28 February, 2012

VentureBeat

VentureBeat


7 steps for an effective video-conferencing policy

Posted: 28 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.

Much like public speaking, the very idea of video conferencing can fill us with anxiety. Any number of things can go unexpectedly awry, leaving attendees dreading what should be a quick and easy experience.

Video conferencing isn’t going away any time soon, especially with the popularity of video-enabled smartphones and tablets. Used in business, medicine, education, and media, video conferencing not only helps connect us to people around the world, it provides a green solution for interviewing long distance job candidates, conferencing with colleagues, or keeping tabs on a classroom.

Most woes about video conferencing can be solved with the simple edict of practice, practice, practice. Here are seven more tips to get your company happy and enthusiastic about video conferencing.

1. Know your system. This cannot be understated — there is nothing more frustrating, embarrassing or unprofessional than having to wait fourteen minutes to start a meeting because no one figured out they didn’t have the right cables to hook up the web cam. Have your system, whether it be a high-definition desktop application or a simple smartphone web chat, set up beforehand, and give it a test run at least 24 hours in advance. Know how your webcam works, what kind of login you need for the videoconferencing software, how loud the sound system is, and if your firewall or security software will conflict. Have this all settled in advance so you can jump right into it.

2. Test connections ahead of time. This is a bit of a reiteration of Know Your System, but it’s important enough to merit its own number. What kind of connections do you have available? 3G? Fiber Internet? Speed is important, but not nearly as important as having a connection that isn’t going to stall out on you. Astronauts in space are still using Windows XP because it’s a solid system they know won’t fail on them. Be like the astronauts and opt for a simpler, but more solid and dependable connection.

3. Look the part: Video conferencing can make anywhere part of the public arena, even the living room, so make it professional. Dress as you would were you in the office, clean up the background where your video conference will take place, and make sure there is sufficient lighting. Make sure you won’t be sitting too close, or too far away. Reduce background glare and, even more importantly, background distractions. Mute cellphones, turn off music, make sure your cats or kids won’t interrupt (just hand them an iPad). Likewise, if you’ll need to refer to documents or details during the meeting, have those open and ready to go when the conference begins.

4. Have a trial run. Heck, have three – the more you run through the process, the less nervous you’ll be when it’s actually go time. If you’ll have multiple employees appearing in video conferences, type up a few beginners tips to pass out, and include them in the trial run as well. If you’re using a system that requires participants to create a login or dial-in, skipping this step will guarantee confused emails the day of your meeting asking how to get on the call.

5. Pay attention. Give the video conference your full attention. That means no texting in your lap or opening up web browsers instead of looking at the meeting attendants. While you’re speaking, look into the web camera as though it were the eyes of the person you’re speaking to. When it’s not your turn to speak, look at the window that displays meeting attendees. It may help to email an outline to attendees beforehand in order to keep the conference on track — video conferencing is best when kept short and to the point anyhow.

6. Work around weaknesses. One of the biggest issues with video conferencing is the delay between participants replies; it is quite easy to cut off other speakers or have a jumbled discussion with everyone speaking at once, as there may be some delay between when someone starts speaking and when it reaches your screen. Allow time for replies and speak clearly. Also, be aware that even if you have a high-def solution set up, the person you’re video conferencing with may not. Some systems get grainy when they attempt to process quick movement (blame the slow refresh rate), so try not to fidget. If you’re using a smartphone or cellphone, find a sturdy stand to avoid shakiness.

7. Take advantage of strengths. Low refresh rates and poor sound quality aside, video conferences do allow you to share documents and information over the Internet, and have other added bonuses like recording. There are several pieces of software available that do this, and many conferencing clients will provide such a service if needed. Likewise, video conferencing has come a long way in the security realm. Users who need a more secure setting now have options such as meeting in a virtual room with a moderator, requiring PINs or moderator approval to join the discussion, and data encryption for information that is being shared during the conference.

Video conference image via ShutterStock


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Ghost town watch: People spend more time monthly on MySpace than Google+

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 08:55 AM PST

ss-ghost-town-google-plus

The average Google+ user only spends an average of three minutes per month on network, with MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter all seeing more time spent per user each month.

In a scathing Wall Street Journal report titled “The Mounting Minuses at Google+,” the case is made that Google+ has failed to keep users interested, especially compared to sites like Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

In what might be an unfair comparison, comScore said Facebook users spend an average of 405 minutes per month on the network, while Google+ users spent just 3 minutes a month. To make the contrast worse, social networking pariah MySpace has users spending an average of 8 minutes a month.

Google exec Bradley Horowitz told us in November that Google+ isn’t a Facebook competitor and that it really is more a social layer connecting Google’s products. At the time Horowitz said: "We think of Google+ as a mode of usage of Google, a way of lighting up your Google experience as opposed to a new product. It's something that takes time to appreciate, even internally. It's easy to think of Google+ as something other than just Google, and I think it'll take more launches before the world catches up with this understanding."

Google would not provide a direct comment about the Wall Street Journal article, but a spokesperson did tell us:

The reality that Google+ is much more than a destination site makes it exceedingly hard for any third-party research firm to monitor or measure its performance. Google thinks about the service not as a site but as a deepening of its relationship to billions of existing users who are already committed to Google’s services like Search, YouTube, Android, etc. By this measure, engagement is already enormous.

In reaction to the Wall Street Journal report, several Google+ watchers have also countered with their own takes. Rackspace evangelist and one of the most-followed Google+ users Robert Scoble wrote on Google+: “Stop comparing Facebook to Google+. And if this is a ghost town why does a new message show up on my street every 15 seconds? Oh, yeah, the mainstream media is threatened by Google+.”

Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, wrote on Twitter: “Yes, Google+ far less active than Twitter & Facebook. But ghost town? Nah. & Ignore at your Google ranking peril brands.”

What do you think? Is Google+ a ghost town or is it just taking its time to grow?

You can also view comScore’s inforgraphic below that shows just poor Google+ is doing in bringing back people for more:

comscore-wsj-goog-facebook-pinterest

Ghost town photo: isoga/Shutterstock


Filed under: social, VentureBeat


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Xbox 360 gets HBO Go support just in time for Game of Thrones

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 08:45 AM PST

Game of thrones

HBO has added support for its HBO Go streaming service to Xbox 360, giving gamers yet another reason not to turn off their console to watch television shows.

The news was announced last night at an Xbox 360 event by HBO Co-President Eric Kessler, reports Engadget. HBO Go service offers a variety of premium content, including popular movies as well as hit original TV series like True Blood and Boardwalk Empire. However, the only way to get the service is to subscribe to HBO through a traditional cable/satellite service provider.

The service will become available April 1, which coincides with the premiere of the second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones TV show, which is based off of George R.R. Martin’s series of novels. Previously, HBO has tried to give cable and satellite TV subscribers an incentive to use the HBO Go service by allowing them to watch next week’s episode after they finish the premiere — but, so far there’s no word on whether the same will happen with Game of Thrones).


Filed under: games, media, VentureBeat


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Sony’s PlayStation Vita sells more than 1.2M units worldwide

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 07:59 AM PST

Sony said today that its PlayStation Vita gaming handheld has sold more than 1.2 million units worldwide. The Vita went on sale last week in the U.S. and Europe and it has been on sale since December in Japan.

The Vita crossed that sales number on Feb. 22, the day it went on sale in the U.S. and Europe. The company also sold more than 2 million software units. The Vita is Sony’s bid to remain relevant in portable games in an age of smartphones and tablets.

Andrew House, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, said in a statement, “PS Vita was designed to deliver the ultimate portable entertainment experience, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the reaction we’re seeing from consumers and the pace at which PS Vita is selling.”

He promised a stellar line-up of games to come in 2012. The Vita has 25 titles available and more than 70 more are in development.

“The PS Vita is an impressive piece of hardware that brings gaming to a whole new level,” stated Bob Puzon, vice president of merchandising at GameStop. “Based on the opening weekend sales that we’ve seen at stores across North America, and our successful midnight launch events, consumers have clearly recognized this as well. We’re doing our best to keep units in stock to satisfy the strong demand.”


Filed under: games


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EpicMealTime Japan headed to YouTube’s plate

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 07:03 AM PST

TurBaconEpic

Every time I watch hit web series EpicMealTime, I’m amazed at the sheer insanity that goes into the high-calorie meals that are made. Strips of bacon are typically used more than stable cooking ingredients like salt and pepper, and the meal usually exceeds  a week’s worth of the USDA’s daily nutritional recommendations.

The YouTube (and Revision3) cooking show, hosted weekly by Harley Morenstein and a group of friends, consists of making epic meals that usually involve copious amounts of fatty and delicious meats. For example, the show once made a dish called the TurBaconEpic — a quail inside a cornish hen, inside a chicken, inside a duck, inside a turkey… inside a pig. It was covered in bacon, painted with a Dr. Pepper glaze, and garnished with Wendy’s Baconator burgers.

But just when you think this concept couldn’t get more insane, they announce a Japanese version of the show on YouTube. (I know, my mind is blown, too.) NextTime Productions is teaming up with 100-year-old Japanese production company Yoshimoto Kogyo for EpicMealTime Japan, which is due out later this year.

“The Japanese appetite for all things culinary fits in perfectly with what EpicMealTime is doing,” said Nerdist CEO Peter Levin, who represented Yoshimoto Kogyo in the deal. The Japanese version will essentially fit around the same concept of making “epic meals” while traveling throughout the country. Yoshimoto Kogyo has also signed on to produce additional original programing for NextTime Productions in the Japanese and international markets.

For Yoshimoto Kogyo, this isn’t the first time it’s partnered with American companies to do original web content.The company is the producer of the Japanese version of Saturday Night Live and a Shareholder in Nerdist Industries, which recently launched a premium YouTube channel. Additionally, Yoshimoto Kogyo is helping to produce the recently announced Course of the Force, a 120-mile relay run where a chain of joggers will carry a lightsaber like an Olympic torch to their final destination.


Filed under: media, VentureBeat


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Seamless brings super simple food ordering to the iPad

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

Online food-ordering company Seamless has brought its ordering and menus to the iPad today — a move that hungry couch potatoes will likely applaud.

Seamless currently competes with smaller-but-still-potent startup GrubHub for online delivery and pickup order supremacy. Seamless’ last big move was acquiring MenuPages for New York Media so it could add 35,000 menus and 175,000 user-generated restaurant reviews to its data base.

Seamless CEO Jonathan Zabusky told VentureBeat that the company decided to launch an iPad app because it’s seeing increasing traffic from mobile apps, with 25 percent of order volume now coming from mobile alone. But when you add the iPad in the mix and you have to think a little different, he said.

“The iPad is part of a multi-platform approach,” Zabusky said. “Seventy percent of iPad usage is from home, so we’ve added a greatest emphasis on discovery.”

The iPad application is set up so that after you login, it takes you to a screen featuring two plates with the text that reads: “I’ll have the usual” and “Show me the menus.” The first plate takes you to restaurants you’ve ordered from in the past as well as the most popular choices in your area. The second plate option allows you to look at menus and high-definition photos of restaurant cuisine you haven’t tried.

“Customers wanted photos and menus to be more prominent,” Zabusky said. “We especially wanted to bring photos to life.”

The iPad app will also feature more social functionality than the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android apps, including the ability to rate restaurants and “like” menu items. Zabusky believes iPad users will spend more time using the app than they would the phone versions. So, it was a priority to have some extra functionality.

New York-based Seamless now serves 12 U.S. major metropolitan areas. It has processed more than $1.5 billion in sales since 2004 and completed more than $400 million in sales in 2011. Seamless generates revenue by taking a cut from each food purchase made through its service — the company keeps a 10 percent commission on average.

You can view a gallery of Seamless for iPad photos below:


Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat


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Goplay launches portal for social games on the web (exclusive)

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST



Goplay
is launching a web portal for social games in the hopes of luring disaffected publishers away from Facebook.

With Goplay, developers can make their games available on a portal that reaches new audiences beyond social networks and lowers the cost of doing business. Facebook takes a 30 percent cut on virtual goods purchase made with its Facebook Credits virtual currency. But Goplay takes only a 10 percent cut.

It’s kind of a long shot, considering Goplay has only four people. It won’t be easy to get developers to move over unless Goplay can demonstrate some serious traction or a large number of users. Still, Goplay seems to have a can-do attitude and its portal is up and running already.

Goplay has made it easy for game developers to move their titles because it has mimicked Facebook’s applications programming interface. That means that games designed to run on Facebook will automatically be able to run on Goplay with minimal tweaking. Games are curated and promoted on the site. The company plans to promote the site on TV by purchasing infomercial time slots at low prices.

The logic of moving off Facebook to cheaper and more game-focused sites is undeniable. Users of social games typically have hundreds of connected friends, but gamers can’t spam those friends with game requests without offending non-gamers. Users who want to level up are forced to pursue alternatives such as visiting fan pages or adding random game friends. That helps them play games, but those “friends” usually aren’t real friends, and it’s kind of creepy when these stranger-like game friends start making comments on your private family vacation photos.

That’s why Goplay created a game-focused destination, said George Zaloom chief executive of Goplay, which was founded in in 2011. Facebook as a social network “continues to frustrate users and alienate developers,” Zaloom said.

"Our costs are way below the norm for a typical user acquired through Facebook, that combined with our highly advantageous revenue share of 90 percent make integrating with Goplay "a no brainer" for our partners," Zaloom said. “Because these are localized spots buys, the company is able to track the effectiveness of media flights against its web analytics – thus enabling it to fine tune its campaigns.”

It makes sense in other ways. Game discovery is a problem now that Facebook has shut down spam-like game messages. And the cost of user acquisition has skyrocketed on Facebook, putting advertising on the social network out of reach for many independent game developers. By turning to Goplay, where the audience is 100 percent game focused, it’s easier and cheaper to reach new gamers.

With thousands of apps to compete with on Facebook, developers find that Facebook is too crowded. Goplay is more like a mashup of massively multiplayer online and social games. Active users of a game can play together. Goplay automatically broadcasts notifications until someone in the community answers them. A live Goplay feed runs alongside the game at all times. Users can log in via Facebook Connect or create their own unique Goplay identification.

Before starting Goplay, Zaloom founded GiantHello.com, a popular social network for tweens.  Before that he was a senior executive with DreamWorks Animation and Walden Media.  He also produced the motion picture Encino Man and numerous movies of the week for ABC's Wonderful World of Disney. Tony Restuccia, chief technology officer, was previously a senior architect at Myspace working on the home page.

Goplay has raised $1.5 million to date from a number of Direct Response (infomercial) pioneers led by Andrew Tobias, investor of the Tobi Steamer and Patch Perfect. The site is launching now, and game developers such as 50 Cubes, maker of MallWorld, are making their games available on Goplay. Goplay has a long way to go to catch up with Google+ and Facebook. But you never know. It might influence the big giants.


Filed under: games, social


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Yahoo turns patent troll, aims to shake down Facebook for fees in run up to IPO

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 06:27 AM PST

The legal team at Yahoo reached out to Facebook yesterday, at the same time as they were briefing the New York Times, to give the social networking giant the heads up that it would be seeking licensing fees on ten to twenty patents, and suing if that didn’t work.

"Yahoo has a responsibility to its shareholders, employees and other stakeholders to protect its intellectual property," a Yahoo spokesman said in an e-mailed statement to the NYT. "We must insist that Facebook either enter into a licensing agreement or we will be compelled to move forward unilaterally to protect our rights."

One has to wonder if Yahoo sees Facebook as particularly vulnerable right now, in the months before their big IPO. Uncertainty over litigation could hurt the stock, meaning Facebook would feel pinched to settle in a short time, rather than drag things into the courts.

Reactions from the tech world were not pretty. “Yahoo is now a patent troll, how profoundly disappointing,” wrote venture capital investor Brad Feld.

Yahoo recently brought on board a new CEO, Scott Thompson, a former CTO who said he would bring the company back to a focus on technology. The Financial Times reports that this was the real impetus behind the move. “One person familiar with Yahoo's deliberations denied that the approach to Facebook was prompted by its imminent IPO. Rather, it reflected the hunt by new Yahoo chief executive Scott Thompson to boost the performance of all aspects of the company's business, the person said.”

As DealBook mentions, this isn’t the first time Yahoo has done a patent shakedown just before and IPO. It settled with Google a mere ten days before their IPO, collecting a healthy chunk of pre-IPO stock for its troubles.


Filed under: social


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Hackers land big checks as Spotify looks to open its app store by end of March

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 04:45 AM PST

VentureBeat spent some time this weekend at the Spotify music apps hackathon, 48 hours of coding, ping pong and pizza in New York. It was an interesting chance to see what is possible on Spotify’s platform, and we picked up some useful gossip along the way. According to two sources we chatted with, Spotify is hoping to open up its App Store, which currently has only ten hand-picked partners, to all third party developers by the end of March.

The event was held in partnership with the global advertising giant OMD, which brought big brands like McDonalds, Doritos and Mountain Dew into the mix. That meant a lot of prize money, and hackers responded, travelling from as far away as Australia and Pakistan to attend the 48 hour event.

The big winner was Swarm, an app created by Peter Watts, which picked up the $10,000 grand prize. The app made it simple to add a list of friends and then pull in their music activity from Facebook and other sources, generating a dynamic playlist in Spotify of what your friends were listening to that day.

“Spotify is an incredible platform in certain ways,” Watts told VentureBeat. “Everything happens inside their player, so you don’t have the problem of discovery that you do when trying to start a web app from scratch. There are ten million people who end up inside the Spotify client every month and for early apps, before the marketplace is crowded, that is a golden opportunity. And because they are already Spotify members, you don’t have issues like you might with R.dio, where people find your web app, but then need to register or log-in and lose interest.”

Watts says that there is definitely room for improvement in terms of making the platform flexible and developer friendly. “But that is the point of having a hackathon, to work out those kinks.” For someone who has been working on music apps for the last five years, Watts says Spotify solves the two main challenges. “It gives you access to people’s taste graph and solves the hassle of licensing.”

It’s unclear yet how apps on the Spotify platform will monetize. That may be part of why OMD and big commercial brands were invited, to try and connect independent developers with a revenue stream through partnerships. “We think this is a pretty new approach, bringing in brands to work directly with developers during a hackathon,” said Jeff Levick, Spotify’s chief advertising officer. “This weekend was all about having fun and exploring the possibilities, but at the end of the day people need to get paid.”

Image via Spotify PR


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Isis CEO: Mobile wallet war? What mobile wallet war?

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 03:27 AM PST

It’s easy to think of mobile wallet solutions from companies Google, PayPal, and Isis as locked in a heated battle for the future of payments. But according to Michael Abbott, CEO of the mobile payments company Isis, that’s far from the case.

“There is no mobile wallet war out there,” Abbott told VentureBeat in an interview at the Mobile World Congress yesterday. Instead, he sees all the companies exploring mobile payments now as something that will benefit everyone, including consumers, retailers, carriers, and everyone else involved in the mobile payments chain.

For lack of a proper meeting space, we sat outdoors on a couch in the middle of the Mobile World Congress madness. Directly behind Abbott was the National Art Museum of Catalonia, an imposing and grand building that looks down on the conference housed at the Fira de Barcelona convention center.

The spirit of Barcelona gives almost everything at MWC an extra layer of magic, so as I discussed the future of mobile payments and Isis’ slow-and-steady launch with Abbott, I couldn’t help but think he had a point. We’re facing a sea change with the rise of mobile payments, and now anything that helps to communicate the benefits of paying with your phone versus a dumb credit card will help consumers understand, and ultimately adopt, mobile payments.

Isis, which is jointly owned by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, is developing a mobile payments network based on near-field communication (NFC) technology. The idea is that you’ll be able to swipe your phone to make purchases instantly and securely. NFC-based swipe and pay is something Google is also exploring with Google Wallet, as well as PayPal with its upcoming wallet (PayPal already offers a way to easily transfer money with NFC).

Isis yesterday announced its first bank partners, Chase, Capital One, and Barclaycard, a big step for the company. The banks have agreed to let their credit, debit, and prepaid cards work with Isis’s mobile wallet. Isis test users in Salt Lacy City, Utah and Austin, Texas will be able to add their cards from the companies to Isis in mid-2012.

The bank support comes on top of the payment network partnerships Isis made last year with Visa, MasterCard, Discovery, and American Express.

It may seem like things are moving slowly for Isis, which was first announced back in November 2010. But Abbott says he wouldn’t have it any other way. The company is putting the pieces together for a payment network that will last for more than a decade, Abbott said, so he sees no need to rush out with a half-baked solution.

“We’re solving for a four-sided market,” he said, pointing to the fact that Isis needs to make sure consumers, merchants, payment companies, and its parent carriers are happy with its product.

When I asked if Isis has any contingency plans in mind if NFC doesn’t take off, Abbott said that the company is “looking at everything that works.” He stressed that any mobile payments technology will must be secure, cost-effective, and most importantly, fast. After all, if it’s faster and easier to keep using your credit card for purchases, mobile payments will never take off. PayPal, and its parent company eBay, currently have their fingers in other mobile payments solutions, like carrier billing and scanning with QR codes.

So what’s next for Isis? Abbott says that the company will now focus on the consumer side of things, as well as with device makers in the fall. Isis has no release schedule in mind for its mobile wallet, instead, the company is taking a “when it’s ready attitude.”

Given that Isis basically has one shot to get mobile payments right, I don’t blame the company for taking its time to launch.


Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat


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The Device Renewal Forum wants to make refurbished phones as good as new

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 12:01 AM PST


Sprint, Brightstar Corporation, eRecyclingCorps, ModusLink Global Solutions and the CDMA Development Group are teaming up to create the Device Renewal Forum, a group that will encourage the recycling and reuse of cellphones and set technical standards for refurbished devices.

Most of us go for the newest model when we are in market for a new cell phone. But if you can’t afford a never-been-touched model, you might reach for a refurbished device, though you might not always know what you are getting. The Device Renewal Forum wants to change that by setting specific standards for recycled phones so they are just as enticing as a brand new one.

“We are trying to create another class of devices. There are already new, used, and refurbished cell devices, but refurbished means something different to different people,” eRecyclingCorps chief executive David Edmondson told VentureBeat in an interview, “The Device Renewal Forum will create a standard for refurbished phones and a new category of goods renewed to a standard of quality that we agree upon as an industry.”

The Device Renewal Forum will consist of representatives from distributors, sellers, re-manfactureres, OEMs, and carriers who will give their two-cents about which devices should be renewed, the technical standards for each refurbished device, and how devices will be rebuilt. The Forum will work as an independent governing body that will set the standards for renewed devices and evaluate the facilities that rebuild handsets. Standards will include which parts need to be replaced in certain devices and which devices shouldn’t be refurbished at all.

“We are creating an organization that gives consumers and carriers confidence in rebuilt devices, and rebuilds devices up to a standard that they believe in,” said Edmondson, “Devices are retired when they perceptually obsolete, we will create a standard that says the devices is not functionally obsolete.”

Edmondson says that devices will carry a certain brand label to tell consumers that a device has been rebuilt to the Forum’s standards, which he hopes will inspire confidence in less expensive, refurbished devices. The Device Renewal Forum’s first meeting will take place February 29 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The Forum will also be open to anyone who wants to join for the next few months.

Cell phones in trashcan image via Shutterstock


Filed under: green, mobile, VentureBeat


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Kabam expands social games to CNET’s Download.com

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 12:00 AM PST

Continuing its diversification beyond Facebook, Kabam is announcing today will take four of its games to CNET’s Download.com service on the web.

San Francisco-based Kabam (it’s moving from Redwood City, Calif.) started as a hardcore game publisher on Facebook. But in the past six months, the company has aggressively expanded beyond the social network to platforms such as Kongregate.com and Google+. The company’s aim is to expand its distribution so that it can find hardcore social game players wherever they play. Download.com has more than 800,000 files available for legal download, spanning movies, music, mobile apps and games. Tens of millions of people visit the site each month.

Under the new deal, four of Kabam’s games will be available on Download.com so that they can be downloaded to a user’s computer. Then users will be able to quickly access the game via Pokki, which is a banner-like toolbar from SweetLabs that enables a player to quickly fire up an app without a browser or a social network.

The four titles include The Godfather: Five Families (pictured at top), Edgeworld, Thirst of Night, and Dragons of Atlantis. This is the first time a download portal will also offer social games as downloads.

“We want to give our users access to the full spectrum of software available, and in doing so we want to work with developers who are on the cutting edge” said Sean Murphy, vice president and general manager of Download.com. “Kabam has taken a unique position in social gaming and their partnership with Pokki has bridged a gap between the social web interface to an app that lives on your desktop.”

That, in turn, exposes the Download.com users to new types of content. Once the players download the games, they can easily and quickly call them up from the Pokki interface, which shows how many new messages are pending in the game at a glance. Pokki says it can increase the usage of an app because it makes that app so much more visible to the user.

"Kabam is excited to open a new chapter in social game distribution by introducing potentially millions of users to full-screen, desktop versions of our popular games on Download.com," said Chris Carvalho, chief operating officer of Kabam. "The partnership with Download.com and Pokki allows us not only to reach large numbers of new players but to enhance our games by enabling even higher retention and "stickiness" because of the Pokki app's unique qualities."


Filed under: games, VentureBeat


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AOL sees three more major talent departures

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 09:02 PM PST

AOL

For some reason, tech/media company AOL usually experiences talent departures in waves. Today for instance, people in three major positions announced that the were leaving the company for one reason or another.

The first is AOL’s Chief Technology Officer Alex Gounares, who formerly worked as VP of Advertising R&D and CTO for Microsoft. Gounares, who was hired by AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong, had been with the company for nearly two years, but wanted to move back to Seattle, according to AllThingsD.

The second person out the door is Huffington Post Media Group head engineer Tim Dierks, AllThingsD later reported. Dierks’ departure is a bit more curious as he had only been with the company since September. Before that he was working as an engineer for Google.

Finally, AOL-owned TechCrunch has announced a major shift in its editorial structure. Erick Schonfeld has left his position as executive editor of the site. He’ll be replaced by TechCrunch staff writer (and VentureBeat alum) Eric Eldon. A large group of TechCrunch employees have already departed the news site since AOL took over. It began with the termination of site founder and editor Michael Arrington, and went on to many long-time staffers, such as Senior Editor Sarah Lacy (who now runs PandoDaily), Paul Carr, Greg Kumparak, Jason Kincaid, Robin Wauters, former publisher Heather Harde, and advertising director Vaughn Brown.

If you combine that with the talent losses AOL experienced from employees who defected to Vox Media (not to mention former AOL senior exec Brad Garlinghouse in November), it certainly adds up. And with major investors already breathing down the necks of AOL’s executive team, this new round of departures won’t help matters much. (But hey, at least the company stopped bleeding revenue last quarter.)


Filed under: media, VentureBeat


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This startup helps you get karma with far-flung family & friends

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 09:00 PM PST

Like many San Francisco tech entrepreneurs, Lee Linden has his roots in the Midwest. While he’s spent the past few years chasing success on the West Coast, he’s struggled to maintain ties with the people who know him best.

In major cities across the world, this is an all-too-common story: Hometown boy leaves to make good in the big city, but loses touch with family and friends along the way.

To address this problem for himself and for others in the same scenario, Linden (who formerly founded smartphone startup Tapjoy) and his cohorts created Karma, a gorgeous mobile app that lets you show your friends you remember them and care about the milestones in their lives, no matter how much distance separates you.

Karma lets you send appropriate and high-quality gifts to friends and family based on their life events. The app pulls in data from Facebook — not just gathering anniversary and birthday dates, but also picking up on subtler clues, such as a group of Timeline messages saying “I’m sorry” or “Congratulations.” Based on this data and demographic information, Karma helps you select the perfect gift, something not too ostentatious, but an item that will show you’re still connected and you care.

As Linden said in a visit to VentureBeat’s San Francisco office last week, “My friends and family are the most important components in my life. It’s not about spending a lot of money on them, it’s about showing them they’re in my thoughts.”

The young founder continued, “We got sick of missing all the important moments in their lives… all these fleeting moments added up in our minds, and Karma is our answer to that problem.”

The Karma app, which is available now for iPhone and Android and has a website coming soon, is a finely crafted solution, indeed. Linden said his team wrote a lot of semantic analysis software to analyze life events from Facebook, from births and engagements to job changes or personal losses.

The design of the app itself is masterful; it’s a joy to look at and a pleasure to use. But more important than the fa├žade is the architecture of the content. Each gift you’ll find on Karma was hand-selected, tested by curators, and photographed and reviewed by the Karma team.

And these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill, go-to gifts, either. “We partnered with a lot of companies that are excited about making their products giftable,” said Linden. “For example, we partnered with Uber, and now you can send someone an Uber ride to the airport."

In many ways, the gifting parts of the app reminded us a lot of Fab.com — a wide range of tasteful, beautifully designed, high-quality products that just about anyone would enjoy. And because the stock is all hand-picked and sorted for demographics and occasions, Linden noted, it removes a lot of the “analysis paralysis” that goes hand-in-hand with other online shopping experiences.

Once you select a gift for a loved one in your Facebook or phone contacts lists, you can customize a digital card, which the recipient can receive via mobile SMS, email, or a Facebook message. This gift notification system means you don’t have to know the recipient’s physical address — an increasingly rare piece of information these days.

The recipient enters his or her address to receive the beautifully gift-wrapped item within a few days. He or she can also exchange the gift for another item — no prices are show on the recipient-facing side of the app, of course.

The app is designed with a few thoughtful features, such as pre-scheduling gifts to be sent on future dates and allowing recipients to send thank-you cards to the gift giver. And if the recipient can also choose to donate the value of the gift to a charity in lieu of having a gift mailed.

From the business side, Karma works like any other store, buying products wholesale and marking them up for retail to turn a profit. Still, the retail prices are fair; you’d be hard-pressed to find a gift costing more than $50.

“For me, I live in a world where the people who are important to me aren’t right down the street, Linden concluded.” And these FB wall posts don’t really feel meaningful. I was one of those guys who always hand-wrote cards, and these days, I just want a better way to connect with people.”

Currently, the Karma team is composed of fewer than 20 people, including some former Googlers and Skype staff. Linden and his team have raised a small amount of funding (less than $5 million total) from some big names in Silicon Valley venture capital, inclusing Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, and Twitter founders Biz Stone and Ev Williams’ Obvious Fund.

“We probably will [take more funding],” said Linden. “We’re trying to operate with growth in mind, that means building out the team and getting more users.”

Image courtesy of Jorge Salcedo, SHutterstocke


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IBM takes big steps toward extremely fast quantum computing

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 09:00 PM PST

IBM is announcing today that it has made major advances toward creating a practical, full-scale quantum computer, a fabled, theoretical machine that relies on the tiniest atomic properties to compute problems faster than any supercomputer that exists today.

Scientists at IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., said that their quantum computing solution leverages the underlying quantum mechanics of matter and that a real quantum computer, which could work on millions of computations at once, could be built in the next decade. The hugely multitasking devices will have big implications for fields such as data encryption.

Quantum computing has been a Holy Grail in research since Nobel Prize physicist Richard Feynman challenged scientists  in 1981 to build computers based on quantum mechanics, which predict that matter can be in multiple states at once, in contrast to the on-off transistors that have been the foundation of computing since the 1940s. For decades, the work was all theoretical. But now IBM scientists believe they're on the cusp of building systems that will redefine computing.

“I do think this will happen within my lifetime,” said Matthias Steffen, manager of the Experimental Quantum Computing group, in an interview with VentureBeat. Steffen has been working on the technology for more than a decade. “Quantum computing could revolutionize information technology compared to what we know now.”

Some of the advances in creating new quantum computers are astounding. Last week, Australian and American physicists at the University of New South Wales and Purdue University reported they had built a transistor from a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal. That helped lay the groundwork for a quantum computer.

The IBM scientists made their advances independently and will present them today at the annual American Physical Society meeting from Feb. 27 to March 1 in Boston. In contrast to last week’s news, the IBM “qubit,” or quantum bit technology, is built with relatively large dimensions. IBM showed it could put three qubits on one chip (picture at top). Individual 3D qubits are suspended in the center of the cavity on a small sapphire chip, as shown in the smaller picture.

Steffen said that the new quantum computers should be able to do certain computations, such as factoring a prime number, much faster than traditional machines.

“Quantum computing could factor numbers, or break them down into their prime numbers, in exponentially fewer steps than can be done with classical computers,” Steffen said. “That helps with decryption.”

Right now, IBM can put about five qubit prototypes on a chip. But over time, it may want to put more than a million qubits on a chip.

The scientists have set three new records for reducing the error in elementary computations while retaining the integrity of quantum mechanical properties in quantum bits (or qubits), which are the basic units that carry information within quantum computing. Those qubits allow a quantum computer to work simultaneously on many problems while a desktop PC typically handles a limited number of computations at a time. A single 250-qubit state contains more bits of data than there are particles in the universe.

IBM is creating superconducting qubits using established techniques for manufacturing silicon chips. That gives the qubit devices the potential to be mass-produced in thousands of millions.

Besides factoring very large numbers, the new devices could be used to search databases of unstructured information such as videos. They could also be used to do optimization tasks and solve interesting new mathematical problems.

“The quantum computing work we are doing shows it is no longer just a brute force physics experiment. It’s time to start creating systems based on this science that will take computing to a whole new level,” said Steffen.

How it works

In classical computers, the basic piece of information is a bit. A bit can have only one of two values:: “1″ or “0″. That forms the basis for the on-off nature of digital computers, like a light switch. It is either on or off. Qubits can hold a value of “1″ or “0″ as well as both values at the same time. This feature is known as “superposition” and it lets quantum computers do millions of calculations at once.

The challenge of harnessing this power is controlling or removing quantum decoherence, or the creation of errors in calculations caused by interference from heat, electromagnetic radiation, and materials defects in a chip. Scientists have experimented with ways to reduce the errors and lengthen the period in which qubits retain their quantum mechanical properties. If the time is long enough, error correction can make it possible to perform long and complex calculations.

IBM says there’s a variety of ways to achieve the end goal of a functioning quantum computer. IBM’s group focused on using superconducting qubits — basically designer molecules — that allow easier mass production. It created a 3D superconducting qubit (3D qubit) that originated from research at Yale University. The 3D qubit is a sandwich of a superconducting electrode, an insulator, and another superconducting electrode. Put together with a capacitor, the device captures the basic function of a qubit. The dimensions of the qubit are around 10 or 100 microns, large in terms of chip technology. If you add more and more qubits, you get something that can work on many different calculations as the same time.

The team created a 3D qubit that allowed the devices to remain stable for up to 100 microseconds. After that, they collapse into a less useful ground state. When they collapse, they produce an error. But the 100-microsecond time is just past the minimum threshold needed to institute effective error correction. In other words, if you can correct an error quickly enough, the device can still be useful. Over the past decade, this technology has been improved about 10,000 times, Steffen said.

“We are now good enough where we can put five or 10 of these on a chip and start doing quantum calculations,” Steffen said. “We have to solve a number of engineering questions. It’s exciting to be at this point.”

The IBM team also did separate experiments, creating a 2D qubit device with two-qubit logic operations. The operation showed a 95 percent success rate and a coherence time of 10 microseconds. The numbers are just short of the time required for effective error correction. The net result of the advances is that a practical quantum computer could be created in the not so distant future.

"The superconducting qubit research led by the IBM team has been progressing in a much focused way on the road to a reliable, scalable quantum computer," said David DiVincenzo, professor at the Institute of Quantum Information at Research Center Juelich. “The device performance that they have now reported brings them nearly to the tipping point; we can now see the building blocks that will be used to prove that error correction can be effective and that reliable logical qubits can be realized.”

While most of the work has focused on improving components within the devices, the research must now focus on building systems that integrate error correction, input-output, and cost issues. IBM envisions a quantum computer connected to a classical computing system. Today, the smallest devices made may have circuits 22 nanometers apart, or less than 100 atoms.

IBM started with five researchers and it now has 15 on the project.

Pictured at top: The Silicon chip housing a total of three qubits. The chip is back-mounted on a PC board and connects to I/O coaxial lines via wire bonds (scale: 8mm x 4mm). A larger assembly of such qubits and resonators are expected to be used for a scalable architecture. Australian and American physicists have built a working transistor from a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal.

[Image credits: IBM]


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3 hot security startups to watch

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 06:49 PM PST

RSA Conference

Three security startups caught our eye at the RSA Conference here in San Francisco today. Impermium, Pindrop Security, and MokaFive all showed off their technology as part of the conference’s Innovation Sandbox competition for startups.

10 startups got the chance to strut their wares on stage, solving all sorts of issues from the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend to telecommunications. Enterprise application security company Appthority won the competition – the company determines whether an application is safe by teaming up with enterprise Mobility Management and Mobile Device Management solutions such as BoxTone to review and rate each application that enters a company’s app store — but we wanted to shine the spotlight on our three favorites.

Impermium

As Internet users become more and more discerning of which online offers are legit and which are phishing scams, cyber criminals are in need of new avenues to dupe their victims. Focusing on securing social media, Impermium promises to weed out social spam before it affects your business. Impermium’s “Zaru” engine analyzes what’s happening on a business’s website. Social spam can exist in a company’s blog posts, comments, account sign-ups and more. Based on regular user activity, Impermium can detect whether an action is spam-y or legitimate. This can turn up false positives, however, and annoy customers who are actually trying to engage with your company. Impermium says its engine is getting smarter due to its growing “Threat Network,” which provides insight from all different websites on how humans interact on the Internet.

Impermium was founded in 2010 and has received funding from Greylock Partners, Accel Partners, Highland Capital Partners, and The Social+Capital Partnership.

Pindrop Security

Pindrop Security almost seems old school. The company is solving the lesser-known problem of caller-ID spoofing. That is, rigging your caller information to give another’s identity. Caller-ID spoofing is dangerous because sensitive information is often communicated over the phone. For instance, if your bank calls you and a criminal spoofs the call, he or she can then use your information to access accounts or open credit cards. Pindrop protects customers from caller-ID spoofing by reading the call’s audio-fingerprint, or a set of tones that define a caller’s location, phone type, and identity. The company provides a SaaS model as well as an on-premise model that acts on the receiving end of the call and does not tamper with telecommunications infrastructure.

Pindrop is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and has received funding from Andreessen-Horowitz and Sigma Partners.

MokaFive

MokaFive wants to help bring Apple to the enterprise. It has created software that lets your company’s IT distribute and control virtual desktops to any employee’s device. MokaFive does this by installing a hypervisor, or a layer of software that allows any computer to run any operating system, onto an employee’s computer. That hypervisor once had to live on the server-side, costing a lot of money implement and maintain. MokaFive attempts to eliminate time and financial cost by keeping the virtual desktops as “golden image” files on MokaFive’s servers. There, MokaFive piles on security features that allow IT to wipe a computer if it is stolen, update desktops, and more. The software takes up five gigabytes on the person’s computer and is otherwise fairly quiet.

MokaFive was founded in 2006 and has received funding from Fuller, Vinod Khosla, Highland Capital, Khosla Ventures, and NGEN.

Image via RSA Conference


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LinkedIn grows revenues faster than Apple and Facebook (infographic)

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 04:17 PM PST

Which celebrated technology company is growing revenue at a higher rate than all the rest? Hint: it’s not Apple or Facebook, as you might expect.

LinkedIn, the professional social networking company turned publicly traded powerhouse, is posting the highest year-over-year revenue growth. The newly public company is growing revenue faster than technology’s heaviest hitters — Apple, Facebook, and Google included — according to fourth quarter and fiscal year company filings.

You’ve heard these growth figures before — they’ve been reported on VentureBeat and are included in company quarterly earnings reports — but the graphic below, compiled for us by our friends at statistics portal Statista, tells a rather unexpected story of LinkedIn’s maturation into a money-making machine.

Year-over-year revenue growth is not the be-all, end-all of financial metrics, of course, and companies like Apple are already so successful that revenue growth rates are bound to plateau. It’s a lot easier to show 105 percent year-over-year growth when your quarterly revenue numbers are in the low hundreds of millions of dollars, as opposed to the billions.

Photo credit: coletivomambembe/Flickr


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WePay adds invoicing services for small businesses

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 03:35 PM PST

WePay, the online payment collection service, has added invoicing to its lists of services, giving small businesses and individuals the ability to collect money for services they’ve provided.

Founded in 2008, WePay is known for its easy, anyone-can-use-them payment collection services, aimed at individuals and “unsophisticated” online sellers. The company was originally designed to help friends collect money from each other, and has since grown to cater to online businesses looking for a cheap way to collect payments.

Now, freelancers and businesses can invoice their customers with WePay. The service will send out an invoice and collect payment, charging a 3.5 percent fee on payments with no monthly fee. Users can also customize invoices with different color schemes and company logos for additional fees.

Other invoicing features WePay has added include setting up reoccurring payments, charging late fees, scheduling automatic payments, and overdue reminders.

"We've enhanced our tools to help freelancers and small merchants accept payments online by sending professional-looking invoices without a ton of work or confusing, hidden monthly fees," WePay chief executive Bill Clerico said in a statement.

WePay’s competitor PayPal already offers invoicing services, charging between 2.2 and 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per transaction. PayPal also boasts no other fees, just like WePay. ZenCash is another competitor, one that doesn’t collect payments, but sends out invoices to customers for you. ZenCash charges a flat fee of about $2 to send out invoices.

WePay is based in Palo Alto, California and has raised $9.5 millon in funding.


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The opposite of net neutrality? AT&T to let big companies pay for data usage

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 03:25 PM PST

att-data-usage

AT&T is planning to launch a new service allowing content providers and developers to pay for their customers’ data usage, thus lowering the expensive data charges for some of its wireless subscribers.

Essentially, big companies like Comcast (owner of NBCUniversal) can pay AT&T for the total data charges associated with watching their content online. For instance, if you watched Celebrity Apprentice, Community, or Parks and Rec from NBC’s official application, none of the data used would count against your monthly allotment. The same would be applicable for Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Sound like a good deal? Well, it’s not.

AT&T’s new free-to-customers data service is similar to what the telephone companies did with toll-free calling on 1-800 numbers, AT&T’s head of Network and Technology John Donovan told the Wall Street Journal in an interview Monday.  The motive behind the new service is to create a new source of revenue for the company to compensate for the increased fees associated with higher data consumption from its subscribers.

The problem with this particular strategy is that it gives big companies with lots of money a way to succeed while smaller inventive/progressive companies will continually get ignored. Think about it. If you can only afford AT&T’s 250MB per month data plan, and all Twitter/Facebook data is free, you’ll never have incentive to use a better service. The next “Twitter” or “Instagram” is dead before birth. Eventually, this will hurt innovation and give the U.S. carriers more leverage over our mobile communication habits.

This kind of data service indirectly violates net neutrality — the position that there should be no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers’ access to networks that participate in the Internet.

AT&T, however, loves this new service because its much easier to secure millions of dollars in data usage from a big company than it is to collect it from each subscriber’s bill every month.

"This new plan is unfortunate because it shows how fraudulent the AT&T data cap is, and calls into question the whole rationale of the data caps,” said Harold Feld, legal director of digital consumer rights special interest group Public Knowledge in a statement. “Apparently it has nothing to do with network management. It’s a tool to get more revenue from developers and customers.”

Public Knowledge has made two request to the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether its necessary for wireless carriers to institute data caps. Such an investigation would shed new light on the real costs of doing business.

As for AT&T’s new data service, Feld said: "This is exactly the type of market manipulation we hoped the FCC's Open Internet rules would prevent. If the Commission does not believe it has the authority under those rules to investigate this practice, it should do so under its general authority over wireless services."

What do you think about AT&T’s new proposed service plan that would allow big media companies and app developers to pay for all the data you use? Let us know in the comments.

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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A Nokia engineer spills all on the 808 PureView’s crazy 41MP camera (video)

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 02:58 PM PST

A Nokia phone with a 41 megapixel camera may sound insane, but honestly, that’s my kind of crazy. Nokia announced the 808 PureView today at the Mobile World Congress, and all of a sudden the previously unknown phone running a dated Symbian OS became the talk of the show.

At Nokia’s MWC booth, I chatted with an engineer who spent the past two years on the team developing the 808 PureView and its ridiculously high quality camera. As you can tell from the video below, he couldn’t be prouder of his new baby.

He explains the variety of ways you’ll be able to take pictures with the 808 PureView — either with a full 38 MP resolution image that you can scan and crop with ease, or smaller resolution images that can still take advantage of the phone’s large camera sensor. For this phone in particular, seeing is believing, so pay close attention to how sharp his sample pictures look in the video below (and make sure you’re viewing it in 1080p HD).

I had some brief hands-on time with the phone, though it was shackled with an overblown security mechanism (typical for show floors). Being a Nokia device, the 808 not surprisingly feels like a high quality piece of hardware. What’s most striking, unsurprisingly, is the large camera lens on the phone’s rear. There’s a noticeable bulge around the camera area which makes the 808 resemble a point-and-shoot, but it’s still slim enough to fit into your pocket.

But while the PureView camera technology is undoubtedly cool, it’ll be hard to recommend this phone when it launches because of Nokia’s Symbian Belle OS. It’s a big upgrade over the company’s Symbian S40 devices, but it still falls short when compared to competitors like Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Luckily, Nokia seems to be treating the 808 as an experimental device, similar to the N9.

Hopefully by next year, we’ll see the awesome PureView camera tech in future Lumia Windows Phones.


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LinkedIn rolls out Follow Company button for all sites

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 01:33 PM PST

LinkedIn announced a new Follow Company button Monday, which the social network thinks will make it easier for companies to communicate and interact with their customers. Beginning immediately, companies can grab the snippet of code to add it the button to their own sites and start collecting more followers.

“The Follow Company button makes it easy for the more than two million brands with LinkedIn company pages to attract new followers and engage with them socially in a uniquely professional context,” Hani Durzy, LinkedIn‘s director of corporate communications, told VentureBeat.

Much like adding a company as your friend on Facebook, clicking the Follow Company button while logged onto LinkedIn enables users to automatically follow the company and check in to see the latest information posted by that company on its official page. Status updates from the company will automatically appear on the follower’s home page, altering them to breaking company news, career opportunities (LinkedIn’s bread and butter), or industry trends.

LinkedIn currently has over two million companies in its network and some large brands have already deployed the Follow Company button, including Starbucks, DonorsChoose, Sony, American Express, and AT&T.

"Most of the 150 million LinkedIn members expect companies to have a presence on LinkedIn, and about 70% of LinkedIn members already follow or would follow companies on the platform,” said Durzy.


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Vaultive keeps your data safe in the cloud, raises $10M

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 01:17 PM PST

Vaultive, which encrypts data before its gets stored in the cloud, just announced a second round of funding for $10 million.

Many companies are still hesitant about using cloud services due to security concerns. Vaultive wants to calm those fears by encrypting data before it goes to a cloud server.

Vaultive’s product is Vaultive for Hosted Exchange, which was created specifically for host exhanges such as Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Exchange 2010. All data sent to a cloud service is encrypted before it leaves a company’s network or workstations. With Vaultive for Hosted Exchange, encrypted data can also be indexed, sorted, and processed by a cloud service without the need to decrypt it. Vaultive’s security measures help companies comply with strict privacy regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) while using cloud services.

Vaultive faces competiton from CipherCloud, which also encrypts data before it reaches cloud services. CipherCloud currently works with Salesforce and Google Apps.

The new funding comes from .406 VenturesNew Science Ventures and Harmony Partners. The company was founded in 2008 and was previously in stealth mode.

The company will use the new influx of money to grow its New York office, adding to its sales, marketing, and technical teams.

In addition to its New York presence, Vaultive has a data center in Tel Aviv, Israel with more than 20 engineers. The company raised a previous round of funding for $1 million in 2009 from Yaron Carni, Fabrice Grinda, and Founder Collective.

Vault image via Shutterstock


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Dropbox acquires collaboration startup Cove and its former Facebook execs

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 01:15 PM PST

lets-make-a-deal-655

This story is brought to you by Sourcebits, a Global leader in Strategy, User Experience & Engineering for Mobile & Cloud. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates. Sourcebits had no influence on the content of this post.

 
Cloud storage powerhouse Dropbox has purchased stealth collaboration startup Cove and its exec team made up of former Facebook staffers, the company said Monday.

The new hires include three former Facebook engineering execs, including the married dream team of Aditya Agarwal and Ruchi Sanghvi, who worked at Facebook between 2005 and 2010. At Facebook, Agarwal served as the engineering director responsible for search and news feed, while Sanghvi was Facebook's first female engineer and a product manager. The acquisition will also bring Cove co-founder Akhil Wable and Cove employee Joshua Jenkins into the fold at Dropbox.

The ultra-low-key service Cove, which focused on collaboration and communication for mid-size organizations, had an alpha launch but never went much further than that, according to an interview Sanghvi had with AllThingsD. Dropbox apparently had a friendly relationship with Agarwal and Sanghvi, so it wasn’t hard to convince them to come on board.

The Cove buy is Dropbox’s first-ever acquisition, which shows just how far the company has come in the past year. Dropbox closed a jaw-dropping $250 million round last October, and at that time it said it would pursue acquisitions and grow its team.

Predictably, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.


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Michael Dell emphasizes enterprise solutions over PC sales

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 01:05 PM PST

Dell is a huge PC maker with more than $62 billion in its last fiscal year. But the company is shifting its emphasis to IT solutions for the enterprise rather than just pure PC hardware.

In that respect, Dell’s playbook is looking a lot like that of IBM, which sold off its PC hardware division, and Hewlett-Packard, which has moved heavily into enterprise software.

Dell is “not really a PC company,” CEO Michael Dell said at an event in San Francisco. “It’s an end-to-end IT solutions company. … Our conversations with customers are very different today. They want us to know the challenges in their business and how we can address them faster and better. It’s about transforming data into insights, boosting flexibility, and becoming more agile. Customers want to see innovation that makes a difference for them.”

Enterprise sales accounted for about 30 percent of the company’s revenue last year and 50 percent of the operating income in the last quarter.

“The line between IT and the business is disappearing,” at customers, he said. “It is becoming essential to how they all conduct their businesses. They want choices about where their technology lives, from the hybrid cloud to public cloud infrastructure.”

Dell is investing $1 billion in its own web hosting infrastructure at 10 solution centers around the world. In the past two years, Dell has made 12 acquisitions, many of them in cloud, security, and data protection markets. The company has $18 billion in cash, up 21 percent from a year ago. So you can expect it to make more acquisitions.

“It’s a changing world and Dell is transforming to stay ahead of this,” Dell said.

Here’s a link to the video replay of Dell’s event.

[Photo credit: Justin.tv]


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Skype arrives on Windows Phone

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 12:32 PM PST

The application Windows Phone owners have been anticipating for eight months and counting has finally arrived — but it’s nothing to call home about yet.

Skype, as expected, has finally released a beta version of its application for Windows Phone 7. The release includes support for Skype basics such as audio and video calls over 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi, and group messaging.

More importantly, the app finally puts Windows Phone owners on par with their friends on Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry, even if it lacks several key features.

Microsoft acquired the audio and video-conferencing company for $8.5 billion in June (the deal closed in October). At the time, both companies talked up a Windows Phone Skype offering that would be superior to the Skype applications available on other platforms. That day has yet to come — and likely won’t come until the fourth quarter of the year.

For now, the just-released Skype application, which requires Windows Phone 7.5, is very much a beta release. The app lacks support for languages other than English and does not run in the background, meaning you won’t be able to receive incoming calls or chats if Skype is not running in the foreground. A full release, or “gold” version as Skype calls it, is slated to launch in April.

Skype for Windows Phone Beta has been tested for optimal performance on the Nokia Lumia 710 and 800, the HTC Titan and Radar, and the Samsung Focus S and Focus Flash, Skype said.


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WikiLeaks to publish Stratfor hack e-mails, the firm responds

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 11:25 AM PST

Julian Assange

Over the next few weeks WikiLeaks will reveal what it believes are damning Stratfor e-mails acquired from the December hack on the geopolitical analyst firm.

According to a release by the “anti-secrecy” group, over 4 million e-mails from July 2004 to December 2011 will be exposed. WikiLeaks is calling the e-mails “The Global Intelligence Files” and will be releasing them with over 25 international publications, including Rolling Stone. The group also says it has a list of informants Stratfor used to gain some of its political intelligence, payments made to those informants, as well as a list of media outlets that were paid by Stratfor to publish its findings.

“The organizations were provided access to a sophisticated investigative database developed by WikiLeaks and together with WikiLeaks are conducting journalistic evaluations of these emails,” the group said in a statement.

Stratfor has countered with its own statements calling the reveal a “deplorable, unfortunate and illegal breach of privacy.” Stratfor was attacked by cyber criminals in December 2011. Along with company communications, customers’ personally identifiable information, credit card numbers, and other data was stolen. The criminals belong to a popular hacktivist group known as Anonymous, which has hacked into a number of other organizations and recently took down the Department of Justice website. It has seemingly supplied the e-mails to WikiLeaks, which is known for previously publishing U.S. government cables regarding the Afghanistan War. The release caused an uproar and the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“This is another attempt to silence and intimidate the company, and one we reject,” Stratfor said in its statement. “Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them.”

Stratfor says that “some of the e-mails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic.” Wikileaks says the e-mails contain information including embarrassing nicknames Stratfor gave to individuals and groups. These include “Hizzies” for members of Hezbollah and “Adogg” for referencing Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Wikileaks also claims Stratfor chief executive George Friedman urged analyst Reva Bhalla to control an Israeli intelligence informant defining ‘control’ as “financial, sexual or psychological.” The accuracy and reliability of these e-mails is unknown.

Because of Stratfor’s silence, however, we may never know.

“We will not validate either,” said Stratfor, “Nor will we explain the thinking that went into them.”

Julian Assange photo via New Media Days/Flickr


Filed under: security


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Japan’s big memory chip maker Elpida files for bankruptcy protection

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 11:14 AM PST

The big shift from computers to smartphones claimed a big victim today. Elpida Memory, the big Tokyo manufacturer of dynamic random access memory chips, filed for bankruptcy protection.

The news came after a drop in memory chip prices and a failed financing attempt. The Japanese company was formed in 1999 from the memory operations of NEC and Hitachi, and its collapse is part of an inevitable consolidation in the industry.

The company lost money for five quarters in a row and listed liabilities of $5.6 billion, according to the BBC. The company’s market value fell by 95 percent in the last five years, and it will be delisted on March 28 from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. DRAM prices fell 85 percent (thanks to lower-than-expected PC sales), and a strong yen hurt the company’s profits. Japan’s government and banks bailed out the company in 2009, to no avail. The recent Japan quake also hurt the company.

Rivals such as Samsung have successfully diversified into flash memory and mobile DRAM for mobile handheld devices such as the Apple iPad and iPhone. Elpida, on the other hand, failed to move quickly into that market. Other DRAM chip makers have had a tough time too. Bloomberg said that Elpida, Hynix, and others have lost $14 billion in the past three years. Fujitsu exited the business last year.

Elpida defaulted on six bonds for its debt as they came due yesterday. Vijay Rakesh, an analyst at SterneAgee, said the bankruptcy will likely result in lower capacity in the larger DRAM industry. Elpida may sell off its assets, he said, to pay off creditors. Beneficiaries could include Taiwan’s Powerchip, Idaho’s Micron, and Samsung.

Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis, said, “Elpida has good technology, but is simply unable to compete in an oversupplied world market using prices that are yen-based.” He noted the company is Japan’s last remaining DRAM maker. Some observers believe that Japan’s government will intervene to keep the company afloat out of national pride, but Handy doubts that will happen. Handy said it’s unlikely DRAM prices will stabilize after the exit of Elpida.


Filed under: VentureBeat


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Facebook champions mobile web app development

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 10:56 AM PST

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This story is brought to you by Sourcebits, a Global leader in Strategy, User Experience & Engineering for Mobile & Cloud. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates. Sourcebits had no influence on the content of this post.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and with the help of more than 30 device manufacturers, carriers, and developers, Facebook is willing the creation of more applications built expressly for the mobile web.

The social network announced two mobile web initiatives Monday with the intent of fixing mobile browser fragmentation and allowing device owners to more easily purchase mobile web apps by way of operator billing.

Samsung, HTC, AT&T, Verizon, Mozilla, Netflix, and Zynga are just a handful of companies and carriers joining forces with Facebook to push new standards for mobile browsers as part of the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group. Operators, including, AT&T, Orange, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, and Vodafone have also signed on to streamline the billing process for purchasing mobile web apps and in-app upgrades.

With the initiatives, Facebook’s stated goal is to help application makers, especially Facebook app makers, reach a massive mobile audience through the mobile browser, a far more accessible entity than any single native app store.

But the company is not hiding its own less-than-altruistic motives. Facebook’s 425 million monthly active mobile users are collectively accessing the social network via mobile web browser more than from the company’s top four native applications combined, director of developer relations Douglas Purdy said.

The takeaway here, especially considering Facebook’s stated mobile risk, is that the social network has a vested interest in getting Facebook app makers in front of as many people as possible while still helping them profit from its audience.

Photo credit: johanl/Flickr


Filed under: dev, mobile, social, VentureBeat


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Hey Muggles, Harry Potter eBooks are coming to public libraries

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 10:41 AM PST

Harry Potter

While several publishers are fighting to keep their collection of ebooks out of library lending programs, its nice to see that the series of Harry Potter books written by J.K. Rowling isn’t among them.

Pottermore, the company that manages the Harry Potter digital books in partnership with Sony, announced that it’s reached a deal today to bring the eBook collection to over 18,000 public and school libraries across the world.

The Harry Potter distribution deal is with OverDrive, which powers the majority of eBook lending programs for public libraries across the country as well as Amazon’s Kindle eBook lending feature. The company will be in charge of hosting and digital distribution for all seven Potter book in over 20 different languages.

Previously, large publishers like HarperCollins and Penguin decided to yank all e-books from any book sharing service that used the OverDrive lending system due to concerns that lending would lead to increased piracy. Others, however, speculate that these decisions were made because big publishers don’t consider lending services to be a productive way to raise revenue from e-book sales. Having sold over 400 million copies of its books to date, Pottermore isn’t worried about sales lagging due to lending programs.

The news likely means more schools will include the Harry Potter series of books within curriculum. (Now we just need to replace old text books with tablets and we’re good to go.)


Filed under: media, VentureBeat


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Google’s Android OS now seeing a whopping 850K activations per day

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 10:39 AM PST

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Google’s incredibly popular Android mobile operating system is now seeing more than 850,000 phone activations every day, writes Google Senior VP Andy Rubin on a company blog today.

“Each and every day, we are humbled by the trajectory of Android and our partners,” Rubin wrote. “With a year-on-year growth rate of more than 250%, 850,000 new Android devices are activated each day, jetting the total number of Android devices around the world past 300 million. These numbers are a testament to the break-neck speed of innovation that defines the Android ecosystem.”

Android has seen so much success because of its open-source nature and its use by various manufacturers including Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and LG. With worldwide availability and ubiquity, the platform is easily the largest in the world, with Apple’s iOS, Nokia’s Symbian OS, the BlackBerry OS, and Microsoft’s Windows Phone firmly behind it in penetration. NDP interestingly pointed out in its latest smartphone report that first-time phone buyers overwhelmingly choose an Android phone over Apple’s iPhone, with 57 percent for Android and 34 percent for iPhone.

On top of Rubin’s figure on how many devices are being activated daily, he also added that the Android Market has crossed the 450,000 app mark. A year ago, that number was sitting 150,000 apps, which indicates staggering application usage and growth. The Android Market is now seeing more than a billion app downloads each month.

Do you think Android’s growth and dominance is sustainable?

Android love photo: Lai Ryanne/Flickr


Filed under: mobile


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