09 February, 2012



Read all 191 pages of Steve Jobs’ FBI file

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 09:08 AM PST

The FBI has released its full dossier on Steve Jobs.

Jobs, who passed away just last October after a prolonged battle with cancer, is best known for his role as Apple’s enigmatic co-founder. However, the FBI seems to have cast Jobs in a number of other roles, as well — some of them far from flattering.

The file, which we’ve embedded below, contains commentary on Jobs’ marijuana and LSD use, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, his ability to “distort reality,” and what the Bureau called his “questionable morality.” At least one interview stated that Jobs had “basically abandoned” his daughter and the girl’s mother, a onetime girlfriend of Jobs.

Other sources quoted in the file describe Jobs as being a man of honest character and integrity and as not having any bias or prejudice. One source countered comments on Jobs’ past drug use by stating that Jobs had reformed to become extremely health-conscious, rarely even drinking alcohol.

On more neutral ground, many comments paint a portrait familiar to followers of Jobs’ life and career: A stubbon, strong-willed, driven, and hardworking man who was most content when he got what he wanted out of any given situation or person.

The interviews used in the report were gathered while Jobs was being considered for an official government position as part of George H.W. Bush’s administration in 1991. At the time, Jobs was working at NeXT, a computer company he co-founded after being ousted from Apple.

The file also discusses a 1984 class action lawsuit against Apple and a 1985 bomb threat against Jobs himself.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Your odds of staying married in Maplestory may be better than in real life

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

Maplestory weddings

Marriage in online role-playing game Maplestory is serious business. Just ask some of the folks who found themselves marrying other players in the game, or the marriage and family therapist who weighed in on their online relationships.

Marriage expert Athena Carrillo Lee of Mind Body Spirit Therapy in Los Angeles had a few words to say about those who virtually tie the knot.

When asked why people form these in-game relationships, she said, "Some players might forge online partnerships because they see it as advantageous, the way someone might marry for money — no offense to those of you with those values. Others, who play in order to socialize, might forge a partnership because they wish to flirt, romance, and marry, as these are certainly social activities."

Carrillo Lee rates these sorts of bonds quite positively. "If someone is only capable of social interaction at this level, then I'm grateful they have some level of interaction," she said.

Sadly, for those looking for romance on Maplestory, the odds aren't great. In 2010, of the 26,982 in-game marriages performed, 20,344, or 75 percent, ended in a virtual divorce. The good news? If you are still interested in finding love, Maplestory divorces dropped to 46 percent in 2011, at least for North American gamers.

According to DivorceRate.org, the divorce rate in America for a first marriage is 50 percent. That goes up to 67 percent for a second marriage. By the third marriage, it's 74 percent. So it seems you may have a better shot staying married in a game than in real life.

But just like real life, you have to watch out for angry exes in Maplestory. One married player was hit with the classic, "You're not the person I fell in love with." His virtual spouse said he didn’t seem to care about her anymore. It gets worse: The gal logged into his account and started dropping the items in his inventory, and that's when he decided to cut ties with her. Like I said, marriage in Maplestory is serious business.

As for how to be successful in your online marriage, Carrillo Lee says, "Don't marry to get something, marry to share something — you. It's a great way to get to know yourself."

Filed under: games

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Google’s Motorola bid set for approval, but it won’t be the end of patent wars

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 08:24 AM PST

google-motorolaGoogle’s $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility will likely be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice next week, sources tell Bloomberg, but don’t expect Google to backtrack on Motorola’s contentious patent litigation tactics.

Purchasing Motorola will grant Google over 17,000 mobile patents in addition to the phone maker’s handset assets. Many had expected Google, which has historically argued against the trend of patent litigation from the likes of Apple and Microsoft, to use its newfound patent collection to defend against attacks from others.

But now that it’s more equipped to go on the patent offensive, Google is showing no signs of relaxing Motorola’s initial demands for patent royalties and harsh injunctions.

In a letter sent to the IEEE and other organizations yesterday, Google said that it endorses Motorola’s royalty demands of up to 2.25 percent for the price of entire products from Motorola and Apple, FOSS Patents’ Florian Mueller reports. That’s a particularly high royalty fee, and if applied to something like a car, it would end up costing manufacturers thousands of dollars per unit. Even worse, Google is taking a hard-line approach when it comes to injunctions, which could force other companies to stop selling products that infringe on Motorola’s patents. The only way to avoid injunctions, the company says, is to accept Google’s royalty demands.

All of this is certainly a far cry from Google’s promise to adhere to “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) licensing in the very same letter.

“If they [Apple] asked for 2.25% of the price of a baseband chip, they would at least propose a reasonable royalty base and one could then talk about how many patents go into such a chip and what the relative value of their patents is,” Mueller writes. “But 2.25% of the selling price of the product as a whole is absolutely out of step with the concept of FRAND and with industry practice.”

Right now Google’s stance on patent litigation seems more than a little hypocritical, so I’m hoping the company offers up some sort of clarification soon.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Oracle agrees to buy SuccessFactors rival Taleo for $1.9B

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 07:48 AM PST


Software titan and now cloud services provider Oracle has agreed to acquire talent management cloud company Taleo for $1.9 billion, the companies announced today.

The deal greatly mirrors the $3.4 billion acquisition of employee performance management software provider SuccessFactors by enterprise software giant SAP. Oracle and SAP are involved in an intensifying battle for large enterprise customers, as their software and cloud offerings begin to overlap. With SAP buying SuccessFactors, the only proper thing for Oracle to do was to buy a SuccessFactors rival so it can convince customers that it’s on top of its game.

In context, Oracle’s decision to buy Taleo is a bit funny when you consider that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison (pictured) used to fiercely shun cloud solutions, calling them at times "water vapor" and "idiocy." But Ellison decided to stop worrying and love the cloud in October 2011 with the announcement of the Oracle Public Cloud, infrastructure as a service (IaaS) for customers that want to deploy Oracle Fusion apps in a public cloud, or want to develop Java-based applications with cloud backing.

Together, Oracle and Taleo will offer wide-ranging cloud solutions for managing human resources. The companies expect that the combo of services will “empower employees and managers to effectively manage careers throughout their entire employment, enable organizations to retain talent and optimize costs, and improve the employee experience through faster on boarding and better collaboration with team members via social media.”

“Human capital management has become a strategic initiative for organizations,” said Thomas Kurian, Executive VP of Oracle Development, in a statement. “Taleo’s industry leading talent management cloud is an important addition to the Oracle Public Cloud.”

Do you think the Taleo buy is a good move for Oracle?

Larry Ellison photo: Oracle/Flickr

Filed under: cloud, deals

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“Agile” grows up, readies to take over your whole business

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 07:18 AM PST

Agile, a software development methodology born back in 2001, has now entered the mainstream. According to a Forrester Research report issued last month, Agile is not only used in several of the world’s leading companies now but is being applied in areas beyond software development.

For those of you unfamiliar with Agile, it's an approach to software development that is faster than the more traditional "waterfall" software development process. With the waterfall approach, which had its roots in the 1960s, projects went from requirements to design to implementation, etc, like steps in a waterfall. Each stage had to be finalized before the next could be started. The process would take years, and as a result, innovation, new product development, and system upgrades were curtailed.

Agile got its start in 2001 with the signing of the Agile Manifesto. It was created to deliver software projects faster, but also with an emphasis on more value. Today, almost all technology companies and businesses that leverage technology in their day-to-day operations have adopted the more efficient method of Agile, also known as Lean software development.

But as the Forrester report points out, Agile has now entered a new stage of its history. It is still very much about teams getting better at building software, but it's also becoming more about moving the rest of the business forward. So today, there are two concurrent states of Agile. There is the traditional state where most companies are looking at Agile as the new software development approach and making statements like 'we need to go agile'. And there's the state where companies are applying Agile to areas within the organization such as, portfolio management, project management, vendor management, contracting, etc.

For example, one insurance company needed to quickly develop an application for its sales team and saw Agile as an enabler, but that's where it began and ended. The company gave little thought as to how Agile could be applied elsewhere in the organization as a philosophy and operating principal.

However, another business, one of the world's largest shipping companies, applies Agile across the entire life cycle of its business. The organization has embedded Agile practices from the idea management phase at the beginning of the life cycle through to the prioritization of value and to how the backlog and work-in-progress is formed. In other words, the same practices you would expect to see in only the application development layer are now present further upstream, bringing IT and business processes into greater alignment.

Using common Agile practices such as user stories, business value estimation and prioritization, and visual mapping at the forefront of the life cycle enables a smooth transition into the development stages later on. This is the preferred way of Agile – the direction in which it's moving.

The next phase of Agile, the Agile of tomorrow, is going to have a strong focus on delivering business value across a larger landscape, including portfolio management, procurement, and business strategy.

The future of Agile will build on the existing improvements and involve a third set of practices designed to increase the amount of measurable value emerging from the value stream. New ways of dealing with the collaboration and integration between software development and IT operations (i.e. the system engineer and the systems administrator) and real continuous feedback are examples of these practices.

To maximize investment in Agile, businesses jumping on the Agile bandwagon today need to be aware of this trajectory and be ready to adopt these new practices.

Alex Adamopoulos is CEO of Emergn, a global IT services company that provides advisory, consultancy, delivery, and education services to drive IT change using Agile and Lean principles.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Fueled by mobile madness, Appcelerator acquires Cocoafish

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

As long as consumers are crazy about mobile apps, developers will build them — and as long as developers are cranking out mobile apps, companies like Appcelerator will continue to flourish and snap up companies like Cocoafish.

In a nutshell, both Cocoafish and Appcelerator are in the business of making mobile development a lot easier, and the latter has just announced its acquisition of the former. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Appcelerator is a mobile platform company, and Cocoafish provides a suite of APIs for mobile infrastructure. Together, the combined entity will include even more tools for developers to quickly churn out feature-rich and engaging applications for smartphones and tablets.

"Nearly all of our developers and customers have been manually adding cloud service functionality to their mobile applications since we launched Appcelerator's Titanium Platform three years ago," said Appcelerator CEO Jeff Haynie in a release.

"Cocoafish is by far the most complete mobile cloud solution, and combined with [Appcelerator's] Titanium Platform, Appcelerator is delivering everything a developer needs to build rich, connected applications.”

Cocoafish’s cloud-based products include more than 25 mobile features such as including location, push notifications, photo editing, and social and sharing features.

Also, Appcelerator said it will publish iOS, Android, JavaScript, and REST SDKs so app developers using Objective C, Java, PhoneGap, Sencha, and HTML5 can build instantly scalable server-side backends, add network features without writing code on the server side, and deploy apps with a single click.

By the end of Q1, these features will be integrated into Appcelerator’s current offerings. The acquiring company expects to launch Cocoafish as “Appcelerator Cloud Services" (ACS) early in the second quarter. At that point, the Cocoafish features will be integrated with the Titanium Platform with cross-platform SDK support for non-Titanium developers. The cloud services will be priced according to usage in a tiered system.

Appcelerator has been on something of an acquisition spree lately. Late last year, the company bought Particle Code, the HTML5 mobile platform that turned heads (and won official recognition) at DEMO in 2010.

The company also acquired Aptana in January 2011, which brought an enterprise-grade IDE into the fold.

It’s worth noting that Appcelerator closed a $15 million round of funding just a few short months ago; we’re sure the extra cash was helpful for making this strategic acquisition.

Image courtesy of Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

Filed under: deals

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Mark your calendars: Apple may announce iPad 3 in early March

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 06:33 AM PST

ipad_2One year after Apple unveiled the iPad 2, the company is set to announce the iPad 3 in the first week of March, sources have told AllThingsD.

The event will likely be held at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, which traditionally houses Apple’s largest announcements. The timing makes sense for Apple since it launched the iPad 2 in early March last year.

There’s no word yet on when the iPad 3 will actually be available (or if it will even be called that), but we can expect it within a week or two after the announcement.

At this point, we expect the iPad 3 to offer a faster processor, faster graphics, and a higher resolution retina display. Apple will likely include its new A6 chip in the iPad 3, which was initially expected to be a quad-core chip, though recent rumors now allege it to be a faster dual-core processor.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Trion Worlds teams up with Shanda to take Rift online game to China

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 06:30 AM PST

Chasing World of Warcraft in its biggest market, Trion Worlds is announcing today that it will launch its Rift online fantasy role-playing game in China in a partnership with Shanda Games.

In an interview, Trion Worlds chief executive Lars Buttler said that the move is the next logical expansion for Rift, which garnered more than 1 million registered users in its first four months on the market after its debut in March 2011. After five years of development, the launch of Rift was one of the first real challenges to Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, which has ruled the massively multiplayer online game market since 2004.

WoW generates more than $1 billion a year for parent company Activision Blizzard, which reports its earnings today. But Buttler said that European and U.S. revenues for Rift have topped $100 million.

The China expansion is an attempt to put more pressure on Blizzard, but it is a pretty big undertaking. Buttler said that Shanda was his first choice for launching the game in China, where government rules require foreign online game publishers to partner with a domestic Chinese game company. He said that the exact launch details and pricing haven’t been set yet.

On Feb. 1, Redwood City, Calif.-based Trion also announced that it would offer "Rift Lite," a version of the game that will allow anyone with a Trion account to experience the first 20 levels for free. The move is similar to one Blizzard Entertainment took in June 2011 with World of Warcraft, which has more than 10 million paying users. Rift currently costs about $30 at retail and $15/month for the subscription plan.

Buttler said that he predicts that 2012 will be a great year for game companies, with a lot of expansion and transformation as online gaming gathers even more momentum.

Buttler declined to disclose the financial terms of the deal, but he said that it is one of the “biggest licensing deals ever in China.” He said the partnership is a broad one that will allow Shanda to launch an exclusive version of Rift that is localized in Chinese. He said that Trion will learn a lot from the deal, and was proud to show that online gaming isn’t just about Asian games moving into the U.S. market. He believes the appeal of games such as Rift, which has a dynamic environment and ever-changing storyline, is universal.

“We are setting the standard,” Buttler said. “This is gaming at the deep end” in contrast to shallow online games on social networks. Alan Tan, chief executive of Shanda Games, promised a “blockbuster launch” for Rift in China.

Trion recently raised $85 million in a strategic round of growth equity financing. Later this year, Trion plans to launch a third-party publishing platform dubbed Red Door. Other Trion Worlds gaming coming soon include End of Nations and Defiance. The company has more than 500 employees.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Boston companies: Last chance to meet with the best mentors in town

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

Just a friendly reminder that we’ll be in Boston next Tuesday, February 14, and we’re still looking for the best local companies to come meet with us.

We’ll be there as part of our global DEMO tour, and we’ll be partnering with three of the top mentors Boston has to offer. Antonio Rodriguez (partner at Matrix Partners), Katie Rae (head of Techstars Boston and Project 11), and Fred Destin (partner at Atlas Venture) will all be there with me (from VentureBeat and DEMO), at your service to provide feedback on your technology, business model, pitch style, or anything else that might help.

If you’re going to be in the area and your post-Super Bowl depression has eased enough to attend, please fill out this form by the end of the day today. If selected, we’ll be in touch shortly with more details. Looking forward to seeing you in Boston next week!

Filed under: DEMO

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Lucasfilm teams with social media startups to create giant charity run

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

How’s this for a mega geek fest?

Lucasfilm is teaming up with three social media startups to create the Course of the Force, a 120-mile relay run where a chain of joggers will carry a lightsaber like an Olympic torch to their final destination. The charity run will go from Santa Monica, Calif., to the annual San Diego Comic-Con International conference.

The whole affair will be broadcast on the web. Teaming up to stage the event are Nerdist Industries, Octagon, and Machinima. Participants can buy themselves a leg of the race with a $500 donation for a quarter-mile section of the run. Proceeds will be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I suppose you could call this a transmedia property, as it spans both the physical and online worlds.

“This is going to be a huge to-do,” said Peter Levin, principal at Nerdist Industries, which has a variety of web properties that appeal to the geek. “We think of this as a creative way to stoke fan culture, both online and offline. We’re in talks to distribute this in a variety of entertainment channels.”

The race will go from July 7 to July 11, ending a day before Comic-Con starts. Each runner will carry a lightsaber and hand it off to the next runner. Sponsors will have prize giveaways along the way at Star Wars-themed parties. The run will be announced this evening on the Jimmy Fallon TV talk show.

Nerdist Industries' founder Chris Hardwick and co-hosts will follow the action from the Course of the Force lead vehicle each day, broadcasting live to the Nerdist platform, including its YouTube channel. Machinima, the video entertainment network for gamers, will produce and simulcast exclusive Course of the Force content through its network.

Levin said he hopes to turn the run into an annual affair.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Driving app Waze builds its own Siri for hands-free voice control

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

In an effort to cut driving distractions even further, the crowdsourced driving app Waze today has added the ability for fully hands-free voice control to report traffic situations — bringing Siri-like functionality to the free app before Apple has released its own Siri API.

Waze’s solution is actually more advanced than Siri in one key way: you don’t need to awkwardly hold down any buttons to activate voice commands. Instead, Waze’s voice controls are activated simply by waving your hand over the iPhone’s screen while driving. Waze uses the iPhone’s proximity sensor to enable this functionality, and as you can see in the video below, it’s a particularly nifty gesture.

Once activated, you can speak commands to Waze like “report traffic,” which will let you give an account of the traffic ahead, or you can change your route by telling the app to “Drive home.” The company is utilizing the open source API OpenEars to power its voice controls, but it’s open to moving to an official Siri API when Apple makes it available.

Waze's free apps, which are available on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian phones, offers free turn-by-turn directions. But Waze's true value is its vast amount of live traffic data. Crowdsourced entirely from its users, the data makes Waze a far more useful alternative to standalone GPS units.

Waze VP Community Geographer DiAnn Eisnor tells me that they’ve been working on the feature, which has been one of the most requested from its rabid fanbase of 12 million users, for months. The company too found the feature important, as it will remove yet another major distraction for drivers while using its app. Waze has also disabled text input in the app while your car is in motion, which will discourage drivers from focusing too much on their phones.

The updated Waze app does take advantage of Siri when it comes to more complex voice controls, like looking up a specific address or local business, but it seems to just be using Siri’s dictation capabilities. The update also includes the ability to share your destination and ETA, and you can also tell your friends when you’re going to be late.

The voice control feature will first appear on the Waze iPhone app, mainly because it was the idea of Waze’s core iPhone engineer. It’ll hit other platforms eventually.

Waze is based in Palo Alto, Calif. and has raised over $55 million thus far.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Glam Media cooks up new Foodie.com social site

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 05:42 AM PST


After months of silence, Glam Media finally revealed its plans for the company’s next big site launch, Foodie.

VentureBeat broke the news that Glam purchased the Foodie.com domain for $100,000 back in June 2011. At the time, we theorized that the company was planning some sort of gender-neutral food/cooking vertical, despite already having food sections on both Glam.com and Brash.com, Glam's male-focused site.

“We were completely unprepared to talk about Foodie when VentureBeat published the news (this past summer), but now after two years of work understanding how social media has affected consumer behavior for interests in restaurants, recipes, and chefs, we’re launching Foodie,” said Glam Media CEO Samir Arora in an interview with VentureBeat.

Traditionally, Glam Media’s strategy for launching new sites involves intelligent curation of both original content and advertising that’s geared toward a specific subject or genre. However, Foodie marks a significant change to that strategy. The new site will serve as a full-fledged social network about food and will take advantage of Glam’s purchase of social media startup Ning in September. And while Foodie will also feature content and ad curation, Arora said eventually the site will brand out to offer web app products and resources for food lovers, much in the same way Google was able to build its web services adjacent to its main search engine product.

Foodie launches with over a hundred premium food writers, a panel of culinary ambassadors (five high-profile food critics and five top chefs), 1,000 new recipes, and a handful of branded content campaigns from brands like Betty Crocker and Dannon Yogurt’s Activia. Foodie’s culinary ambassadors will help nominate the world's top restaurants and provide regional guides that will be produced annually. The site is also rolling out a social ranking system to identify quality contributions to the site.

“Most social sites launch without any game plan for generating revenue and most of them end up failing,” Arora said, adding that there have been obvious exceptions to that like Twitter and Facebook. Foodie, on the other hand, intends to monetize itself upon launching. Arora said the site will initially reach 10 million consumers per month, and that food could eventually become Glam Media’s biggest category of concentration.

It’ll be interesting to see if Foodie can leverage its mix of content and ad curation to jump-start the social aspects of the site, and ultimately compel people to continue coming back whenever they start planning dinner.

Check out some screenshots of the new site below.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Nivio pulls in $21M to make cloud computing cheaper and more student-friendly

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 04:00 AM PST

Cloud computing and desktop virtualization are rapidly growing trends in the tech world, and one company has spent a considerable amount of time developing this technology. Nivio, which started as an idea in 2004, announced today it has received $21 million in its first round of venture capital funding.

Nivio lets you store up to 10GB of your documents, music, and movies in the cloud for free with nDrive. Your files sync across all of your devices — tablets, desktops, and laptops. And when you make changes to a document, Nivio saves bandwidth by only sending the changes you made, not the entire file.

But file storage isn’t all Nivio has up its sleeves. Its break-out product is nDesktop, the most current version of Windows that lives in the cloud and can be accessed on Macs, PCs, or tablets.

“We are delivering the next generation experience to the customer, so they can access their files and operation system without thinking about where they last worked on a file or worrying about maintenance of their machine,” Nivio chief executive Sachin Duggal told VentureBeat, ”We tell our customers not to worry about their old hardware, we will find the best way to deliver Windows to you.”

Duggal said Nivio has been working on cloud computing technology for the past seven and half years. Its three offerings — nDrive, nDesktop, and nApps — are available in several different packages aimed at students, educators, and small businesses.

The company’s nApps service lets you rent a program for 30 days rather than purchasing a full app or piece of software. The app store already has the full Microsoft Office suite and free apps such as Twitter and Evernote. The company is also in talks with Adobe to offer its products. In keeping with the cloud trend, you can access the app wherever you can access nDesktop. The service is especially helpful for students who may only need a program for one or two projects and can’t afford to buy the software outright.

Nivio is not the groundbreaker in the cloud desktop computing space; Citrix offers desktop virtualization and app downloads, but it focuses on enterprise customers. OnLive Desktop, another cloud desktop computing service, lets you run a pared down version of Windows on the iPad, although it will support more devices soon. Nivio, however, is much more focused on students and small businesses and claims to have put more development into its technology.

Nivio plans to use the substantial investment, led by Videocon and AEC Partners, to grow its product, expand its engineering team, and roll out its services in Europe, the Middle East, India, and Australia.

The company is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and Geneva, Switzerland, with offices in London and Delhi. So far Nivio has more than 120 employees and prior to the current funding, the company raised $9 million from Deutsche Bank and private investors.

Filed under: cloud, deals

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Blip chops off its “.tv” branding with a $12M investment sword

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 07:49 PM PST

Blip SwordIndie streaming video startup Blip.tv announced today that it will ditch the “.tv” from its name in the first of many steps to refresh and improve the company. Blip has also secured a $12 million round of funding to help see those improvement efforts through.

“Our research actually showed that people didn’t really identify web series as associated with television, so dropping the ‘.tv’ from the brand just made sense,” said Blip COO Steve Brookstein in an interview with VentureBeat. “It also fits in line with what we’re doing with the site overall.

The majority of people familiar with Blip probably still view it as a much smaller competitor of YouTube and Vimeo. And while Blip certainly falls into the same streaming video category, it’s evolved into something more distinct. For instance, Blip doesn’t cater to uploading random user-generated videos that don’t have a common theme or purpose. In other words, there aren’t any “fat grandpa plays show tunes with his nose hairs”-type clips.

Instead, the site is focused on becoming the number one place people go to watch original, “episodic” web shows, such as Red vs. Blue, Red Letter Media, CBR TV, and Annoying Orange. By eliminating all of the viral video noise found on other video sites, the best produced content gets a chance to promote itself by emphasizing things like a backlog of episodes, official website links, social media accounts, online merchandise store, and more.

Web show producers also have more of an incentive to push their content through Blip. For example, using the site’s HTML5 video player, show producers can embed their content into other websites for playback on desktop computers and iOS and Android mobile devices. Blip videos also get distributed across a variety of platforms, including (but not limited to) Google TV, LG, Tivo, Boxee, YouTube, Roku, Vizio, and iTunes. This amounts to an average of 13 million unique domestic visitors per month (30 million global) and 330 million video views per month, Blip claims. About 70 million video views per month are monetized, which is far less than what YouTube is able to deliver. However, Blip does offers web show producers a much better advertising revenue split, so it’s possible they’ll make more money despite the lower number of monetized video views.

Brookstein said Blip intends to use the new funding to improve the tools and services available to web show producers, like making the Analytics dashboard more detailed. The startup also plans to use the new capital to further develop its content distribution and advertising platforms.

The new $12 million round includes investment from Bain Capital, Canaan Partners, and existing investors as well as debt from Silicon Valley Bank. This round also includes the $6 million investment reported in December. The New York City-based startup previously closed a $5.2 million round in 2008 and a $10.1 million round in 2010. Blip has raised a total $30.3 million in funding to date.

[Sword image via ShutterStock]

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Skyrim creator Todd Howard shares secrets of video game design

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 07:37 PM PST

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim co-creator Todd Howard shared the secrets of video game design at the opening keynote of the annual DICE Summit in Las Vegas this evening.

In a speech before hundreds of elite game developers, Howard said that the secret to making games such as Skyrim — which has shipped 10 million units and has been rated one of the best games of 2011 by critics — is to approach it with discipline. Howard heads the Bethesda Game Studios, which is part of ZeniMax, a private equity-funded company that owns other studios such as id Software and publishes games under the Bethesda Softworks brand.

Howard, who has been making games at Bethesda for 18 years, said,  “I see games … as the ultimate combination of art and technology.”

He explained that games aren’t works of art that hang in a museum, but fun entertainment that has to run at a speed of 30 frames per second or so on an affordable consumer device. When the game works properly, you as the gamer feel like you created an experience that makes you feel proud of what you have accomplished.

“How people feel this sense of pride in a game is like nothing else in entertainment,” Howard said.

As for the actual craft, Howard said you have to build a great team that works well together.

“Your plan is not as important as your culture,” he said. That means you will run into problems that will disrupt your plan and schedule, and how you deal with that depends on the culture you have created within your team. He also said, “Your design is not as important as your execution.”

The game has to work. To create great games, Bethesda has developed three rules. First, you have to “define the experience,” Howard said. “Don’t define the game by the list of the features. Define it by the experience you want to have.”

For The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Bethesda team’s goal was to reward the player for exploration, and the game gave the player a whole world to explore. That was the same experience that Bethesda wanted to create 18 years ago with the very first version of The Elder Scrolls. The latest game took more than 100 people about five years to create. But the principles weren’t that different from 18 years ago.

The second rule is to keep it simple, Howard said. “We can do anything” in a game, he said. “We just can’t do everything.”

And the third rule is “Great games are played, not made.” You have to play your own game a ton and revise it. Once you do that enough, the full game will take shape. He added, “Work on more of the great stuff. Do less of the crap.”

If you do that, you’ll improve the little things that make all the difference to a gamer.

“Find things that a player does a lot,” like looking at a list of tasks to do. “Make that fun and entertaining. Take a repetitive action and make it simple and fun,” he said.

Howard said you can elicit creativity from your staff in a variety of ways. Each year, the company gathers its staff from various studios and holds a “game jam,” where developers take a week and create something from scratch. This time, after completing Skyrim, the goal was to create new cool things in Skyrim. The team created all sorts of new features, such as adopting children, building your home, goblins, enhanced underwater visuals, and fast travel. The game jam unleashed a lot of creativity from the staff.

When players put down a game because they’re bored or stuck, it’s not the player’s fault but the game developer’s, Howard said. Movies don’t make that mistake, as the cinematic trailer for Dead Island showed. The Dead Island film was spectacularly emotional, but the game play was a letdown by comparison. You want the player to feel like the “director of his experience,” Howard said.

Quoting the New York Times, Howard said that the Supreme Court’s ruling on violent video games shows that the law of the land now recognizes games as art. And now game designers have to show what they can do with that freedom.


Filed under: games

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Path-ological: In 2010, founder Dave Morin said Path never stored user data

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 06:15 PM PST

Dave Morin circa 2010

It’s the privacy snafu that will not die. A day after a developer discovered that mobile social network Path was storing users’ entire address books on its servers, the startup seemed to have defused the incident by apologizing and deleting all the personal data it had stored.

But now Gawker’s Ryan Tate has published an email he got from Path CEO Dave Morin back in 2010 in which the CEO acknowledges that his company looks through your contacts in order to suggest connections, but made it explicitly clear that, “Path does not retain or store any of your information in any way.”

That’s the opposite of what he said today in his apology, when he noted that Path users’ contacts, including phone numbers, names, emails, and addresses, were all “stored securely on our servers using industry standard firewall technology.”

We’ve reached out to Path for comment. TechCrunch is reporting that Path 1.0 didn’t have the “Add Friends” feature, and that Morin wasn’t lying since Path didn’t store user data then. This is a little confusing, since the email was prompted by a Dave Winer post, where he called out Path’s uncannily accurate suggestions for which friends to follow.

But it is clear from this email that Morin was being disingenuous in his apology today, when he wrote that, “Through the feedback we've received from all of you, we now understand that the way we had designed our 'Add Friends' feature was wrong. We are deeply sorry if you were uncomfortable with how our application used your phone contacts.”

Morin knew when he wrote Tate back in 2010 that users were not comfortable with the idea of Path storing their contacts. So he went out of his way to make clear that it didn’t. When Path made that change, it never alerted users, an oversight for which the company is now being forced to answer.

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Police seize Megaupload founder’s $4.3M home, let pregnant wife stay

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 04:56 PM PST

Government officials have Megaupload founder and accused money-launderer Kim Dotcom right where they want him — locked up in New Zealand awaiting an extradition hearing — but that’s not stopping them from kicking the Internet mogul while he’s down.

New Zealand authorities seized Dotcom’s $4.3 million Coatesville home today, according to The New Zealand Herald. The property, not previously seized in a January raid that took $16 million in assets, is currently occupied by the alleged crime-ring leader’s pregnant (with twins, no less) wife and three children.

Dotcom faces up to 20 years in prison for the supposed criminal activities of his file-sharing service Megaupload. Charges include conspiracy to commit racketeering, copyright infringement, and money laundering. The maligned kingpin continues to insist on his innocence but was recently denied bail in a New Zealand court and deemed a flight risk.

The home seized Wednesday is not the extravagant $30 million residence Dotcom was leasing at the time of his arrest.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that Dotcom’s family will not be evicted from the seized residence. “We’ll set up a property inspections to make sure there’s no damage, but other than that, the family can still enjoy it,” Official Assignee Guy Sayers told The New Zealand Herald.

[via CNET]

Photo credit: The New Zealand Heard

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Facebook gives us some clues about the next 12 months of Timeline

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 02:25 PM PST

Facebook product chief Carl Sjogreen gave developers and others a few clues about what to expect from Facebook over the next year.

At the Inside Social Apps conference in San Francisco today, the Facebook executive laid out the three most important parts of Facebook’s third-party development platform: Open Graph, mobile, and games.

“The point of Open Graph is … to let apps deeply integrate with Facebook and fill out your Timeline and enrich the News Feed,” he began. “It’s based on the belief that Facebook is more interesting … if it includes more than just your status updates.”

Most importantly, he stressed, “What you’ve seen of Open Graph so far is just a small taste of the overall vision.”

Structured data takes the driver’s seat

As we saw with the launch of Facebook Actions, many applications are adding more color to users’ Timelines through graphically appealing summaries of activity from within the app. Pictures you share, miles you run, foods you taste, and more actions all appear in well-organized sections on Timelines all over the site.

That’s the kind of structure that Sjogreen said is vital to making Platform apps easier and more engaging, as well as getting more distribution.

In the past, he said, “You’ve had to have a PhD in Facebook to get value out of building apps for Facebook.”

Now, with more structure added via the Actions feature, “By simply taking the actions you do in that app and adding them to Facebook … that lights up the Facebook experience,” Sjogreen said.

“I definitely think there will be ways to optimize Open Graph in terms of the kinds of stories you generate and how they aggregate,” he continued. “We’ve created a dynamic where more structured information is more interesting.”

Developers, he said, can expect to do well on Facebook with third-party applications by “taking the activity in the app you’re building and letting users add that to their Timeline in a structured way… just make that communication channel work."

Sjogreen went on to say that by giving Facebook “a more structured representation of the core activity within the application … we can turn Ticker and Timeline on (and whatever we come up with next) without a lot of extra effort.”

Again, Sjogreen stressed, what you’ve seen from Actions so far is just the beginning.

“We’re still figuring out all the right ways to structure data. But we want Open Graph to be a simple process for developers,” he said.

Games & mobile as growing parts of the Facebook ecosystem

Sjogreen also talked at length about the importance of Facebook-connected games to the overall platform, saying that for many millions of Facebook users, the games are what keep them on the site and keep them coming back.

“It’s critically important to us that games are successful,” he said. “There are some people who would find their Timeline incomplete without a lot of games activity.

“To the extent that we can help our games grow, because of that audience, it’s good for [game developers] and good for us.”

In fact, games are so important to the Facebook audience, Sjogreen said, “We have a whole Platform team focused on just making sure games are going well. That includes building games-specific features … to create discovery for games.”

He hinted that new Timeline Actions or stories might be coming to better highlight achievements, high scores, and other gaming milestones.

Even so, games isn’t edging out other types of Facebook apps in terms of attention or investment of effort. “It’s absolutely not true that we’re investing in one at the expense of the other,” Sjogreen said.

Finally, Sjogreen turned his attention to Facebook’s mobile ecosystem, which he sees as a largely untapped resource.

“We have 854 million people using Facebook every month, and half of them are using a mobile device,” he said. “It’s one of the least understood parts of our platform, given that it’s so new, and it’s also the most underused opportunity.”

Previously, Sjogreen said, Facebook’s mobile tools were not at all fleshed out. “Platform on a mobile device just didn’t work,” he admitted.

As Facebook creates more and better ways for third-party developers to reach that huge audience of Facebook mobile users, however, Sjogreen and the rest of the Facebook team hope app developers will find equally huge success with the mobile side of Facebook integration.

“We want as many mobile apps as possible to find that Facebook is an integral part of their success.”

Filed under: dev

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Foursquare for iPhone, Android enhanced with new Explore features and menu info

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 02:18 PM PST

A hungry sojourner should have an easier time tracking down a good meal if updated iPhone and Android applications from Foursquare deliver on their promise to simplify place discovery.

The New York location-based company, currently in the midst of a rebrand, has shipped colorful Explore tab updates to its most popular mobile applications.

The Explore tab, the home of place discovery, now features smarter search capabilities, a new navigation for quick access to top picks and trending locations, the ability to search beyond your present location, and the option to filter results to just the places your friends have been. The update, in essence, lets people explore the world either using the tips and check-in data of Foursquare’s growing user base or by tapping the expertise of their friends.

Also new on mobile are the menus of nearly 250,000 U.S. restaurants — which equates to 13 million menu items — accesible from venue pages. Menu and pricing information was added to the web experience a few weeks ago and has now been ported over to mobile.

The mobile updates underscore Foursquare’s commitment to the “virtuous circle of location-based content,” as head of product Alex Rainert previously said. The startup would like to see application users jumping between mobile and web products and serendipitously discovering new places of interest. Foursquare’s ultimate goal: to become your one-stop shop for location-based content.

But while current Foursquare explorers will no doubt find the improvements useful, the improvements are merely incremental. The company still has a ways to go before it outgrows a self-inflicted identity crisis.

Photo credit: RachelEllen/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Path CEO: We screwed up by uploading your personal data, and we’ve erased it

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 02:03 PM PST


The CEO of Path, a startup focused on sharing your life with just close contacts, has apologized after a hacker showed that Path’s iOS app uploaded extremely personal data to its servers without permission.

The company’s purpose in uploading that data was to help users better connect with friends and family in Path’s systems. But Path users, naturally, were up in arms that their contacts, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers were taken, and some called for Apple to block the iOS app in the App Store. Others threatened legal action.

CEO Dave Morin (pictured) said the company is sorry for what it did. He wrote in a blog post today:

Through the feedback we've received from all of you, we now understand that the way we had designed our 'Add Friends' feature was wrong. We are deeply sorry if you were uncomfortable with how our application used your phone contacts.

In the interest of complete transparency we want to clarify that the use of this information is limited to improving the quality of friend suggestions when you use the 'Add Friends' feature and to notify you when one of your contacts joins Path––nothing else. We always transmit this and any other information you share on Path to our servers over an encrypted connection. It is also stored securely on our servers using industry standard firewall technology.

In an act of contrition and a new-found commitment to privacy, the company has “deleted the entire collection of user uploaded contact information from our servers.” Path has also now rolled out an update to the iOS app that allows its users to opt in or out of sharing their personal data with Path’s servers.

Are you satisfied with Morin’s response?

Path CEO Dave Morin photo: Twitter

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Groupon reports net loss in first earnings, still doing great if you don’t count what it spends

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 01:30 PM PST

There were a lot of doubters who said Groupon was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme looking to cash out with an IPO. Groupon just reported its first quarterly earnings as a public company, and did better than many on Wall Street expected. Yet the stock is taking a beating, dropping 15 percent after hours trading.

The daily-deals company announced that revenue and active customers were way up on a year-over-year basis. The company said it was in the black for the first time, swinging from a $336.1 million loss to an operating income of $15 million. Reuters points out, however, that Groupon reported a quarterly net loss of $42.7 million, in large part due to high overseas taxes.

Again, there is a disparity between what Groupon is saying (hey look, we’ve gone from a loss to some operating income) and the reality of the situation (they reported a net loss while Wall Street was hoping for a small profit).

Marketing is a hot button for the company. Marketing expenses are down $28.7 million, with active users up 33 percent. Mason says the company is investing more in “transactional marketing,” which focuses on purchases, rather than just customer acquisition. He believes this has the ability to bring down the company’s marketing costs even more. Mason also explained that he sees “Groupon Now” customers becoming more loyal, and are more likely to become repeat customers. And, for the merchants, nine out of 10 customers spend more than the value of the Groupon itself.

Groupon is also particularly interested in continuing to make advances in its technology. The company has an “initiative” it has yet to announce, which will deal with expanding its technology. Recently, Groupon acquired Adku, an e-commerce promotional vehicle, which provides “suggested items” to customers. This technology alone is a boost to Groupon’s existing portfolio.

Check out their numbers below:

  • Revenue of $506.5 million, up 194% year-over-year
  • Free Cash Flow of $155.1 million, up 258% year-over-year
  • Operating Income of $15.0 million, up from $336.1 million loss
  • Non-GAAP EPS of negative $0.02, including $0.07 of tax from international operations, up from negative $0.53
  • Active customers increase to over 33 million, up over 275% year-over-year

Additional reporting by Meghan Kelly

Filed under: VentureBeat

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GigaOM buying ContentNext Media, will pick up paidContent, mocoNews, and other sites

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 12:55 PM PST


Technology blog GigaOM has agreed to purchase ContentNext Media, which owns paidContent, mocoNews, and several other websites with odd capitalization choices, the company announced today.

The move will help GigaOM increase its presence in New York City and Europe. The combined group of GigaOM and ContentNext will represent “more than 20 writers and editors,” according to paidContent. However, that’s not much more than the 18 editorial staffers listed on GigaOM’s editorial-team page.

Om Malik, founder of GigaOM, explained the decision in a blog post today:

A few weeks ago when Paul Walborsky, CEO of GigaOM, came to the board and suggested that we should try and acquire paidContent, my fellow board members — Jon Callaghan (True Ventures), Ammar Hanafi (Alloy Ventures) and Kevin Brown (Reed Elsevier Ventures) — didn't hesitate for a minute. The ethos of paidContent and our company are in sync. GigaOM's core belief is that as connectivity becomes ubiquitous, it changes everything from society to business to we the people. paidContent from the very beginning has been built on the idea that connectedness is and will change media. It makes perfect sense for us to team up. Since then, Paul and his team worked tirelessly to make it happen.

GigaOM is buying ContentNext from the Guardian News & Media Limited, with ContentNext’s properties consisting of paidContent, mocoNews, paidContent:UK and ContentSutra. The Guardian bought ContentNext in July 2008. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the amount is likely less than the $12.5 million The Guardian reportedly paid for ContentNext.

Om Malik photo: Jyri Engestrom/Flickr

Filed under: media

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Facebook woos photographers with new lightbox viewer, launching end of week

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 12:18 PM PST

Facebook lightbox 5

Facebook is rolling out its new lightbox photo viewer feature to all 840 million users by the end of this week, a spokesperson for the company has confirmed to VentureBeat. The new display helps make photos more attractive by showing them larger, moving comments off to the side, and graying out the background to minimize distraction.

“The new photo viewer is rolling out to everyone on Facebook and should be available to people worldwide by the end of the week,” the Facebook spokesperson said in an email.

The lightbox feature has slowly been released to pockets of Facebook users over the last week. The new display helps Facebook compete with other photo services and social networks that already offer bigger, crisper viewers that make photography shine. Facebook is the largest photo-sharing site online, with more than 250 million photos being uploaded each day, according to the company’s recent SEC filing. A recent study by Buddy Media and ComScore found that 17 percent of our time on Facebook is spent looking at photos.

“The biggest thing with photographers is they want their photos to look elegant and beautiful wherever they post them. Also, bigger is better,” photographer Thomas Hawk told VentureBeat.

Facebook’s new photo layout is a big step in that direction. The social network’s image viewer hasn’t been the most aesthetically pleasing. In the beginning, photos were small and lived on the actual web page. Then Facebook introduced its Theater feature, which turned the photos into pop-ups. Now, the lightbox feature dims the whole Facebook page and subdues the comments box by moving it to the right side of the screen. If you hover over the image you see options to Tag or Like the photo.

The new interface has also taken advantage of some under-used advertising real estate and now shows sponsored posts below the comments. As Hawk notes on his website, the advertisements are pushed down as more comments are added.

Hawk believes Facebook is becoming a great place for photographers to market their work. “It’s interesting,” Hawk said. “Ever since Google+ has come out and had success with the photography crowd, I think Facebook is trying to go a long way to improve photos.”

Hawk was recently contacted by Facebook after he published a blog post titled, “1,500 Kickass Photographers on Google+.” The Facebook employee asked Hawk what the photography community wanted out of the social network, how the community operates, and other questions on how to best improve Facebook’s photo products. According to Hawk, Facebook also reached out to other prominent photographers, such as Trey Ratcliff who Hawk refers to as “the most popular photographer on Google+.”

Photographers are enthusiastic about two other recent photo features on Facebook: the cover photo at the top of the new timeline feature and the new thumbnails. However, Hawk would still like Facebook to give photographers a way to crop their photos in the timeline so their art can best be displayed.

Google+ allows you to upload photos up to 2048-by-2048 pixels; any larger will be resized down. In 2010, Facebook increased its maximum photo size from 604 pixels, to 720 pixels on one side. Then, in February 2011, it bumped its photo size to 2048 pixels as well. Whether or not the lightbox feature compresses them down for viewing, however, remains to be seen.

Google, which many people pointed out had the lightbox function first on Google+, told VentureBeat that it does not comment on competing products.

Check out a gallery below of photos using Facebook’s new lightbox function.

Filed under: social

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Don’t call it a beta: Microsoft to unveil Windows 8 Consumer Preview on Feb. 29

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 12:12 PM PST

Microsoft’s long-awaited Windows 8 release for public testing will be unveiled at a press event in Barcelona on February 29, tying in with the Mobile World Congress occurring at the same time, the company announced today.

Originally referred to as the Windows 8 beta, the release will instead be called the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which gives us a pretty good idea as to Microsoft’s target audience (hint: not the techies running earlier builds of Windows 8). Microsoft didn’t specifically say the Consumer Preview will be available to the public on February 29, but from what I’m hearing that will likely be the case.

Why did Microsoft end up calling this a release a Consumer Preview, instead of just a beta? As ZDNet’s Ed Bott explains, it likely has to do with the confusing connotations surrounding the word “beta.” It used to refer to a software testing stage when companies wanted feedback from users, but thanks to Google’s wanton use of the beta tag on services like Gmail, just about anything can be called a beta release now.

As for what to expect from the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, we’ve already seen some of the games Microsoft is planning to include, and we know that the Start button is getting axed. According to the Verge, the release will also include several applications built for Windows 8′s Metro interface, including a Messaging App (tied into Windows Live Mesenger), SkyDrive, and Mail.

VentureBeat will be on-site at the Barcelona event, as well as for the rest of Mobile World Congress, so stay tuned for more.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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FCC rule change could kill off Boxee — and require set-top boxes for basic cable

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 11:37 AM PST

A provision of the Cable Television Protection and Competition Act that requires cable companies to provide unencrypted basic-tier cable could soon become obsolete, putting the life of young set-top box-maker Boxee in jeopardy.

A rule change, supported by the cable companies, is currently being considered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would enable the encryption of basic tier cable. A decision could be made in just a few weeks time.

The change would force consumers who currently connect their television sets directly to cable lines for free or low-cost basic-tier cable to use a set-top box (typically provided by cable companies for a monthly fee) for the same access.

“In the late eighties and early nineties, increasing numbers of cable systems started to encrypt their signals, and the rule was adopted to allow people to at least access some programming without renting a converter box,” said John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at open Internet advocate group Public Knowledge.

Depending on how the proposed change is enacted, low-income consumers could be hit with fees for services that were previously available to them free of charge. Public Knowledge, which initially came out in support of the proposed change because the FCC has already been issuing waivers on a system-by-system basis since 2009, has petitioned the FCC to allow for a transition period and require cable companies to provide low-capability set-top boxes free of charge to prevent “bill shock.”

But the group eventually stumbled upon a harmful side-effect of the new legislation that could wipe out innovation in the TV sector, and is now asking the FCC to seek further information.

“We think it’s worthwhile to make sure that the FCC doesn’t do a rule change that has negative consequences that they didn’t foresee,” Bergmayer told VentureBeat. The FCC, he said, has previously come out in support of innovation and competition around entertainment devices, but the rule-making should jeopardize the well-being of the startups bringing these very same devices to market.

Boxee, one such startup, makes a set-top box for watching Internet content on television sets. The company recently released a Live TV stick that acts as a high-powered HD antenna and provides streamers with access to local stations. The offering is the most compelling release yet for would-be cord cutters and thus a threat to the cable companies. But should the FCC eliminate unencrypted access to basic tier capable, Boxee’s Live TV stick would be useless for 40 percent of owners, and its business would be at risk.

As such, the startup, which only recently found out about the proposed change, presented concerns and research to the FCC on February 1. Boxee told that the FCC that permitting encryption would force millions of consumers to rent set-top boxes, harm startups in the space, and stifle competition in the marketplace. It also proposed the adoption of IP-based standards as an alternative solution.

Now, Boxee is asking its supporters to send notes to the FCC, and Public Knowledge is lending its support to the comparably little New York-based company as it goes to head-to-head with cable companies.

Unfortunately, the gossip on the street, Bergmayer said, is that the FCC could issue a ruling in a few weeks. The organization hopes that the FCC will keep the docket open long enough to make a more informed decision.

Photo credit: TV image/Shutterstock

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Paddle8 raises $4M series A led by Founder Collective to bring fine art online

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 10:49 AM PST

From Flick Commons

There are a number of startups in New York trying to coax the fine-art world out of its exclusive galleries into the bustling world of e-commerce.

The newest is Paddle8, a one-year-old Silicon Alley startup that raised $4 million from Mousse Partners, a private investment firm specializing in luxury goods, and Founder Collective, which funds tech startups.

“It’s a combined focus from our investors that will help us break down the barriers to the world of fine art and build up the technology to support our backend,” said Paddle 8 co-founder Alexander Gilkes in an interview with VentureBeat.

Paddle8 is seeing about 100,000 views a day on its offerings of around 2,000 hand-picked high net-worth art collectors. “Increasingly art buyers are a nomadic, global group that can be difficult for museums and galleries to track,” said Paddle8 co-founder Aditya Julka. “We want to be the platform that helps them feel comfortable online and streamlines the complex process of purchasing, insuring and shipping fine art.”

So far, Paddle8 has formed partnerships with big names such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Gagosian gallery. It worked with art sellers for the recent NADA fair, helping them to move pieces online before the event even got underway. Paddle8 collected a four percent commission on works it sold for the NADA fair, and takes a cut in the “low double digits” for items it sells when users browse its site.

“The art world definitely throws up some barriers when it comes to access, especially online,” Gilkes noted. “We’re very focused on not trying to change their modus operandi, but offering them value through our technology and making them feel comfortable with offering a digital preview of their works.”

That makes Paddle8 less of an existential threat to the curatorial class than New York’s Art.sy, which has generated significant buzz around its attempt to create a Pandora for fine art that learns users taste and recommends works accordingly. “Our customers can get instant insurance, they can get professional fine art shipping, these are things that have never happened before,” Gilkes explained. It’s a focus on serving the traditional players, not disrupting them.

Founder Collective’s David Frankel, who will be joining the board of Paddle8, agrees: “We were impressed with the traction and revenue Paddle8 was able to generate with very little capital. There are a lot of great plays out there around disruptive technology, but this is very much an investment in entrepreneurship.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Yammer possibly seeking a new $50M investment

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 10:05 AM PST

Rumors are circulating that enterprise-focused social network Yammer is raising a new mega funding round of more than $50 million, which would push the startup’s valuation near $1 billion.

Yammer provides companies with their own private social network that employees use to quickly communicate and update their activity throughout the day. A company’s Yammer network is closed off from public view and is only accessible to people who have a company-branded email address. Over 200,000 businesses are now using Yammer’s social service, including 7-Eleven, Red Robin, Ford, General Electric, Shell, Penn State University, and even VentureBeat.

The new round, which allegedly came together in the last two days, attracted over $100 million from interested investors, but Yammer may have settled on half that amount, according a PandoDaily report that cites sources familiar with the deal.

Yammer declined to comment about the funding news to VentureBeat, while stating that it had “no news to share at this time.”

However, there are several reasons why news about the new round might be true. First and most notable is the company’s year-over-year success. The startup claims to having more than doubled its total user growth to 4 million (compared to 1.6 million in 2010), tripled the amount of paid users to 800,000 (compared to 300,000 in 2010), and tripled the number of people employed from to 250 (compared to 80 in 2010). And speaking of hiring, Yammer has added some very notable executives to its team, including former Salesforce Vice President of Sales David Obrand.

Founded in September 2008, the San Francisco, Calif.-based startup has previously raised a total of $57 million in funding from Emergence Capital Partners, Charles River Ventures, Founders Fund, U.S. Venture Partners, and others.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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New Amazon deal brings MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central to Prime Instant Video

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 10:05 AM PST

Tyrone-Chappelles-Show-ViacomIf you’re considering an Amazon Prime subscription, you might be persuaded by Amazon’s new deal with Viacom to bring 2,000 new titles to the service.

The Viacom agreement will bring a new slate of programming to Amazon’s video offering and will include popular shows from MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central.

Amazon Prime, which costs $79 per year, is a service that gives customers free two-day shipping on most products and access to streaming movies and television shows. While the selection is paltry next to Netflix and Hulu Plus, this new deal will make the subscription service a bit more palatable.Prime is also attractive for Kindle Fire tablet owners because they can watch shows on that device, as well.

The deal will bring streaming TV shows from MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, TV Land, Spike, VH1, BET, CMT, and Logo. For adults, there’s shows like Chappelle’s Show (pictured), The Sarah Silverman Program, The Hills, Jersey Shore, and The Real World. For the kids, new content includes iCarly, Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Yo Gabba Gabba.

The new programming is so important that Amazon has placed the announcement front-and-center on its homepage today, with a letter from CEO Jeff Bezos. The letter stresses that the new shows will join “existing movies and shows from CBS, Fox, Disney-ABC, PBS, NBC, Sony, and Warner Bros.”

Are you an Amazon Prime subscriber? If you’re not, does this new selection of shows makes you more interested in the service?

Chappelle’s Show image: Comedy Central

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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3 strategies for making e-commerce truly social

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 10:00 AM PST

In just one year from now, we'll see social technologies disrupt e-commerce the same way they've already disrupted online gaming, music and news.

Commerce has always been social. Shopping in the real world is a form of social entertainment, and we turn to people we know for advice on products and services.

This social dimension, however, is not yet reflected in today's search-driven online ecommerce sites.

I've been deeply focues on social commerce within the Facebbok ecosystem for more than three years already, building out Oodle's classifieds service, and I've learned three core lessons that I think are broadly applicable to anyone working in the social commerce space.

1. Make your user experience more like TV than search
Users tune in to Facebook to be entertained or to discover new things. It's an experience driven by browsing and serendipity. Today's commerce experiences, however, are search-driven. They expect users to show up with intent. Amazon and eBay are great places to buy something once you're already in the market to buy, but they fall short for people who want to browse or "window shop" as a form of entertainment. To embrace social commerce, a new layer needs to be added to the top of the e-commerce purchase funnel, one fueled by serendipity and browsing. If you engage users in this way, they'll tune in more frequently (not just to buy something) and buy more things (that they discover socially).

One company that does this exceedingly well on TV is QVC. QVC shoppers tune in to shop with people they know – hosts and celebrities, as well as other members of the QVC community who call in. The experience, which is based on shared stories, is about discovering great new items rather than searching for specific ones.

2. Engage social circles beyond friends
Facebook defines its social experience through friends. A consumer's buying behavior, however, is also typically informed by broader social circles of trust that include friends, neighbors, and co-workers (for example, when picking a real estate agent); circles of taste or shared interest (for example, when shopping for a new pair of black leather boots); and circles of expertise (for example., when researching the right digital telescope).

To fully engage in social commerce, you need to build your own graph – one that complements Facebook's. Buying and sharing activity can be used to define broader social circles beyond friends – such as other people who share a love of gourmet cooking or are frequent business travelers. At the end of the day, this is really the social evolution of customer relationship management. Traditional CRM lets you to identify your customers so you can personalize the user experience based on a user's profile. Social CRM is about knowing your communities of customers beyond users and users' friends. This lets you socially personalize the experience based not only on a user's profile but also on what that user's communities are doing. For example, when a user is shopping for a suitcase, it would be helpful for an Amazon or an eBay to know which ones have been purchased, recommended or even looked at by friends, co-workers, and other business travelers.

3. Build out a footprint on Facebook
Having a native footprint (or "store within a store") on Facebook is critical for two reasons. First, to get the social flywheel rolling, you need to effectively engage users through the NewsFeed on Facebook. Sharing activity distributed to friends through the NewsFeed is best converted and propagated within Facebook where users are already in a social context. Oodle sees four times better social engagement (in terms of getting people to connect, share, comment, etc.) if we take users from the NewsFeed into our Marketplace application on Facebook (vs. out of Facebook to Oodle.com).

Second, it's hard to aggressively integrate social on a traditional e-commerce site that is well tuned for converting users within a search-driven experience. It's much easier to innovate with social commerce on Facebook where users expect a truly social experience. Indeed, the emerging best practice for social is to establish two points of presence: one on Facebook optimized for a deep social experience, the other a web presence where social is more lightly applied (and remains optimized for an intent-based funnel).

These three insights are grounded in one key idea: Social commerce requires more than the proliferation of share and connect buttons within the e-commerce funnel. It requires us to produce a truly new commerce experience in which users show up to shop (not just buy), and in which the interaction model revolves around other people who share their interests and passions.

Craig Donato is CEO of Oodle, which operates a network of online marketplaces with more than 15 million monthly unique visitors, including the Oodle Marketplace and Marketplace on Facebook.

[Top photo credit: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock]

Filed under: dev, social, VentureBeat

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Nexon invades Zynga’s turf with plan to launch Kart Rider on Facebook

Posted: 08 Feb 2012 10:00 AM PST

Nexon and Zynga are dueling to be the darlings of the new game industry. Nexon got big with free-to-play online games that you download over the web to a computer. Zynga dominates the casual game market on Facebook. Now Nexon is moving in on Facebook with the planned launch of its KartRider Dash game for the social network.

Tokyo-based Nexon, which went public in December, is launching the game as a free-to-play title — where users play for free but pay real money for virtual goods — on Facebook later this year. If it succeeds, it can establish a market for beefier games on the social network.

KartRider is one of Nexon’s huge successes with more than 270 million registered players worldwide. The new game will debut in open beta in March. KartRider Rush has already launched on iOS and Android, with more than seven million downloads since the spring of 2011.

Players will be able to race their friends through challenging maps and high-speed time trials while experiencing both new and familiar characters, race tracks and game modes. It will be interesting to see just how fast the game can be within the Facebook user interface.

Aron Koh, executive producer of social at Nexon America, said, “KartRider Dash will raise the bar for top-notch Facebook games, extending Nexon's strategy to expose our high quality games to the broadest audiences possible." KartRider Dash will join MapleStory Adventures, which is also available on Facebook.

Filed under: games

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