08 February, 2012



Apple customers protest factory worker abuse, will present petition tomorrow

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 09:01 AM PST

Apple customers are protesting the company’s role in factory worker abuse by bringing a 250,000-signature petition to the Apple store at Grand Central Station in New York City tomorrow and elsewhere around the globe.

In particular, the petitioners are asking Apple to make the iPhone 5 its first product produced under entirely ethical working conditions.

"I have been a lifelong Apple customer and was shocked to learn of the abusive working conditions in many of Apple's supplier factories," said Mark Shields, the Apple fan launched the campaign, in a statement today.

A recent string of audits uncovered child labor, slave labor, and other abuses at Apple’s partner manufacturers in Asia.

While the company says it is working to eradicate unfair labor practices and has educated more than a million employees at Apple's manufacturing partners around the world about safety and worker's rights, the facts still remain that iPads, iPods, and Mac computers are the result of grueling and sometimes inhumane worker conditions.

"At Foxconn, one of Apple's biggest manufacturers, there is a history of suicides, abusive working conditions, and almost no pay. These working conditions are appalling, especially for Apple," Shields concluded.

"Apple's attention to detail is famous, and the only way they could fail to be aware of dozens of worker deaths, of child labor, of exposure to neurotoxins is through willful ignorance," said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of SumOfUs, a consumer community focused on corporate responsibility.

"That's why our members are asking Apple to clean up its supply chains in time to make the iPhone 5 its first ethically produced product."

The petition delivery is slated to take place in New York, San Fransisco, London, Sydney, Bangalore, and Washington, DC.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Maximize Your Trade Show ROI

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

This sponsored post is produced by The Telecom Council of Silicon Valley.

Every company strives to get maximum ROI for their marketing investments, but for startups it becomes a matter of survival. Startups don’t have the luxury of steady cash flow and established lines of business to rely on, and need to make sure that every dollar counts. So when it comes to trade shows, startups don’t just ask “Should we set up a booth?”, but need to also consider, “Will it be worthwhile to spend the money and send the staff to manage a booth?” In this article, we’ll try to look at some of the factors to consider in that decision, and introduce the option of participating in the trade show through a “pod”, or a small station inside a larger pavilion.

Trade show pavilions are a growing phenomenon, centered around the idea of providing an option for companies that aren’t quite big enough to set up their own 10 foot by 20 foot booth, yet have a valid reason to exhibit at the trade show. The trade show organizer wants to give these startups a voice, since it is from the startup community that we see the broadest innovation, and the tremendous value creation. Usually the pavilion is centered around some kind of theme, such as a region or a technology type.

But the pavilions often offer more than lower prices. Many amenities, furniture items, and business services are usually included. This makes the job of exhibiting MUCH simpler, especially for startups that don’t have staff on-hand that have extensive trade show experience. For example, did you know that exhibitors in normal booths need to specifically plan for, arrange, manage, and pay for: electricity needs, network needs, rugs, underpad, installation by union workers, shipping, stands, chairs, drayage, displays, garbage bins, housekeeping… Usually, larger companies will have a trade show booth which they can set up at multiple shows through the year. These booths need a few months prep to build, and cost upwards of $40k for a 20 foot square. Pavilions, in contrast, usually bundle up most of these amenities into a single fee and pre-defined package. The startup can contract for a pod, and only needs to bring their own collateral to pass out.

If you choose to be in a pavilion, you need to consider whether it will meet your marketing goals. You want to meet new business contacts and get your word out, but of course, you need to have the right audience. That’s where the type of pavilion starts to matter, as well as your pavilion mates. Everyone knows the importance of location, location, location. Not only do you need to worry about whether your pod attracts traffic, but you need to worry about whether the pods around you also attract traffic, and create a halo effect for each other. Is the theme of the pavilion an attractive one for foot-traffic? Is it self-filtering such that even though you don’t compete directly with the other pods, you have a common audience? Is the conference organizer and the pod organizer investing in marketing the existence of the pavilion, and the theme of the pavilion to your target audience? If so, the pavilion stands a good chance of generating successful engagement for the pods.

Now, I must concede that the pavilion concept is not for every company, but most of the downsides are probably obvious to you already. You are limited in space, and don’t have full liberty to customize your pod. But the pod does offer you visibility to every attendee at the show. And if you make an effort, your pre-event marketing can drive more traffic to your pod, and set up appointment times for meetings, too. Whether you get a pod, booth, or even nothing, our firm belief will always remain: if all your customers are gathering in one place, wouldn’t you want to be there, too?

So, admittedly, this is a sponsored post. I’ll stand behind what I’ve written with all my credibility, but I do have an ulterior motive. My organization, The Telecom Council of Silicon Valley is partnered with the CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) to create a pavilion at CTIA WIRELESS in New Orleans, May 8-10. Our pavilion is focused on just young companies that bring innovative solutions to the wireless telecom industry, and we’re screening the companies to make sure they’ve got the right stuff. The Telecom Council and CTIA have put together a package that includes floor space in a pod, marketing, stage time, logistics and more in a simple bundle. If you are a VC with a portfolio company, or a suitable startup, you can learn more here, but think fast because our deadline for applicants is February 10!

New Orleans is one of America’s best destination cities, and the CTIA show is always laser-focused on wireless telecom. I hope to see you there, whether as an exhibitor or guest in our pavilion, or just eating a bowl of gumbo around town.

Liz Kerton, analyst for The Kerton Group and president of the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley, follows innovation across all telecom sectors.

Sponsored posts are content that has been produced by a company, which is either paying for the post or has a business relationship with VentureBeat, and they’re always clearly marked. The content of news stories produced by our editorial team is never influenced by advertisers or sponsors in any way. For more information, contact garrett@venturebeat.com.

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Fab.com is gonna be big — Amazon big, says CEO

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 08:17 AM PST

When Fab.com won a Crunchie for best shopping app, no one was more surprised than the startup’s CEO, Jason Goldberg (pictured).

“To be honest, I didn’t think we were going to win, mostly because Fab isn’t very much integrated into the whole tech scene… We’re definitely mainstream.”

Being mainstream can be both a blessing and a curse for a tech startup. Massive numbers of users outside the Silicon Valley bubble doesn’t necessarily translate well when you’re fundraising, for example, or trying to get advisors or engineers on your team.

“That said, it’s nice to win,” said Goldberg in an email conversation with VentureBeat. “We hope that we won because people truly like our Fab website and apps and the products we sell. We hope it’s authentic. We strive to be authentic in everything we do.”

Still, Fab.com’s bread and butter — and there’s plenty of bread and butter to go around at the revenue-happy startup — comes from a much more general audience that’s growing like corn in Kansas.

“The way people have taken to Fab is truly incredible and humbling,” said Goldberg. “There seems to be a movement around it — a groundswell — that we could have never anticipated.”

Goldberg’s not the only one who is impressed and pleased with the startup’s insane growth rate. Investor Pravin Vazirani from Menlo Ventures is a Fab board member.

“Fab.com is one of the fastest growing companies we’ve ever seen, not just compared to other Menlo Ventures portfolio companies, but e-commerce companies in general,” he told VentureBeat this morning.

“They’ve obviously struck a chord with consumers and are capitalizing on that in a major way.”

Goldberg revealed that just after passing its seventh full month of online sales, the startup has 2 million members and has grown by 450,000 new shoppers within the past 30 days. Sales volume and average order value are also on the rise.

While the growth rate has astounded Vazirani, so has the young company’s ability to crank out new features. “The iPad app was launched in record time, and now accounts for a significant portion of sales,” he said.

Of course, we had to ask Goldberg what’s coming next for the startup.

“We’ve got so much in the works it’s exhausting,” he told us. “Fun, but exhausting. As we’re known for, we’ll be launching a flurry of new features and enhancements the next few weeks. We have no less than three really big announcements already in the works for February alone. It’s going to be a busy Fab month.”

And you can expect Fab.com to announce more funding in the future, as well. Goldberg said the company would continue to take funding in order to keep up its rapid growth, and Vazirani said Menlo would “absolutely” be participating in future rounds.

“Our scale in mind is Amazon-size scale, so, yes, we’ll raise more money in the future,” Goldberg said. “Amazon raised billions to be what it is today. We have Amazon-size ambitions to deliver great design options to people everywhere across all categories at all price points.”

We asked Vazirani, who has seen many, many startup comes and go, if he thought the Amazon-scale aspirations were reasonable for a company barely a year old.

“All indications are that it is realistic,” he said. “Jason is the type of CEO that consistently overdelivers on expectations.”

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Vonage’s iOS and Android apps undercut Skype’s international rates by 30%

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 08:01 AM PST

vonage-iosVoIP startup Vonage has launched new applications for iOS and Android phones that feature free app-to-app calling and international calling rates that run 30 percent less than rival Skype, the company announced today.

Vonage has made itself known as the company you subscribe to for cheap unlimited calling for your home phone, but it makes good sense for the company to branch out with strong mobile apps as well. The company offered a few apps before, but the new offerings are more fully featured and easier on the eyes.

The new apps for iOS and Android let you call and text other Vonage Mobile users or call Vonage VoIP home and business users for free. When you want to call non-Vonage customers in the U.S. and overseas, the company says you’ll pay 30 percent less than you would with Skype.

Calls are charged through pre-paid credits you buy inside the applications, and you don’t have to be a Vonage customer to use the apps. You can use your iTunes or Android Market account to add $4.99 or $9.99 credit packs, you won’t have to give the company your credit card info.

To get people interested in downloading and testing the app, the company is offering free calls to any phone in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico for a limited time. So if you’ve been meaning to give your friend in Ontario a call for free, this is your chance.

If you’re already using Skype for international calling on your iPhone or Android device, would you be willing to give Vonage a spin?

Filed under: mobile

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Pogoplug now powers 1M personal clouds, announces retail expansion and mobile partnership

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Who needs Amazon’s cloud storage when you can just turn your own hard into a cloud-enabled device? That’s the question Pogoplug has been asking consumers with its family of personal cloud devices, which can make any hard drive accessible from the web, and it seems the company has struck a nerve.

Pogoplug announced today that its devices and software (which enables access to files on your computer from anywhere) now power more than one million personal clouds. In addition, the company says it now manages more than 150 petabytes of storage (about one and a half times more media than Facebook says it manages).

After reaching the million cloud milestone, Pogoplug is now seeking new ways to attract consumers. The company is expanding its retail presence to all Best Buy stores and Walmart stores, which will be offering its Pogoplug Series 4 and Pogoplug Mobile devices, respectively. It’s also announcing its first mobile partnership with Softbank in Japan, which will offer co-branded Pogoplug devices in retail store, as well as 20 gigabytes of cloud storage for a year.

Pogoplug is the sort of service that’s been popular with techies, but hasn’t yet caught on with more mainstream users. By having a wider retail presence, plus partnerships like its Softbank deal, the company can more easily convince consumers why they may want a personal cloud.

The company currently offers its Series 4 device for $100, which lets you give USB hard drives cloud connectivity. There’s also the Pogoplug Mobile ($50), a recently launched device that lets you share files from your home to your iPhone or Android smartphone.

Pogoplug is based in San Francisco, Calif., and has 50 employees. The company has raised $25 million to date from Foundry Group, Softbank Capital, and Morgan Stanley.

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

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Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t hurting World of Warcraft as much as you may think

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

To what extent has Electronic Arts’ Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) been keeping users away from Activision Blizzard’s cash cow World of Warcraft (WoW)? Surprisingly little, according to traffic reports from leading independent community websites for both online games.

The high-risk, high-reward market of subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) has become more competitive since Electronic Arts bet the farm on SWTOR, which took six years to develop and allegedly cost about $200 million to produce. World of Warcraft is Activision’s most important property and it generates more than $1 billion a year for Activision. Any assault on WoW has to be a huge undertaking.

When EA reported a strong number of 1.7 million active SWTOR users on February 1st, it left many industry observers wondering how much this gain had hurt World of Warcraft. The fantasy MMORPG by Activision Blizzard has been dominating the market for subscription MMORGs since its launch in 2004. Customers have to pay a monthly fee between $13 and $15 to continue playing. But user numbers started to crumble lately, with a decline from 11.1 to 10.3 million subscribers in the third quarter of 2011.

Activision Blizzard is expected to publish updated subscriber numbers during its earning reports on Thursday. And while a further decrease in paying players seems likely, observations from independent MMORPG communities indicate that The Old Republic’s strong start might hurt World of Warcraft less than anticipated.

“SWTOR is going to be the proof that more than just one MMO using the subscription model can do really well.” says Hubert Thieblot, CEO and founder of Curse, Inc. The San Francisco based company operates a number of popular websites catering to players of MMORPGs. Curse is reporting that it’s WoW fan site MMO-Champion, which attracts about 3 million unique visitors a month, “hasn’t seen a significant decline” since SWTOR’s launch on December 20, 2011.

Curse is claiming unspecified “strong growth” for its dedicated SWTOR community site DarthHater, but “it hasn't approached the massive scale of the WoW-related sites yet.”

Another leading publisher of websites that are catering to players of MMORPGs is observing similar trends. ZAM Network is operating Wowhead, the most popular online database for World of Warcraft content. ZAM President Ryan Bohmann stated to VentureBeat that “traffic has been steady since September”. Comparing January 2012 with October 2011, he finds that Wowhead traffic numbers are actually up by 7%, despite of SWTOR’s December 2011 launch.

Wowhead’s traffic is an indicator of user engagement, as the database is primarily visited by players who are looking for information about specific WoW game content. Last December ZAM also launched Torhead, a dedicated database for SWTOR. Its traffic peaked in January before declining for a bit and now “seems to have evened out”, according to Bohmann. Quantcast counted 5.3 million visitors for Wowhead and 1.4 million visitors for Torhead.

Another sign that a chunk of WoW players are giving SWTOR a try without abandoning the former game: 17 percent of visitors of the official worldofwarcraft.com website also visited swtor.com in December 2011, according to comScore Cross-Visitation numbers cited by Curse. “Many MMO gamers are willing to try new MMO games but aren't going to completely abandon something like WoW that they've put so much effort into.” concludes Curse CEO Thieblot.

These website traffic trends suggest that SWTOR might have a hard time maintaining an aggressive growth path. And that the number of players jumping WoW’s ship are not as large as SWTOR’s early success might have suggested.

Filed under: games

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Dylan’s Desk: What it takes to compete with Silicon Valley

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

photo of Cloud Gate, a reflective sculpture, and the Chicago skylineRumor has it that this Chicago sculpture is filled with VC cash

You don’t have to live in Palo Alto to become a software billionaire, though it can help.

For decades, people with ideas, programming talent, and the ambition to make their fortune as entrepreneurs have been moving to Silicon Valley, just as Mark Zuckerberg did shortly after founding Facebook.

But now an increasing number of them are staying at home.

Take, for example, Andrew Mason, the founder of Groupon, who started the company in Chicago in 2008 and kept it right there in the Windy City through its initial public offering in November, 2011.

Or 37signals founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeyer Hansson, who started a web design firm in Chicago in 1999 and kept it there even as the company grew to become a small but influential provider of project management tools and an even more influential blog about effective startup management.

You might think that Chicago was turning into a hive of startup talent, and you’d be right. According to BuiltInChicago.org, the number of digital startups created in the Chicago area in 2011 increased 56 percent over the year before, to 128 new companies.

Even more impressive, the funding raised by those companies was up 431 percent over 2010, to $1.45 billion. Excluding the massive pile of cash that Groupon alone raised ($972 million), Chicago area companies still raised 76 percent more than the year before.

Chicago area venture capital raised, year over year. Source: BuiltinChicago.org

One thing that might be helping is the presence of J.B. Pritzker, a Chicago native who founded New World Ventures in 1996 to invest in technology startups.

Pritzker is a wealthy man, one of the heirs to the Pritzker family fortune, he’s worth an estimated $2.5 billion. He is literally as rich as Rockefeller (David, that is), though that much wealth only qualifies him for a seven-way tie for 159th richest American, according to Forbes.

I had dinner with Pritzker and a group of venture capitalists and journalists recently, where the conversation focused on what it takes to create regional innovation hubs. According to Pritzker, Chicago’s entrepreneurial scene has taken off in the past few years, and it’s not just thanks to the recent success of Groupon’s initial public offering. It’s not just having a rich guy bankroll things, either, though clearly that helps.

Rather, the VCs at that table agreed, what it takes to create a startup ecosystem–whether that’s in Chicago, New York, Salt Lake City, Detroit, or Boulder–is the presence of serial entrepreneurs. Someone has to take that first leap, start a company, recruit talent, and then stick around long enough to do it again.

Serial entrepreneurs can provide capital, by becoming angel investors or even venture capitalists. Their employees form a base of recruitable talent: people who have worked at startups before and understand that the work is not like a job at an ordinary company. Serial entrepreneurs also provide leadership, by serving as an example and as a magnet for talent: Smart people want to hitch their wagons to a rising star, in other words.

“The thing is the pull of jobs and the pull of the serial entrepreneur,” Pritzker said.

In a way, it’s easier to start a company outside Silicon Valley than inside it. Competition for talent is lower, because here in the Bay Area everyone needs engineers, driving their starting salaries into six figures, even for kids just out of college with no significant experience. Elsewhere, you don’t have to pay such rich prices. That may be one reason why Silicon Alley startups are coming up fast.

And, because of the abundant infrastructure provided by the Internet, it’s easy to offshore jobs that you can’t get done locally. Need more designers or more engineers? Turn to India, or the Philippines, or Romania.

Still, not everyone is convinced. I talked with Verdi Ergun, a cofounder of point-of-sale system startup Own, which recently moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to San Francisco.

“We went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond,” Ergun told me. “We hit this point where we needed more access to engineers and more access to capital, given the stage that we were at.”

Own’s prospects for success will be very dependent on the company’s ability to form partnerships with other tech and social networking companies, many of which are in California, so the move makes sense strategically as well.

But for an increasing number of companies, you don’t have to make it here: You can make it anywhere.

Cloud gate photo: Kara Allyson/Flickr

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner

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Sprint sells 1.8M iPhones, reports smaller loss than expected

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 05:57 AM PST

SprintIn its first quarter offering the iPhone, Sprint has managed losses smaller than what analysts estimated, and it has seen its best subscriber gains since 2005.

The company reported operating income (before depreciation) of $842 million for the fourth quarter on revenues of $8.7 billion. Reported loss during the quarter was 35 cents a share, compared with the 38 cents a share analysts expected, according to Bloomberg. Net loss was $1.3 billion for the quarter.

But the real star for Sprint in the fourth quarter was the iPhone, which the carrier managed to sell 1.8 million units. The iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 helped attract more new subscribers than ever to Sprint, with 40 percent of iPhone sales going to new customers. The carrier reported 1.6 million new subscribers during the quarter, 539,000 of which were postpaid (contracted) customers, and it now serves a total of 55 million customers.

Looking forward, Sprint expects operating income (before depreciation) for 2012 to be between $3.7 billion and $3.9 billion, compared with $5 billion for 2011. The company expects capital expenditures if around $6 billion for the year, which will include its efforts to rapidly deploy a new 4G LTE network.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Lance Tokuda’s SchoolFeed rounds up $1.75M for fast-growing classmates network

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

Lance Tokuda was looking for an old high school friend, but instead he found his second big social networking startup. The co-founder of RockYou happened to find an old acquaintance from high school on Classmates.com, which has more than 60 million users. But when he was going to email her, he found that Classmates.com was going to charge him $60 for that privilege.

There had to be a better way to hook people up, he thought. And so began the idea for SchoolFeed, which is announcing today it has raised a seed investment round of $1.75 million. The San Mateo, Calif.-based classmate network hooks people up at no charge and makes money via advertising and virtual goods. In doing so, it is disrupting the business model of 15-year-old Classmates.com.

Thanks to that model, SchoolFeed has rocketed in seven months to more than 7 million users and is growing at a rate of 100,000 users per day. The network has grown in a purely viral manner, as users find their old high school classmates and inspire them to join.

“All our growth is from friends telling friends,” Tokuda (pictured) said in an interview.

The site is extremely simple to join. You enter the name of your school and the graduating year. Then you can log in via Facebook. The site loads your fellow classmates already on the site and lets you send invites to those who aren’t. You can indicate your interests and load some pictures.

Once you get to your news feed, you can see messages related to your interests or the people you know. If you want, you can send chocolates to your friends. You can play games such as Bingo with your friends. The whole point is to enable people to not only find their friends, but to interact with them once they find them.

You can click on the Classmates tab. With that single click, I saw a couple dozen of my old classmates. Suddenly, I got hit with a wave of nostalgia. The site is aimed at people like me between the ages of 33 to 55. We didn’t have social networks while in school and can find it harder to locate classmates today.

Facebook was formed to help classmates get together. But now it has moved far beyond that demographic group. Only about 8 percent of Facebook users have more than half of their high school classmates as friends.

The round was led by First Round Capital, with additional funds provided by Crosslink Capital, InterWest,
and SK Telecom.

The company makes money through ads and virtual currency. You can earn that latter by participating in the site, such as contributing photos. You can apply your earned currency to rewards. You can scan a yearbook into the site, for example. If someone else scans it in, you can use virtual currency to unlock the pages of the scanned yearbook for your class. As you earn more currency, you can unlock more pages.

Tokuda said that SchoolFeed is now growing faster than Classmates.com and could catch up to it in raw numbers within a couple of years. The site is adding over 15 new connections per second.

"Early growth and feedback on SchoolFeed has been astonishing," said Rob Hayes, Managing Partner, First Round Capital "It's really filling a void in classmates networking, and tapping a demographic that has been largely left out. The SchoolFeed team is seasoned in social networking, content and engagement mechanics. We look forward to watching SchoolFeed become the largest classmate network worldwide.”

Tokuda founded the company after leaving RockYou, the social gaming startup that he founded in 2005 with Jia Shen. He started SchoolFeed in 2006 and launched the site in July. With no publicity or advertising, the site grew dramatically, mainly because it connects people for free.

Rivals include Facebook and Classmates.com. SchoolFeed is setting itself apart by turning its high school connections into a destination and positioning itself to handle class reunion services. In reunions, rivals include Juxta Labs.

SchoolFeed is focused on the U.S. so far  and has eight employees. Asked how he feels about starting another major social company, Tokuda said, “It feels great. It’s a lot of work. You spend more time adding more and more services. We want to build the community and give people a reason to come back. It’s hard to create a social network.”

Filed under: games, social

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Extole turns regular customers into brand ambassadors, raises $10M

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 04:00 AM PST

Nearly every company has a social presence these days, but personal recommendations are often a more powerful way to boost sales. If you've never heard about a company before, but your friend has, you'll likely trust her opinion over that of a complete stranger. But keeping track of how much customer referrals really help your business can be hard, so Extole has created a way to track word-of-mouth marketing.

The service seeks to find and tend to customer advocates, people who rally around and talk up their favorite brands and get rewards for doing so. Extole not only provides tools for clients to market themselves, it also advises its clients on how to use its services, achieve certain goals, and gain brand ambassadors.

"Our platform helps our customers find their advocates and have those advocates create and share social content," said Extole chief executive Brad Klaus in an interview with VentureBeat, "We have two types of content we aim to generate: testimonials and social actions."

Testimonials are what you'd expect; written recommendations and reviews of the business or product. And social actions include a Facebook "Like", a tweet, or an email opt-in. Businesses can use this customer-generated content however they like and can reward customers for producing content with points, gift cards, or charitable donations.

One prime example of how Extole works comes from its client Roku, the small set-top device that streams movies and TV. Roku realized about a quarter of its sales resulted from customer referrals and it enlisted the help of Extole to create a "social referral program" to boost that number. Customers were asked to talk up the device to their friends and family and for every referral that resulted in a Roku purchase, the original customer would receive a free month of Netflix.

The company just announced that it’s closed a third round of funding led by Shasta Ventures, which will be used to grow the company and create more tools to spur customer referrals.

Extole was founded in 2009 and is headquartered in San Francisco, Calif. The company employs a team of 70, and its clients include Redbox, AAA, and Kate Spade. Extole has raised $22 million from Norwest Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Trident Capital, and Shasta Ventures.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Mystery music app TastemakerX nails down a $1.8M funding round pre-launch

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 03:00 AM PST

It hasn’t even launched yet, but TastemakerX has already sealed a reasonable deal to lock in funding from Silicon Valley investors.

Now that’s what we call rock n’ roll.

The social-mobile-music app raised a $1.8 million chunk of change for its first round of institutional funding. Investors include Baseline Ventures, AOL Ventures, True Ventures, and a slew of others, including a handful of angels.

The app is still shrouded in mystery; we haven’t seen screenshots or gotten a specific rundown of what it will do. But according to the company’s description, it’s a timely crossover between socially driven tech and new music discovery.

"What music fan doesn't want to be the first to discover the next big band and get credit for it?" said TastemakerX co-founder Marc Ruxin in a release this morning.

"Like fantasy sports for music lovers, players will be able to browse portfolios of like-minded music aficionados to discover new music and see real-time news about the artists they are exploring."

“TastemakerX solves two problems,” said Baseline founder Steve Anderson in the same release. ”It delineates personal taste and influence, establishing a true ‘taste graph,’ and it gamifies culture, in the same way fantasy sports leagues gamifiy professional sports for millions of fans."

Based on all this “fantasy’ talk, we’re assuming we’ll see points systems and leaderboards for early trend identification. The app will also offer location-tagging and photo-sharing features.

And what better place to discover new bands than at South by Southwest next month in Austin — not so coincidentally the launch date and place selected for TastemakerX.

TastemakerX is based in San Francisco and was founded in August 2011.

Image courtesy of Olga Zaretskaya, Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Another 4,000 production jobs axed at Nokia

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 01:04 AM PST

Nokia may have some hot new smartphone models coming this year, but its financial turmoil isn’t over. The Finnish phone giant said Wedneday morning that it plans to cut around 4,000 jobs.

The company is reducing production at plants in Hungary, Mexico and Salo, Finland. The three plants make smartphones now and Nokia is now shifting a lot of that work to Asia to be closer to its suppliers. Nokia wants to speed the time it takes to get new products on the market. The cutbacks show that the job of transforming a giant company like Nokia is a long and difficult one.

Customization work will continue at all of the plants.

“With the planned changes, our factories at Komarom, Reynosa and Salo will continue to play an important role serving our smartphone customers," Nokia executive vice president Niklas Savander said in a statement. "They give us a unique ability to both provide customization and be more responsive to customer needs,"

The job cuts will take place throughout the year. Meanwhile, Nokia is proceeding with a huge change as it shifts its smartphone strategy to Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system.

The company previously announced other job cuts such as closing a Romanian factory.

Nokia Lumia 900 photo: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile

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Study: U.S. gaming population has nearly tripled in three years

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 12:43 AM PST

The number of people playing video games in the U.S. has risen 241 percent since 2008, according to a new study from market research and consulting company Parks Associates.

The study, Trends in Digital Gaming: Free-to-Play, Social, and Mobile Games, claims 135 million people play at least one hour per month compared to 56 million in 2008. Seventeen percent of all gamers have downloaded a title on their smartphones, up from 7 percent in 2008. About 80 percent play free-to-play (F2P) games on the PC or log into Facebook to spend time on the farm or frontier.

Online and mobile gaming are transforming the industry, the study says, changing it from one focused essentially on packaged goods sold at retail to one that provides services to consumers.

“Instead of ending support of customers after they buy individual game titles, game companies now focus on building gamer communities and developing ongoing relationships with their customers,” said Parks Associates research analyst and study author Pietro Macchiarella. “The positive effect of this approach is that game monetization can be extended beyond the point of sale. Unlike traditional offline games, the online world allows the industry to earn revenue even when people play the same game repeatedly.”

Macchiarella says F2P titles remove the barriers of retail costs and subscription fees, which can be big turnoffs to casual gamers. These players see the microtransaction model — where one buys individual virtual items or upgrades to enhance the gaming experience — as a way to reduce expenditures because it allows them to spend according to their budget.

However, Parks Associates has found that people who spend money on these titles tend to spend amounts that are comparable to the cost of traditional titles. Those who spend money on Facebook games average about $29 per month, while those who pay for virtual goods and upgrades in free-to-play games spend about $21 per month on average. Macchiarella says these amounts are not too far from the $24-$27 per month spent on average by incidental and occasional gamers on new console titles.

Due to the ease of making microtransactions on smartphones and tablets, the study predicts mobile gaming will expand industry revenues over the next several years.

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A change we don’t hate, Facebook updates photo viewer

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 05:41 PM PST

Facebook lightbox

It seems Facebook has rolled out its new lightbox photo viewer to more people today, and some are saying it’s a ripoff of Google+.

The new feature is similar to the theater view in that it takes the user into a pop-up carousel of photos. Facebook has now, however, moved the comments to the right side of the photo and added advertising below the comments field. In order to like or tag a person in the photo, you must hover over the photo and wait for an action bar to appear.

This is the first new feature to come out of the company since it filed to go public on February 1. Facebook has long been known as a great place to view, upload, and share photos. It has been held back, however, by its smaller format. The theater view helped expand Facebook’s photo real estate by lifting the pictures off of the actual web page. The lightbox continues on this path, though one photographer, Thomas Hawk, believes the lightbox could be bigger.

“If I were Facebook I'd still make the lightbox view much larger (like Google+),” Hawk wrote on his website. “When it comes to a photo in lightbox view, bigger is definitely better.”

As Hawk notes, some believe this viewer is very similar to Google+’s lightbox. The comments on Google+ also exist on the right side, and the background greys out similar to the Facebook lightbox.

We have reached out to Facebook to see if this rollout has been completed. We will update upon hearing back.

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Adobe Creative Cloud will get you CS6, Lightroom 4, 20GB storage for $50/month

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 05:28 PM PST

adobe creative cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud, a forthcoming service that will let you license Adobe’s highly sought-after Creative Suite and give you a plethora of cloud-based extras, now has a price tag: $50 per month with a required one-year contract.

Creative Cloud was introduced at the annual Adobe Max conference this past October with a promised launch date in “early 2012.” The service promises access to the latest version of Creative Suite software, Lightroom 4, Muse, Edge, touch applications, and 20GB of cloud storage with syncing options. But until now, the company has kept silent about pricing and the full array of extras users would get with the service.

While the $50 per month fee might sound a little high, buying a full license to the latest version of the Adobe Creative Suite runs between $1,300 and $2,600, depending on which programs you want.

One of the most persuasive arguments to buy into a Creative Cloud subscription will be the ability to get the latest software updates before retail buyers get them. Ideally, the company wants every major user of its products signed up for a subscription so they never have to buy the big software bundle again.

The Creative Cloud subscription is a direct response to piracy of Adobe’s very expensive products. Design professionals who can’t get their employers to pay for it or strapped students who need the software for projects sometimes steal Adobe’s software via Torrent sites and file-sharing sites. But with Creative Cloud, Adobe hopes to get some of these would-be pirates to pay a more-affordable monthly subscription rather than steal the software.

The company will also offer volume licensing to businesses for $70 per user per month. This business option of Creative Cloud will offer added collaboration and security features that justify the extra expense.

Creative Cloud will launch alongside Creative Suite 6 before the second half of this year. Will you be interested in getting a subscription?

Adobe Creative Cloud presentation: AdobeMax/Flickr

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How Pinterest is secretly profiting from your links

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 05:18 PM PST

Is surprise-hit Pinterest covertly capitalizing on the product-sharing behaviors of its burgeoning user base? Evidence amassed by savvy observers suggests as much.

Pinterest is the invite-only digital pin-board site where people, mostly arts and crafts enthusiasts between the ages of 25 and 44, “pin” products, recipes, and photos to themed boards. The two year-old company is an insanely buzzy up-and-coming social network that attracts millions of visitors each week.

But unbeknownst to the average user, Pinterest is automatically swapping out the links behind product pins, using a third-party service called Skimlinks (a thriving business of its own), with its own affiliate links. A pin that points to a product on Amazon, for instance, will pass the clicker through to the product page with a Pinterest affiliate code thrown in for good measure. And should that person go on to make a purchase, Pinterest pockets the affiliate money.

The behavior has been sleuthed out by a number of Pinterest users, but a post by digital marketer and blogger Josh Davis is the first to shine the brightest spotlight on the young company’s questionable affiliate link-swapping actions. The primary issue is not that Pinterest is making money — a significant finding on its own, especially considering that the relationship between Pinterest and Skimlinks is mutually beneficial — but that the company is doing so in a way that could be perceived as deceptive.

“I, like many people, don't have a problem with Pinterest making money off of user content,” Davis wrote. “The links are modified seamlessly so it doesn't affect the experience. Pinterest likely should disclose this practice to users even if they aren't required to do so by law, if only to maintain trust with their users.”

Pinterest did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Photo credits: crossed fingers/Shutterstock, Josh Davis

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LG, Unity Technologies team up to bring video games to Smart TVs

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 04:11 PM PST

LG Smart TVUnity Technologies and electronics manufacturing giant LG are teaming up to bring video games to Smart TVs in 2012.

The deal is similar to one LG recently made with cloud gaming service Gaikai and is all part of the company’s plan to market its line of products as all-in-one multimedia systems.

Unity Technologies is the creator of the Unity development platform, which allows users to create and distribute interactive 3D and 2D content to mobile phones, app stores, tablets, set-top boxes, connected TVs and more. The company boasts a thriving community of 750,000 registered developers, including large publishers, indie studios, students, and hobbyists, and says it plans to make numerous games available on upcoming LG models in the near future through its business division Union.

"The television technology LG is introducing this year is very impressive and offers an incredible opportunity for the developers under the Union umbrella to reach a new market," said David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies. "Our goal with Union is to create new avenues of distribution for developers using Unity, and LG smart TVs are creating a massive and new gaming audience."

LG’s 2012 HDTV models feature the ability to play video games without the need for a console through a powerful video processor and the Magic Motion Remote, a gyroscopic motion controller. LG Head of Content Division Sang-Woo Lee says adding Unity’s huge catalog of titles to the lineup already available on his company’s TVs will boost their value to consumers looking to choose a HDTV model and help make them the most comprehensive platform for entertainment on the market.

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LinkedIn reportedly buying contact manager Rapportive

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 03:38 PM PST

Business social-media giant LinkedIn is acquiring Rapportive, a Gmail add-on that enhances contact information.

Sources close to the negotiation disclosed the news and said that LinkedIn is paying over $10 million to buy the company, All Things D reported. The final purchase price is undisclosed, no deal has been finalized, and both companies are keeping quiet about the details. VentureBeat reached out to Rapportive’s chief executive Rahul Vohra for comment and didn’t get a response.

Rapportive is a Gmail-only plugin that adds shared content, tweets, social media buttons, and notes to your Google Contacts. The plugin lives in the sidebar of Gmail, next to each email. When Google introduced the People Widget, the sidebar that displays contact info next to emails, Rapportive integrated its service directly into the widget.

The company faces competition from Contactually, which launched in early January 2012.

Rapportive's investors include Gmail creator Paul Buchheit, incubator Y Combinator, Scott Banister, Jason Calacanis, Gary Vaynerchuk, David Cancel, Dharmesh Shah, Shervin Pishevar, Roy Rodenstein, Dave McClure's new fund 500 Startups, Nivi & Naval Ravikant's VentureHacks, Charles River Ventures, Kima Ventures, Zelkova Ventures, and BOLDstart Ventures.

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The “app economy” created 466K jobs, counting your developer’s favorite barista

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 02:55 PM PST

Image from Flickr user Ian Lamont

Apps are everywhere these days, with founders from Instagram and Shazam starring in Super Bowl commercials. According to a new study from the non-partisan group TechNet, apps have created 466,000 American jobs since they arrived with the modern day smartphone in 2007. Dig into the data, however, and you’ll find only about a third of those are actual tech jobs.

It turns out that there were really only about 155,000 developer and tech support positions created for the millions of apps that populate our smartphones and tablets. The study, by combing through want ads, concluded that for every developer there was also about one non-techie doing marketing, sales or human resources for app startups.

The rest of those jobs are created by something called “spillover”. This is a standard multiplier used in economics to look at the total impact of a burgeoning market. So for every successful app developer there are extra office cleaners, baristas and day care workers hired to meet the demand created by techies flush with cash. Previous studies, for example one related to Facebook’s impact on the economy, used a “spillover” multiplier of 2.4. While the folks from TechNet employed what they call a conservative multiple of 1.5.

California, not surprisingly, saw the biggest boon from the app economy, while New York got the biggest bump of any individual city. The most rapid acceleration for this labor force was from 2009 to 2011, but while it has slowed, the number of jobs in the app economy is still growing at a very respectable 45 percent annual rate.

A full PDF of the study with charts is here.

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Jive still makes enterprise tech cool, reports Q4 earnings

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 02:42 PM PST

JiveJive Software reported its first earnings as a public company today, and introduced a secret new product called “Project Thunder.”

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Jive increased its revenue by 53 percent over the same period last year, earning $22.5 million. Revenue directly associated with product was up 61 percent at $19.2 million. Jive provides social business software, which allows businesses to communicate with each other outside of instant messages and e-mails. Indeed, Jive sees a 27 percent drop in e-mail in companies where it is in operation.

“Most enterprises are still trying to communicate and collaborate using the same e-mail and business processes that have been in place for decades,” said Jive chief executive Tony Zingale in a conference call. “It simply does not work.”

The company also added over 40 new customers in its fourth quarter. These include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ace Insurance, and Thomson Reuters. These new customers are a particularly big win for Jive, as each of them represents a $1 million or higher contract, and all of them use Jive’s cloud product, as opposed to its physical software delivery. Also in the group of new customers are Northwestern University and Direct TV, which join GE, HP, SAP, Deutsche Telekom, Ben & Jerry’s, and others.

“It is a sign that companies are increasingly realizing that adopting social business software may be one of the most important decisions they make this decade,” said Zingale.

The company’s new Project Thunder, an internal product that is currently in beta, is intended to help larger scale companies deploy Jive’s software and is Internet-based and easily accessible. This stealthy product is slated to launch in mid-2012.

The company saw a profit of $12.6 million, that’s $4.1 million more than just one year ago. Net loss sat at $12.7 million, with a loss of .39 per share. The company hopes to have revenue of $108-112 million, a 40-45 percent increase year over year.

Jive 2011 Highlights Infographic

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Fighting obscurity, Wolfram Alpha set to launch pro product with consumer appeal

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 02:24 PM PST

If one robotic personal assistant can show off the sexy insides of computational search engine Wolfram Alpha, perhaps an upcoming release can breathe even more life back into the engine often thought to be a tool for nerds.

Three year-old Wolfram Alpha is set to launch a $4.99 per month ($2.99 for students) premium offering Wednesday replete with new features. But, more importantly, it’s finally making an effort to appeal to the average Joes and Janes of the world.

Hitherto, Wolfram Alpha has been the search engine of choice for data and information addicts who want to geek out on answers and calculations to basic or complex factual questions. When the company launched in 2009, it was mislabeled a Google-killer and later written off by the press altogether. Since then, it’s quietly continued on and recently found new life as the beloved brains powering some of Siri’s smart-ass responses.

Wolfram Alpha Pro, as detailed in a comprehensive review by The Verge, comes with more thorough and colorful reports, an extended keyboard that allows for easier character entry (handy for those complex mathematics problems), and an upload option so that users can have the site analyze and spit out custom reports on their own data files.

The latter is the killer, consumer-friendly feature, as pointed out by The Verge. “The ability to bring the entire brunt of Wolfram Alpha’s computational engine on any arbitrary piece of data democratizes the idea of statistical analysis,” said reviewer Dieter Bohn.

Okay, we’re intrigued. Knowledge is a powerful thing, and just maybe the new release can add some much needed sex appeal to Wolfram Alpha’s geeky central nervous system.

Photo credit: The Verge

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TerraEchos fights security threats with data, attracts $1.55M seed funding

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 01:41 PM PST

Hacking into government systems just got a bit harder. TerraEchos, a security company using big data to identify and thwart security threats, announced today that it’s raised $1.55 million in seed funding to be an internet security vigilante.

“For the past three years we’ve been working on problems funded by the US Navy and the Department of Energy, on how to process and analyze huge amounts of information and find the most meaningful security alerts,” TerraEchos chief executive Dr. Alex Philp told VentureBeat.

Starting in 2009, TerraEchos has been working with the Navy and the DoE to analyze and identify security threats that can have physical consequences. For example, hacking into a power grid could shut off power for an entire city or region. Now, the company has its sights on organizations and businesses where high levels of security are of the utmost importance — think defense and intelligence agencies, power grids, gas pipelines, and nuclear facilities.

With this funding, TerraEchos is moving forward with its enterprise service Kairos, a software system that can sift through massive amounts of data including text, video, voice, and sensor information to find security threats. Everything is done in real time and the service can be scaled to any operation.

This type of technology is in growing demand. In fact, the FBI is looking to the tech community to create a tool to find security threats mentioned in social media channels. The FBI also has to contend with cybercrime, and with hacktivism on the rise, software like TerraEcho’s can help find and fill security holes that hackers exploit.

TerraEchos was founded in 2009 and has a team of nine employees. The company began working on security threats in 2009 and struck a licensing deal with IBM to use its InfoSphere Streams platform in 2010. This round of funding is the company’s seed round and was lead by Flywheel Ventures. TerraEchos is based in Missoula, Montana.

Security warning sign image via Shutterstock

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Yahoo to lose four board members in wake of Jerry Yang’s departure

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 01:26 PM PST

Yahoo bids adieu to four more board members today, including the board’s current chair, Roy Bostock.

Other departing members include Vyomesh Joshi, an executive vice president at HP; investor and professional board member Gary Wilson; and Arthur Kern, an investor who had held his seat at the Yahoo boardroom table since 1996.

In an open letter to Yahoo shareholders, Bostock writes,

“The board has concluded that in order to accelerate the Company's transformation, the combination of a new Chief Executive Officer with an enhanced team of independent directors would provide Yahoo with the expertise and perspectives necessary to drive innovation and growth going forward. Therefore, Mr. Joshi, Mr. Kern, Mr. Wilson and I have volunteered not to stand for re-election at the next shareholders' meeting.

“Furthermore, the board today elected two highly qualified independent directors, Alfred Amoroso and Maynard Webb, Jr. Mr. Amoroso served as President and CEO of Rovi Corporation until December 2011… Mr. Webb, the Chairman of LiveOps, Inc., served as that company's CEO until July 2011. Prior to that, Mr. Webb was Chief Operating Officer of eBay and Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Gateway, Inc., in addition to management, leadership and board positions at several other companies spanning his 30-year career.

The board continues its search for additional independent directors.”

The inimitable Kara Swisher reports on AllThingsD that the mass departure had been rumored since at least last month, when unnamed sources said this specific quartet of executives would be following Jerry Yang.

Yang himself left the Yahoo board and all his roles at Yahoo on January 17. In departing, Yang wrote a letter to Bostock, saying, “The time has come for me to pursue other interests outside of Yahoo. As I leave the company I co-founded nearly 17 years ago, I am enthusiastic about the appointment of Scott Thompson as Chief Executive Officer and his ability, along with the entire Yahoo leadership team, to guide Yahoo into an exciting and successful future."

The entire leadership team, that is, except for Joshi, Wilson, Kern, and Bostock himself, apparently.

For those who needed a reminder, Yahoo has had a particularly turbulent period of executive turnover. After firing former CEO Carol Bartz, the company was leader-less for months.

Finally, at the beginning on 2012, the board named nerd extraordinaire Scott Thompson to the CEO position.

The company has also been dodging unsolicited acquisition offers and simultaneously trying to trade its stake in Asian giants Alibaba and Softbank for a little cash and a lot of focus on domestic products.

Jerry Yang photo via Flickr/Yodel Anecdotal

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Cloud companies rejoice: Amazon S3 lowers prices for storing your precious terabytes

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 01:21 PM PST


Amazon Web Services, the world’s largest cloud infrastructure provider, has lowered the price of S3 cloud storage for its basic U.S. customers, the company announced today.

Just last week, AWS reported massive growth for objects stored in S3, with a staggering 192 percent increase year-over-year. At the end of 2011, there were 762 billion objects stored in Amazon S3, which is 500 billion more objects than the same period in 2010. And now all those U.S. companies that contributed to the increase in S3 stored objects will get a slight price reduction.

“With this price change, all Amazon S3 standard storage customers will see a significant reduction in their storage costs,” wrote Amazon Senior Manager of Cloud Computing Solutions Jeff Barr on the company’s S3 blog. “For instance, if you store 50 TB of data on average you will see a 12% reduction in your storage costs, and if you store 500 TB of data on average you will see a 13.5% reduction in your storage costs.”

MeetingBurner, an online meeting company built on AWS’s cloud infrastructure that launched out of beta today , told VentureBeat that it uses Amazon S3 to store recordings of meetings. Amazon’s overall level of service has gone up while the cost of cloud services has gone down, said MeetingBurner President John Rydell in an interview.

“The service is already extremely affordable and now it will be even more so,” Rydell said. “They charge us so little we almost think of it as zero. We used roughly 1 terabyte of storage in January and it cost us less than 100 bucks.”

You can see Amazon’s full price changes for S3 U.S. customers below:


Cloud photo: Kevin Dooley/Flickr

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Biggest Super Bowl loser is Netflix: Traffic down 40 percent during the game

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 01:01 PM PST

LoserThe next time a nefarious organization wants to keep people off the Internet, it would do well to engineer its own championship professional football game.

Web traffic dropped significantly during this past Sunday’s Super Bowl football match between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, according to a Sandvine report published today. But with this year’s game bringing in a record 111.3 million viewers, the Sandvine’s findings aren’t entirely surprising.

Overall internet traffic during the game was 20 percent lower compared to an average Sunday evening, as shown in the graph embedded below. And in this case, the biggest loser of the night was Netflix and not the Patriots (unless you’re a Pats fan). Compared to the average Sunday evening traffic, the popular streaming video service saw a whopping 40 percent decrease in activity during the game (see graph below).

Alternately, the NBC Sports official website, which legally streamed the live event for the first time, saw a noticeable bump in visitor activity. Sandvine reports that the site accounted for 6.2 percent of all downstream internet network traffic at 9 p.m. ET. However, the legal Super Bowl live stream didn’t have much of an impact on the the television viewership, which is exactly what NBC Sports digital head Rick Cordella predicted prior to the game.

In addition to NBC Sports, social media networks saw a large surge in visitor activity during the game. Microblogging site Twitter was at the forefront of that surge — with the Super Bowl breaking a new traffic record for the highest non-anime-related tweets per second (TPS) metric.

Super Bowl and Netflix

Super Bowl's effect on web traffic 1

Super Bowl web traffic 2

Loser movie poster image from Sony Pictures: Netflix; Graphs: Better Broadband Blog

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LA-based Viddy steals $6M from Silicon Valley VCs for social video

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 12:19 PM PST

Social video startup Viddy has raised its first round of institutional funding — a healthy $6 million from Silicon Valley venture firms.

Battery Ventures led the round, which also saw participation from Qualcomm. Outside the Valley, New York’s Greycroft Ventures also joined in the financing.

Viddy, which lets users share 15-second video clips, will use the funding to bring its app to Android tablets and smartphones as well as to the iPad. BlackBerry and Windows Phone apps are also in the works.

Viddy also lets users edit unique audio tracks, visual effects, and transitions into their clips; it bills the app as a sort of Instagram for video. Videos can be shared automatically across most social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The company credits much of its success to celebrity users like Snoop Dogg and Internet savant iJustine.

The concept is similar to that of the recently pivoted social app Color, which lets users upload 30 seconds of video, sans editing, and other micro-video apps we’ve seen come and go over the years.

"We continue to be excited by the growth and engagement of the Viddy community and by the visually entertaining quality of videos created and shared around the world every day," said Viddy co-founder Brett O'Brien in a release today.

"Given the incredible growth numbers that we have seen, we're looking forward to making Viddy available on more platforms and to more users globally."

To date, the startup has taken $8.2 million in funding. Viddy was first launched in April 2011.

Image courtesy of Goodluz, Shutterstock

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Siri makes up 25% of all Wolfram Alpha searches

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 11:54 AM PST

iPhone 4S SiriApple’s virtual assistant Siri has found a good match in Wolfram Alpha, the computational search engine from Mathematica creator Stephen Wolfram.

Siri now accounts for 25 percent of all searches made on Wolfram Alpha, the New York Times reports in a profile of Alpha’s upcoming premium service.

The figure shows that there’s a lot for average users to get out of Wolfram Alpha, especially when they don’t even realize they’re using the service. Siri taps Wolfram Alpha to compute basic calculations, get facts, and perform a multitude of other functions. Siri’s heavy usage of Wolfram Alpha is all the more impressive considering that it’s only available on the iPhone 4S at the moment, and it launched just a few months ago.

The deep integration with Wolfram Alpha is one of the many aspects of Siri that make it much more than just an upgraded version of voice commands. Being able to instantly tap into the computation engine makes Siri seem downright intelligent at times. Google is said to be working on its own Siri competitor, codenamed “Majel,” but if the company really wants to recreate Siri’s magic, it would do well to integrate Wolfram Alpha in a similar way.

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Path is grabbing names, numbers, and emails from users’ phones

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 11:49 AM PST

Path users were hopping mad today because of a brief post from Arun Thampi claiming that new social-network is collecting personal information.

The iOS developer, based in Singapore, was poking around Path’s API for a hackathon when he stumbled on request which sent his entire contact list, including names, emails, and phone numbers, to Path.

“Now I don't remember having given permission to Path to access my address book and send its contents to its servers, so I created a completely new ‘Path’ and repeated the experiment and I got the same result — my address book was in Path's hands,” he wrote on his blog.

Thampi was careful to say that he didn’t believe this was a nefarious grab by Path to access sensitive personal data. He just noted that it was striking and a bit creepy how much information he was giving away without explicitly being asked for permission.

Apps, like the Aurora Feint game, have been de-listed from the App Store by Apple in the past over similar behavior. On Android users are prompted for their approval when an app asks for this kind of access to their contacts.

In a lot of ways this should have been obvious. Path’s goal is to connect its users with a more intimate social network than Facebook. There is nothing more intimate than the names and numbers on a person’s phone. And Path has kept this practice in plain sight, for example on the Wikipedia page about the company.

This is the sort of gut, OMG, reaction that occasionally flares up when someone bothers to look under the hood of the apps that millions of folks download and share their data with every day.

Path CEO Dave Morin responded in a comment on Thampi’s post:

Arun, thanks for pointing this out. We actually think this is an important conversation and take this very seriously. We upload the address book to our servers in order to help the user find and connect to their friends and family on Path quickly and efficiently, as well as to notify them when friends and family join Path. Nothing more. We believe that this type of friend finding & matching is important to the industry and that it is important that users clearly understand it, so we pro-actively rolled out an opt-in for this on our Android client a few weeks ago and are rolling out the opt-in for this in 2.0.6 of our iOS Client, pending App Store approval.

After Morin’s response, the tempest in a teapot continues to rage. Path users are asking for their data to be deleted and threatening legal action. Others are saying that this violates Apple’s terms of service and are asking for Path to be pulled from the App Store. Path recently relaunched its app to critical acclaim and saw its membership double to 2 million.

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Japan’s DeNA generates $445M in Q4 revenues for mobile social gaming network

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 11:38 AM PST

Japanese mobile social gaming company DeNA reported that its sales for the third fiscal quarter ended Dec. 31 were $445 million, up 16 percent from a year ago.

The numbers are pretty big for a mobile game platform, and they show the potential of what could happen as mobile social gaming networks take off in places such as the U.S.

Operating income was $176 million, down 8 percent, and net income was $78 million, down 26 percent from last year. All of the financials were down compared to the second fiscal quarter ended Sept. 30.

The company said sales in the core social media segment in Japan were up from 25.5 billion yen to 30.2 billion yen but down from the second quarter of 31 billion yen.

DeNA’s mobile social network Mobage has 35.92 million subscribers, up from 32 million three months ago. Players are using more virtual currency in Japan as third parties are using it in more and more titles.

Isao Moriyasu, president of DeNA, said that the company’s goal remains to execute on its cross-border strategy for spreading Mobage around the world. He said that growth in the quarter was led by third-party games.

Mobage has more than 1,300 social games in Japan alone. In other news, DeNA bought a Japanese pro-baseball team, rebranding the outfit as Yokohama DeNA BayStars. The company reported an $8.5 million cost and $3.9 million security payment.

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Klout buys community app Blockboard, confirms intent to score offline influence

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 11:26 AM PST

Money can’t buy you friends, but in the case of influence tracking startup Klout, money can buy you neighbors and possibly an understanding of the social dynamic linking people in communities.

Klout, a San Francisco-based company that attempts to quantify a social media user’s reach, has used a chunk of its estimated $30 million in new funding to purchase the community-centric company Blockboard for an undisclosed sum.

Blockboard makes an iPhone application designed to connect neighbors through a mobile community bulletin board. The app is currently only available to users in San Francisco neighborhoods.

“We acquired Blockboard to really invest in bringing Klout local and mobile for our users,” a company spokesperson told VentureBeat. “Everyone has influence, whether it’s in tech, or cooking, or in their local neighborhood, and we’ll integrate Blockboard’s technology, expertise and team to help fulfill that vision.”

“If you've been following Blockboard (or using it in San Francisco), you know that we're all about using technology to connect neighbors and build stronger neighborhoods,” Blockboard explained in a blog post on its sale. “Along the way we've learned a lot about how local communities work, including the fact that people often rely on influence to build relationships with those around them.”

In short, both companies are suggesting that they can align forces to find the most influential community members in real world environments, but just how exactly Blockboard will be incorporated into the Klout experience remains to be seen.

Here’s our educated guess: Klout will tap Blockboard to understand the relationships between community members and eventually assign scores for offline influence. And should it successfully do so, the startup will mature into an influentially more significant company for advertisers and brands.

So we put the question to Klout directly, and asked whether the startup intends to score offline influence. “We haven’t gone there yet or set any timelines,” the rep said, “but just as Google seeks to understand the world’s information, we seek to understand the world’s influence, so it’s part of our vision for the future.”

Blockboard arrived on the neighborhood scene two years ago. The company previously went by the name BlockChalk and raised $1 million in funding. Kloud declined to share financial details of the acquisition.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

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