 percent of BlackBerry developers have made over $100,000 from RIM’s App World, Saunders said.

Until we get access to the data Saunders is referring to, we’ll have to take his word for it. But I wouldn’t be too surprised if BlackBerry’s app platform is generating more money than Android now. BlackBerry users who’ve stuck with the platform so far likely wouldn’t mind paying money for apps, and from what I’ve seen the App World is filled with far less junk than the Android Market.

While it’s nice to hear that RIM’s app business is doing well, the real task for the company will be to keep it up until its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 devices arrive at the end of the year. 2012 is going to be a tough year for RIM, so I suppose the company is better off touting its current successes while it can.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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MeetingBurner launches out of beta to seriously undermine WebEx and GoToMeeting

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 06:33 AM PST


Online meeting service MeetingBurner has launched out of beta with free meetings for up to 15 people, paid meeting options for up to 1,000 people, and mobile support, the company announced this morning.

MeetingBurner faces steep competition in the online meeting space, including competitors like Cisco's WebEx, Adobe's Connect, Citrix's GoToMeeting, and AnyMeeting. So it has done what is natural for an underdog — undercut the competition with strong pricing and features. The company debuted in beta this past August and gave its service away for free to help it “build good will and word of mouth," President John Rydell told VentureBeat at the time.

But with its full launch, the company is taking a big step toward being a profitable business with paid online meetings. The company’s goal is to offer the most features at the lowest price, and at a glance, it is winning that race. Its three pricing tiers are as follows:

• MeetingBurner Free – Free. Up to 15 participants in online meetings, integrated phone conference line, email support, and no advertising.
• MeetingBurner Pro – $39.95 a month. Everything in Free model + up to 50 participants, full telephone support, meeting recording, enhanced security encryption, and more.
• MeetingBurner Premier – $99.95 a month. Everything in Pro model + up to 1000 participants, telephone support, autopilot meetings, PayPal integration, meeting analytics, and more.

By comparison, WebEx, Connect, and GoToMeeting do not offer a free a version of their software for small businesses. AnyMeeting offers ad-supported presentations for free, but it also added paid ad-free options recently. On the fully paid side, WebEx costs $49 per month for a max meeting size of 25 participants and GoToWebinar (GoToMeeting’s larger version) costs $99 a month for a 100 participants. When you move over to the 1,000 participant level, the contrast becomes especially noticeable — WebEx doesn’t have an established price for meetings of this size and makes you call for a quote, while GoToWebinar costs a staggering $499 per month for 1,000 participants. MeetingBurner provided the following chart that sums up the 1,000-person level well:


“About 75 percent of our small business clients come from GoToMeeting and WebEx,” MeetingBurner CMO Chris Van Dusen told VentureBeat. “Our pricing structure beats the crud out of the big boys.”

Some of the best features MeetingBurner offers include not having to download any software, fast start up speeds, Skype call-ins, and an analytics tool to get real-time feedback on how well the meeting is going. The company also has a brand-new iOS app for iPhone and iPad that allows participants to attend meetings on the go. The company’s interface is also optimized so that most Android device owners can attend via the browser.

Ladera Ranch, Calif.-based MeetingBurner is a division of larger company Networx Online and has ten employees on its team.

Business group in online meeting: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, enterprise

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Ignite Game Technologies raises $5M for Simraceway online racing game

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

Ignite Game Technologies has raised $5 million in a third round of funding for its Simraceway online racing world and its accompanying steering wheel for the PC.

San Francisco-based Ignite is creating a high-end realistic racing game as a downloadable web title, and it has also created a unique steering wheel (pictured right) for racing games that it says will help players drive more skillfully. That’s important because the company is creating a skill-based tournament system for players that it hopes will be key to making a big pile of money.

Jonathan Haswell, chief executive of Ignite, said in an interview that the Simraceway game is an accurate physics-based game that gives drivers a taste of realistic race car driving. By contrast, Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo deliver more of an arcade-like experience without a robust online multiplayer competitive tournament play.

"Simraceaway picks up where Forza and Gran Turismo leave off,” said Haswell. “The realistic driving market as a whole hasn’t progressed much in recent years.”

The game may sound pretty hardcore, especially since most casual players don’t bother purchasing a steering wheel for racing games. But Haswell believes the steering wheel created simplifies the racing controls and makes the game much more accessible to ordinary players.

Simraceway isn’t intended to target ultra-hardcore players but instead it’s expected to appeal to what Ignite believes can be a very lucrative middle. The company will use the increasingly popular free-to-play business model, where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods.
The game has an interesting genesis. Haswell started his company along with James Synge in 2008 as a way to create applications for their skill-quantification system, which is essential in ensuring fairness in tournament play. They also studied steering wheels and found that most were lacking key features.

“We chose this market because we haven’t seen much innovation in racing games in recent years,” Haswell said. “We are not focusing on visual quality so much as accuracy.”

Since its founding in 2008, the company has raised $17.5 million in three rounds. Investors in the new round (who are also existing investors) are Steve Bellotti, Bill Budinger Jr., and Dave Marrs. Marrs is joining the board.

Simraceway began its public beta test in November. The S1 Steering Wheel was developed in conjunction with peripherals maker SteelSeries. With the new capital, Haswell said the company will build out its vision for making Simraceway into the most authentic and immersive racing game on the market. The game is drawing about 3,000 new gamers a day.

Players can race against other players in cars that include models from Bentley, Bugatti, Mitsubishi, and Saleen, among others. But the game isn’t the prettiest racing game you’ll see, Haswell acknowledged, because it is trying to capture younger audiences.

Ignite makes its tracks and cars more accurate by using laser-scanning to capture imagery. It has a proprietary player skill quantification system that helps match similarly ranked players for online races. The company has more than 600 car assets in the pipeline. The download is currently about 1 gigabyte.

Simraceway has a permanent racing and training facility at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. The physics development team includes IndyCar race driver Dario Franchitti.

Marrs said the game is in still in the early stage of its development but already has a huge following.

“We view the popularity of the game not only as a reflection of the long-predicted explosion in online gaming but also as a testament to the bold and innovative strategy pursued by Ignite's team,” Marr said.  The company now has 30 employees.

Besides Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, iRacing is a rival in the space. In the long run, Haswell said that Ignite is planning to create competitive games in other genres.

And as for racing, “Our goal is to create a version of every car that has ever been made,” Haswell said.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Intern’s paper reveals secret project to port Mac OS X to ARM chips

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 01:32 AM PST

Apple has long been rumored to be working on porting the Mac OS X operating system to run on ARM chips, a move that could help it gain independence from chip maker Intel.

Some interesting evidence that such work is taking place emerged today in an academic paper written by a former Apple intern.

Apple Insider reports that Tristan Schaap, who is now an Apple engineer, wrote a thesis in 2010 on his 12-week job as an intern with Apple’s Platform Technologies Group, a division of the Core OS department.

The thesis was held secret because it contained sensitive information but was published by the Netherlands Delft University of Technology, according to iMore.

The paper said that Schaap worked with the group to get Darwin, described as the “lower half” of Apple’s Mac OS X operating system, to boot on an ARM processor from Marvell. The paper reported some partial success on the project.

Normally, the Mac OS X runs on a beefy Intel x86 architecture processor. ARM processors are more power efficient and are used in mobile phones and tablets; but they’re moving up in the world. If Apple moves the Mac OS X to ARM, it would likely have a more versatile and cheaper platform.

Nvidia, Texas Instruments, Marvell, Broadcom and Qualcomm are all working on ARM-based chips that are powerful enough to run Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. So it wouldn’t be a stretch for Apple to try to port its software to run on those chips as well.

But there is no indication that Apple’s explorations into ARM were ever meant to be used in an actual product. Schaap is now employed as a CoreOS engineer, according to his LinkedIn profile.

[Image credit: ZDNet]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Apple warns developers not to manipulate their app rankings

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 01:07 AM PST

In a sign of trouble at the App Store, Apple has warned app developers not to manipulate their rankings in the top charts by using third-party marketing services.

The warning addresses rumors that “bot farms” or “water armies” in places such as China are offering to boost apps into the top 25 by using a mob of users to download an app and give it positive reviews in exchange for money.

In a message on its developer page, Apple said, “Once you build a great app, you want everyone to know about it. However, when you promote your app, you should avoid using services that advertise or guarantee top placement in App Store charts. Even if you are not personally engaged in manipulating App Store chart rankings or user reviews, employing services that do so on your behalf may result in the loss of your Apple Developer Program membership.”

The message shows that Apple will have zero tolerance for companies that use such services. But Apple, in its usual cryptic way, didn’t say who some of these third-party marketing services are. Some companies, including Tapjoy, got into hot water last year after pushing marketing services that Apple felt were manipulative. However, Tapjoy wasn’t doing anything like what some of the others are accused of doing.

The issue of manipulating rankings came up lately after an anonymous developer revealed that an unnamed company had been offering studios a spot in the App Store’s top 25 rankings for $5,000.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile

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Urge app helps you keep impulse spending in check (exclusive)

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 09:50 PM PST

Urge-thumbWhile personal financial services like Mint.com offer a pretty dashboard with detailed information about how your money is spent, they does little to prevent the powerful emotional responses associated with impulse purchases. For instance, the knowledge that you’ve already spent $50 at Starbucks this week won’t prevent you from buying yet another cup of coffee under the right circumstances — (especially if you’re a drowsy journalists working on deadline).

New startup Urge plans to address the emotional side of spending with its iPhone app, which officially launched this week. The concept behind Urge is that people will pull out their phone every time they have the urge to buy something frivolous and record what they would have spent. While the app itself is free, the company offers users an option to connect their bank account to Urge for a one-time fee of $1.99, which will allow them to transfer money from their checking account to a savings account.

“The app may not make people stop drinking coffee, but it might make them change their behavior,” said Urge founder Salil Shibad in an interview with VentureBeat. “So, maybe people decide to buy a bag of coffee from the grocery store that will last them all week rather than spending $5 on a single cup.”

Urge-1Upon opening the app, you’re greeted with a suggested list of goals to work toward (iPad $500, Kindle Fire $200, vacation $1,000) as well as the option to customize your own goal. One thing to note is that you can only work towards saving money on one goal at a time, which is a good strategy for keeping people focused.

When you encounter the urge to buy something you don’t need, you simply pull up the app on your phone and hit the urge button. When you “Urge”, a screen pops up allowing you to select whatever it is you’ve decided not to purchase (food, coffee, snacks, entertainment, etc.) and enter in the amount the item would have cost. According to Shibad, this is done to both connect users with their emotional behavior for purchases and track what they’re saving the most on.

I’ve tested a number of “expense tracking” mobile apps that give you a comprehensive overview of your spending habits. I usually end up ignoring them after a few days for the same reason I spend too much money on overpriced coffee every week. I know I should stay more aware of my spending habits, but I’m not really compelled to. Urge, however, doesn’t want to track behavior, it wants to become a behavior.

Shibad said the startup is in talks with a handful of large banking organizations to offer an expanded version of the app to bank account holders, which could potentially become a source of revenue. The startup also has plans to add new feature like a donation function that would allow people to use those emotional spending habits by giving money to different charities.

The Nashville-based startup has an initial $15,000 in seed funding from Jumpstart Foundry as well as investment from Shibad, Townes Duncan, and Vic Gatto.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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N-Control to replace Ocean Marketing with… Craigslist? [update]

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 06:21 PM PST

Update: Moisés Chiullan, chief sales and marketing officer for N-Control, Inc., got in touch to let VentureBeat know that this Craigslist ad was merely one in an ongoing smear campaign by unknown entities:

We did not post these ads (we found out there was another one), nor do we know who did. We have asked Craigslist to remove them, and they have. We have experienced a number of phishing attempts and harassment over the last month, and that’s what I expect this was as well.

Like I mentioned on the phone, all I use Craigslist for is hard-to-find DVDs, not recruiting employees. Rest assured that I have been personally recruiting my sales team for the Avenger line.

Original Story: If you’re not already familiar with last year’s Ocean Marketing debacle, VentureBeat’s previous coverage sums it up nicely. To make a long story short, a one-man PR firm committed very public seppuku when he attacked a customer over email using a language that even unicorns can only explain as “magical,” then proceeded to argue and threaten the co-creator of Penny Arcade, who immortalized him with a single post. The whole thing ended up being the Super Bowl of internet entertainment — if the Super Bowl was only 15 minutes long and starred one guy who was essentially the amalgamation of every character on Jersey Shore.

The e-pocalyptic lash-back saw Ocean Marketing (aka Paul Christoforo) released from the employ of the creator of the Avenger game controller peripheral, which is manufactured by N-Control. Now it seems the company is looking to recruit. And where has the Avenger team taken its search for suitable staffers? Craigslist.

Love Gaming and Selling Great New Products? Look No Further

Do you have what it takes to sell the hottest new video game adapter to stores and distributors worldwide?
If you do, we want to talk to you. N Control, an innovative gaming technology company, has created one
of the hottest new gaming products on the market. And we need you to help us sell it. We’re looking for
talented sales people who love video games and are ready to earn generous commissions each month
–part- or full-time) by selling a product that gamers everywhere will want–if they see it on the shelf of
their favorite gaming store.Our main product, the Avenger, is an Xbox 360 and PS3 adapter that provides
the winning edge to gamerswho want to win more often in a highly competitive environment. You’ll need
to cold call to small shops so you will have to be good at it. And good at following up once you’ve gotten
the account. You’ll also need to be able to make presentations to distributors.

The market the Avenger serves is growing faster we expected. And we need help. With Modern Warfare’s
newest version had over a billion in sales 2012. Demand is fast exceeding supply. The market for any hot
video game is also the Avenger’s target market. The stores and distributors who buy from you will want
what you can give them.Get in on the ground floor of something insanely great. Let us know if you are
one of the people we are looking for. Become part of a gaming industry breakthrough. Join a great company
with a bright future.Don’t wait. We expect hundreds of responses to this ad. Contact us now.

Look, I don’t want to tell someone else how to run their company, but … I once tried to sell my comic book collection on Craigslist and woke up in the middle of the night with a man in a giant bear costume standing over my bed, so I’m not sure it’s the best place to find anything, let alone someone who isn’t going to publicly humiliate you and irreparably damage your brand. Again.

We’ve reached out to authenticate the posting, and to find out more about these “generous commissions.” I’ll have the nearest nail salon selling Avenger products if it helps me with my freakin’ car payments.

Thanks to James Pikover for the tip.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Bay Area companies: Meet with Kleiner Perkins Thursday – Last chance to apply!

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 06:20 PM PST

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers If your company is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you want to meet with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers on Thursday, this is your last chance to sign up.

We’ll be heading down to the KPCB Menlo Park offices in three days to meet with 10 local companies as part of our global DEMO tour. If you’d like to be one of those 10, fill out this form by Tuesday at noon, and we’ll be in touch shortly with more details.

We’re also throwing a party at the Dutch Goose Thursday night, which you can register for here. Looking forward to seeing you in Menlo Park later this week!

Filed under: DEMO

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PitchBig launches gamified matchmaking service for startups and investors

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 06:14 PM PST

PitchBig  hopes to be a startup’s new best friend and the next greatest networking site for finding venture capital.

The service, which launched today, lets startups create a company profile free of cost to attract investors. Likewise, investors can use the site to quickly locate and vote on innovative ideas and companies. The site claims to filter out bad businesses, simplifying the time-consuming research process for both entrepreneurs and investors.

"About a year and a half ago, I was working for FundingPost.com, a website similar to PitchBig, and I started to look at the entrepreneurial space. There just wasn't a good space for investors and entrepreneurs to connect," CEO Jason Biondo told VentureBeat. "Our competitors, AngelList and Go Big Networks weren't incorporating different social aspects. One big feature on my site is that you're competing against other entrepreneurs and investors. Every member gets a Pitch Score, which is an algorithm behind closed doors. If you make the right connections, your Pitch Score will go up. That adds a game layer on top of the social network."

The Pitch Score ranking algorithm combines user votes, company recommendations, and generated fan interest to rate a business on its potential success. The site also incorporates flexible privacy settings so new startups can protect valuable ideas and share them only with specific users. The site also uses a "LinkedIn connections" approach; members have to be associated with other companies in order to send a message to them, ensuring each startup is matched only with interested investors.

PitchBig is a small bootstrapped company operating out of Hartford, Connecticut.

Image via dierken/Flickr.

Filed under: DEMO, social

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Startup helps employees decide when to sell their stock

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 05:20 PM PST

Facebook employees and others who are contemplating when to sell their stock can get some help from a new startup called Wealthfront.

The company has created a financial planning tool that lets anyone who works in a tech company test their options for selling stock after an initial public offering.

Andy Rachleff, chief executive of Wealthfront and co-founder of Benchmark Capital, said in an interview that the company is targeting tech professionals in their 20s and 30s who are sitting on a lot of startup stock and need advice about what to do with it.

“Very few people know the answer to the question about when they should sell stock,” Rachleff said. “It’s always the No. 1 question we get from people that we work with. Another popular question is when should I exercise my stock options.”

The Wealthfront tool promises to help employees figure out the optimal plan for selling off stock. Rachleff, who has been on the boards of a lot of tech companies and is on the faculty of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, often tells employees that they should cover their bets with an investment strategy that fits their risk profile. It might make sense to sell off 10 percent of your holdings in a post-IPO startup every quarter. Or another plan might fit.

“If you spend years working for a company, you deserve the fruits of your labor and should liquidate some of your holdings,” Rachleff said.

The tool allows folks to test various strategies against the actual stock behavior of five types of tech companies that went public in the last decade. You can tell how well each strategy would have worked with the different kinds of companies. The post-IPO trading price may increase, decrease, hit a peak and fall, or fall and recover, or simply oscillate back and forth, Rachleff said. Sometimes the best solution will be to sell all of your stock after a lock-up period ends.

You never know what pattern will happen. But you can test different strategies against different trading patterns. Since you don’t know how the trading will go, the best strategy is usually covering your bets by selling 10 percent of the stock per quarter after your lock-up period ends. That helps you benefit from multiple trading scenarios.

Wealthfront is a low-fee online financial advisor service in Palo Alto, Calif. The plan is to create a low-fee company that tech professionals and others can trust more than high-priced brokers and wealth consultants.

The company, formerly known as KaChing, has about 20 employees and has raised $10.5 million from DAG Ventures, as well as individual investments from Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Benchmark Capital's Bruce Dunlevie and Dave Beirne, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' Kevin Compton and Doug Mackenzie, and others.

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Web companies beg Congress to “step back” from IP legislation

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 05:07 PM PST

Hoping to amplify the voice of the Internet, web companies including Mozilla, Reddit, and WordPress have banded together with public interest and human rights groups to urge Congress to stop its work on intellectual property laws.

Monday, more than 70 organizations signed an open letter addressed to the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“Now is the time for Congress to take a breath, step back, and approach the issues from a fresh perspective,” the letter reads. “The concerns are too fundamental and too numerous to be fully addressed through hasty revisions to these bills. Nor can they be addressed by closed door negotiations among a small set of inside the-beltway stakeholders.”

The letter, embedded below, comes in the aftermath of a powerful Internet protest that helped to defeat, at least temporarily, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, two controversial pieces of IP legislation that were making their way through Congress. But, as the letter notes, the bills aren’t dead yet.

“Finally, any future debates concerning intellectual property law in regards to the Internet must avoid taking a narrow, single-industry perspective,” the letter continues. “Too often, Congress has focused exclusively on areas where some rights holders believe existing law is too weak, without also considering the ways in which existing policies have undermined free speech and innovation.”

Unfortunately, as we see it, the letter is far too generic in purpose, weak in message, and broad in audience to make any real impact on Congress. The clout of its signers, however, may help the letter win more favor from those who oppose SOPA and PIPA. And, ideally, the letter could rally enough support to keep the web focused on the task at hand: preventing Congress from spitting out irresponsible legislation.

[via The Verge]

Photo credit: vgm8383/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Groupon acquires e-commerce ‘big data’ startup Adku

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 03:07 PM PST

Group deals company Groupon has acquired e-commerce data firm Adku for an undisclosed price, the startup announced today.

Adku provides a service that attempts to “optimize” a person’s shopping experience by providing product suggestions on sites like Zappos, eBay, and Amazon. It does this by using various data about each shopper such as location and hot news trends.

The startup was founded by three former Google engineers and has remained in stealth-mode since it launched at the AngelPad Demo event in 2010. It’s unknown exactly how Groupon will use Adku’s technology or what the startup’s six employees will be working on. Groupon, which has been accused of being weak on the technology side, will benefit from Adku if only for their product.

The purchase price is rumored to be in the range of $10 million, according to TechCrunch.

“We started talking to Groupon to bring our technology to more customers and quickly realized that we wanted to be a deeper part of a company that people love and is empowering merchants and customers in a way that's never been done before,” wrote Adku chief executive Ajit Varma in a blog post.

The San Francisco, Calif.-based startup previously secured funding from Greylock Partners, Battery Ventures, True Ventures, and AngelPad.

Filed under: cloud, deals, VentureBeat

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Brazil attempting to block tweets with speed trap locations

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 02:32 PM PST

A country progressive in its stance on off-the-clock email is pushing for a far more antiquated policy when it comes to information-sharing by way of Twitter.

The Attorney General of Brazil, according to Brazilian publication O Globo (The Globe), has filed a preliminary injunction to suspend and block the Twitter profiles of users who tweet the whereabouts of speed traps, DUI checkpoints, and radar locations.

The lawsuit seeks to fine those in violation of the injunction R$500,000 (roughly $290,000) a day, and asserts that proactive Twitter users like @RadarBlitzGo, a Twitter bot that announced its end via tweet an hour ago, are defying the country’s penal, criminal, and traffic codes.

The argument is that these Twitter alerts are harming the public by preventing police officers from being able to perform their duties. While the logic may have merit, the action, restricts the speech of Brazilian Twitter users and is akin to content censorship. A number of applications such as Trapster and Waze are built around of the idea of citizen activism and encourage users to report speed traps and radar locations.

Brazil, interestingly enough, is experiencing explosive growth in Twitter usage, and has the second most Twitter accounts of any country — second only to the U.S.

Earlier in the year, regional federal legislators in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo also ordered internet providers to remove the Twitter and Facebook profiles of its members who exposed the operations of the Brazilian police force. That directive also included a R$500,000 daily fine should companies fail to comply.

Twitter recently added the capability to tap dance around these types of takedown requests. An internet provider can choose to withhold content from Twitter users in certain countries while keeping it accessible elsewhere in the world, should it receive a legally binding request to remove tweets. There’s been no indication as to whether Twitter plans to put its new technology to use in response to the injunction.

Twitter declined to comment on the matter.

[via The Next Web]

Photo credit: zealfredor/Flickr

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Verizon/Redbox video service will be subscription-based, offer a “competitive” content library

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 01:57 PM PST

Top executives from Verizon and Redbox revealed more details about the new jointly-operated rental service announced earlier today.

The video rental service will allow people to access streaming video through Verizon, while also taking advantage of Redbox's DVD and Blu-Ray rental Kiosks. The service will definitely operate under a subscription-based pricing model, but won’t give customers the option of choosing between a separate streaming or DVD/Blu-Ray subscription package, said Verizon SVP of consumer product management Eric Bruno in an interview with VentureBeat.

“We think we bring the most value to the marketplace when we bring both together. The physical and digital distribution are stronger together than apart,” Bruno said. This sets the service apart from Netflix, which does offer streaming-only and DVD-only subscription plans. “Our expectation is that when we get this offer (Verizon/Redbox service) in the marketplace, it’s going to be highly competitive and appeal to a broad range of consumers.”

But despite the subscription package details, both companies seem adamant about taking on Netflix (as well as other competitors) on all fronts.

The new unnamed service will offer a “broad array of content that will be very competitive in the market,” Bruno said while declining to elaborate on the details of its streaming content library. It should be fairly easy for a large organization like Verizon to offer the same kinds of streaming content libraries as Hulu Plus, Blockbuster, and Amazon Prime. But, the company will have to spent a lot more money on streaming licenses to truly compete with Netflix.

I also asked Bruno specifically about the possibility of doing exclusive original programing to compete against the growing number of streaming competitors like HBO Go, Max Go, Starz, and even Netflix. “Certainly nothing is off the table,” he replied.

For Redbox, the partnership with Verizon is less about spending money on licensing deals and more about offering its customers an additional option for watching videos.

“From our perspective, we think there are some unique assets between the two companies that make this a very exciting partnership,” Redbox SVP Galen Smith told VentureBeat.

Redbox is already the leader in physical media rental sales, with over 1.5 billion disc rentals and  more than 35,400 kiosks across the country. The company also recently thwarted an attempt by Warner Brothers to delay the availability of newly released WB DVD and Blu-Ray movies, which gives Redbox an advantage over Netflix. And with the Verizon digital distribution partnership, Redbox becomes even more competitive.

The new rental service is expected to launch across the country in the later half of 2012, according to Verizon and Redbox.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Yelp advertising is a rip-off for small advertisers

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 01:22 PM PST


That word could be coming out of the mouths of small-business owners when they hear how much the online reviews site is overcharging them for advertising. At a time when much online advertising is being sold for 60 cents per thousand impressions (CPMs), Yelp is charging some local advertisers $600 per 1,000 impressions.

That’s not a typo. Yelp is charging small businesses 1,000-times the standard online CPM rates for local ads that appear on Yelp. Even when compared to its own ads for national advertisers, the company is charging a 100x premium.

This is the type of ad a national advertiser would buy:

According to a source who has purchased this type of ad on Yelp, the rate is about $6 per CPM. This ad unit works like most online ads: when someone clicks on it they are taken directly to the advertiser’s site or a specialized landing page.

Now consider the types of local Yelp ads that small businesses buy:

In this scenario, the ad goes to the advertiser’s Yelp review page. That’s a page where users are free to leave any kind of review for the business, including ones that trash it. That ad runs about a $600 CPM. Yelp is currently in its quiet period while it is preparing for its initial public offering and did not comment for this story.

According to a rate card forwarded by a business solicited by Yelp, this is what the company is charging. Note that these are general rates for Yelp, not specific CPMs for the advertisers shown:

$300/mo – includes 500 targeted ads per month
$540/mo – includes 1200 targeted ads per month
$825/mo – includes 2100 targeted ads per month
$1100/mo – includes 3000 targeted ads per month

It’s common for more targeted inventory, such as the type that Yelp provides, to command higher CPMs. But triple-digit CPMs are extremely unusual. (Yelp’s rates vary based on category and demand.)

At the high end, it’s a $600 CPM. At the low end, that’s a still eye-popping $367 CPM — more than 10-times the rate of a Super Bowl ad.

To make matters worse, Yelp requires a 12-month commitment for these rates. (The representative offered this business higher rates for a six-month commitment. Yelp also offers 3-month agreements.) Even if Yelp doesn’t deliver your business a single customer, you’re on the hook for $3,600.

For comparison, Facebook only requires that you set your budget to $1 a day and does not have a commitment. A business could try it for a week, see if it performs and then decide.

Even as Groupon’s toughest critic, I can list scenarios in which it makes sense to run a Groupon. I cannot think of any scenarios where I would advise businesses to advertise on Yelp at these rates.

For online advertising, I strongly recommend against commitments and impression-based advertising. For a restaurant, a service like GrubHub makes more sense. You only pay if someone uses the service to order and there’s no commitment. Such services typically charge restaurants 10-20 percent of the value of orders they send.

Despite ostensibly being an Internet company, Yelp’s business model is closer to that of yellow pages companies: sell a questionable value proposition to many who don’t understand what they’re buying. While it may work in the short term, as the stocks of yellow pages companies show, it’s not a long term proposition. SuperMedia is down 92 percent since it debuted. Dex One is down 94 percent.

Combined, those companies have a valuation of $145 million. Yelp is reportly seeking to raise $100 million at a valuation of $1 billion to $2 billion. (Not that I would advise investing in SuperMedia or Dex One.)

Yelp’s rates for national advertisers aren’t way out of line. Unfortunately for Yelp, local advertisers account for 70 percent of its revenue.

In its latest S-1, Yelp reported strong revenue growth that earnings increased 74.5 percent year over year and 11.7 percent from the previous quarter.

But given the flaws in Yelp’s core business model, it won’t be long before investors and advertisers are leaving one-star reviews.

Rocky 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.

Money burning image via ShutterStock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Sony renames the PlayStation Network

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 01:15 PM PST

Sony has announced that the PlayStation Network will be rebranded the “Sony Entertainment Network” (SEN) on Tuesday.

It’s important to note that this change currently only applies to PSN “accounts,” and includes a number of Terms of Service updates. But it has caused rampant speculation: Is Sony planning to rebrand the PlayStation Network altogether? Is it hoping to distance itself from last year’s security breach and month-long network outage?

Newly appointed CEO Kaz Hirai has stated that there will be no PlayStation 4 reveal at this year’s E3. His careful wording has led others to question whether the next Sony console will even carry the PlayStation name.

The Sony Entertainment Network was revealed last August and wraps many major Sony services, including Video Unlimited (previously Video on Demand by Qriocity) and Music Unlimited, into a single platform.

We have contacted Sony for further details.

The email is included below:

On February 7, 2012, Sony Network Entertainment International LLC (“SNEI”) will update its Terms of Service and User Agreement and its Privacy Policy. As a part of this update, your "PlayStation®Network account" will be renamed a "Sony Entertainment Network account"

The first time you sign in to your Sony Entertainment Network account on or after February 7, 2012, you will be asked to agree to the new Terms of Service and User Agreement and Privacy Policy with SNEI if you wish to continue using your Sony Entertainment Network account. Please review all changes to the Terms of Service and User Agreement and Privacy Policy carefully before indicating your agreement.

In particular, these are some of the additions and changes we have to these agreements:

New terms for parents of minor, subaccount holders regarding the limitations of chat parental controls. Your reacceptance of the Terms of Service and User Agreement and Privacy Policy affirms your consent to the sharing of your child's data that may occur if your child utilizes certain communication functionalities on PlayStation devices such as PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita systems.

New terms that explain the location-based services offered through the PlayStation Vita system. For parents of minor, subaccount holders your reacceptance of the Terms of Service and User Agreement and Privacy Policy affirms your consent to your subaccount holder's user of these services on the PlayStation Vita system.

A description of our "What's New" section, which provides topical information about our services and advertisements.
Information about pre-ordering content.

The name of your “PlayStation Network account” is changing to a “Sony Entertainment Network account.”

You may click here to review the changes to the Terms of Service and User Agreement and you may click here to review the changes to the Privacy Policy.

The rebranding of PlayStation Network accounts to Sony Entertainment Network accounts is a change in name only. Your username or password will not change, nor are we asking you to change them. On Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita systems, this rebranding will occur in connection with software updates for these devices. (Note, this change will not be applied to the PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) system at this time.)

This transition is based on Sony's goal to enhance its unique digital entertainment offering. As a series of these activities Sony started last September, PlayStation Network will be aligned with "Sony Entertainment Network." This helps us get closer to our goal of establishing a global comprehensive network platform of services across games, movies, music and more, all accessible from one convenient account.

The Sony Entertainment Network account also enables use of Sony's compelling non-game services such as Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited and PlayMemories Online (currently called Personal Space) across a variety of network-connected devices. If you do not agree with the new Terms of Service and User Agreement or Privacy Policy, you may decline to accept them, and you will no longer be able to access your account.

If you wish to close your account or request a refund of your wallet balance, or have any questions, please contact Customer Service by clicking here. For more information, please click here.

Thank you very much for being a customer!

You can check out the Sony Entertainment Network website here.

Filed under: games

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After a drop in profits, HTC forecasts cloudy quarter ahead

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 01:14 PM PST

HTC RezoundThe next quarter will be tough-going for HTC as it tries to recover from its first big profit drop in two years.

HTC reported revenues of NT$101.42 billion (New Taiwanese dollars) for the fourth quarter, but the company projects revenues of up to 36 percent less in the first quarter, from NT$65 billion to NT$70 billion ($2.20-$2.37 billion U.S.).

HTC previously announced that its profits fell in the fourth quarter, so this news is basically the other shoe that we’ve been waiting to drop.

HTC says it’s waiting on new models to turn its fortunes, and that the downturn will only be a short-lived problem, but the next quarter is still going to be a major issue for the company. The quarterly projection is far off from the $3.04 billion analysts were expecting, Reuters reports.

"Our weakness in first-quarter guidance also comes from facing competition in the U.S. from iPhone and Samsung," said HTC CFO Winston Yung in a conference call today. "LTE handsets also didn't meet our expectations."

Indeed, HTC is now facing competition from all corners, and the only way it can survive is by completely reshaping its smartphone strategy. The company has already said that it instead of releasing a ton of phones this year, it’s going to focus on a smaller number of high-quality “hero” devices. Such a strategy will help consumers better differentiate HTC’s new devices, but HTC will also need to work double-time to make sure it can outdo Samsung and Apple.

Via Bloomberg

Photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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SoCal companies, get feedback from VentureBeat & LA’s newest startup specialists, Science

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 12:49 PM PST

venturebeat science los angelesVentureBeat is headed to Southern California on February 23 as part of our ongoing quest to find the most promising companies to write about and to invite to participate at our next DEMO conference in April.

Mike Jones, ScienceMike Jones, Science

If you’re working on the next big tech product, come meet me and Mike Jones and Peter Pham of Science, the new group in Los Angeles focused on building profitable new startups. We’ll be offering feedback to early-stage companies. We’ll offer free advice about your presentation style, your technology, your business model, or your go-to-market strategy.

Mike and Peter have impressive ties in LA and broad experience with startups and larger companies. Mike was most recently CEO of Myspace, where he managed the downsizing of that company and its sale to SpecificMedia. He also led Userplane from startup to acquisition by AOL and then started Tsavo Media, which was acquired by Cyberplex for $75M. Altogether, he’s invested in more than 30 companies.

Peter Pham, SciencePeter Pham, Science

Peter has held a frenetic pace in the startup world. He was vice president of business development at Photobucket and helped that company get acquired for $300 million by Fox Interactive Media. He then moved on to BillShrink, where he was CEO, then co-founded Color in 2010.

At Science, Pham and Jones have joined others to help startups grow through hands-on help and funding – a model that can be best compared to that of Betaworks in New York.

If you’re interested in meeting with Mike, Peter, and me, please fill out this form, and we’ll be in touch with more details shortly.

This is just the latest stop in VentureBeat’s road trip to find coolest new products to launch at DEMO, the semi-annual tech conference we co-produce. I’ve been traveling the globe and meeting with as many entrepreneurs as possible along the way. This week, I’ll be in Boulder and Palo Alto, followed up by trips to Boston, Austin, Chicago, Detroit, and Singapore soon after.

DEMO has proven itself a great launch platform for startups, mid-level companies, and fully developed, publicly traded corporations over the past 20 years. We’ve also made plenty of refinements recently, including the start of our Scholarship Partner Program, which lets many early stage companies launch for free. Alumni include Palm, Salesforce, E-Trade, SuccessFactors (just sold to SAP for $3.4 billion), WebEx and VMWare, Sun (Java), and Adobe (Acrobat).

We’ll see you in LA in a couple of weeks!

Filed under: DEMO

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Honeywell slaps Nest with patent infringement suit

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 12:45 PM PST


Smart-thermostat maker Nest is being sued by Honeywell for infringing on seven different patents owned by the technology giant.

“Competition is good and we welcome it, but we will not stand by while competitors, large or small, offer products that infringe on our intellectual property,” said Honeywell environmental and combustion controls president Beth Wozniak in a statement.

The Nest thermostat has become a need-to-have product for gadget-lovers. The smart thermometer learns your heating and cooling habits, and will adjust your house temperature accordingly. For instance, it knows what time you come home from work, what hours are good for energy conservation, the temperature you most like while sleeping, and whether you are on vacation. It also displays tips on saving energy money.

“We have not yet reviewed the actual filing, which we learned about this morning through Honeywell's press release,” a Nest spokesperson told VentureBeat in an e-mail. “We will provide comment once we've had the opportunity to review it.”

Honeywell PatentHoneywell, which is also suing Best Buy for selling the Nest product, has its own line of connected thermostat products called the Total Connect Comfort Systems and insists that Nest infringes on a number of its existing patents. First, Honeywell believes that Nest’s setup process is too similar to its own. A “natural language” interview asks the user what her preferred hot and cold temperatures are. Another patent takes a closer look at Nest’s ability to provide energy saving tips by connecting to the Internet.

Four different patents deal with Nest’s hardware and display, three of which pertain to its circular shape. Patent number 7,584,899, the HVAC controller, addresses the ring directly (photo of which can be seen right). The last patent touches on Nest’s ability to energize itself by essentially being a safe parasite on the home’s energy system.

We have reached out to Honeywell for comment and will update upon hearing back.

hat tip GigaOm

Filed under: green

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Google+ issues a call to arms for would-be third-party developers

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 12:25 PM PST

Google is making a bid for third-party developers’ interest with a new Google+ page for Google+ platform developers.

Google+ developer-relations team lead Chris Chabot writes on the G+ platform blog that the new page will be a source of office-hours-style hangouts and best practices for using the +Platform APIs.

“Our team will host regular hangouts to talk about the +Platform, your experiences with it, and share tips and tricks with the community,” Chabot writes, noting that office hours will take place every Wednesday beginning at 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time and will last approximately 45 minutes.

“The +Platform team will also share Google+ developer events, conferences and hackathons, as well as photos and videos of the events,” Chabot continues. “In addition, we'll announce and discuss our +Platform launches on our page.”

The +Platform so far consists of read-only APIs and tools for creating user badges. As many developers commented on the Google+ developers page, write APIs — including Twitter and Facebook cross-posting features — are one of the more eagerly anticipated rollouts yet to come from the Google+ team.

The hangouts-as-office-hours idea is also being used over at the brand-new Android developers page on Google+. The Android-focused hangouts will begin every Wednesday at 2 p.m. Pacific Time, and judging from the Google+ Platform page’s comments, there’s likely to be some overlap between the attendees of both hangout sessions.

Filed under: dev

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Join VentureBeat and Kleiner Perkins at our DEMO meetup party this week

Posted: 06 Feb 2012 12:18 PM PST

Come party and network with VentureBeat, Kleiner Perkins, and the DEMO community this week at our DEMO meetup event.

VentureBeat and Kleiner Perkins are hosting a DEMO meetup on Thursday, February 9 at the Dutch Goose in Menlo Park. Ten companies will be selected from dozens of applications to participate in a feedback session with a Kleiner Perkins partner and VentureBeat’s own Matt Marshall, executive producer of DEMO.

During the evening, the 10 companies will be given the opportunity to present attendees in the DEMO Alpha Pitch 90-second format.

We invite you to join us, DEMO alumni attendees, this year’s demonstrators, local entrepreneurs, and VCs for a casual evening of cocktails and conversation. Complimentary drinks will be served from 6-8 p.m., courtesy of the AARP.

The meetup kicks off the DEMO Innovation Tour where Matt and the DEMO team will travel around the country to connect with the global DEMO community in search of  the best innovation to showcase at DEMO Spring, taking place April 17-19, 2012.

Space is limited for this free event, so sign up quickly. You can get the full details on the event page.

Filed under: DEMO

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