14 February, 2012



Skynet on the way: Mobile web devices will outnumber puny humans this year

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 09:44 AM PST


The rise of the machines is upon us. A new report from Cisco predicts that mobile Internet devices will outnumber people on Earth for the first time by the end of 2012 — a sign of ever-growing love and dependence on technology that always keeps us connected.

“By the end of 2012, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, and by 2016 there will be 1.4 mobile devices per capita,” Cisco stated in its latest Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update. “There will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices in 2016, including machine-to-machine (M2M) modules-exceeding the world’s population at that time (7.3 billion).”

Cisco’s new study also indicates that mobile data traffic grew more than two-fold in 2011, which is the fourth year in a row such traffic has doubled. 2011′s mobile data traffic was actually eight times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000, which shows just how rapidly the mobile web has been utilized across the world.

The study also presented some interesting tidbits about the state of 4G networks like Verizon’s LTE and Sprint’s WiMax offerings. Users with a 4G connection generated a staggering 28 times more traffic than a non-4G connection. At this point, 4G connections only represent 0.2 percent of mobile connections, but are already accounting for 6 percent of all mobile data traffic.

While it might be a little premature to say the machines are taking over a la Terminator (see the pretty guy above), having more connected web devices than humans as well as more ubiquitous web connections is a step in that direction. In the Terminator films, the machines are able to rise up against humans because they are diverse in capabilities and connected through the Skynet artificial intelligence system. Maybe we’re heading toward our own Skynet with our connected phones, tablets, and TVs that know an awful lot about us.

Oh, c’mon, stop worrying. Let’s play Words with Friends.

Terminator image: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines/Warner Brothers

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Social entrepreneurs use startups to change the world

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 09:25 AM PST

Leila Janah, SamasourceLeila Janah, cofounder of Samasource

Muhammed Yunus, a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank, sparked a movement with the simple question: "If you are a socially conscious person, why don't you run your business in a way that will help achieve social objectives?"

Today's young tech entrepreneurs have inherited Yunus’ vision, and are changing the way we do business. Their space, "social business," is nothing new, but these under-35s are attempting to alleviate global poverty, climate change, and even armed conflict through commercial enterprise.

There is no clear-cut definition, but most social entrepreneurs would agree that their overarching goal is to use business and business process to drive social or environmental impact.

"There is a growing group in Silicon Valley that believes that social business and technology can change the world," said Leila Janah. Janah, at 29 years old, is the founder of Samasource, which provides outsourced computer work to women and youth in the poorest pockets of the world, including India, Kenya, and Pakistan.

Impact investors, once a niche group, say they are now inundated by opportunities in this space.

"I was doing this in the mid to late 90s and I felt very lonely in that pursuit. There wasn't even a language for social or mission investment," recalled Stephen DeBerry, founder of Bronze Investments and partner at Kapor Capital. "But for young entrepreneurs today, it's considered the right thing to do and is viewed as being cool."

To illustrate the "straightforward business proposition," DeBerry delves into a discussion about his firms' energy efficiency strategy. In New York, schools are literally dripping mercury on children, he explains, with hazardous florescent lights from the 70s and 80s. "We pay to upgrade your lighting and make the money back over time as you realize the savings on your energy bill," said DeBerry. Someone has to change these light bulbs, which in itself is a job creator, and there is no shortage of buildings. "We could do this for a long time," he said.

Nick Flores is a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni who sources early-stage social businesses for the Investors' Circle, a network of angel investors and venture capitalists that uses private capital to promote a transition to a sustainable economy.

Flores, the Director of Investor and Entrepreneur Services, said there should ideally be a "yin and yang" between social and financial returns. It is Flores' job to locate small businesses that are capable of making a real impact in the world, and prepare them for a pitch at the firms' biannual fairs. Investors' Circle's greatest success to date? "Zipcar reduces carbon emissions and has a really scalable business model," he said.

After a series of successful acquisitions by Amazon and Motorola, Danny Shader, a serial entrepreneur, approached DeBerry with an idea for a payment system for virtual goods. DeBerry suggested that Shader focus on an under-served market, America's low-income "unbanked" population. One in four households don’t use credit cards, and are locked out of electronic commerce as a result.

Shader founded PayNearMe, a Mountain View-based startup, in 2009. Although the company is profitable, it has a social mission at its core: enabling millions of people to pay for online goods and services with cash.

“I’d like to take some credit for mentoring him, but not all the credit,” said DeBerry of Shader. “Danny is a smart guy, and I pointed him in the right direction. He saw there was a huge market there.”

Zipcar and PayNearMe, which DeBerry terms “profit-aligned social businesses,” have caught the attention of the tech community.

"There was a great hubris in Silicon Valley to create huge, billion dollar companies, but that's changing," said Janah. The Harvard-educated entrepreneur owes the success of her nonprofit to traditional tech companies like LinkedIn and Intuit. These clients immediately saw the value in Samasource: They need people to sort through mountains of data, and there are bright, young, employed Kenyans who are more than capable of doing the work. “It’s really a no-brainer,” she said.

On the other end of the spectrum, social investors are taking on some of the world's most complex problems. One example is The Portland Trust, a non-profit with a mission to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians through economic development and fostering entrepreneurship.

Sir Ronald Cohen, co-founder of the Portland Trust, recently announced the development of a Social Investment Task Force to reduce the social gaps in Israel through the private sector.

"What we're seeing now is a movement of both investors and entrepreneurs to the massive spectrum of opportunity in between the charitable NGO's and purely for-profit companies that solely care about their bottom line," explained Ophir Samson, project manager at the Portland Trust.

Samson, an exceptionally articulate 20-something, said social investment is not fully developed but it is "getting there and is growing extremely fast. There's a lot of money and talent from all sides of the market going into this."

The movement has had its ups and downs; perhaps the most prevailing problem is that there is no unit to measure impact. Generally speaking, it also costs more to do the right thing. Social investment is not about making fast cash. It is often a slow-burning, high-risk process that will not make entrepreneurs millions overnight.

With 50,000 visitors to its website per day (higher than any other nonprofit with the exception of Wikipedia), Kiva is often cited as the premier success story in this space. Kiva's President, Premel Shah, recently recognized as a young global leader by the World Economic Forum, said social investment involved "being more cognizant of how you consume and how you invest."

Kiva provides loans to institutions around the world, effectively enabling ordinary people to become social investors. Every four days, Kiva raises $1 million. Shah likes to describe Kiva as "social investment meets Match.com.”

Kiva offers loans to institutions in far afield countries, including Palestine and Yemen, but also provides funding for small businesses in U.S. cities like Oakland. "These are places where there's not a lot of commercial investment because the risk profile is too high. This is exactly where a social investor can step in and be a little bit more patient with their capital," Shah explained.

One such investor is Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, who will soon announce plans to invest $1 million in small businesses through Kiva's lending platform. “Kiva's innovative use of technology as a tool for crowd funding empowers everyday people, companies and major lenders to be social investors,” said Hoffman.

Yunus had the seeds of the idea for the Grameen Bank in the 70s, but it's our young generation, then in diapers, that is realizing the full potential of his vision. Thanks to their efforts, social enterprise is flourishing, and even the most traditional investors and entrepreneurs are on board.

As VentureBeat's own Ciara Byrne put it: “What's cooler than a million dollars? Changing a million lives."

Christina FarrChristina Farr is a Bay Area-based writer with a graduate degree from the Stanford School of Journalism. She covers entrepreneurship, technology, and investment trends. Christina works for, but does not speak for, Eastwick, an agency in Silicon Valley.

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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I want to go to there: Discover the love of travel with Afar’s new iPhone app

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 09:23 AM PST

For those of us who’ve always dreamed of traveling more, but need a bit of inspiration, Afar’s new iPhone app may be just the ticket.

Afar — which began as a travel magazine before hitting the web — is focused on experiential travel. Consider it the antidote to touristy travel guidebooks and sites like TripAdvisor. Afar magazine offers in-depth pieces about different locations and cultures, but the company took a user-generated approach when it came to building its website, which allows anyone to share travel experiences.

Now with its free iPhone app, which hits the iTunes store today, Afar is taking the user-generated concept a step further. You can now snap a photo with your iPhone, type up a quick description, and add it to Afar’s library of travel experiences.  Or you can gawk at the gorgeous photos submitted by other users and start planning your next trip. It’s like Instagram meets Foodspotting, but with a focus on dreamy travel locations. (Don’t be surprised if you start muttering “I want to go to there” to yourself like 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon.)

“Online travel sites in general started with booking, but there’s really no online presence that captures where travel starts,” Afar CTO Derek Butcher said in an interview with VentureBeat.

In addition to launching its iPhone app, Afar is also bringing its website out of beta testing today. Butcher tells me that the company didn’t want to take the approach of other magazines and dump all of its magazine content online. Instead, Afar came up with its user-generated concept to create a travel social network. The company now has 16,000 registered users on its website.

Both the Afar website and iPhone app feature snippets of content from the magazine, which could entice its users to subscribe.

Afar was co-founded by serial entrepreneur CEO Greg Sullivan, who poured $15 million of his own money to start the magazine back in 2008, and Joseph Diaz, the company’s VP of sales and brand development. The company has offices in New York City, San Francisco, and other locations.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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And the most in-demand tech skills of 2012 are …

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 09:15 AM PST

One way to find out what skills will be in highest demand this year is to look at job posts.

I decided to analyze recent Craigslist San Francisco Bay Area job ads. It's a good proxy for the local demand. The Bay Area is often a trend setter, and technologies that become popular here frequently gain broader adoption. So the findings can also be viewed as a leading indicator for other geographies.

Here are the key insights:

  • “Mobile” appears in 30% of all ads, winning the popularity (or hype?) contest.
  • Java continues to lead the pack among the development languages, followed by Ruby, Python, and PHP.
  • MySQL is by far the most commonly mentioned relational database.
  • NoSQL is featured prominently. Hadoop is first on the list of NoSQL databases, followed by Cassandra, Redis, and MongoDB.
  • Linux has little contest among the operating systems. Ubuntu is mentioned more frequently than CentOS.
  • Android is mentioned slightly more often than iOS/iPhone.
  • jQuery is the most commonly mentioned JavaScript framework.
  • Spring continues to be the most commonly mentioned Java framework.
  • Git outranks subversion among the source code management systems.
  • Selenium is the most frequently mentioned testing tool.
  • Drupal is the most frequently mentioned CMS tool.

I ran similar analysis a year ago. For the most part, the results were similar. But a few differences are worth noting:

  • Demand for mobile skills is accelerating. “Mobile” and “social” had similar mention frequency last year. This year “mobile” mentions are far ahead of “social”.
  • NoSQL skills requests increased significantly.
  • PHP mentions went down, Ruby went up.
  • Git overtook subversion.
  • Flash/ActionScript mentions went down.

The full top 50 list of tech skills most commonly featured in Craigslist posts follows. The counts reflect the number of posts a term appears in. Multiple mentions of the same term in a single post count as one. Counts reflect listings in the SF Bay Area Internet Engineering category between Jan. 1 and 31, 2012.

Bob Tekiela is a cofounder and CTO of 500friends, a San Francisco-based startup backed by Y Combinator. 500friends developed a social loyalty platform for retailers. Bob also writes a blog called CTO Insights.

Filed under: dev, mobile

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Apple looking to douse Kindle Fire with 8-inch iPad

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 09:10 AM PST

small ipadApple is in the process of testing a smaller version of its iPad tablet, a product that could help it steal away market share from smaller tablets like the Kindle Fire and Samsung Galaxy Tab, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

While the iPad is still by far the number one selling tablet in the world, Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire has had a relatively strong debut — though Amazon refuses to tell anyone exactly how many units it has sold. And then there are other smaller tablets in the market like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet and Motorola’s Xyboard tablets. Arguably, Apple has a good opportunity to create a smaller tablet to compete against these other devices.

Apple’s latest 10-inch iPad tablet, the iPad 3, will almost certainly be announced the first week of March and see release in the middle of that month. The iPad 3 is rumored to have a 2048-by-1536-pixel Retina display, a quad-core A6 processor, and 4G LTE networking. But we may not see a small-screened iPad debuting alongside the iPad 3 since Apple is still in the early stages of the development process. However, there has been previous speculation from Taiwanese publication Digitimes about a smaller iPad form factor would start production in mid-2012 and see release late in the year.

The Wall Street Journal report suggests that Apple has shown a new smaller tablet to suppliers that has a screen around 8 inches in size. The company is also reportedly working with Taiwan’s AU Optronics Co. and South Korea’s LG to create the test panels.

Ideally, the smaller form factor and a lower price could attract those who have small hands and feel the $500 base price for the iPad is too much. There are some consumers that simply prefer the 7- or 8-inch form factor simply because its lighter and better for reading during extended periods.

Would you be interested in buying a smaller version of the iPad?

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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How to speak the language of the app economy

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

Recently, a 12-year-old Irish boy named Harry Moran wrote a mobile app called PizzaBot. It hit the Mac App Store and within a week, it had surpassed Angry Birds, attracting fans from around the world.

Harry was an instant YouTube celebrity, and during a Public Radio International interview, he revealed was already hatching ideas for new games.

Welcome to the lighter side of the App Economy, in which software applications have the potential to be downloaded by millions in the blink of an eye and far greater opportunities are on the horizon.

There's a perfect storm brewing thanks to globalization, a tough financial climate, and incredible technology disruption. To compete and win, today's businesses simply have to be better engaged with their customer, partner, supplier, and employee communities.

The battle is being waged with apps — on the web and in the cloud, driven by mobile and social technologies. As the App Economy continues to unfold, the playing field and the rules of engagement are different than in decades past.

Five years ago, these kinds of apps didn’t even exist. Today, we've created a $4 billion app industry with roughly one billion mobile apps available to iOS and Android users, and the Apple App Store has become a star-maker.

And this new economy isn’t just about mobile applications. Facebook legitimized social networks to an extent few could have imagined. A University of Maryland study [PDF] estimates more than 2.5 million websites integrate with Facebook, with users installing more than 20 million apps daily. The Facebook Platform reportedly created over 182,000 jobs valued in the billions of dollars to the U.S. economy in 2011.

Shifting priorities in a changing IT landscape

It's interesting to see what enterprises are doing against this backdrop of App Economy disruption.

Geoffrey Moore has a great way of describing the shift in enterprise IT [PDF] from systems of record to systems of engagement.

From the transactional systems for global commerce that drove the last 30 years of investment, companies are moving to consumer-ize IT. This demands universal access, the ability to accommodate users' business and social profiles, a form factor optimized engagement model, and other factors not tied to data or transactions but rather to interactions between users and apps.

At my own company, PHP shop Zend, we've been working closely with NYSE Euronext, United Rentals, DHL, and other customers as they make the shift to new systems of engagement that link to the assets of their robust back-end systems, including databases, business-critical apps, and enterprise web services.

Making this shift creates a new set of requirements in terms of development priorities, production priorities, processes, and skill sets. It changes the software development landscape.

Traditional application development platforms, processes and best practices are being replaced or revitalized with new alternatives that echo what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg terms "The Hacker Way": rapid, iterative development and continuous integration, building high quality services over time by prototyping, quickly releasing, and fine-tuning through iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once.

Enterprises are embracing agile development methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban, agile operations supported by DevOps principles and release automation, and cloud technologies as key enablers of change.

We're seeing increased enterprise adoption of dynamic languages like PHP because of their support for agile, iterative development. But there is more that comes into play to make a good language great.

When considering dynamic languages today, enterprise IT/development managers will tell you they want a strong web focus, fast learning curve, and a skilled labor pool. A look at job trends on oDesk or similar online employment platforms show consistent high demand for dynamic language skills. These managers also consider vendor support, market adoption, cross-platform support, interoperability, and a strong app ecosystem.

Also gaining momentum are open-source application frameworks, with enterprises adopting such frameworks as Django, Rails and Zend Framework to preserve flexibility for app development while providing structure where it's needed so teams can collaborate to extend and scale apps productively and consistently over time, taking advantage of the wealth of libraries that are contributed and shared by the developer community.

Today's development teams must consider the customer's 360-degree experience and build apps to support it. Tools and frameworks must make it easy to build, test and deploy next-generation UI front-ends, web apps and services that support social interaction across mobile devices with varying form factors.

Dynamic languages such as JavaScript and PHP are well-suited for projects that intersect web and mobile environments as they are an integral part of the mobile consumer and mobile enterprise application development platforms that will be rolling out next-generation apps for consumer and enterprise app stores.

Building new apps & thinking big

A recent InformationWeek article by Charlie Babcock calls APIs "the secret ingredient of the App Economy" and emphasizes that a new generation of developers has come of age using languages such as JavaScript, PHP, and Ruby. These devs have the skills and incentive to produce new APIs.

This was also reflected in our recent Developer Pulse survey, which revealed that 48 percent of developers are currently working on API-producing projects and that this area is among their top four priorities for career development.

Another top-four developer priority in our survey was cloud-based development. Technology disruption has opened wide a window of opportunity in the cloud. While 2011 produced a number of new cloud platforms, 2012 will be a year for evaluation and experiment with IaaS, SaaS, and new PaaS solutions running on public, private, or hybrid cloud deployments.

In the cloud, too, the process and the experience of app development are changing, with the use of DevOps concepts for better collaboration and smoother app lifecycles. We believe the increasing maturity of dynamic languages supports operational excellence in a way that enterprises will leverage fully as they migrate to cloud services.

To be sure, the cloud is a major enabler to the App Economy at the application, platform, and infrastructure levels. The challenge is to deliver the best engagement experiences in today's anytime, anywhere context. That is where agile development methodologies, release automation, cloud platforms and services, and mobile front-end technologies all converge — and it's where you'll find Zend and others hard at work.

Image courtesy of iQoncept, Shutterstock

Filed under: dev

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Hot tips for happy Valentine’s Day video chats

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

This post is sponsored by Citrix® GoToMeeting®. Attend your meetings from anywhere. Try GoToMeeting Today for FreeAs always, VentureBeat is adamant about maintaining editorial objectivity.

Young woman holding a laptop with a webcamIt’s probably been a while since you filled out a stack of red and pink Valentine’s Day cards – these days you’re more likely to send an e-card or a saucy text message or a Facebook event invite. However, despite all the technological advancements, it’s still about the need to communicate. With 80% of communication being non-verbal (body language, facial expressions), it makes sense that the next best thing to being there is video chat. However, not all video chat is created equal so we’ve rounded up a handful of helpful starter tips.

Don’t: Video chat at work if it’s personal (that’s just asking for trouble). If you must, use your mobile device (like FaceTime on iPhone) or a video chat app with a sturdy stand like GorillaPod.

Do: Check your background. That pile of laundry? A Twilight poster? Make an effort to spruce up the room you’ll be video chatting in, and double check for anything that might be inappropriate (unless of course, that’s the idea). Likewise:

Do: Set the scene. If you’re chatting with a special someone, make the surroundings special: put out flowers, light candles in the background. If you’re having a meeting with your D & D guild, hang dragon posters. You get the idea.

Don’t: Wear red. Sounds unintuitive but red is the most difficult color for video to reproduce. Instead, try blue which is much easier or white – which also helps your webcam find an accurate white balance (making for more accurate colors over all).

Do: Use another light source. This honestly cannot be stressed enough. Your monitor is not an attractive light source. Use a desk lamp, preferably an adjustable one so you can position the light in a few places and see where you get the best results. You can also turn the lamp so that the light bounces off the surrounding walls. This produces a diffused effect that can also be achieved by taping a piece of typing paper over the lamp or by using colored scarves.

Do: Look at the camera. Not at yourself in the monitor. Not at your cell phone. Not at your Twitter account (rude). Think of the camera as the eyes of the person you’re talking to and try to make it natural. Add to this: Sit up straight. Yes. Your father was right all those years that he nagged you.

Also Do: Position your webcam carefully. The best possible place for your webcam to be is level with your eyes – a place where it’s natural to look to. Slightly higher than your eye-line will also work, but don’t position the camera at an upward angle – which is an angle that flatters no one

Do: Adjust your monitors brightness. If you adjust the brightness (and sometimes the contrast as well) on your monitor, you’ll get less of that attractive "blue glow" look. This is also helpful for those who wear glasses, as it cuts down on the reflection.

Don’t: Add background music. Webcam microphones are, in general, not the sharpest tool and tend to amplify background noise, so ditch the Toni Braxton on the boombox and sit as close as you comfortably can in order to come through loud and clear. If possible, use the microphone on your computer (instead of the one in your webcam).

Do: Share. While ambient music might be a no-go, how about sharing that Barry White video with your chat-mate via YouTube? Or play a game together, like ChatHopper. You can even edit still images with a site like Cameroid. Pull things into the frame that you want your loved one to see but be warned:

Don’t: Move your webcam around. Yes, of course you can do such a thing – webcams are perfectly mobile and you can pick one right up and spin it around to give your intentioned a sneak-preview of your bedroom, but that’s going to effectively ruin all your previous careful positioning and lighting. Might just be better to leave the thing put.

Photo credit: Photosindiacom, LLC/Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Buying IPO stock? Might as well forget about rich returns

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 08:50 AM PST

Post-IPO performance of venture-backed companies, 2010-2011 (chart)

The past two years have seen a marked rebound in the number of venture-backed technology companies that are going public. After the depths of the “great recession” in 2009, it’s quite a relief for venture capitalists and those who invest in their funds.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however.

Over the 2010-2011 period, the IPO “window” has opened and closed several times due to market volatility. That’s the result of various economic and political aftershocks from the financial crisis.

While there have been many articles about how the venture capital firm investors fared, or the employees of the companies going public or even the investment bankers, VentureDeal has taken a look to see how venture-backed stocks have performed after the IPO date.

Why should you care? Institutional buyers of IPO stock drive the IPO market demand for technology companies. Demand for IPOs and the resultant valuations drive tech industry M&A valuations and to some extent financing valuations. These two exit paths determine financial returns for venture capital firms and their ultimate ability to raise new money to fund the creation and commercialization of the next world changing technologies. Post-IPO performance is the “top of the food chain” and if it isn’t working well, the food chain breaks down.  As Kevin Efrusy of Accel Partners recently said, “There is still strong institutional memory of the dot-com bubble and broken trust.”

Unfortunately, post-IPO stock performance of venture-backed technology companies over the past two years in the aggregate has been poor, when compared to the standard benchmark of the S&P 500 Index.

The spreadsheet below tracks the 80 VC-backed technology companies that went public between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2011 and compares that to a baseline return for the S&P 500 during the same period. (We gave a 30 day grace period for the last IPO, which happened on December 15, 2011, so the actual end date was 1/15/2012.)

(You can also view this spreadsheet on Google Docs or Box.)

The data shows that the combined return for all offerings in the aggregate was a dismal -2.2 percent, compared to the S&P 500 index, which returned 15.5 percent for the same period.

Of the total of 80 IPOs, just 26 companies beat the S&P 500.

The chart above breaks down the returns to illustrate performance by industry.  The Software/IT industry grouping performed the best with a 39.9 percent aggregate return over the 2010-2011 period. The Financial Services sector came in a distant second at 16.3 percent and the Mobile/Wireless/Telecom industry grouping rounded out the positive performers (barely) with a 1.2 percent total return.

Notably, the industry grouping of Internet/Digital Media has produced a -7.7 percent return.

So, with a -2.2 percent aggregate return for all venture backed technology IPOs over the last two years when compared to the S&P 500 benchmark, perhaps someone can tell me why some are advocating that we need more IPOs?

Perhaps SecondMarket CEO Barry Silbert is right when he said recently, “The IPO market is dying.”

Or, as Vivek Wadhwa recently argued, if you’re holding out for an IPO boom, you’re going to be disappointed.

VentureTrends is a research service of VentureDeal, a national venture capital database based in Menlo Park, Calif.

Filed under: deals

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Motorola’s Intel-powered Ice Cream Sandwich phone leaked

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 07:23 AM PST

Motorola-IntelImages from the first Motorola smartphone powered by Intel and running Android 4.0 (a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich) have allegedly surfaced online.

The image, obtained by PocketNow, shows a slender, silver-colored handset with no front-facing buttons. The screen shows a new version of Motorola's MotoBlur user interface on top of Android, which shows off a handful of widgets and notification badges. If the image is accurate, it could be the first Android 4.0 phone from Motorola.

The device will presumably run Intel’s Medfield-based Atom processor, which would mark another step in Intel’s push into the smartphone market. Intel previously reached partnerships with both Motorola and Lenovo, as VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi reported at CES. Aside from the processor, the device is also expected to have a stellar camera that takes advantage of Android 4.0′s software support as well as a 15-frames-per-second burst shot mode, according to PocketNow.

The unnamed Motorola smartphone is rumored to make its debut at the end of the month during the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona. Look out for coverage from the event floor from our very own Devindra Hardawar.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Twitter employees frustrated by golden handcuffs, can’t sell more than 20% of their shares

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 07:10 AM PST

It must be frustrating to be an early Twitter employee. All around Silicon Valley companies in the social networking space are going public, minting hordes of new millionaires and billionaires. But with little revenue of its own, Twitter is hoping to stay private. So the company is restricting the amount of stock employees can sell on the secondary markets, trying to stay under the SEC’s 500 shareholder limit that would force them to go public.

The rule restricting sales of stock at Twitter has been in place for more than year, reports CNN, and has led to the departure of senior level employees. Chief executive Dick Costolo responded to the exits with an email explaining the rational behind the rule. “We don’t want to be public until we have very predictable quarterly earnings growth. We’re not ready to be a public company for a couple years.”

In another email obtained by CNN, Twitter’s human resources department worried that the rule was costing the company key talent. “Folks continue to be worried about the company losing its best talent – most of who left over the stock policy,” wrote Twitter’s VP of Human Resources. “You’ll note that there are not necessarily solutions here — more so just anxiety that we lost so many ‘senior’ people.”

That anxiety would explain why Twitter wrote to Congress encouraging them to expand the limit on shareholders in a private company.

Companies like SecondMarket, which facilitates the trade in private shares, is also looking for a replacement to make up for the substantial revenue it will  lose when Facebook goes public. Twitter is a prime candidate for this, having recently sold $300 million in shares to a Saudi Prince. The trick is finding individual buyers who can afford to purchase such big chunks of stock.

Filed under: social

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How a few simple push notifications helped data shrinking app Onavo go viral

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 07:03 AM PST

One of the great things about Onavo, the hot mobile app that compresses your iPhone’s data, is that most of its magic happens in the background. But while that makes Onavo a breeze to use, it also makes it easy for users to forget that they’re receiving the benefits of the app.

The company’s solution: simple push notifications, powered by the mobile services company Urban Airship, that keep Onavo users in the loop with the app’s data saving progress. After implementing the push notifications, Onavo reported a 75 percent increase in awareness and 50 percent increase in overall satisfaction from its users, according to a case study released by Urban Airship today.

“Being a utility app that runs seamlessly in the background can be a doubleedged sword: users can easily forget about your service,” said Onavo director of marketing Dvir Reznik in a statement. “Push notiļ¬cations, with their ability to increase interactions and awareness levels, were important in providing a solution to that problem.”

It’s not exactly a high-tech solution, but for Onavo and other apps that run mainly in the background, push notifications can serve as a simple way to remind users of what’s going on. Onavo’s experience validates Urban Airship’s focus on notifications — the company announced last month that it has powered over 10 billion push notifications. The company is also going beyond simple text notifications with Rich Push, which will allow developers to include media like pictures, music, and video in alerts.

Onavo relied on Urban Airship’s notifications to inform users when they hit certain savings milestones, like when they saved their first megabyte, 100MB, and gigabyte of data. The alerts served to pull users back into the Onavo app and gave them bite sized accomplishments that they could share on social networks. After implementing the notifications, Onavo saw a 30 percent increase in shares and mentions.

Onavo is based in Tel Aviv, Israel, and has raised a total of $13 million from Horizon Ventures and Motorola Mobility Ventures.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Cloud on fire: the burn rate on Tumblr’s big backend is building fast

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 05:24 AM PST

From Flickr user David Stanley

Tumblr has been spending several million dollars per month on web hosting, sources tell VentureBeat.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount they are spending just to keep the site up and running,” said a source familiar with Tumblr’s expenses. “It’s crazy considering they don’t have a real business model figured out yet.”

The work of scaling Tumblr’s backend architecture, which now supports 15 billion page views a month, is a massive job, according to the blog High Scalability. The post compared the blogging platform’s challenges to massive sites like Twitter and Facebook, both of which dwarf Tumblr in terms of employees and funding.

Once you dig into the size of the technical challenge Tumblr is handling on a daily basis, it’s not as surprising as our source made it seem. Tumblr is growing at 30 percent each month and, as High Scalability points out, has 500 million page views a day, a peak rate of ~40k requests per second, ~3TB of new data to store a day, all running on 1000+ servers.

The unique follower model set up by Tumblr presents a one-two punch:

  • data-rich posts full of images, music, and video, much like Facebook
  • a Dashboard that lets users follow along in a manner similar to Twitter, with real-time updates coming from hundreds of blogs they follow.

This massive amount of media is all stored on Amazon web services.

“This is the fascinating thing about building a startup these days,” said Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital, an investor in Tumblr who sits on the board, speaking with VentureBeat by phone. “With the elastic cloud, you can reach a fairly massive scale on a limited amount of capital.”

But when a startup goes from being a scrappy, fast growing company to a massive, top twenty property on the web, the cost of having a third party like Amazon supporting your infrastructure can begin to outweigh the benefits. “Building our own data center is something Tumblr will do at some point,” Sabet said. “We raised a significant amount of capital with these challenges in mind.”

Tumblr raised $85 million in September of 2011, back when it had just 13 billion pageviews a month, a round that valued the company at $800 million dollars. “This is not a company with a big burn rate,” Sabet insisted, pointing out that Tumblr still had money left over from the $30 million it raised in December of 2010.

Sources say that with 60 employees and mounting costs on the back end, Tumblr’s total burn rate is several million dollars a month and growing fast. That would still give it plenty of breathing room, however, at least two years based on their last funding.

“Initially the site was designed on a pretty traditional LAMP stack,” Blake Matheny, Tumblr’s director of platform engineering told VentureBeat by phone. “But we reached the end of what that technology could offer us.” The company now has 20 full time engineers on staff. “When we had half a dozen guys, all we could do was fight fires,” Matheny said. “Now we can begin to do some planning for the long term.”

Tumblr is experimenting aggressively with new revenue streams, recently rolling out highlighted posts, which let users pay $1 to attach stickers to individual blog posts. But so far founder David Karp has adamantly resisted the idea of injecting any traditional brand advertising into the site.

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Nimble launches 2.0 customer relationship management to help brands beef up their social presence

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 01:00 AM PST


Customer relationship management company Nimble rolled out its 2.0 version today to help companies better make use of social media.

The company told us last month that it was adding new features, such as a hub to control all of a company’s different social networks. As Nimble chief executive Jon Ferrara explains, you can’t just put a community manager in front of a computer and call that “relationship management.” He says there is a lack of communication between sales, marketing and the rest of the company. Leads and relationships often overlap and it is hard to see who is connection, where they’re connected and the various conversations that have already taken place with that person.  That’s what Nimble wants to change.

“If sales and marketing and customer service are not using [social] in a uniform fashion, especially the C-level execs who don’t understand their market, they’re dead,” said Ferrara.

Within Nimble 2.0 lives a social media manager, which allows companies to aggregate and interact with its social networks. Prior to 2.0, you could see the social networks but couldn’t actually poke back or follow someone else. Now, you have all of your notifications in one place, can respond to them without leaving Nimble, and the software will record all of your activity with a certain contact. If you’d rather Nimble not follow that activity, you can set the social network’s settings to “private.”

Ferrara also said he is sick of CRMs simply being a place for inputting information. He wanted a tool that would analyze your CRM data and then tell you something about your leads. For instance, you may have stopped talked to Jane Doe and now her lead is getting cold. A weekly e-mail from Nimble will tell you to reconnect with her. It’ll also give you information such as whose birthdays are upcoming, if someone changed jobs, and other important events.

“Mae West said, ‘Out of sight is out of mind, and when you’re out of mind, you’re out of money, honey,’” said Ferrara of keeping up with your contacts. “We’re bringing the love back to relationships management.”

The relationship doesn’t have to be social, however. Nimble’s recently integrated with Hubspot in its 2.0 version. Indeed, the company’s founder, Dharmesh Shah, is an investor in Nimble. Hubspot looks at the visitors to your website, collects information about them, and sends it to your Nimble account as a new contact. It will then watch that contact for certain milestones, such as how many times they’ve been to the website or watched a certain video, and then alert a sales or marketing employee that the lead is hot.

Ferrara explained that when CRMs were first built, they were to act as warehouses for contact information in case an employee were to leave the company and take their leads with them. Because of its singular purpose, many of these management tools were input-only, and didn’t provide much information other than the data you had already given it. But this was also back in the day when trust was built by visiting each others’ offices. You looked at other people’s walls to see what they did, what school they went to, their interests. Nowadays you do the same thing, but you look at people’s digital walls, their Facebook walls and Twitter streams.

“They’re not customers, they’re people,” said Ferrara. “They’re your peeps, man.”

First photo via Shutterstock

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Can Zynga satisfy investors with its first-ever earnings report?

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 11:42 PM PST

Zynga is expected to report a profit for the fourth-quarter in its first-ever quarter financial report after the market closes on Tuesday.

The largest publisher of social games on Facebook is expected to report a profit of 3 cents a share, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Revenues are expected to be $302.4 million, up 54 percent from $195.8 million a year ago.

Zynga has been launching one social or mobile game after another in the past few months. The company now has 246.3 million monthly active users on Facebook, compared with 230 million when the company went public on Dec. 15. Zynga’s newest game, Hidden Chronicles, is a big hit with more than 29.6 million monthly active users. Thanks to that game’s success, Zynga once again has the top five social games on Facebook.

The company is trading under the symbol ZNGA. The company’s stock price opened at $10 a share and then fell immediately after the IPO. But after Facebook filed for an IPO earlier this month, Zynga’s stock climbed quickly and closed on Monday at $13.42 a share, well above the 12-month targets of several analysts who follow the company closely.

Arvind Bhatia, an analyst with Sterne Agee, wrote in a research report on Monday that Zynga’s stock is overvalued with its market capitalization at $9.38 billion. The company faces stiff competition on Facebook from Electronic Arts, Wooga, King.com, Disney-Playdom and a host of others. Zynga has also moved into mobile games but faces an even bigger array of rivals there.

The bears on Zynga say that its cost of acquiring new users is rising and its competition is heating up. They say that Zynga’s growth will slow as Facebook hits a wall. But the bulls such as Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities say that Zynga has a lot of opportunity to expand as it diversifies beyond Facebook, moves into mobile, and grows its advertising revenue, which is a mere 5 percent of the company’s revenues. Almost all of Zynga’s money comes from Facebook games and most of its revenues are generated by virtual goods purchases.

Zynga has been active. Last week, it announced that toymaker Hasbro would produce co-branded toys based on Zynga’s most popular games and game characters. As we chronicled in our 25,000-word history of the company, Zynga has come a long way since Pincus founded the company as Presidio Media on April 19, 2007. At the time, Pincus wanted to jump on the Facebook bandwagon, as that company took its shot at beating rival network MySpace by inviting third parties to make applications to run on the Facebook platform. Now the company has a huge share of the fast-growing market on Facebook, accounting for 12 percent of Facebook’s revenue.

More recently, Zynga took a lot of flak for copying others’ games. That prompted Mark Pincus, chief executive of the company, to tell us in an interview that the company is pioneering a new wave of games not by copying others but by making games easier to play and more social.

In the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Zynga reported net income of $12.5 million in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, down 54 percent from $27 million a year ago

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What the heck is an interest graph? Pearltrees raises $6.6M to show us

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 11:00 PM PST

Social curation startup Pearltrees has just sealed a deal for €5 million (around $6.6 million), all in the name of creating a better interest graph.

Much is being made in current social media circles of the “interest graph” concept, which is more about what you know than who you know, and which purportedly has strong connections to purchase intent and other matters of concern to online marketers.

Put differently, while social networks like Facebook focus on what you have in common with your friends and how you react to friends’ recommendations, interest graph-based models (like the ones behind Pinterest, GetGlue or Foodspotting) make social connections based on shared interests, not the other way around.

"Pearltrees has leveraged social curation to create an open and collaborative interest graph of the Web," said Pearltrees CEO Patrice Lamothe in a release.

“As a consequence, Pearltrees harnesses the power of people to organize and discover the most valuable content on the web", he said.

Pearltrees is, as the company puts it, a place for users to collect and organize everything on the web. While this task might seem like mundane cataloging at the outset, the Pearltrees team is seeing significant use of the product.

The startup launched at the very end of 2009 as a new, visually enhanced tool for bookmarking and organizing web-based content. Since its launch, Pearltrees says, it has grown at a rate of 15 percent each month.

The service has been used to organize around 15 million unique "pearls" of knowledge into two million “Pearltrees,” or larger categories. These trees include such areas of interest as news, the arts, entertainment, and sciences.

“The activities of Pearltrees' contributors have already resulted in an interest graph with unparalleled richness and depth,” a company spokesperson stated in an email to VentureBeat. The intention is to create and publish an exhaustive, human-curated interest graph that covers every topic on the web. The interest graph is used in the startup’s "TreeRank" algorithm, which drives discovery of new parts of the graph for Pearltrees users.

Here’s a demo video describing the service in more detail:

This round of funding was let by The Group Accueil and will be devoted to scaling the product and solidifying the monetization plan, which revolves around freemium services.

Pearltrees last raised funding a year and a half ago in a €1.3 million round. To date, the startup has taken €8.8 million, around $11.6 million.

Image courtesy of andrea crisante, Shutterstock

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WePay serves the “unsophisticated” online seller

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 09:01 PM PST

WePay Founders

WePay, the company that makes it easy for Joe Schmo to charge people online, has officially helped over 25,000 customers, and is releasing other numbers today.

“When we first built this company, we said we’re going to make it really easy for normal people to collect money online from groups of friends,” said chief operating officer Rich Aberman in an interview with VentureBeat. “It’d be a way for people to collect money for your fantasy league. Then people started comparing us to PaylPal in the press.”

WePay caters to the “unsophisticated” seller who still wants to accept payments online. Aberman explained that WePay tries to go after the same market as Square, a company that creates point-of-sale hardware and software for mobile devices. The difference, however, is WePay doesn’t want point-of-sale customers, but rather those who aren’t the most developer-savvy, who want to be able to take credit card payments through their website.

That includes everyone from the father who likes to sell antique furniture on Craigslist to the sorority financial head. Both could take in nearly half a million dollars but would be hard-pressed to do so online.

WePay is growing by 30 percent each month and says it has a multimillion dollar run rate, though it won’t share specific numbers on its revenue. The company serves customers in all 50 states, as well as on 900 different campuses. Other groups have flocked to WePay, including the recent Occupy movement. Indeed, nearly $800,000 in payments were made from 806 different Occupy-associated accounts. These were probably donations.

The company is directly going after PayPal, and even dropped a block of ice off at the competitor’s “X.Commerce” conference two years ago. The message according to WePay? PayPal is “icing” its accounts, or freezing accounts if they don’t meet PayPal’s expectations, and alienating its developers. But despite the criticism, WePay hired two former PayPal engineers.

“Paypal, as much as we poke fun at them, they were the innovators in the space about 10 years ago,” said Aberman. “They have a lot of great talent there, and a lot of their talent is leaving.”

WePay has four different tools to help its customers, which it calls the “informal economy.” The first allows you to set up a quick online store if you have inventory but don’t know how to code your own marketplace. Event organizers can take advantage of the second tool, which lets you sell tickets and create an event website to hold all of the details. Groups can accept donations using WePay’s third tool. The fourth tool, however, may be the most useful for individuals. It is an invoicing program for those service providers such as carpet cleaners, or nannies who would like to bill their clients online.

The company makes its money through a 3.5 percent credit card fee, but does not charge for set up.

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Apple set to unveil iPad 3 on March 7

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 06:10 PM PST

ipad_2Wednesday, March 7 is the date covetous Apple fans can finally catch their first real glimpse at the much-ballyhooed iPad 3, according to a new report.

Citing reliable sources, iMore editor-in-chief Rene Ritchie declared that we can expect Apple to unveil its newest tablet on the first Wednesday in March. The day aligns with past Apple media events and matches the early March timing AllThingsD reported last week.

“Along with the 2048×1536 Retina display, the iPad 3 will feature a quad-core Apple 6 system-on-a-chip, and possibly 4G LTE networking,” Ritchie said.

We’ve suspected for some time that the iPad 3, should it be called that, will feature a faster processor, faster graphics, and a retina display.

Perhaps more interesting is that Apple will once again (coincidentally?) reveal its latest touch-based machination just days ahead of South-By-Southwest Interactive, the annual Austin gathering of industry insiders and wannabes.

Last year, the beloved device maker lifted the veil on the iPad 2 a week prior to the geeky affair and started selling the device during the show. News and online buzz surrounding the remake of Apple’s category-defining device easily eclipsed that of the conference and out-shined launching startups, keynote addresses, lavish parties, and so forth. One year later, Apple could easily do the same — should it choose to release the iPad 3 during SXSW Interactive again. The launch date, however, is still unknown.

But now that the big reveal is less than one month away,gossip about what features the device will include will intensify and maybe, if we’re really lucky, we’ll get a few early leaks.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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On a mission from God — VentureBeat and DEMO heading to Chicago to find hot companies

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 04:08 PM PST

Blues BrothersAs our DEMO world tour rolls on, we continue to add more stops along the way.  Next up is Chicago where we’ll be on February 27.

We know Chicago has turned into a hive of startup talent, so it seemed like the logical place to go to meet up-and-coming innovators. This will be our first time out that way, so if you're building the next big tech company in Chicago, we want to meet with you.

While in town, we’ll be partnering up with Tom Hawes and Millie Tadewaldt of Sandbox Industries, the new Chicago-based incubator and investment firm.

Like us, Sandbox wants to see the best new companies the city has to offer, so if you're interested in meeting with Tom, Millie, and me (I’m with VentureBeat and DEMO), please fill out this form, and we'll be in touch with more details shortly.

We've been traveling the globe for the past few months and meeting with as many entrepreneurs as possible along the way, all in preparation for the upcoming DEMO conference in April. Last week, we visited Boulder and Palo Alto, and soon we’ll be making trips to Boston, Austin, Detroit, and LA. DEMO’s Executive Producer, Matt Marshall, will actually be off in Singapore while I’m exploring the Midwest. More information on all of those trips is soon to come.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Chicago on the 27th!

Tom Hawes
Millie Tadewaldt

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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New YouTube producer terms let Google play your videos anywhere

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 03:28 PM PST

YouTube TVAfter announcing a new YouTube Google TV app yesterday, Google is now encouraging YouTube content partners to sign new terms that give the company permission to play their videos across all platforms (mobile, TV, web, etc.) by default.

Right now, content partners upload their videos to YouTube and take a cut of the revenue that’s brought in from the advertising. The partners currently have the option to restrict their videos from being played on certain platforms or mediums. For instance, producers could decide they only want their videos played on a regular web browser and iOS applications. Their videos wouldn’t be available on Google TV, Android, or mobile web browsers. This strategy might be employed if a content producer wants to negotiate a separate, more lucrative deal on another platform (for example, giving Microsoft exclusive TV and console rights to their content). According to AllThingsD, Google’s new terms don’t allow content producers to cut those side deals, which has the potential to take money out of their pocket.

These new terms are apparently not rolling out for larger content partners like Vevo, meaning Vevo can continue to restrict how and where its YouTube videos are viewed without interference by Google. Part of that has to do with the bigger content partners bringing videos that are far more influential than the average user can create. Right now they (the big content producers) have the clout to call their own shots, but it’s obviously something Google would like to abolish going forward rather than making it a commonplace.

Also, I doubt it’s Google’s intention to single out the smaller content partners. It’s far more user-friendly to make sure a web producer’s videos are available on all platforms and mediums. Personally, I find it aggravating when I try to share a video with someone from a “major” YouTube content partner via my iPhone, only to discover that it’s not available to mobile users. In those instances, I don’t bother trying to find another video, I simple put my phone away and find something else to do — a fact Google no doubt realizes.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Instant messenger app IM+ raises $10M

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 02:37 PM PST

Shape, the company behind online instant messenger service IM+, announced Monday it has raised $10 million from Russian brokerage firm Finam.

IM+ is an online instant messenger and mobile app that connects with multiple instant messaging services including Aol instant messenger, Jabber, Skype, Google Chat, and Facebook Chat. You can send instant messages from multiple accounts in one interface and save your chat history. The service has more than 17 million monthly users.

Shape also recently released a new instant messaging app called Beep (pictured above) to compliment IM+. The app sends push notifications to your phone when you receive an instant message. The company hopes the app will take the place of traditional text messages. There are similar products on the market, including web-based IM aggregator imo.im.

“With the new release of Beep in-app push messenger [it will] allow people to save on SMS and MMS while simultaneously chatting on Facebook, Skype, Google Talk and tweet,” said IM+ founder Igor Berezovsky in a statement.

The funding kicks off a partnership between Finam and Shape, which are teaming up to create an instant messenger service for the Russian market.

Shape was founded in 2002 and has grown to include more than 60 employees. The company has headquarters in Germany and also maintains offices in the U.S. and Asia.

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U.S. says Google’s acquisition of Motorola is a go

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 02:31 PM PST

flickr-google-logo-scobleGoogle headquarters must be all high-fives today. Just hours after the European Commission cleared the company’s proposed acquisition of Motorola, the U.S. Department of Justice has given its approval on the deal as well.

"The division concluded that the specific transactions at issue are not likely to significantly change existing market dynamics,” the Department of Justice said in a press release today that concerned Google’s Motorola acquisition and its approval of the Nortel and Novell patent sales to other major tech companies.

The U.S. and EU had been looking closely at the Google acquisition of Motorola because of possible antitrust issues. There were apparent concerns that Motorola could be given unfair advantage when it came to Android mobile operating system that is developed by Google and embedded in Motorola phones and tablets.

Google deflected those concerns by saying that it is in the company's best interest to maintain the Android ecosystem and not give Motorola advantages over mobile device manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, and LG.

The primary reason Google said it wants Motorola is to own its patents, which will help Google better defend Android from lawsuits. Motorola Mobility has some 17,000 patents, and it has another several thousand patents pending approval. That will make for one heck of a shield when other companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Oracle try to attack Android and its manufacturing partners.

In a related note, the Department of Justice’s press release about Google and Motorola also announced that it had approved a deal for a consortium including Microsoft, Apple, and RIM to buy Nortel’s patent portfolio. The release also states that Apple has won approval to buy some of Novell’s patents.

"After a thorough review of the proposed transactions, the Antitrust Division has determined that each acquisition is unlikely to substantially lessen competition and has closed these three investigations,” the DOJ said. “In all of the transactions, the division conducted an in-depth analysis into the potential ability and incentives of the acquiring firms to use the patents they proposed acquiring to foreclose competitors.”

Google logo: Flickr/Robert Scoble

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Mozilla moving forward with Metro-style Firefox for Windows 8

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 01:54 PM PST


Mozilla has decided to begin work on a touch-enabled version of its popular Firefox web browser for Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system, the company revealed yesterday.

The Windows 8 OS allows companies to develop apps for its touch-based Metro interface as well as for a traditional desktop interface. But while Mozilla has the traditional side essentially covered with the current iteration of Firefox for PCs, the company has to start developing the Metro app, which requires much different coding.

“Metro is an entirely new environment and requires a new Firefox front end and system integration points,” the Firefox team said in its Windows 8 planning document. “The feature goal here is a new Gecko-based browser built for and integrated with the Metro environment. Firefox on Metro, like all other Metro apps will be full screen, focused on touch interactions, and connected to the rest of the Metro environment through Windows 8 contracts.”

Mozilla said it plans to have a “proof-of-concept” version of its signature browser ready for the Metro interface next quarter, and it will then release further versions throughout the rest of the year.

Firefox will compete with Microsoft’s pre-installed Internet Explorer 10 for Metro. Google, Apple, and Opera — which all make rival web browsers — have thus far not announced creating Metro-enabled browsers for Windows 8. But as momentum builds for Windows 8′s launch later this year, we expect they will jump on board.

Would you like to see all browser makers create Metro-style apps?

Red Panda photo (which looks like a Firefox): Flickr/Ogwen

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

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Google confirms Internet users in Iran are blocked (updated)

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 01:16 PM PST


Updated with charts from Google.

Google confirmed today that its users in Iran are being blocked by a new regulation against access to secure browsing, or HTTPS websites. The block has been in action since February 10.

In celebration of the overthrow of its monarchy in 1979, Iran decided to block Internet access to all encrypted websites using the “HTTPS” format. That means anyone using the Internet in Iran won’t be able to connect to sites such as Google, Facebook, banking and finance websites, or Yahoo. Iran is severely tightening the reigns on Internet usage overall, and not just on the digital front. Physical Internet cafes are now being forced to install cameras and record the faces of everyone who uses their services.

Google confirmed the block to Bloomberg. More than 30 million are unable to connect to their Gmail and Hotmail accounts. Other Google services such as YouTube and Google Videos have also fallen due to the new regulations.

Gmail Transparency Report

Google pointed us to its Transparency Reports to see the flow of traffic to its different services. In the case of Gmail, traffic from Iran took a nose dive on February 9th and flat-lined for the following few days. Though, it does look as if some traffic is coming back. This may be in relation to work-arounds that some developers have been posting to forums such as Hacker News. YouTube has generally been dead for Iran since 2009, except for a small spike in 2011 when Google “changed how it classified some traffic.”

YouTube Transparency Report

Because Iran is sanctioned by the US, Google cannot try to contact the Iranian government and find out why it is no longer allowing people access to HTTPS websites. However, the reason is probably simple. Using HTTPS encrypts the conversation that happens between a person’s computer and the website they are accessing. This is a security measure to make sure sensitive information isn’t intercepted between computers, but it also allows people to interact secretly, without broadcasting their activities. It could be argued that Iran would like to monitor the Internet activity of its people, and allowing them to use HTTPS would block its ability to do so.

Censorship has been the talk of the last six months, with Congress’ proposed SOPA and PIPA bills, which were intended to stop online piracy, but may have used overreaching technology, blocking more than intended. The blocking of social media and Internet access during the Arab Spring in Egypt also caused outcries. In June, the United Nations voted that Internet access was a human right given its ability to connect us and its deep roots into our lives.

Mouth image via Shutterstock

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ZeptoLab cuts deals with toymakers on Cut the Rope characters

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 01:00 PM PST

ZeptoLab is cashing in on its Cut the Rope smartphone game — which has been downloaded more than 100 million times — by announcing several licensing deals today with Hasbro, Mattel, JAKKS Pacific, and apparel company LF USA.

The merchandising agreements are part of the company’s push to become a global gaming brand and expand into new markets. The deals are similar to those struck by Rovio for its Angry Birds mobile game and Outfit7 for its Talking Tom series of mobile apps. And it makes sense, considering Cut the Rope has a bigger audience than a lot of TV shows.

ZeptoLab is also showing off a new version of its game today dubbed Cut the Rope Experiments: Bath Time. That game will soon debut on multiple platforms.

ZeptoLab is making the announcement at this year’s Toy Fair show in New York.

“We’re looking beyond where things are in the moment,” said Misha Lyalin, executive chairman at ZeptoLab, in a phone interview. “We have 100 million downloads now, but this is the beginning of where we are going to go.”

Under the deal with Mattel, ZeptoLab’s Om Nom character from Cut the Rope will become the basis of a variety of toys and games. One game will emulate the digital gameplay of Cut the Rope (pictured), where  the goal is to cut a rope in a way that solves various puzzles. The board game will use Mattel’s Active Touch technology, dubbed Apptivity, which allows kids to play with a physical toy on the surface of an iPad.

With Hasbro, ZeptoLab has a deal to bring co-branded board games to the market featuring Cut the Rope and Om Nom. Toymaker JAKKS Pacific will market stand-alone Cut the Rope branded game controllers for kids. And Li & Fung (LF USA) will create sleepwear and loungewear featuring Om Nom starting in the fall of 2012.

Cut the Rope was published by Chillingo in October 2010, has more than 30 million monthly active users, and is played in 125 countries. It is the brainchild of twin brothers Semyon and Efim Voinov in Moscow. Now in their 20s, they have been making games since they were 10.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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PBS lets iOS users see new documentary before it airs on TV

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 12:45 PM PST

ClintonThe Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) has decided to rip a page out of HBO’s book by giving iPad and iPhone owners early access to its exclusive video content before it debuts to the rest of the world.

iOS device owners that have the free PBS app can watch the first hour of the new documentary on President Bill Clinton American Experience: Clinton today — a week before it premieres on television Feb. 20, which is also the nationally recognized holiday of Presidents Day. The full four-hour documentary will air over Feb. 20-21 and be available for purchase on both iTunes and PBS’ website. As for the PBS App itself, it features 250 hours of video content, TV schedules, show previews, and a notification setting that syncs with iCal so you never miss programs.

“With nearly one-third of our 148 million video streams in January coming from mobile apps, we felt that mobile was a perfect platform to preview the first hour of this much anticipated biography,” said PBS SVP of Interactive Jason Seiken in a statement. “We’ve seen that these kinds of previews can help generate viewer buzz and drive tune-in.”

The strategy of offering new content through streaming channels isn’t new. HBO first adopted the practice by releasing new episodes of its original shows like True Blood and Game of Thrones a week earlier than the television debut. However, where HBO was simply trying to push its existing users toward its HBO Go streaming service, PBS has the opportunity to create new, loyal viewers.

PBS iOS app

[Images via PBS]

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Apple’s labor response proves its brand is in danger, critic says

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 12:35 PM PST

Mike Daisey, monologist and Apple criticMike Daisey, monologist and Apple critic

Apple released a statement to the press this morning about new labor condition audits it had asked for at Foxconn, the Cupertino company’s most infamous Chinese manufacturer.

Mike Daisey, an actor and monologist whose reporting and theatrical work has brought increased scrutiny to Apple’s labor practices, says the timing of the announcement is big news in and of itself.

“This isn’t new information,” Daisy told VentureBeat. “They talked about this work with the Fair Labor Association almost a month ago. But they buried it in a small note on a Friday before a holiday weekend. Doing this on a Monday morning with a big press release means they are reacting, because they see that their brand is in real danger.”

The specifics of the announcement are encouraging to Daisey. “They have gone from five percent of their supply chain being audited and the results being private to the entire supply chain and public reports, so that is progress,” he said.

But there is still a lot he would like to see improved. “These are announced inspections and, as I learned during my time in Chinese factories, those don’t work very well. They simply pull underage and overworked employees off the line when they know inspectors are coming.”

Apple’s rapidly expanding market cap, says Daisey, may be the key to progress on labor reform. “They have the resources right now to transform their supply chain. I know because I spent the last few years studying it. If Apple leads, other brands will follow. The pressure is clearly effecting them, so we just have to keep pushing.”

He is also waiting to see what these new reports look like before deciding how effective the additional audits might be. “Apple was lauded in the press for releasing their entire supply chain along with violations. But when you looked closely, that report didn’t show which suppliers were connected with which violation,” Daisey noted. “Apple is very good at PR, so I have learned to take everything they say with a healthy chunk of salt.”

Photo of Mike Daisey courtesy Mike Daisey.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Facebook and the big IPO letdown

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 12:25 PM PST

Facebook's IPO has raised hopes in Silicon Valley that the tech industry's days of wine and roses will soon be back with hundreds of startups going public. Even President Obama seems excited. He recently proposed an "IPO on-ramp" to help young, smaller companies go public.

Sadly, everyone is going to be disappointed.

We are not going to see the flood of IPOs that happened during the late 90s. The rules of the game have changed. The infrastructure to facilitate IPOs is no longer there, and the regulatory environment has changed. Joe Grundfest, a professor and a colleague at Stanford Law School, outlines four reasons why the path to the IPO has become so steep for aspiring companies.

First, regulatory costs for companies that aspire to go public have increased substantially. Lawyer and auditor fees have mushroomed in the wake of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and these professionals cannot be paid in stock. They require cold, hard cash that could otherwise be spent on engineers, sales staff, hardware acquisition, marketing, and other revenue generating functions. Then, once a company goes public, it has to scale up its board membership to comply with more extensive governance requirements as outlined by the NYSE and NASDAQ. And larger boards are more expensive in terms of both the cash and equity commitments required on the part of the company.

Second, the financial markets have changed. It is increasingly difficult for a new company to persuade investors that its investment thesis isn't otherwise captured in a more efficient form by any of a number of industry-based indexes. Only larger companies with a unique story can pass this hurdle. This means that companies such as Facebook and Google can still go public, but an army of smaller, less-differentiated firms will have a hard time.

Third, the analyst sector, which does the intense, company-specific grunt work for IPOs, has been decimated. The Wall Street Analyst settlement, which tried to remedy the misleading reports that analysts were allegedly publishing, eliminated the incentive for financial firms to hire the armies of analysts necessary to cover smaller IPOs.

Fourth, many of the largest and most successful sectors display winner-take-all characteristics early in their evolution. Again, look at Facebook and Google, both of which have been buying up companies that are either in direct competition or are developing complementary technology. In the 1990's, the smaller companies might have survived to be able to go public, but not today. Put another way, in the 1990's we could run the race to find the dominant firm after the competitors went public. Today, however, the race is usually over early in the game.

So, the tidal wave of IPOs isn't going to happen. But this isn't a bad thing.

Yet another professor from Stanford Law School, Dan Siciliano, says that venture capitalists prefer companies with as clear a path as possible to an IPO. Why wouldn't they? IPOs provide big returns, great liquidity, and positive publicity.

It used to be that VCs' preference for the IPO determined the fate of most tech startups. Today, the VC's IPO preference is becoming increasingly irrelevant because most technology startups, especially those in software and cloud computing, don't need as much money to get off of the ground as they used to. Fledgling tech companies have a larger network of angels, incubators/accelerators and sometimes the relatively deep pockets of their own serial entrepreneur founders. This makes it possible for some companies to achieve break-even cash flows earlier than in the past.

Siciliano argues that an over-heated technology IPO environment can create a frenzy of VC funding like what we saw during the dot com bust — when startups made the all or nothing dash to the IPO. This leads to unhealthy boom and bust cycles. What is better is to have companies with a long-term focus — which grow and add jobs steadily. VCs and entrepreneurs looking for exits can always pursue acquisitions by long term players.

So we don't need to be overly concerned if we don't see a burst of IPOs. The innovation and job creation will still happen. These jobs just won't be in investment banking. We just need the IPO market to remain robust enough to periodically mint future angel investors and provide the healthy returns for top-tier venture capital firms.

Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa is a visiting scholar at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, director of research for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and senior research associate for the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

Full disclosure: The Washington Post Co.'s chairman and chief executive, Donald E. Graham, is a member of Facebook's board of directors.

Copyright 2011, WashingtonPost

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Bridgelux raises $25M to replace your old lightbulbs with LEDs

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 11:30 AM PST

Bridgelux, a company that produces low-cost LED light bulbs, announced today it has raised $25 million in funding from Chinese lighting company Kaistar Lighting.

“We want people to think about lightbulbs and the innovation behind them, we want you to throw away lightbulbs because ours are better and more energy-efficient,” Bill Watkins, Bridgelux chief executive and former Seagate CEO, told VentureBeat.

The company produces solid-state lighting, or light bulbs made of light emitting diodes (LEDs) that are more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs are typically found in TVs, computers, and even car headlights, but the technology has previously been too expensive to be used in a simple consumer light bulb. Bridgelux changed that by releasing cheaper and more energy-efficient light bulbs that can be used in lamps and overhead light fixtures. The company backs up its products with a five-year warranty.

Bridgelux holds more than 600 patent filings worldwide and has developed many LED products including light bulbs that can be easily replaced when a diode burns out.

Bridgelux will use the fundraising to research and develop LED chips with silicon, which can be used in a larger LEDs for more light emission. Kaistar is teaming up with Bridgelux as a manufacturing partner for these new LEDs. The company also has several programs that the funding will go towards.

“We’ve recently rolled out a pilot program to give thousands of businesses and homes five free light bulbs that connect to a smart meter and be monitored by a utility company. The power company can then adjust the amount of energy flowing to the light bulb during peak and off-peak hours,” said Watkins.

Bridgelux is based in Livermore, California and has more than 130 employees. The company has been heavily funded in the past, with a $34 million investment in 2009 and $21 million in 2011 from Vantage Point Venture Partners, VC firm DCM, Chrysalix Energy, and El Dorado ventures.

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Most installed Google TV apps include Napster, Pandora, and CNBC

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 11:03 AM PST

Google TVMusic and financial news top the list for the most successful Google TV applications, according to a new six-month-long study from Xyologic.

The Android OS-based Google TV software, which currently runs on a variety of set-top boxes from Logitech, Sony, and others, allows regular television sets to gain access to content on the Internet. It also helps organize that content so it can more easily be found and consumed, and it adds support for developers to create TV-specific applications.

Xyologic’s report found that 4,793,000 exclusive Google TV apps (meaning, apps that were created specifically for the TV and not a tablet or mobile device) have been installed since August 2011.  The bulk of those installations (4,441,000) come from apps that were preloaded by the Google TV device manufacturer, and make up the top six most installed apps. Those include Napster, Pandora, CNBC Real-Time, TV & Movies for Google TV, Photos for Google TV, and Twitter.

As you can see from the table below, pre-installing an app doesn’t necessarily translate to high usage or popularity. For instance, Napster has the highest install base and the lowest rating. Also, the fact that music, social, and photo apps are all among the most installs shows that Google TV still has a long way to go before it comes close to replacing your daily television watching habits. There should be more video-content apps toward the top.

Google TV apps-table

The report also indicates that there are a total of 64 exclusive Google TV apps that have been downloaded a total of 352,000 times since August 2011. As for non-exclusive Google TV apps, the most popular apps in January 2012 include a handful of gaming and social applications, according to Xylogic’s research.

It’s possible that Google TV apps will gain more notoriety when the next generation of Google TV-enabled devices starts launching later this year. We already know the company is revising its YouTube application to make it more friendly on the platform just in time for people to check out its push for more original content. Google is also taking advantage of people’s desire to use their televisions as a gaming device, by pre-loading OnLive on to all Google TVs. I’d also expect Google to focus on creating an exclusive Google TV app for its new music service, which is sure to knock down both Pandora and Napster.

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Google’s Motorola acquisition clears EU regulators’ hurdles; U.S. is next

Posted: 13 Feb 2012 10:54 AM PST

Google’s planned acquisition of Motorola Mobility has just officially passed muster in the European Union.

Regulators had put the deal on hold in both the U.S. and EU pending investigation for possible antitrust issues.

“We're happy that today the European Commission approved our proposed acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which we announced in August,” wrote Google VP and deputy general counsel Don Harrison today on the company blog.

“This is an important milestone in the approval process and it moves us closer to closing the deal. We are now just waiting for decisions from a few other jurisdictions before we can close this transaction.”

The proposed deal put a $12.5 billion price tag on the Motorola property. Motorola also introduced a hefty $2.5 billion breakup fee, showing that company’s concern that the deal might not get through federal regulators.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice and other international governing bodies were initially given pause by Google claims that, even after the acquisition was complete, Motorola would not be given unfair advantages, such as early access to the Android codebase, over other Android handset and tablet manufacturers.

EU regulators halted the acquisition process in December 2011 when officials asked for more time to conduct a thorough review of the deal.

However, Google has proven — at least to EU officials — that it is in the company’s best interest to carefully skirt any antitrust activities in order to maintain the peace in the Android ecosystem while gathering the legal stockpile of patents necessary to protect Android manufacturers from the myriad lawsuits in which many are currently embroiled.

“The combination of Google and Motorola Mobility will help supercharge Android,” said Harrison in conclusion. “It will also enhance competition and offer consumers faster innovation, greater choice and wonderful user experiences.”

Rumors are swirling that the Justice Department may approve the acquisition as soon as this week, but for now, those rumors have yet to be confirmed.

Image courtesy of laihui

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