21 February, 2012



How to look your best in video chats

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

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

One of the great advantages of telecommuting is that you don’t having to worry about dressing for success. You can attend meetings in pajamas, sport some Don Johnson stubble or the latest ironic mustache, and type while reclined on a sofa with a cat warming your feet.

But now video conferencing is having a moment, and like it or not, how you present yourself on video is just as important as how you do it in person. Here are a few tips to make sure you come across like the professional you are in video meetings. And if you crop it right, they’ll never know you’re not wearing pants.

Have good lighting: Most built-in computer cameras and third-party web cams are low-resolution with small sensors. They’re not optimized for low-light or other tricky lighting situations, so you have to be conscious of where your light is coming from. Make sure you have front lighting and never stand directly in front of a source of light. If the light is only behind you, the camera will expose for that and you will appear as a mysterious silhouette like Hitchcock.

If you really want to go for gold, bounce a direct light (like a desk lamp) off of a nearby white surface and make sure it hits your face at a slight angle.

Back lighting is bad (left), front lighting at a slight angle is good (right).

Sound like you look: There are a multiple problems with depending on your computer’s built-in microphone. If you are working while you meet, the mic will pic up the sound of you banging away on your keyboard. You might also find yourself leaning in to be heard, getting entirely too close to the camera and looking a tad silly and distorted. Your best bet is an external microphone — ideally a collar mic that can be discreetly clipped to your shirt.

Don’t wear loud clothes: You don’t necessarily have to wear corporate clothing, but dress just as you would if you were going to meet people in an office: clean, crisp, and conservative. But looking good on video is more than just wearing nice clothes, you also need to stick to simple solids and muted colors. Garish Cosby sweaters or loud patterns (pictured left) will confuse the camera’s color balance and distract the viewer.

Smile! It’s simple, but important. Try smiling while you talk and you’ll come across as more personable. Remember that even when you’re not talking, people are still looking at your face and if you’re yawning, rolling your eyes, or pouting, someone will notice.

Pick your surroundings: With a laptop, you can dial into a video meeting from almost anywhere — a park, coffee shop, or beach. Make sure you’re someplace that won’t distract the other callers. This means minimal background noise (public spaces and cafes are distracting), and minimal background clutter.

You want a neutral backdrop like a clean stretch of wall. Anything moving in the background or busy piles of stuff (pictured above) can be extremely distracting to other people , and make you look bad to boot. You want your co-workers or business partners to think you’re capable and organized, not gearing up for an appearance on Hoarders.

Conference table, man in sweater, and man in suit images via ShutterStock

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Unigo doubling traffic each month after relaunching as marketplace for virtual college guidance

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 08:08 AM PST

Unigo screenshot

In California, there is an average of one college counsellor for every 1000 high school students in the public high school system. That means counsellor’s can offer about ten minutes of their time per student each year. Unigo, which began with the goal of building the best online college guide, is moving into a new space, looking to solve the crunch in places like California with by offering virtual college counselling through streaming web video.

Launching the virtual guidance was an effort to diversify Unigo’s revenue stream. But founder and chief executive says it has helped grow the site’s web presence as well. “We’ve been doubling our traffic every month since September and have now reached more than 1 million unique visitors a month,” Unigo founder and chief executive Jordan Goldman told VentureBeat by phone.

In September of last year Unigo raised $1.6 million from McGraw-Hill. It was an unusual move for the textbook giant, which had never made a venture capital investment in a startup before. But it makes a lot of sense given Unigo’s new strategy. McGraw-Hill had the reputation and connections to help Unigo negotiate deals with school districts who want to cheaply expand the amount of college guidance they can offer to students. Purchasing remote video time for students is a lot less expensive  and more flexible for school districts than hiring additional full time staff.

“There are really two sides of this story,” Goldman VentureBeat. “School districts are overwhelmed by the number of students who need help. At the same time, the law says these counsellors can’t offer their services to students from their own schools after hours. Private tutoring is extremely expensive, in the thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. So there is a real need for a more efficient way to match the supply and demand.”

Unigo is working to sign up college counsellors who can earn extra income by offering their services to students who are not getting enough help at their school. Once it has a big supply of opinions from students and counsellors, Goldman says Unigo plans to begin offering this data to colleges in the form of market research. “We are going to be the best resource for raw, unfiltered opinions from students and counsellors about specific schools.”

In January Unigo officially relaunched as  a marketplace for college guidance, shifting the focus on its homepage to highlight 1-on-1 help from admissions and financial aid experts. McGraw-Hill is clearly hoping that the burgeoning world of online education and college guidance will help to make up for its declining textbooks sales, which have dropped each quarter for the last year and a half.

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Peak Games acquires Saudi Arabia’s Kammelna as games go social in the Middle East

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Peak Games, a maker of social games in Turkey, is acquiring Saudi Arabia’s Kammelna Games to expand its presence in the fast-growing social game market in the Middle East.

With more than 20 million monthly active users, Peak Games says it has become one of the top four social game companies in the world in the past 14 months, mainly on the strength of its games that are tailored for various countries and ethnic groups in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. Istanbul-based Peak Games wants to become the leader for online social games in the region, said Rina Onur, chief strategy officer of Peak Games, in an interview.

“We have been expanding and hiring aggressively,” Onur said. “Kammelna is a great fit for us because they create culturally relevant games that are social and multiplayer in nature.”

While other game makers often pay lip service to localizing their games for the Middle East, Peak Games goes far beyond simply translating games into Arabic. Peak Games has Zynga-like content such as Happy Farm, which has 2.2 million daily active users. That means the game is the second-most popular social farm game in the world in a region with more than 400 million consumers. The region already has 65 million Facebook members.

But it also has multiplayer titles such as Okey (pictured at top), Okey Plus and other titles that are culturally relevant because they are based on traditional regional board games.

With Kammelna, the company gains new executive leadership, local talent, a new studio and some hugely popular games. One of Kammelna’s popular games is Baloot, based on a popular regional card game.

Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, says that Peak Games is exploiting a first-mover advantage in delivering culturally relevant games in the region. The result is one of the highest levels of user engagement and average revenue per user in the world, Pachter said.

The Middle East has been in the midst of turmoil as a result of the Arab Spring revolt and its aftermath. But you would never know it, based on the games that Peak Games is creating. Onur said that her company is not making political games. Clearly, the unspoken truth is that doing so would get the company in a lot of hot water with local governments. But Onur said that the company’s developers are simply focused on making casual and hardcore games that they believe will be fun to play.

“We are not very interested in political games,” Onur said. “We just want to do what we know best.”

With Kammelna, Peak Games will continue to launch more free-to-play multiplayer online games that are based on traditional Arabic board and card games. Peak Games is run by chief executive Sidar Sahin.

Kammelna was founded by Essam Alzamel, who will continue to run the studio in Damman, Saudi Arabia, where more than two-thirds of the Internet users play games online. On average, Kammelna’s users play more than one hour per play session. Peak Games already has studios and offices in Istanbul, Ankara, Barcelona, Berlin, San Francisco and Amman Jordan.

Peak Games also recently acquired Umaykut and Erlikhan game studios. The company is funded by Earlybird Venture Capital, Hummingbird Ventures, and serial business angel Evren Ucok. Peak Games has 150 employees and Kammelna has 30.

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Yummy Apple rumors: iPad 3 gets thicker, iPhone 5 due for fall

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 07:52 AM PST

What better way to come off the long weekend than with a bunch of Apple rumors? It looks like the iPad 3 may be getting a bit of junk in the trunk, while the iPhone 5 could be another fall release for Apple.

The Chinese tech blog M.I.C. Gadget has received an early production version of the iPad 3′s rear case from “reliable sources,” which shows that the new tablet will have even more tapered edges than the iPad 2 and will also be around 1-1.5mm thicker.

Apple was likely forced to increase the iPad 3′s thickness to fit in some new hardware, like the higher resolution Retina Display (which was semi-confirmed by counting pixels on an early production display), improved camera, and possible inclusion of LTE 4G technology. The iPad 3 is rumored to sport a new quad-core A6 processor from Apple, though a recent posting on a Chinese forum says otherwise, thanks to a picture of a purported iPad 3 logic board with an “A5X” chip. Judging by Apple’s naming conventions, the A5X (if it exists) is most likely a slightly faster version of the dual-core A5 on the iPad 2.

According to the most recent rumors, the iPad 3 is expected to launch on March 7.

As for the iPhone 5, it seems that Apple may be settling on fall as its new season for iPhone releases, according to the Japanese tech blog Macotakara. The site, which has been accurate in the past about Apple rumors, also cites “reliable sources” for its information. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the iPhone 5 does land during the fall, because it wouldn’t make much sense for Apple to cut into the iPhone 4S’ life cycle. People are still hot for the iPhone 4S, and Apple will want to milk that demand for all it’s worth.

Via ZDNet; Image via M.I.C. Gadget

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Kindle Fire extinguisher? Barnes & Noble launches new $199 Nook Tablet, $179 Nook Color

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 07:45 AM PST


Barnes & Noble is launching a new $199 8GB Nook Tablet to better compete against Amazon’s popular Kindle Fire Tablet, the company confirmed today.

Since the Kindle Fire’s November launch at a mere $199, the $249 Nook Tablet has had a hard time attracting customers who were in the market to buy the cheapest tablet, as my colleague Sean Ludwig previously pointed out. The Nook Color is also dropping to $169, which makes it the cheapest available tablet option for most people.

Unlike the current 16GB Nook Tablet model, the new $199 Nook Tablet will have only 8GB storage, which makes sense since plenty of digital media (e-books, e-magazines, games, music, and other media) is increasingly moving to the cloud. The new Nook Tablet still has a microSD slot for expanding its storage (it can take up a 32GB microSD card).

I’m guessing that since Barnes & Noble is reporting fourth quarter revenue increases for both digital and physical sides of the business, the company is seeking to continue its strategy of making the Nook a loss leader to boost sales everywhere else.

Nook Tablet photo: Barnes & Noble

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Barnes & Noble misses Street expectations, but thankfully Nook business is up nearly 40%

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 07:43 AM PST


Barnes & Noble missed Wall Street expectations with its fiscal third-quarter results on Tuesday, but at least it had some positive news on deck. Not only did the company announce the $199 8GB Nook Tablet, but also its overall Nook business is up almost 40 percent from a year ago.

The company is in the midst of transforming itself from a brick-and-mortar bookseller to one supported by hardware and digital sales. The big question on investor and consumer minds is if the company can survive in the long-term with incredibly strong competition from Amazon on all fronts. Amazon’s price-busting $199 Kindle Fire is the reason Barnes & Noble launched the $199 Nook Tablet, and it will remain the primary competition for the foreseeable future.

Barnes & Noble reported that revenues were up 5 percent against the year-ago quarter. Net income ended up at $52 million, which is flat from last year’s earnings. Third quarter earnings per share ended up at $0.71 a share. Analysts had predicted $1.01 per share.

The biggest positive of the report was that the total Nook business revenues were up 38 percent year-over-year to $542 million. Nook hardware sales, including the Simple Touch, Color and Tablet, increased 64 percent year-over-year. Digital content sales, including digital books, digital newsstand, and apps, increased a massive 85 percent against the year-ago quarter.

While the news was decidedly mixed, investors did not appear to be shaken in early trading Tuesday. Barnes & Noble’s share price on the NYSE was slightly higher at $13.24 per share, a 1 percent gain for the day, as of this writing.

Barnes & Noble store photo: Brokentaco/Flickr

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Mobile ad startup Kiip hires Zynga’s advertising chief as COO

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

Kiip is announcing today that it has hired Zynga’s ad boss Manny Anekal as chief operating officer.

San Francisco-based Kiip is a fast-growing startup that offers real-world prizes as rewards in mobile games. Hiring Anekal from recently-public Zynga will add some cachet and some executive firepower for the company, which is headed by 20-year-old entrepreneur Brian Wong.

I can imagine that a lot of business people might not take a company with a 20-year-old CEO seriously. But Wong has built a track record for his company, launched numerous products, created several key partnerships, and has raised money. If the company needs some extra cred because Wong isn’t old enough or lacks experience, then Anekal can bring that to the company as its global chief operating officer.

"Kiip is undeniably one of the world's most innovative companies with a great story to tell — they're also sitting at the epicenter of three burgeoning markets: mobile, gaming, and advertising,” Anekal (pictured) said. “They've taken an angle that I've never seen any company tackle with such prowess, and the growth opportunity they sit on is absolutely massive. I'm excited to help them take this to the next level.”

San Francisco-based Kiip was founded in September 2010 by Wong, Courtney Guertin, and Amadeus Demarzi.

Kiip offers rewards at the moment when you achieve something in a mobile game, such as getting past a level or a boss. Wong calls this “moments based” advertising, or catching a consumer when he or she is having a great time with a game. It recently also started offering Swarms, or mobile game tournaments with big-ticket rewards.

Anekal will be responsible for managing the growth and operations of the rewards network. Anekal led the brand integration and ad efforts with top-tier consumer brands in titles such as FarmVille and CityVille. Anekal has a decade of experience with the development of games and online advertising products. He was global director of brand advertising at Zynga, the social game giant, and he led global ad operations at Electronic Arts. He also had a similar position at in-game ad startup Massive, which was acquired by Microsoft.

Regarding the age question, Wong said in an email to VentureBeat, “I’ve been very fortunate and I’m able to have conversations with the right people who I can respect and they reciprocate. I think the amount of progress we’ve made and the partnerships and brands we’ve struck deals with are indicative of that. I think brands and agencies are looking for the younger generation to propel them to areas they would have never considered. Manny will certainly help, but he’s joked that he’s always felt like the young one too. This industry is also very young.”

Kiip is backed by Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, True Ventures, Verizon Ventures, and Crosslink Capital.

[Photo credit: Kiip]

Filed under: games, media, mobile, social

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BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0: RIM’s tablet finally gets fancy features like e-mail

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 06:28 AM PST

BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0

Remember the BlackBerry PlayBook? Research in Motion’s tablet stirred up quite a bit of hype last year, only to land with a thud. Now it’s getting a new breath of life, though at this point I can’t imagine anyone cares.

RIM announced today that it has released the first major update for the tablet, BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, which adds some very basic features it should have had from the beginning, including a built-in e-mail client, calendar, and contacts.

Seriously, the BlackBerry PlayBook launched without a freaking e-mail client. It’s no surprise then that the tablet flopped so badly. The PlayBook is a tablet built for the BlackBerry faithful, and yet it was missing one of the most-used features by Crackberry addicts.

In the last quarter of 2011, RIM announced that it shipped only 150,000 of the tablets, and that it had to take a $485 million hit for the quarter due to lowering the PlayBook’s price. As far as the major tablet flops of 2011 go, the PlayBook sits directly behind HP’s disastrous webOS TouchPad.

Other new features in BlackBerry OS 2.0 include social integration in the calendar, which will pull in your friends from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as updates to BlackBerry Bridge that will let your BlackBerry Phone serve as a remote control for the PlayBook. There’s also a new “Open On” feature that makes it easy to open documents you’re viewing on your BlackBerry Phone on the PlayBook with a single click.

The update’s new features don’t come as much of a surprise, as RIM has been discussing many of them for months. They deliver tight integration between the tablet and BlackBerry phones that will be welcome to the handful of PlayBook owners out there, though there’s still no excuse for why it took RIM almost a full year to release the features. Even worse, the update was originally supposed to land last fall, but RIM delayed it to this month.

BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 won’t likely win the tablet many new converts, especially with the iPad 3 only a few weeks away, but it represents a glimmer of hope for those who have bet on RIM.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Microsoft attacks Google over privacy, ignores the exact same violations from its partner, Facebook

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 04:55 AM PST

Steve Ballmer facebook

Microsoft is leveraging an outcry over Google’s approach to privacy to smear its rival in the press. It released a blog post yesterday that claimed to have fresh findings about how Google circumvents privacy protections in Internet Explorer to place cookies that track users across the web.

But Microsoft was playing dumb. It has known about this technique for two years and failed to mention that many other major sites like Facebook, in which Microsoft is an investor, use the same techniques to get around IE’s default privacy settings.

Here is the setup from Microsoft’s blog post yesterday, written by Dean Hachamovitch a corporate Vice President at Internet Explorer. “When the IE team heard that Google had bypassed user privacy settings on Safari, we asked ourselves a simple question: is Google circumventing the privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users too?”

That’s a question that Microsoft already knows the answer to. A study published way back in 2010 showed that more than a third of sites visited using Internet Explorer have a technical error that allows cookies to be installed. The study was big news, meriting a story in the New York Times.

The trick that Google, Facebook and many other are using to get around IE’s privacy settings involves a web standard know as P3P. In their recent blog post, Microsoft said they would be calling on Google to honor this protocol. But Facebook has made it perfectly clear that P3P isn’t some universally accepted technology. A blog post from technologist Nik Cubrilovic lays out the specifics. Attached to the piece of code that allows Facebook to get by IE’s privacy settings he found this statement:

“The organization that established P3P, the World Wide Web Consortium, suspended its work on this standard several years ago because most modern web browsers do not fully support P3P. As a result, the P3P standard is now out of date and does not reflect technologies that are currently in use on the web, so most websites currently do not have P3P policies.”

So to recap. Microsoft jumped on a story about how Google was getting around privacy protections in Safari to drum up outrage about a two-year old violation they were already well aware of. What they neglected to mention is that plenty of other sites, including Facebook and its Bing search data partners, use the exact same techniques and have more or less dismissed the standards Microsoft is calling on Google to honor.

This is playing politics with privacy concerns, plain and simple.

Filed under: security

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Startups struggle to keep their sites speedy on PCs, phones, and tablets

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 04:30 AM PST

Chart showing page load times for various startup sites

For a startup, a lot is riding on the home page. You might be surprised, then, to learn that startups vary wildly in how quickly and reliably their website home pages load.

That’s especially true when you look at load times on mobile devices. An increasing number of people use smartphones and tablets to browse the web, and yet — for some reason — the mobile versions of many startups’ sites lag far behind their desktop equivalents.

Keynote Systems‘ new Startup Shootout Index provides some insight into the three-screen challenge now facing anyone with a web presence. It’s the first website performance index to measure load times and completion percentages on desktops, smartphones, and tablets simultaneously.

If a home page doesn’t load quickly and reliably, it risks driving away valuable new customers. If you’re lucky enough to get someone visiting your site, you don’t want them disappearing before you’ve had a chance to make your pitch.

To do the test, Keynote used its network of PCs to simulate desktop web traffic to selected startup websites from a variety of locations around the U.S. Additionally, Keynote simulated traffic from iPhone 4 and iPad 2 users in four locations: Chicago, Dallas, New York, and San Francisco. (We’re using Apple’s mobile devices as proxies for all mobile gear, which is not a complete representation of the mobile universe, obviously, but it does represent a wide swath of mobile users.) Tests were done over a period of weeks and the results averaged into scores for each website. In addition, Keynote created an index score for each category, which represents the average of all the websites in that category.

Note that the test measures home page response times, not the time to complete a transaction or do other activities on these sites.

The 34 startup websites measured by Keynote are grouped into six categories: Collaboration (including sites like Box, Dropbox, and Huddle), Travel, Mobile and Social Gaming, Social Retail (Gilt Groupe, Fab.com, and the like), Social Networking, Digital Entertainment (Spotify, Rdio, and Turntable.fm). To view this month’s full data set, check out the spreadsheet embedded below.

VentureBeat is proud to be Keynote’s exclusive media partner for this index, which means we’ll be publishing the results every month. We’ll focus on a different segment of the index each month. And yes, we know that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, which is why we’ve asked Keynote to measure VentureBeat’s website performance as well, and we’ll report that data as soon as we have it. We’ll keep lobbing those stones, but at least you’ll know that we’re smashing our own windows, too.

This month, we’ll zero in on digital entertainment startups, whose response times are shown in the graph above.

Spotify has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to its arrival in the U.S. and its recent partnership with Facebook. The company has done a good job of keeping its performance consistent between desktop, smartphone, and tablet versions of its site, as has Rdio.

However, other sites don’t show the same consistency. Facebook has the top-ranking response time for its desktop and smartphone websites, but its tablet site ranks fifth overall.

“We're seeing that tablets are often a distant third when it comes to performance,” said Tim Murphy, senior mobile marketing manager at Keynote Systems. On Facebook’s performance, Murphy noted that the site’s iPad response time is nearly eight times slower than the desktop on the same 3G network. “The iPad is 2X slower than the iPhone largely because they're sending about 265KB of data to the tablet user versus 142KB to the smartphone user,” Murphy added.

As for the other categories, Murphy noted that mobile and social gaming sites seem to lag behind the rest of the startup categories. But retail sites need to improve too. “Retailers need to pay more attention to the mobile web, to meet the needs of the growing number of mobile retail consumers,” Murphy said, citing recent data from eMarketer on the growing number of mobile consumers.

You can see the full set of this month’s Startup Shootout Index data in a Google spreadsheet, or view it in the embedded spreadsheet below.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Taser unveils new wearable police cameras, starting with BART

Posted: 21 Feb 2012 02:54 AM PST

For geeks, small head-mounted cameras streaming to iPhones seem like cool, sci-fi inspired gadgetry. For cops, they may be the best way to record incidents, avoid lawsuits, and stay one step ahead of disastrous PR and public outrage.

The Axon Flex camera on a pair of Oakley sunglasses.

On Tuesday, police-tech company Taser, maker of the eponymous electroshock guns, announced its latest on-officer camera system for law enforcement. The cameras mount on Oakley sunglasses and have companion Android and iOS mobile apps. The first people to get the new technology are none other than the 150 patrol officers on the troubled Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) force.

On-dashboard car cameras were considered advanced when they first came out. But the technology has evolved and shrunk over the years, and while law enforcement isn’t known for being ahead of the technological curve (the San Francisco Police Department still takes statements on carbon paper), Taser thinks the time for on-officer cameras and digital video has arrived.

The new wearable-camera system, Axon Flex, is Taser’s second try at wearable cameras and will work with the company’s companion cloud storage system for managing the resulting videos, Evidence.com.

Changing course, quickly

The people at Taser are fast learners. After rolling out its first foray into the wearable-camera market just last year (an earlier on-Taser camera didn’t take off), the 19-year-old company quickly realized drastic changes were needed to how it was designing and producing the still-new gear.

“Everyone we talk to gets it, that we want the camera on the officer,” Taser CEO Patrick Smith told VentureBeat. “People can see it coming, and we think we’re at the inflection point right now.”

Taser's first, bulky camera system.

The first iteration, called the Taser Axon, was bulky, uncomfortable, a bit dorky looking, and made almost entirely by Taser. To a generation of iPhone users, the large handheld viewer immediately jumped out as unnecessary and dated. “It was too clunky, too early,” said Smith.

The company went back to the drawing board and decided to focus on only the things it did best, and to outsource the rest to partners that were already the best in their fields. (Smith said the book “Good to Great” by Tim Collins was his inspiration.)

First there was the cool factor. “Our headgear was slightly more comfortable than braces,” admitted Smith. Officers were unhappy with the way Taser’s custom head-mount looked and felt, so Taser surveyed various members of law-enforcement to find out what brands they really wanted. Ninety percent of officers said they liked sunglasses-maker Oakley. The new system Flex camera mounts via magnet directly onto a custom pair of Oakley Flack Jacket glasses.

For the camera, Taser went to a company called Looxcie that was already making compact, wearable cameras with Bluetooth streaming technology. A few custom modifications were made, including maximizing the cameras for low-light shooting. The cameras shoot 30 frames per second of video at 640-by-480 resolution.

The hulking custom viewer is out, and instead the company has created mobile apps for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. The video files are stored on the camera itself (up to 8GB) and can only be downloaded using a special mount at the station for chain-of-custody reason. However, the officer can use the Flex Mobile app preview, name, and add notes to the video on any compatible mobile device. The app can also show the camera’s battery and memory status, and Smith says GPS is coming soon.

Taser is working on another Android and iOS mobile app, called Evidence Mobile, that collects digital evidence from a crime scene, including photos, audio notes, and GPS tags.

Cloud storage for the Evidence.com system is now run by Amazon Web Services. Evidence.com is Taser’s ambitious online management solution for all the videos police record. Unlike the DVDs or VHS tapes many precincts still use, digital video stored on a remote server is available to multiple people at any given time.

In the beginning, Taser tried building its own web servers for Evidence.com, but Amazon had already jumped through the hoops and invested time and money to make its service FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) compliant. The act outlines tricky government-required procedures for handling electronic surveillance.

Finally, Taser adjusted how it priced and sold the system. Each camera system comes out to about $1000 per officer, but a set pricing structure turned out to a hard sell. Some agencies have an annual budget, others just a one-time chunk of money. Some want to lease equipment, other need to buy it outright. Taser is giving its sales force the flexibility to work with each agency and nail down whatever unique payment structure works for them.

The drastic change in direction was something Taser was lucky enough to be able to fund. The public company has taken all of its profits from the last three years and sunk it into the on-officer camera technology and the Evidence.com digital-asset management system. Though almost two decades old, the company has some fresh, startup blood on its board helping it navigate the new, rapidly changing gadget-waters; Hadi Partovi, former Facebook and Dropbox advisor is a board member.

A history of violence

BART police

A BART police officer declaring a protest unlawful.

BART officers will start using the new Flex camera systems at the end of the month. The transit system’s police force has had several unfortunate run-ins in recent years. Officers fatally shot the unarmed Oscar Grant in 2009, an event that was thoroughly documented by nearby passengers with camera-phones. In 2011, BART officers shot a man named Charles Hill, whom officers say was armed with a knife.

Both incidents resulted in public outcry and protests, but the Hill drama took an unexpected turn when BART shut down cell phone service along the train lines to prevent protesters from coordinating locations. Impinging on riders’ civil liberties did what a mere shooting and death couldn’t: it led to much larger protests, international condemnation, and the involvement of Hacker-activist group Anonymous.

If police had captured the Hill shooting on video, and if what the video showed exonerated the two officers, would the incident have still snowballed into a public relations nightmare? If the incident wasn’t on the up-and-up, would the officers have even turned on their cameras?

Cynics, loopholes, and the psychology of being watched

There are still open questions about how the system will work in the field, especially from wary city-dwellers who may think some police are corrupt. Each law-enforcement agency will have to develop its own policies and punishments for officers to ensure they use the new equipment properly and responsibly. The recorded video itself is tamper-proof — a user cannot access, delete, or alter the original file in any way — but the camera still requires an officer to hit the big Record button, and to refrain from turning it off if things are getting out of control.

Studies conducted by law-enforcement organizations point to video-evidence having a positive impact on reducing complaints. A U.S. study of over 3000 officers using in-car cameras found that 93 percent of civilian complaints were dropped or immediately resolved when video evidence was available. Another study, this time of a UK pilot program in which 300 officers used on-person cameras, found complaints dropped 14 percent down to zero.

It’s unknown if complaints drop because civilians see recorded evidence and realize they can’t get away with a false complaint, or if officers behave differently when they know they are being recorded. That knowledge may be the difference between an event being “caught” on video, like the Oscar Grant shooting, and by-the-book events being willingly filmed by the police.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Meet the ZTE Mimosa X, the first smartphone powered exclusively by Nvidia

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 05:30 PM PST

Nvidia’s technology powers many cell phones on the market, including the T-Mobile G2X and Motorola Droid X2. But until now, Nvidia only supplied its processors to external cell phone manufacturers. On Monday, Nvidia announced the first phone to be powered solely by its technology.

"The Mimosa X marks the first time NVIDIA technology powers all the major processors in a single smartphone, and also the first time a premium mobile computing experience is coming to the mainstream smartphone market,” said Nvidia’s general manager of mobile business Michael Rayfield in a statement.

Nvidia’s first phone, called the ZTE Mimosa X, will be powered by the company’s dual-core Tegra 2 processor. The phone also includes an Nvidia Icera 450 HSPA+ modem, technology from Nvidia’s acquisition of Icera in 2011.

The ZTE Mimosa X will run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest Android operation system. You can look forward to a four inch 960-by-540 pixel resolution screen, rear and front five megapixel cameras, and four gigabytes of internal storage that can be expanded to 32 GB. The phone is equipped with a few multimedia features too, including Dolby sound and HD video recording and playback.

One feature that Nvidia boasts about is its TegraZone gaming app store. The company notes in its press release that TegraZone was previously only available for high-end phones and is now coming to the ZTE Mimosa X.

The company hasn’t released any ship date, carrier, or price yet, though it says the phone will “be launched around Q2 2012″.

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Jeremy Lin, women in VC, and the bigotry of pattern matching

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 05:13 PM PST

Jeremy Lin is the talk of the NBA. Sportswriters everywhere are busy cranking out column inches on what people have called the ultimate Cinderella story: The emergence of an Asian-American Harvard graduate, seemingly from nowhere, as one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

On February 3, Jeremy Lin was the Knicks’ third-string point guard. Less than two weeks later, Sports Illustrated announced that they would put him on the cover of the February 20 issue with the caption, “Against All Odds.”

Yet one group wasn’t surprised by Lin’s success. A new breed of basketball statheads (the hoop equivalent of the SABRmetricians popularized in “Moneyball“) had predicted Lin’s success from the start.

Prior to the 2010 draft (where all 30 NBA teams passed on Lin) their analysis ranked Lin #10 out of all players, and #1 among undrafted players. This analysis is purely statistical; the models don’t consider height, vertical leap, foot speed, and perhaps most importantly, skin color. They simply look at statistical contributions made during basketball games.

Statistical analysis continued to rate Lin highly on his rookie season. He produced .157 wins per 48 minutes played, or more than 50% better than the average player, who produces .100 wins per 48 minutes played. (Incidentally, Carmelo Anthony produced .140 wins per 48 minutes played that season).

He also shone in the NBA’s Developmental League (a minor league of basketball), where he produced at a .211 clip.

In other words, when you looked at pure production, Lin was a top prospect. His rise only seems unlikely when you consider non-basketball factors, like his race or educational institution.

Trendy sports blog Deadspin tweaked the madness best, titling a February 7 blog post, “Asian Harvard Grad Somehow Succeeding In New York.”

It’s a funny one-liner, but it underscores a more serious issue.

Lin’s high school coach noted that his star player wasn’t recruited by any colleges, despite leading underdog Palo Alto High to the California state title. He also noted that the following year, a number of scouts came to games to watch another of his players who wasn’t as good, but was African-American.

Stereotyping has legitimate purposes. If you knew that Harvard University had produced twice as many presidents (8) as NBA players (4), you would be right to guess that any generic Harvard basketball player would be unlikely to make the NBA. But stereotyping only makes sense in the absence of better data.

In the case of Jeremy Lin, publicly available statistics proclaimed his value, but scouts preferred believing in stereotypes to trusting in data.

Sadly, this kind of bigotry isn’t limited to the world of sports. Even here in Silicon Valley, where we like to think of ourselves as a meritocracy, we practice a particularly pernicious form of stereotyping on a daily basis.

Investors love to talk about “pattern matching.” A common expression is, “I’ve seen this movie before.” There’s a reason why entrepreneurs constantly pitch themselves as “the AirBnB of ice skating” or “the iPhone of Valentine’s Day cards” (hmmm, that actually doesn’t sound so bad….).

This made sense in the absence of better data. When investors had to make decisions based on a PowerPoint deck and some rough prototypes, falling back on stereotypes was a good strategy. Indeed, I like to describe the default investing strategy of Silicon Valley as “invest in charismatic 20something Computer Science graduates from Stanford, MIT, and CMU (with Berkeley, UIUC, and Harvard as fallbacks), as long as they’re male and either Caucasian or Asian.”

In today’s world, with the ability to judge entrepreneurs based on a vast amount of publicly available data, ranging from social media to GitHub, with the ability to launch MVPs and generate tangible engagement and conversion statistics without raising money from investors, we now have the better data we need to make stereotyping AKA “pattern matching” AKA bigotry obsolete.

But old habits die hard. Just in the last few months, we saw a CNN special on black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Whether or not you feel that CNN used ambush tactics to help stir up controversy, the fact is that African-Americans make up only 1 percent of venture-backed entrepreneurs nationwide. And just last month, Whitney Hess conducted an analysis of top venture capital firms that showed that the most gender-balanced firm was Kleiner Perkins at 23% female, while the majority of those firms had zero female investors.

Discussing such topics makes people in Silicon Valley uncomfortable. Few of us like to think of ourselves as racist or sexist. Yet I know of many entrepreneurs who feel that they are overlooked because of their skin color, gender, age or simply because they didn’t go to the right schools.

Jeremy Lin has been called the Asian Tim Tebow (or is it that Tim Tebow is the white Jeremy Lin?); we need to extend the lessons of Jeremy Lin beyond sports to the startup world. Decisions need to be based on performance on the field of play, not race, gender, age, or education.

And for those who are the first to recognize “pattern matching” for what it is, the rewards can be great. How many of those other 29 NBA teams could use Jeremy Lin on their team right now?

Chris Yeh is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and angel investor based in Silicon Valley. He also blogs at Adventures in Capitalism, where the above story also appears. The story is reprinted here with permission. 

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Smartphone ownership linked to age and wealth

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 04:49 PM PST

Young or old, if you’re loaded, you’re far more likely to own a smartphone.

The finding comes from analytics firm Nielsen. The company surveyed more than 20,000 mobile consumers in the U.S. and found a strong correlation between age, income, and smartphone ownership.

Adults aged 24 to 34 showed the highest proportion of smartphone ownership: 66 percent indicated they owned a smartphone. Overall smartphone penetration in the U.S., according to Nielsen, was at 48 percent in January.

Nielsen also found that, in general, for all age groups, the more money people make, the more likely they are to own a smartphone. Youngsters 18 to 24, however, skew higher for smartphone ownership even at lower salaries.

“Older subscribers with higher incomes are more likely to have a smartphone,” Nielsen said in a blog post on the survey. “For example, those 55-64 making over 100K a year are almost as likely to have a smartphone as those in the 35-44 age bracket making 35-75K per year.”

Clearly, parents and grandparents with extra cash on hand are happy to get hip with the smartphone-toting times. After all, it’s what the kids are doing.

On the whole, consumers are opting to upgrade to smartphones over feature phones. In the past three months, more than 50 percent of people in search of a new device, under the age of 65, chose to purchase a smartphone. And if you look at the 25 to 34 age group specifically, the percentage of smartphone choosers is a whopping 80 percent.

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon, Flickr

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Pinterest not a pirate anymore, helps site owners disable pins

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 02:51 PM PST

By way of the “pin,” accidental thieves have exchanged copyrighted content on digital pin-board site Pinterest. To thwart any lawsuits in the making, the much talked-about startup is giving disgruntled site-owners a way to stop piracy before it starts by blocking their images from showing up on Pinterest.

Pinterest is the up-and-coming social site that encourages members to “pin,” via bookmarklet, items they love to collections called boards. In about a year’s time, the site has grown into one of the most-trafficked social networks.

The acts of “pinning” and “repinning” (re-sharing a pin created by another user) have come under fire, especially in photographer circles, as tools for copyright infringement. Members can easily grab copyrighted works from photo-sharing or media sites and clip them to their boards. Pinned images often include attribution, but sources later get lost in the shuffle, and some members go on to use images on their blogs or websites. Plus, considering that Google is the second most popular source of pins, a sizable percentage images are likely misattributed.

Now, Pinterest is providing website owners a simple snippet of code, located in the updated help section of the site, to help them nip unwanted sharing in the bud.

“We care about respecting the rights of copyright holders. We work hard to follow the DMCA procedure for acting quickly when we receive notices of claimed copyright infringement,” co-founder Ben Silbermann wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “We understand and respect that sometimes site owners do not want any of their material pinned.”

The new code, when added to the header of any page, will prevent a person of Pinterest from sharing content from that page. If someone attempts to pin something from a site with that code in place, she will see a message that reads: “This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”

The code should help the anti-Pinterest photographers and publishers of the world keep some of their copyrighted works off of the site, though it certainly won’t prevent the motivated sharer from downloading and re-uploading materials to Pinterest themselves.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the proactive measure could help Pinterest defend itself from copyright litigation. At the very least, the young company can now argue that it does not actively enable or encourage infringement.

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Google working on 1Password-like feature for Chrome

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 02:35 PM PST

Google is working on a possible password-managing tool for future versions of its Chrome browser. ArsTechnica found details of the interesting project on the Chromium Project site.

Much like the popular 1Password software from AgileBits, the Chrome feature would generate, suggest, and remember strong passwords for you. The tool would save you from having to remember multiple passwords and cut down on the highly unsafe practice of using one password across multiple sites.

The Chrome-created passwords would be random and different for each of the sites where you have a login. You wouldn’t have to use the tool while using Chrome, but the built-in option would come up each time you created a new account. In the mock-ups, it is indicated by a discreet key icon at the end of the password field. Click to get a randomly generated password that you change to meet any special requirements from the site (for example, must have one character and capital letter), and then Chrome will record it.

The suggestion would only come up for new passwords, leaving old passwords, for better or worse, alone. Since you wouldn’t know your own passwords, you’d also be less likely to succumb to phishing attacks.

An even more interesting potential feature would be a sort of self-destruct button. If your passwords fell into the wrong hands, you could do a mass reset and change all of your passwords.

The Chrome tool would only work with sites using OpenID, a standard that allows you to use one account to log in to multiple sites. Currently, more than 50,000 sites use OpenID, but there are still many more that need to adopt the standard to make this potential tool take off.

There is also the potential for privacy concerns, though many might see no harm in adding a few passwords to the scores of data Google already has from them.

Combination lock image via Shutterstock

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Sci-fi ad can scan your face, deliver gender-biased messages

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 02:27 PM PST

In a straight-out-of-science-fiction move, a new ad campaign can scan your face, determine your gender, and deliver a specific message if you are a woman.

It’s hard to not make a reference to Minority Report, the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, when describing this technology. In the movie, Cruise’s character walks into a shopping mall and has his eyes scanned by an advertisement which greets him by name. It sounds creepy and like an invasion of privacy, but we aren’t too far away from that kind of technology.

The Independent reports that children’s charity Plan UK is releasing the campaign, called “Because I Am a Girl,” to benefit girl’s education in poor countries. The ad will include a computer, a touchscreen, and a high-definition camera that can scan the faces of passersby and determine their gender.

Women and girls will be shown a full message from the charity, while males will just see a message directing them to the charity’s website. The camera measures the distance between facial features to determine gender and the ad’s designers say it will be 90 percent accurate.

This technology is not the first of its kind; in fact, the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas has ads that can give recommendations to passersby. NEC in Japan also collects information like gender and age from scanning shoppers’ faces. Clear Channel, the company producing the ad, says that no personal data will be stored, but I can’t help but think it all sounds a lot like Big Brother.

Minority report image via SEOptimise on Flickr

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Another Google privacy violation, this time IE gets targeted (updated)

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 01:16 PM PST

Microsoft published a post on its Internet Explorer Engineering Team blog today calling out Google for bypassing Internet Explorer’s privacy settings.

Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal broke the news that Google has been bypassing privacy settings set by users on Apple’s Safari browser. After hearing this, Microsoft investigated whether Google was doing the same to Internet Explorer. After some digging, IE’s engineering team got their answer: yes, Google was going over user’s privacy controls.

Specifically, Google has been bypassing Internet Explorer’s P3P Privacy Protection feature, which defines how cookies are used by browsers and websites. P3P Compact Policy statements are provided by websites to explain how the site’s cookies will be impact a visitor’s privacy while browsing.

Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president for Internet Explorer, explains on the IE blog how the browser handles P3P statements:

By default, IE blocks third-party cookies unless the site presents a P3P Compact Policy Statement indicating how the site will use the cookie and that the site's use does not include tracking the user. Google's P3P policy causes Internet Explorer to accept Google's cookies even though the policy does not state Google's intent.

The same situation arose with Safari. The browser by default blocks third-party cookies, and Google bypassed this feature. Only time and more digging will tell if Firefox users have experienced this privacy issue as well. VentureBeat reached to Microsoft and Google on this issue.

Google’s Rachel Whetstone, Senior Vice President of Communications and Policy, told VentureBeat in an email:

Microsoft uses a "self-declaration" protocol (known as "P3P") dating from 2002 under which Microsoft asks websites to represent their privacy practices in machine-readable form.  It is well known – including by Microsoft – that it is impractical to comply with Microsoft's request while providing modern web functionality.  We have been open about our approach, as have many other websites. Today the Microsoft policy is widely non-operational.

Microsoft has responded to the situation with a Tracking Protection List that Internet Explorer users can add to their browser to keep track of this kind of activity should it persist. The link for the list is available on the IE Engineering Team blog.

These allegations follow the developing controversy over Google’s new privacy changes, which allow for shared information across all Google services.

Image courtesy of Minerva Studio, Shutterstock

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Apple to sue bankrupt Proview over iPad trademark kerfuffle

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 01:09 PM PST

Apple is threatening to sue Proview, the bankrupt firm that once held the iPad trademark.

The two companies have been squabbling back and forth over the past few weeks over which actually held the right to the iPad name in China.

Proview, which is headquartered in China, saw a Taiwanese subsidiary sell the iPad trademark to Apple in 2001. However, the parent company claimed the transaction was invalid. Earlier this month, Proview sued Apple, asking the court to ban iPad sales in China and demanding an apology from Apple, as well as a hefty fine.

After a Chinese court upheld Apple’s right to use the iPad name in the country, Apple is now considering bringing a defamation lawsuit against Proview for the latter company’s actions and communications with mainstream and tech press outlets.

In a letter to Proview founder Yang Rongshan, Apple’s attorneys write, "It is inappropriate to release information contrary to the facts to the media, especially when such disclosures have the effect of wrongfully causing damage to Apple's reputation.

"Making misrepresentations in the press to inflame the situation is adversely affecting the interests of the parties in seeking any resolution of the matter. On behalf of Apple, we formally reserve all rights to take further legal action against any individuals and entities for any damages that may result from defamatory statements and unlawful actions intended to wrongfully interfere with Apple's business and business relationships."

The full contents of the letter are below:

[hat tip: All Things D]

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Move over iCloud: Microsoft details extensive SkyDrive integration with Windows 8

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 12:52 PM PST

After several leaks, Microsoft has confirmed that its SkyDrive cloud storage solution is about to receive a major update with desktop syncing, a SkyDrive Metro app for Windows 8, secure remote access, and other helpful additions.

microsoft-skydrive-windows-8There has been much movement in the cloud-storage space in the past six months. Apple recently announced it would directly integrate its consumer cloud solution, iCloud, with its upcoming Mountain Lion Mac operating system. Google may also enter the fray with its own Drive cloud-storage service in the next few months. And of course, you’ve got players like Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, and Amazon Cloud Drive that continue to innovate in this area.

Microsoft detailed its latest additions, which will come to SkyDrive in the next several months, on the Building Windows 8 blog. The company used this spotlight as a chance to further detail its vision of how cloud storage should work in applications and across an operating system.

Unlike Apple’s hyped iCloud product, which still has several issues holding it back, SkyDrive actually incorporates strong file management and legitimate multi-platform functionality.

“We think what people want in personal cloud storage is a single drive that's available across all of their devices, tailored to the experiences they're using, providing instant, secure, and private access to their files, and sharing files and folders with people they choose,” the company wrote on the blog. “To bring this to billions of people, our approach is to seamlessly connect the files (and behaviors) that people have today on the PC with the app and device experiences that they will use in the future. Rather than using a patchwork of services, people can use one service to connect to their files — with no compromises.”

SkyDrive is currently available via any browser at Skydrive.com, and through applications on Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. With the new additions, SkyDrive will see deep integration with the Windows 8 OS and new integration into Windows Explorer on the desktop for Windows Vista, 7, and 8 users. The biggest addition is arguably the Windows 8 app, which you can see screenshots above and below.


The Windows 8 Metro app will bring cloud storage to a touch-friendly interface and offer an API so third-party applications can tie themselves to SkyDrive. The Metro app has been designed to deliver “a fast, fluid, touch-first version of SkyDrive that makes it quick, easy, and even fun to browse and access your files” and to make “your SkyDrive available for use from any Metro style app via the file picker (open/save) and the new Share charm in Windows 8.” You’ll be able to get your hands on the new SkyDrive Windows 8 app in preliminary form when it releases the Windows 8 Consumer Preview late this month.

Microsoft provides 17 million active customers with SkyDrive storage, many of which privately share photos and collaborate on Office documents, according to the blog post. While that number is paltry next to iCloud’s more than 100 million users or Dropbox’s more than 50 million reported users, it would not surprise me to see more people jump on to SkyDrive as it continues to include more features and additional Windows users learn about it.

SkyDrive also has implications for helping enterprises too. The service already allows for easy storing and collaboration with Microsoft Office documents, so with more tailoring for security and teams, it could become a serious competitor to players like Box and Egnyte.

The company did not mention storage plan options, but Brazilian site Gemind recently leaked some SkyDrive prices that suggest users can pay $10, $25, or $50 extra per year to get 20, 50, or 100GB over the base 25GB.

You can additionally view a four-minute video detailing the new SkyDrive app below:

Windows 8 SkyDrive images: Microsoft

Top image courtesy of staticnak, Shutterstock

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Fab.com acquires German clone Casacanda, now serving Europe

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 12:36 PM PST

Fab.com, the wildly popular design-focused e-commerce site, has just acquired Casacanda, a German startup offering “an online shopping club for daily design inspirations.”

If that mission statement sounds familiar, it’s not just you. The Fab.com team saw the similarities as well, and decided that snapping up Casacanda would make for a smoother transition into international waters than building a competing product from scratch.

Fab execs hinted last month that international operations would be coming soon. The startup’s CEO, Jason Goldberg, said in a recent email to VentureBeat, "We're planning to grow from 2 million members to 5 million this year worldwide. We're prepared to handle it."

Goldberg also said today that Fab’s trademark design-first service would be coming to other parts of Europe soon.

Today, Casacanda will relaunch as Fab.de. The rebranded site will serve residents in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. All 45 of Casacanda’s employees will now be working for Fab.

Fab.de’s product listings will be sourced both locally and globally, Goldberg revealed. “We have a good amount of crossover as well as unique products. In terms of the first month of Fab.de products, it’s about 30 percent similar to the U.S. and 70 percent originally sourced by the Fab.de team,” the CEO said.

Casacanda brings 250,000 members with it into the Fab fold, 90,000 of whom joined in the last 30 days. In toto, Fab.com now includes 2.3 million member shoppers, all of whom signed up in the past eight months.

The terms of the acquisition were undisclosed, but the company has been on a fundraising tear to produce just this kind of growth. Fab.com took $8 million in funding in July 2011 and quickly continued to raise a gargantuan $40 million round just a few months later in December.

Eventually, Goldberg told us, he hopes to make Fab.com the better-designed competitor to Amazon.com — with all the latter’s size and commercial power. And Fab will be raising more money along the way to make that vision a reality.

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

Casacanda was founded in August 2011, at which time it took an undisclosed amount of funding from three German angel investors.

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Google TV could be getting Siri-like voice-controls

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 12:27 PM PST

Using your hands is so 2010. Voice-activated controls may be on the way for Google TV, according to a patent filed by the company last year that was recently discovered.

Patently Apple has found a filing by Google that lays out new ways for a person to control and communicate with their TV by speaking into a satellite computing device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or possibly a remote control. The document covers how Siri-like voice commands would be transmitted to a TV, describes a mobile-optimized TV interface for smartphones and tablets, and touts the advantages of teaming up multiple computing devices.

The patent describes a variety of possible communication setups. You could speak a command into your Android smartphone (“record Nightline tonight”), then the audio would bounce to the Internet, be translated to text, and the text sent to your TV. (Many TVs aren’t likely to have speech-to-text features, so translation would have to take place before the command hits the set.) There is also a description of a direct device-to-TV communication over Wi-Fi, as well as a voice command being sent to remote servers to be translated, then returning to the smartphone and transmitted to the TV directly.

The technology would allow you to switch channels or control what your TV records from anywhere using an Android handset. One use described in the patent is being able to use a smartphone to turn on your TV or start playing music when you’re up to a quarter-mile away from the television, which seems neat and a fun way to pranking your family, if not terribly useful.

As with all patents, the actual execution could take any number of forms. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Filed under: cloud, media, VentureBeat

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Google Fiber readies an army of satellite antennae for super-fast web service

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 12:18 PM PST

Google is preparing to build a huge antenna farm in Iowa, just a few hundred miles from Kansas City, where the company is rolling out its high-speed Internet project, Google Fiber.

The search company, which lately has been focusing on super-fast Internet as a public utility, is seeking to build an array of antennae with access to satellite transmissions, specifically a C-band, receive-only earth station and a Ku-band, receive-only earth station.

The proposed site for the antenna farm is in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Google already has a local presence in the form of a data center. The farm would be on land adjacent to the data center, a recently purchased 1,000-acre parcel.

The company’s application to build the antenna farm was submitted to the FCC [PDF] last week, and at least three more weeks will pass before the FCC makes any decision on the application.

The Google Fiber project is an ambitious attempt to bring gigabit connectivity to homes, schools, and offices around the world. Many Mountain View residents enjoy the super-fast service.

Kansas City recently won a bid to become the next Google Fiber-enabled community. Google announced the partnership with the city back in May; by the end of July, engineers were surveying the area. Construction on the Google Fiber project in Kansas City began earlier this month after months of preparations.

[hat tip: Data Center Knowledge]

Image courtesy of Christopher Halloran, Shutterstock

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Food discovery app Forkly gets bigger pictures and personalized suggestions

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 12:10 PM PST

Forkly, an app that helps you find popular dishes at restaurants around you, has released version 2.0 with bigger photos and personalized recommendations.

Forkly launched in September 2011 from Britekite founders Brady Becker and Martin May. The app originally helped you photograph, rate, and share dishes you’ve eaten and loved. With the second version of the app, you can share and find dishes more easily. The app now delivers personalized recommendations of dishes and the ability to browse restaurants anywhere.

Perhaps the most noticeable update in the new version is the larger images, which help you browse dishes more quickly. The app also gives you influence points for using the app and rating dishes, and the update has improved how points are handled.

Forkly competes with Foodspotting, another app that rates specific dishes. Both apps have very similar features and are fighting for the same users. Forkly’s influence point system is absent in Foodspotting, but Foodspotting includes “Guides” of popular and noteworthy dishes curated by foodie celebrities. Other Forkly competitors include Spoondate and Ness.

Forkly 2.0 is available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

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Alibaba.com to go private, raising funds to buy back its stock

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 11:45 AM PST

Alibaba Group is raising $3 billion — not to buy back the 40 percent stake Yahoo holds in the parent company, as previously rumored, but to buy back the 27 percent of Alibaba.com stock currently floating around the public market.

Alibaba CEO Jack Ma (pictured above) is attempting to take the company private in order to strengthen his control of the company, Reuters reports today.

The company recently suspended public trading of its stock pending the release of a statement that a company spokesperson said would be price-sensitive.

Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, ANZ, DBS Bank, and Mizuho Corporate Bank have each pledged $500 million in loans to facilitate the deal, totaling $3 billion for Alibaba.com to become a private company again.

Currently, parent company Alibaba Group owns 73 percent of Alibaba.com, and Yahoo owns 40 percent of Alibaba Group. Yahoo was reportedly attempting to sell back its stake in Alibaba Group and a couple other Asian web powerhouses, a deal that would have left Yahoo with much-needed focus on domestic products and around $17 billion in cash.

However, those talks fell apart last week. As Yahoo’s board chair Roy Bostock noted in an open letter on the negotiations, “The complexity and unique nature of these transactions is significant. While we continue to devote significant resources to these discussions, we are not in a position at this time to provide further detail or to provide assurance that any transaction will be achieved."

The Alibaba.com stock buy-back is reportedly unrelated to the Yahoo deal, Reuters’ anonymous sources said.

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Hold on to those ticket stubs while you can, Event Farm’s new app makes concerts paperless

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 11:31 AM PST

The commemorative ticket stub that many cherish as a reminder of when they rocked out to Van Halen in concert may soon be relic if Event Farm has any say in the matter.

The company, which makes online ticketing and registration software, has released a mobile app that does away with paper tickets and processes payments at the door of an event.

Event Farm’s newly released iOS and Android app can sell tickets, check guests into an event, and process credit and cash payments. The payment system works with a card swiper from ROAM Data, the same company that makes Intuit’s mobile payment system. The software is fully electronic and eliminates the need for barcodes or paper tickets.

“What is groundbreaking about what we are doing is that our app is fully integrated into our ticketing platform,” said co-founder and CEO of Event Farm Ryan Costello in a statement.

“We are not just independently charging credit cards on a mobile device. Ticket inventories on the app are synced with sales happening in real time online and vice versa.”

Event Farm’s new app competes with Evenbrite’s Entry Manager app for Android and iPhone. Eventbrite has a slightly different system; the general public can use Eventbrite’s website and general mobile app to purchase tickets and then go to the event and check in with their phones. Event Farm is used by event organizers to check people in at events and sell tickets at the door. Unlike Event Farm’s new app, Eventbrite’s Entry Manager app can’t process credit and cash payments at the event.

Event Farm was founded in 2003 for event producers to making registration and ticketing at events easier.

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A 1-star review of Yelp’s advertiser agreement

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 11:14 AM PST

Yelp’s advertiser agreement combines some of the worst elements of Yellow Pages, Aol and cell phone agreements. As with many such agreements, it’s very lopsided in Yelp’s favor. (See my analysis of the similarly lopsided Groupon merchant agreement.)

Yelp charges merchants who buy advertising for impressions, much like Yellow Pages companies. Like cell phone agreements, there is a minimum term with a hefty early termination fee. And like Aol, the service continues indefinitely.

The local-reviews company is on the road to an initial public offering; the IPO is scheduled to price on or about March 1, 2012. Yelp is in its quiet period and did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Here’s my analysis of the key points in the merchant agreement. I am not a lawyer, but I’ve negotiated many agreements in my product management and business development roles.

No impact on Yelp’s organic results. Although a common perception among merchants is that Yelp runs an extortion racket, Yelp makes it very clear in its advertiser agreement that buying advertising doesn’t affect its organic listings or order of reviews:

The Site allows consumers to post reviews about businesses like Client's. The Site employs automated software to help it showcase the most relevant and reliable reviews while suppressing others. Client's purchase of Yelp Ads will not influence the automated software, or otherwise allow or enable Client, directly or indirectly, to remove, alter or reorder the reviews on the Site.

I haven’t been able to find any credible evidence of Yelp salespeople claiming that buying advertising would improve a business’s ranking or delete bad reviews.

The only quibble I have with this section is that it’s not in all caps like other important sections of the agreement. It’s in Yelp’s best long-term interests to be clear as possible about this.

No guarantee of the quality of impressions. Yelp doesn’t promise anything about where your ads will run:


Even with a Yellow Pages buy, you know what category you’ll run in and in what city your ad will appear. Based on this agreement, if you’re a plumber in Chicago, Yelp could run your ad for someone looking for a dentist in Seattle.

I haven’t seen anything that egregious in practice, but I’ve seen plenty of impressions that are completely useless and not worth buying.

Automatic renewal. It’s the “forget about it” business model. After the initial term, the Yelp advertising renews on a month-to-month basis. Because of the sizable termination fee, merchants are unlikely to cancel shortly after the agreement begins. (When they are most attuned to how ineffective Yelp advertising is.) By the time renewal rolls around, the cost will be built into the cost of running the business and forgotten about. Yelp can terminate the agreement whenever it wants.

Changes to the product. “As it develops new advertising features, Yelp may from time to time replace any of the foregoing features with features of substantially similar value.” Yelp can change the product you bought — after you bought it and during the contract term. Even in cell phone agreements, if there is a material change, that gives you the option to terminate your agreement without penalty.

Indemnification. Like Groupon, Yelp requires the small business to indemnify it in certain scenarios. This is ridiculous.

Such terms are common among large companies. Let’s say Apple is licensing software from Acme Corp. Apple would want to protect itself in case Acme was violating someone else’s patents. Acme would cover any liability and lawyer’s fees related to intellectual property claims on its software.

But when the power relationships are so skewed, it doesn’t make sense. In practice, I don’t expect this clause to ever come into play in the types of relationships Yelp has with local advertisers. But it’s another sign of how skewed the agreement is. Small businesses buy products and services more like consumers than big corporations; it’s likely that very few of them will even read the agreement.

Overall, the agreement reinforces my view that Yelp is running on an old-line business model as advertising is rapidly moving toward having accountability and being sold based on performance.

To be fair, it’s extremely unlikely that running an ad on Yelp will bankrupt your business or cost you tens of thousands (which can happen with Groupon or LivingSocial). But it’s also not going to help it.

The only scenario I could think of where I would recommend Yelp advertising at its current rates is if it were running an extortion racket.

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

Small print image via ShutterStock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google buys what’s left of defunct search startup Cuil

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 10:30 AM PST

Google has acquired what’s left of Cuil, a once-promising search startup that closed up shop about a year and a half ago.

The startup, which was founded by two former Googlers and an IBM employee, has relinquished control of its pending patents to Google.

As blogger Bill Slawski uncovered today in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database, Google has acquired seven of the patents of its onetime rival.

Most of the IP revolves around user interfaces and how to better present search results when multiple meanings are possible for a single keyword or phrase. The patents do not contain any intellectual property about search algorithms; rather, these innovations are about UI only, not what’s under the hood.

Google has been playing around quite a bit over the past few years with its KISS approach to search UI. After adding images, shopping results, and news results in with indexed web pages, the company recently unveiled the addition of people-powered social data via Google+.

Former Googler and Cuil founder Anna Patterson now works at Google again; she’s been a director at the search giant since Cuil shut its website down in September 2010.

Cuil raised a total of $33 million from prominent venture capital firms between its founding in 2008 and its shutdown. The startup claimed to have indexed 120 billion web pages, larger than Google’s index at the time.

Here’s a look at the Cuil navigation and tabs UI for which Google has acquired patents:

Filed under: deals

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Apple is building the largest solar array in the U.S., report says

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 10:22 AM PST

Apple released its 2012 Facilities Report today, revealing the company’s data center in North Carolina will be powered by America’s largest end user-owned solar array.

It’s easy to peg Apple as a villain these days, given the situation with workers in China manufacturing its products under unsafe and even inhumane conditions. But Apple wants you to see its good side too — the side that recycles, constructs energy efficient buildings, and uses solar energy.

The report shows the environmental impact of Apple’s retail stores, corporate buildings, and data centers. Apple’s Maiden, North Carolina, data center (pictured right) was built to be highly energy-efficient with a “white-cool” roof, the use of outside air to cool the facility at night, and power monitoring.

And coming later this year, a solar array — a group of solar panels — will help power the plant, taking it at least partially off-the-grid. Apple writes in the report that the 100-acre, 20-megawatt facility will generate 42 million kWh of clean, renewable energy each year. The facility has also earned LEED Platinum certification, the highest award for energy-efficient buildings.

At the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, Apple has saved 5 million kilowatt-hours by retrofitting buildings with window and roof coverings and installing energy efficient lighting, according to the report. The company has also implemented shuttle buses to encourage greener commutes and has taken steps to reduce the amount of food waste at its headquarters.

Apple points out that only two percent of its greenhouse gas emissions comes from its corporate facilities. The other 98 percent is a result of producing, shipping, and recycling Apple products. While its great that the company is doing what it can to make its buildings more energy efficient, it’s time Apple focuses its attention on making its manufacturing and shipping processes more environmentally friendly.

Solar array photo via Shutterstock

Filed under: green, VentureBeat

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Join VentureBeat and Science at our Los Angeles DEMO party Thursday

Posted: 20 Feb 2012 10:07 AM PST

Come party with VentureBeat and Science at our DEMO event in Santa Monica this Thursday night, February 23.

We’ll be meeting with ten local tech companies during the day in a feedback session with Peter Pham from Science, myself, and others.

During the evening, we’re inviting members of the Southern California tech community to network at SOUTH (3001 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA) from 7pm to 9pm. We’ll be buying drinks for the first fifty people through the door; sign up here. Do so quickly, because space is limited.

The meetup is another stop in our DEMO Innovation Tour, during which the DEMO team (I’m executive producer of DEMO) travels the world to connect with the global tech community in search of the best companies and products to showcase at DEMO Spring, taking place April 17-19, 2012.

You can get the full details on the event page.

Filed under: DEMO, media, VentureBeat

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