29 February, 2012



Raspberry Pi $35 computer pre-orders sell out within hours

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 09:11 AM PST


The first Raspberry Pi computer, which costs just $35, became available for pre-order earlier today and within hours, most outlets taking orders have sold out.

The first Raspberry Pi machine was first seen by us last May and at the time it was the size of a flash drive, but was still able to run the Linux open-source OS with its 700-MHz ARM processor and 128MB of RAM. Since that time, the tiny PC has gotten larger in size and now has two versions — the $25 Model A and $35 Model B. However, only the Model B went on pre-order today, while the Model A is heading into production in the next few weeks.

The $35 Model B is about the size of a credit card, measuring 85.6mm x 53.98mm x 17mm. It features a Broadcom 700-MHz ARM11 processor, 256MB of RAM, Ethernet port, HDMI port, USB 2.0 port, 3.5mm audio jack, and runs Linux operating system off an SD card. Impressively, the little guy can play 1080p HD video and run Quake 3 Arena.

Orders for the model B were taken through Premier Farnell and RS Components, but those sties have since changed pre-order forms to just forms letting the companies know you are interested in the product. Raspberry Pi’s Twitter account reported earlier that Farrell has likely sold out.

The Raspberry Pi is the brainchild of engineer Eben Upton and British programmer David Braben. Somewhat similar to the One Laptop Per Child project, Upton and Braben’s goal is to manufacture a computer that is so inexpensive that every student can be given one.

Will you be buying a Raspberry Pi computer?

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Get things done — by someone else — with Exec

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 09:00 AM PST

Justin.tv founder Justin Kan is moving onto his next project: Exec, a web and iPhone app that will let you throw up your hands and delegate your first-world problems to someone else, such as a starving artist who’s grateful for the work.

The app has just launched in San Francisco, and it provides those long on funds and short on time with a fleet of background-checked go-fers to do their bidding at a moment’s notice.

In a phone call with VentureBeat last night, Kan called it “an Uber for tasks.”

Kan, who has taken a reduced advisory role at Justin.tv, said he got the idea for the app during an eventful ride to Burning Man.

“We’re in a van 200 miles outside of San Francisco, and it turns out one of the guys forgot his ticket. It was in his house. Now, another friend was getting ready to leave San Francisco and drive to Burning Man. But the first guy’s keys were with another friend, so we had to get the keys from point A to point B within 30 minutes.

“In the end, we had to call an Uber car to go from one apartment to the other, and we had to sit on the phone and walk the driver through it… And I thought, there should be a service like this.”

As fate would have it, there already is a service like that: TaskRabbit, a marketplace for finding someone to do quick tasks. But Kan says Exec is even better for those who are in a time crunch because, rather than fielding bids from prospective task-doers, the Exec user just lets Exec select an employee and get down to business.

“Our goal is to make something really simple for people,” Kan said. “You don’t want to think about choosing the best person; you just press a button, and you don’t have to think about it any more.”

So, how does Exec find those perfect (and trustworthy) short-term employees for doing your bidding? The startup actually has a four-step interview process that includes a full background and criminal check, just to be on the safe side.

Kan said a lot of the applicants are creative types, people who have their own dreams and goals, but who are also looking to pick up some extra cash while working between 30 and five hours each week. And Kan emphasized that he and the Exec team want to create sustainable part-time jobs, something that won’t result in high turnover and that will add up to a great workplace and great customer service.

The three-person Exec team is a Y Combinator-backed company and has been testing its product for about four weeks in the city of San Francisco. Kan said the team is looking to raise more cash and will be expanding to the rest of the Bay Area and then to other major metropolitan areas.

For each new market, Kan said the team will move to that city for a few months to get a good handle on the customers, the part-timers, and the types of tasks the service will need to accommodate. Even now, the founders will occasionally deliver a sandwich or pick up someone’s dry cleaning to better dirty their hands and understand the service they’re building.

Image courtesy of watcharakun, Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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How to build a developer community from scratch

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 08:55 AM PST

Whether you're a company in need of development work, or someone with an open source project that needs contributions, leveraging a developer community can seem like a simple and cost-effective solution.

The promise of having hundreds or even thousands of independent, talented workers solving your development problems around the clock appears to be a dream come true.

Unfortunately it doesn't work that easily. You can't add the word "developer" to your website and expect hundreds of developers to suddenly support your initiatives and grow organically.

Developer communities are called communities for a reason — they are beneficial to everyone involved and take a lot of work to both grow and maintain. Work that includes time, transparency, and in some cases, significant funding.

After weighing the options, if you're still convinced that building a developer community is what you really want to do, here are some tips to help ensure your vision and hard work show.

First step: the vision & the expectations

First, define what you’re trying to do and what makes what you're trying to do different.

Communities of any kind need to have focus. What are you trying to accomplish, and how will you stay away from exploiting those with the development talent?

Second, determine what your relationship with developers will be. It's most important to not abuse the most vital asset, which is the relationships you will develop with the people that contribute value to your community. This is where transparency and honesty play a role. Be transparent about what you're trying to achieve and honest about whom it will benefit.

Third, figure out which players will take on which roles. What will be the responsibilities of others in your community? Will you be paying for the work that's being done? Who will finance this work?

If your ultimate goal isn't to make monetary gain from this community, then good for you. But it's likely that you'll need initial funding from someone. Start with possible benefactors of what the community can potentially produce and put your business development skills to work.

All of this is starting to sound like a time-consuming task. Developer community development is not a new concept, and there is a lot of great information out there on what makes a great developer relationship.

For as much output as the community has, it will require at least twice as much effort from you and your team. In other words, the community doesn’t exist for you; you end up existing for the community, and you can't focus solely on what personal gain you're trying to obtain.

No skilled developers will want to help you out unless you can take care of them. You have to build something the community wants to play in, not something you want them to play in.

Maintaining & sustaining your community

Within your developer community, you must live out your mission statement. In other words, if you’re a crowdsourcing community, crowdsource your marketing materials. If you’re into Azure, don’t forget to build your website with it.

But most importantly, get the word out enthusiastically. Creating buzz takes legwork. You need to attend relevant events and informal meet-ups, and don't be afraid to talk to influencers and do some personal networking.

It's also important to engage your developer community at all levels and not just support early contributors. You never know who the next rock star contributor will be.

To help achieve positive engagement, reduce your conversion funnel. Make it easy for people to participate, sign up, and get recognized. At RedMonk’s recent conference, Monki Gras, Kohsuke Kawaguchi, developer of Hudson, drove this point home, by reminding the crowd that every possible community participant starts as a visitor and customer prior to deciding whether or not to participate.

It's important to provide easy opportunities to for people to participate; this includes having great documentation, easy build scripts, and APIs.

Lastly, people like getting credit for their work and developers are no different. So showcase their efforts. Remember: the community exists for the members, not the other way around. The success of your developer community hinges on how you can make it better.

Dave Messinger currently works managing external development resources for Appirio, a professional resources company for cloud-based services. Previously, he was chief architect for TopCoder, a developer community where hackers participate in online coding competitions.

Image courtesy of olly, Shutterstock

Filed under: dev

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Meet Moonbot, the tiny startup that won an Academy Award

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 08:30 AM PST

At last Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony, a startup studio that makes animations, apps, and ebooks won the Best Animated Short Oscar for its film “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”  The 14-minute movie was the first from Shreveport, La.-based Moonbot Studios, a multimedia company that is making a splash far from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Pixar.

What began with three partners — well-known illustrator and author William Joyce, and industry vets Lampton Enochs and Brandon Oldenburg — has grown into a bustling company with 35 employees. The studio started with minimal funding, and that DIY spirit has infused both its aesthetic and its business practices.

“Everything we’re doing is bootstrapped and frugal, and seat-of-our pants in a MacGyver kind of way,” said Oldenburg, in an interview with VentureBeat the day after being nominated for best animated short.

From the $5 interactive ebook iPad app.

Part of what makes Moonbot unique is its tech savvy and the variety of mediums it embraces. Now, in addition to animated movies, the studio is creating and selling mobile apps, interactive ebooks, games, and old-fashioned paper books.

By starting with a story instead of a set end-product, the studio has more options for ways to package all the resources it creates. “It’s this gift we didn’t know was sitting there,” Oldenburg said of the “Lessmore” assets. “We just took a little effort and re-purposed things.”

The studio even puts on live puppet shows.

“Live audience interaction is great way to develop stories,” explained Oldenburg. The studio has tested stories and characters by building puppets and staging live shows for local audiences in Shreveport. “It’s this whole new revolution of handmade. Etsy and Kickstarters, they’re all underdogs in a way, but they’re also beautiful and pure in a way too. We want to continue down that path for ourselves.”

Naturally, the underdog studio picked an underdog town. Shreveport may seem like an unlikely place for a studio to set-up shop, but Moonbot’s founders were drawn in by great tax incentives offered by the state of Louisiana and the city of Shreveport in an attempt to bolster the local economy. It’s also Joyce’s hometown, and Louisiana is the setting for “Lessmore.” Louisiana is the third-largest state for film production in the U.S., following California and New York. While most of that business is focused in and around New Orleans, some is trickling into Shreveport and other Louisiana cities, where creative companies such as Moonbot are embraced.

“If you’re looking to create a startup, go someplace where you have a whole town to back you up. Here we’re the only fish in the pond,” said Oldenburg.

Moonbot Studios

Working outside of traditional production areas also has its challenges, like staffing; seventy percent of Moonbot’s staff have been relocated to Shreveport from other locations. However, it is working with two local universities on job training programs, and more talent could start moving to the area as the industry grows. Already, two of Moonbot’s mobile-app developers have ventured out and started their own engineering firm in Shreveport, called Twin-Engine Labs.

Moonbot may have won a huge award for a movie, but its business model isn’t that of a traditional film studio, perhaps because it recognizes movies aren’t where the money is being made. The company (which calls itself “An interplanetary creative expedition of story and art”) is half focused on fostering and developing its own intellectual properties, and half on collaborating with clients on the stories they want to tell.

“We are a story-telling company and we like to innovate in new ways of telling stories,” said Oldenburg. “Short films don’t make any money really, they just become calling cards for who you are and what you’re about.”

An Academy Award for your studio’s first film is quite the calling card.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Back to the Future: Intel will pour $100M into connected-car investments

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 08:30 AM PST

Intel Capital is announcing today a $100 million fund to invest in the future of car technology. The Intel Capital Connected Car Fund is aimed at turning the web-connected automobile into a reality.

The investment arm of the world’s biggest chip maker will target funds at technologies such as in-vehicle infotainment systems (like the pictured system embedded in Tesla’s upcoming Model S electric car), seamless mobile connectivity between the car electronics and your mobile devices, compelling applications and advanced driver assistance systems.

The fund marks a turning point for the once-staid electronics of cars, which are now being reimagined in the digital era. Everything from Google’s self-driving cars to rear-view-mirror cameras (which could be mandated by 2014) show that the car electronics industry has never seen so much change. By 2014, cars will be among the top three fastest-growing segments for connected devices and internet content, Intel said.

The fund will be invested over the next four to five years in hardware, software, and services companies developing new technologies. At some point, you can expect your iPhone’s music to start playing the moment you step into your car. While technology may be very distracting in the car, Intel will emphasize systems that also make driving safer, like sensors that track your eye movement (and alert you when you are drowsy).

Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice president, said that Intel is already collaborating with Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, and BMW.

“Consumers are demanding uninterrupted access to the internet, but automobiles must be able to connect safely,” he said. “Car makers are incorporating things like rear-view-mirror cameras to differentiate their cars.”

Sodhani said that Intel would likely lead many of the investments in new technologies.

Staci Palmer, general manager of Intel’s automotive solutions division, said the systems will keep drivers and passengers informed, entertained and productive while maintaining optimal safety. And once the car becomes connected, it will also communicate with the cloud, the transportation infrastructure and even other vehicles to provide additional services such as real-time traffic data.

“A car ten cars ahead of you can warn you of an accident and advise you about alternatives for driving,” Palmer said.

Intel itself hasn’t been a big player in car electronics to date. But Palmer said that systems under development take a few years to make it into the newest car models. Intel is also opening a lab in Karlsruhe, Germany that will focus on car innovations.

Since 1991, Intel Capital has invested more than $10.5 billion in over 1,218 companies in 51 countries. In that time, 196 portfolio companies have gone public and 291 were acquired. In 2011, Intel Capital invested $526 million in 158 investments. Intel has specialized funds to invest in China, Brazil, India, the Middle East, Ultrabook technology, and apps.

Personally, I want the time-traveling Delorean model from Back to the Future (smaller picture).

[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi at Consumer Electronic Show]

Filed under: mobile

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Study: Gamers are gaga for virtual goods

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Consumer spending on virtual goods has doubled since 2009, according to a survey by Visa’s PlaySpan digital monetization division. And the total U.S. market value for virtual goods grew 28 percent to $2.3 billion in 2011.

PlaySpan and the survey firm Frank N. Magid Associates surveyed 600 people and found that gamers spend an average of $64 on virtual goods during the course of a year. That’s the equivalent of one marquee console game.

One in four consumers bought a virtual good in 2011, up 100 percent from 2009. Among U.S. gamers, 35 percent have purchased a virtual good, up 50 percent over 2010. U.S. male gamers were twice as likely as female gamers to buy virtual items such as better weapons or decorations in a game.

"Consumer acceptance of virtual goods represents a huge growth opportunity, not just for game publishers, but for all digital content companies," said Karl Mehta, chief executive of PlaySpan. "We believe we will continue to see a positive growth trend in games and that virtual goods will expand across multiple industries, such as music, movies, social gifting, and rewards, to name just a few.”

He said the data should help producers and distributors of all digital content fine tune their strategies for reaching audiences across a variety of platforms.

The data showed that 50 percent of males 24 and under bought a virtual good in 2011. By comparison, only 15 percent of females in that age group made the same claim. Women ages 35 to 44 showed the largest participation in virtual goods purchases at 23 percent.

The reasons for buying goods include enhancement of, enjoyment of, and performance in the game experience. About 59 percent do it for a better experience and 49 percent to get to a higher level. About 35 percent do it to decorate themselves and 32 percent to improve their skills. About 27 percent do it to beat their friends, and 14 percent do it to show off a brand.

Among those who have not bought a virtual good, 70 percent show a willingness to do so. About one in four gamers bought a virtual good as a gift. About 48 percent bought within a game application, 42 percent bought prepaid game cards at retail stores, 40 percent bought in an online store, 16 percent bought at a game publisher’s site.

Filed under: games

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Vindicia adds mobile payments to CashBox via Boku

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Vindicia, a provider of the CashBox billing and customer management system for online merchants, is announcing today that consumers will be able to pay for items with their mobile phone numbers through a partnership with mobile payments firm Boku.

That could help generate millions of dollars in additional annual revenue for the merchants that use CashBox, and it fits with the company’s mission of being a foundation for digital commerce.

That’s because not everybody likes to pay with credit cards or has a bank account. Some prefer the simplicity of something like Boku, which lets you pay with your mobile phone number and then authenticates the transaction with a text message.

Boku has been integrated into the mobile billing systems of more than 240 wireless carriers around the globe in 67 countries. According to Juniper Research, mobile payments are expected to triple in the next three years to a value of $670 billion, with digital goods accounting for 40 percent of that.

Gene Hoffman, chairman and chief executive of Vindicia, said in an interview with VentureBeat,”The best way to sell digital content and compelling services is to make it easy for the customer to pay for them.”

He added, “We help customers handle marketing, customer relationship management, and billing and sit above the payment network. We help manage customers, how to acquire new ones, and how to maintain users.”

Belmont, Calif.-based Vindicia offloads the complex task of setting up a payment system for a company. With carrier billing, Vindicia covers the whole gamut of payment options including credit cards, debit cards, PayPal, ACH, pre-paid cards, Boleto Bancario, European Direct Debit and more.

“Customers all around the world are embracing mobile commerce at a rapid pace – and carrier billing continues to be a tremendously effective enabling technology for consumers." said Ron Hirson, Boku president and co-founder.

Vindicia said that it has processed more than $4 billion in digital commerce and generated $75 million in annual incremental revenue for its customers, who include Symantec, Trion Worlds, TransUnion Interactive, Intuit, and Activision Blizzard. In December, Vindicia had its largest revenue month ever. Revenue was up 70 percent from a year ago, the number of clients using the system doubled, and revenues from dating were up 147 percent and online games rose 470 percent. One kids game saw transactions at a rate of 80,000 per hour. Vindicia has raised $40 million and it has 100 employees. Investors include DCM, FTV Capital, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, Leader Ventures, and Onset Ventures.

Boku reaches more than 3 billion consumers worldwide. Boku’s backers include Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, DAG Ventures, Index Ventures and Khosla Ventures.

Vindicia’s main competition is Zuora.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Study: Video games depict religion as violent and problematic (interview)

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Assassin's Creed: RevelationsMany newer-generation video games equate religion with violence, finds a new study from the University of Missouri.

Greg Perreault, a doctoral student in the university’s School of Journalism, recently examined five titles that incorporate spiritual themes in their storylines — Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Assassin's Creed, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. He found that each game “problematized religion” by closely tying it to violence.

"In most of these games there was a heavy emphasis on a ‘Knights Templar’ and crusader motifs," he said. "Not only was the violent side of religion emphasized, but in each of these games religion created a problem that the main character must overcome, whether it is a direct confrontation with religious zealots or being haunted by religious guilt."

Perreault (pictured) tells VentureBeat his study did not originally focus on violence. “In general, I tend to think that studies of violence in video games are passe. I set out interested in the depictions of organized religions versus spiritual religions, expecting to find organized religions depicted far more poorly than spiritual [ones].”

However, he says a game that connects religion with violence isn’t necessarily portraying it negatively. He uses the character Thane in Mass Effect 2 as an example, a deeply spiritual assassin who joins in the player’s quest to save the galaxy from the Reapers. “This is an interesting case because his religion doesn’t ‘inform’ the violence, although it allows for it,” he said. ”His religion basically says that the body and soul are separate. So the body can be used as a tool by someone else, and thus his assassinations aren’t anything he bears guilt for — the person who hired him bears the guilt. But Thane still feels guilty. He thinks about his victims, he prays for his victims. So is the religion violent here? Not necessarily, although it allows for the violence he commits — and must commit – in order to save the galaxy.”

While he cites Mass Effect 2 as an example of a game that portrays its spiritual themes in a positive light, Perrault says Assassin’s Creed is the most critical title he researched. “The game revolves around the search for something called the Piece of Eden. It allows you to control people’s minds. The argument is that the parting of the Red Sea, the turning of water into wine, the Resurrection — all of it was courtesy of church leaders who used the Piece of Eden to convince people a miracle occurred. The Templars, who appear to be exactly what they’re called, want it so they can use it to control the people. The Assassins, who are depicted as Enlightenment era secularists, want to keep it from them. As it turns out in the end, the Assassins don’t have good intentions with this thing either.”

Aware of the problems it could cause, Ubisoft puts a disclaimer on each Assassin’s Creed title saying that the game was designed by a “multicultural team.”

While the study observed a relationship between violence and video games, Perreault says he does not believe developers are creating an intentional commentary on religion.

"It doesn't appear that game developers are trying to purposefully bash organized religion in these games. I believe they are only using religion to create stimulating plot points in their storylines. If you look at video games across the board, most of them involve violence in some fashion because violence is conflict and conflict is exciting. Religion appears to get tied in with violence because that makes for a compelling narrative."

“I hope [the developers] take away that the thoughtful writing and imagery of their games doesn’t go unnoticed,” he added. ”I hope this propels great writing into all the great conversations of our society in video games, which I think ultimately will lead to better and better games.”

Perreault presented his findings at the Center for Media Religion and Culture Conference on Digital Religion.

Filed under: games

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Here’s where you can download Microsoft’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview now

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 07:21 AM PST


Microsoft’s much-anticipated Windows 8 operating system is now available to download for free in its Consumer Preview form. You can download it here.

While the software is far from final, this is a great chance to dig into one of the slickest-looking operating systems around. Windows 8 is one the most important products this year, and will help define Microsoft’s future. The OS attempts to bridge the gap between desktop and mobile devices and experiences with the ability to support touch screens and switch between traditional apps and touch-friendly Metro apps.

The Consumer Preview download comes in the form of an ISO file, which can be burned to a disc for easy installation. The file is available will work for both 32-bit and 64-bit machines and has language support for English, Chinese, French, German, and Japanese. Minimum requirements for the Consumer Preview are a 1-GHz processor, 1GB of RAM (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit), 16GB (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit) of free storage space, and a DirectX 9-compatible graphics card. If you want to take advantage of all the touch abilities of the Metro UI, you’ll obviously need a touch screen of some kind.

In our just-published hands-on take of Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Executive Editor Dylan Tweney notes that the OS “shows a design sensibility and a clarity of purpose not often seen in a Microsoft product.” But he also notes that it is still predictably buggy, with incomplete Flash support and sometimes the system stops responding all together. Simply put, you get what you pay for.

Let us know how the installation process goes and how you’re liking or not liking Windows 8 in the comments below. You can also follow our live coverage of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview announcement in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress.

Windows 8 screenshot: Microsoft

Filed under: mobile

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Microsoft launches Windows 8 Consumer Preview, with over 100K changes from dev preview (live)

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 06:45 AM PST

Microsoft today kicked off the launch of its Windows 8 Consumer Preview with a media event in a swanky Barcelona hotel.

Windows head Steven Sinofsky kicked off the event by describing the vast amount of devices and users the company is targeting with Windows 8. The company’s goal with the OS spans across tablets of all sorts, business desktops, consumer tablets, and more. He revealed that Microsoft has made over 100,000 major code changes to Windows 8 since the Developer Preview was released in September.

You can get your hands on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview now. Also check out our extensive preview of the Consumer Preview.

Sinofsky then handed the show off to Julie Larson-Green, one of the developers working on Windows 8. She showed off the basics of the OS, as well as how fluid the Metro interface is. Things seem a lot smoother than the Developer Preview. She said that the new Start screen is built to support hundreds of apps, while the Windows 7 Start menu could only show a handful.

Antoine Leblond, another Windows 8 engineer, showed off how the OS ran on a typical computer with a mouse and desktop. Simple tasks like copying and pasting have been drastically improved in Windows 8. Now, you can easily manage copying multiple files at once. He also showed how easy it is to move between the Windows 8 Explorer view back to the Start screen. Basicallly, it looks like you won’t miss the traditional Start button too much.

While showing off the Windows 8 Store, he stressed that Microsoft designed it to make apps incredibly easy to discovery. (I would be shocked if otherwise.) Leblond said that Microsoft has been working more than ever with developers to bring their programs to the Windows 8 Store.

Sinofsky announced the eight winners of Microsoft’s “First App” contest: which includes Cookbook, SigFig, Elements Weather, FlipSaw, Pew Pew, and Physamajig. As winners, the apps will be included with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Sinofsky stressed that all of the apps currently available for Windows 8, including third-party apps, are still technically in beta, so we shouldn’t make final judgements on them just yet.

Michael Angiulo, Corporate VP of Winodws planning and ecosystem, next came on stage to show off some Windows on ARM devices. He stressed that Windows on ARM “is the same Windows” — though as we’ve already covered, that’s not necessarily true. Notably, WOA devices won’t be able to run non-Metro Windows applications — so long legacy software.

Sinofsky said that Microsoft developed a new class driver for Windows 8, which allows all sorts of hardware to work seamlessly with the OS without needed a separate driver. He said that 80 to 90 percent of printers will work automatically. “It just works,” he said.

They proceeded to show off different types of Windows 8 hardware, including ultrabooks, more powerful laptops, and desktops. One ultra book sported a motorized mechanism to reveal full-sized ports, something that the MacBook Air and other ultraportables give up on. (Honestly, that mechanism looked whack.) The Lenovo Yoga, an ultrabook that can convert into a tablet, looked far more useful.

One of the more intriguing devices was a big-screen monitor that could be rotated flat, allow you to use it like a Microsoft Surface display. They also showed off a ridiculously large 80-inch touchscreen running Windows 8, with a specially bonded Gorilla Glass display that allows for group collaboration. (A very rich group, I’m sure.)

Sinofsky said that Microsoft will follow its past release schedules with Windows 8: next up is the Release Candidate version, then the Release to Manufacturer (RTM) version. After that, Windows 8 will finally be available to the public.

And trust me, this is not one Windows release to be ignored. From the looks of it, Windows 8 is a sign of Microsoft’s approach to operating systems for the next decade.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Windows 8 consumer preview: What you need to know

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 06:45 AM PST

Photo of a Windows 8 tablet showing the boot screen

Windows 8 shows a design sensibility and a clarity of purpose not often seen in a Microsoft product.

I’ve spent about a week with the “consumer preview” of Windows 8, which is available to the public today (you can download the Windows 8 consumer preview for free here). I’ve been testing it on a Samsung tablet, with a separate wireless keyboard and mouse, lent to me by Microsoft. What follows is based on my week-long review.

Here’s what you need to know about the next Windows before you download the consumer preview.

Windows 8 is trying to do everything for everyone

The operating system’s coherence and attractiveness are especially surprising given the enormous number of constituents the operating system has to serve: Windows users in all their maddening variety, computer manufacturers, chip makers, software developers. Even people who live “in the cloud” and couldn’t care less which operating system their device is running still need an OS; they just don’t want it to get in the way.

Of course, all these competing demands are exactly what produced monstrosities like the vast numbers of toolbars in earlier versions of Microsoft Word, or the self-defeating complexity of Windows Vista’s security notifications. Microsoft has a lot of customers, and it’s provably good at capturing and holding on to those customers, but in the process, its products have a tendency to get fugly.

Given those challenges, it’s amazing to see how gracefully Windows 8 pulls off the complicated acrobatic feats expected of it. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, Mary Lou Retton-style, but it delivers a solid performance that suggests even better things to come.

In short, Windows 8 is a promising multitouch tablet OS, an improved mouse-driven desktop and notebook OS, a cloud client, and a new application development and delivery architecture, all in one.

It’s far from ready for production use, but it is an ambitious step towards a Windows that might not even be called Windows any more.

It’s got a radical new interface

Photo of a Windows 8 tablet showing the Start screen

The past few versions of Windows have made interface changes that seem relatively subtle: More animations, more transparency, and so forth. Windows 8 is a striking departure.

Microsoft is doubling down on the “Metro” design language first seen in Windows Phone 7. That means big, bold, multicolored tiles. Many of those tiles update themselves with current information, and not just digits (like the number of unread messages), but actual data (like what your next appointment is, and when it is).

The Start screen display is speedy and pleasingly animated, and I like it.

More significantly, Metro-optimized apps run fullscreen. There’s no ability to stack up windows and only very limited tiling options (if you want, you can put one app in a narrow panel on the left and a second app on the remaining 2/3 of the screen).

And there are no toolbars, no menus, no floating palettes. When you’re looking at an app, the whole screen is nothing but content. If you’re browsing the web, you don’t see Internet Explorer: You just see the web page you’re looking at. If you’re reading email, the emails fill the screen. And so on.

If you need to control apps, you swipe in from the top or the bottom of the screen, or right-click on the app, and menus will appear. You can also access “charms,” which are icons to do basic things like adjust settings or share the current page, by swiping in from the right. And you can switch between apps by swiping in from the left, so each app becomes its own fullscreen panel.

It’s simple, attractive, and clean-looking. It’s also a little baffling at first. The Microsoft guys who demonstrated the OS to me clearly want people to explore, play, and have fun discovering nifty new gestures as they go. But when you’re trying to find the settings applet that will let you connect to a Wi-Fi network or add an external keyboard, this interface can drive you up the wall.

But what about legacy Windows applications, the kind that you’re probably using right now and have been using for the past decade? Windows 8 supports those two, in “windowing” mode, which looks just like Windows 7. In practice, the “old Windows” view becomes just another app panel, and you can swipe to and from that view just like any other app.

Oh, and there’s no Start button, as we reported a few weeks ago.

Screenshot of Windows 8 Internet Explorer in "classic" Windows mode.

You can control it with a touchscreen, mouse, or keyboard

Microsoft has taken pains to make Windows 8 accessible to almost every conceivable input method. The Samsung device I tested it on is a multitouch tablet, and I found the interface fast and responsive to all the gestures I expected: tap, swipe, pinch-to-zoom, and so on.

But Windows 8 is not just a tablet OS; it’s also a PC OS. Accordingly, all those colorful Metro-styled tiles have to work on computers that have mice instead of touchscreens. Microsoft has provided mouse gesture equivalents for every touchscreen gesture, though they’re not always identical: For instance, to bring up those “charms” or system commands, you swipe in from the right edge of the screen, or move the mouse pointer to the lower right-hand corner.

Windows 8 also contains a wealth of keyboard shortcuts, including the classic alt-tab for switching between apps (thank goodness, as that gesture is hardwired into my left hand by now). The company says you should be able to do anything in Windows with any one of these input methods, or a combination of the three.

The system breaks down a bit when you wind up on an old-school Windows screen but you’re using your fingers on the touchscreen. Many buttons and links designed for mouse-only use are way too small to hit accurately with your fingertips, and there’s no way to zoom in. Frustrating.

Add a Kinect, and you can add voice commands and whole-body gestures to the operating system’s vocabulary.

Photo of a Windows 8 tablet with a keyboard

Microsoft has completely overhauled the underlying system

Windows 8 is more than a mere facelift. It’s clear that Microsoft has spent a lot of time rebuilding the underlying architecture. I haven’t delved into the particulars of the underlying system, but here are a few indicators of how deep the changes are.

  •  Microsoft has introduced a new kind of high-level application programming interface (API) that it calls “contracts,” which aim at simplifying communication between apps for common activities. For instance, there’s a “sharing” contract. Any app that wants to offer something to share (like a web page, a picture, or a document) only needs to code its app to be compatible with the sharing contract. On the other end, apps that can be shared with (like email programs, or a Twitter client) simply need to be compatible with the sharing contract on the receiving end. Neither app needs to know anything about the other app’s APIs, they only have to work with the contract in order to be compatible with any current or future apps that also work with that contract.
  • Windows 8 uses your Windows Live ID to authenticate you, and provides many options for syncing data (like your desktop wallpaper or Internet Explorer favorites) so that these options can follow you whenever you log in to any Windows 8 machine. That integration points to a future where your desktop account lives partly in the cloud, partly on a variety of devices — and presupposes a deep level of architectural compatibility with cloud-based data.
  •  Apps in the background take up zero processing resources, with very limited exceptions for downloading data or playing music. To make that feasible, every Windows Metro-compatible app has to be ready to shut down completely in 5 seconds or less.
  •  Windows 8 boots faster than any desktop OS I’ve used in the past 20 years. It takes about 10 seconds from cold start until the login screen appears. Once you log in, it’s only 2 or 3 seconds until you’re looking at a usable, fully-responsive Start screen.

There will be a market for apps

I can’t say much about the actual market or the apps in it, because the Windows Store wasn’t available until today. The only apps on the tablet I tested were the ones pre-installed by Microsoft, and those aren’t necessarily the same ones that will be on the shipping version of Windows 8.

What Microsoft has said is that it will be easy to create Windows 8 apps using current Windows development tools, XAML and C#. But it will also be easy to build apps using HTML5 and JavaScript, the company promises; indeed, several of the demonstration apps, like the maps application, are basically simple wrappers around existing web sites or web applications. One developer even found that he could re-use 90 percent of the code from a Windows Phone game when porting it to Windows 8.

Lots of developers appear to be interested in the possibilities. Microsoft says that 3.5 million people downloaded the Windows 8 developer preview (the version before this one), which came out in September.

Security and management will make Windows 8 attractive to businesses

Built-in security features such as a trusted boot architecture that should prevent a huge number of malware attacks will help reduce Windows’ exposure to viruses and Trojan horse software.

There are other nice touches that will simplify IT management. For instance, remote access is built in to Windows 8, as it has been in previous versions. No big deal, right? Except that Windows 8 will run on any device, which means you could use your Windows 8 tablet to log in remotely to a Windows 7 machine across the country and diagnose problems without even getting up from the comfy couch at the back of the IT dungeon.

The Windows Live-based login scheme means that it will be even easier to separate user accounts from physical hardware; you can log in to any computer with your ID and all your preferences and apps will follow you. Add Skydrive or another network storage source, and your data will follow you too.

Microsoft also promises that there will be a version called Windows 8 to Go, which will put the entire operating system on a bootable USB stick. Plug it into any compatible machine (even a Windows 7 machine), boot from the thumb drive, and you’ve got your entire computing environment right there. When you log off and remove the drive, it leaves none of your data behind.

It’s not quite there yet

This is a “consumer preview” release, which would have been called a beta in previous days. It’s free to download, because Microsoft is using you as a guinea pig, and they hope you’ll give them feedback. But basically, you’re getting what you pay for.

The Metro interface is confusing unless you’ve been shown some key gestures, like how to swipe in from the edges of the screen and which corners to send the mouse pointer to. My guess is that Microsoft will need to add some kind of hinting, or maybe pop-up videos or interactive help dialogs: “We notice you’ve spent the past five minutes jabbing aimlessly at the screen. Can we help you find something?”

There are missing pieces: For instance, Flash support is incomplete, and that means you can’t play every video on YouTube, for instance.

Screenshot of the maps app on Windows 8Not all the apps, even some by Microsoft, got the memo about leaving the controls off the screen. For instance, the maps app has a persistent toolbar at the bottom and a search bar at the top. Neither one ever disappears. If the Bing Maps team can get away with this, you can bet other developers will be pushing the limits too, and then it’ll be toolbars all the way down again.

Some of the gestures aren’t consistently implemented: For instance, you can swipe in from the left of the screen to see every running app plus an icon that will take you back to the Start screen — unless you only have one running app, in which case nothing happens.

It’s way too hard to find your way to the system settings. There needs to be a Metro-styled settings app, complete with a prominent tile, right on the Start screen.

Also, it’s a bit buggy. Sometimes the system just stops responding. Weird things happen sometimes with beta software.

You can pretend all the new stuff doesn’t exist

Switching between Metro and classic Windows is still awkward, and probably always will be, to a certain extent. It’s kind of like running DOS applications in a window used to be: Microsoft wants to provide support for legacy applications, but they coexist uneasily with the new paradigm. This difference is especially pronounced this time around, because Windows applications are legion.

But suppose you just really hate all those colorful, animated tiles, and want nothing to do with Metro at all? Apart from the Start screen, you can probably avoid Metro entirely — for now. Just open up a desktop window and carry on using Windows the same way you did before, with all your old apps. Of course, the Start button is gone, but that’s no big deal, just push your mouse pointer into the lower left corner where it used to be.

My prediction is that most people will spend most of their time in the Windows environment, not Metro, until a few years have gone by. However, Metro will become more ubiquitous slowly, as Windows spreads to tablets, if Microsoft is able to increase its market share among smartphones, and if app developers jump on the Windows Store bandwagon.

Eventually, Windows users will be living in a majority-Metro world, with more tiles than windows.

And who knows? Maybe, eventually, Microsoft will drop the name “Windows” altogether.

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Windows to Go lets you run Windows 8 from a flash drive

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 06:28 AM PST

Microsoft revealed today that businesses will be able to offer employees a fully working and managed version of Windows 8 on a USB flash drive, using a feature dubbed Windows to Go.

It’s a potential boon (and nightmare) for IT managers, as they’ll be able to easily hand out bootable Windows 8 flash drives to any employee that will work exactly how they want, but it’s also yet another deployment strategy they’ll have to worry about.

Microsoft revealed Windows to Go in a Windows 8 product guide for businesses, which was released this morning several hours before its Windows 8 event in Barcelona. The document also points out that Windows on ARM devices won’t get some of the management features IT departments are used to, which will make them unsuitable for secured environments.

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James Murdoch, tarred by hacking scandals, out as exec. chairman of News International

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 06:20 AM PST

Once the heir apparent to Rupert Murdoch’s throne, James Murdoch is stepping down from his role as executive chairman at News International, following the hacking scandals that continue to provoke investigations and arrests in Great Britain.

James Murdoch "Will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay-TV businesses and broader international operations," according to  a statement from his father, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch.

NPR’s media corespondent, David Folkenflik, notes that, “James Murdoch’s resignation from News International comes amid expansion of scandal to heart of 2nd UK Murdoch tabloid, the Sun, for bribery.”

In a press release James said that, “I look forward to expanding my commitment to News Corporation's international television businesses.”

Folkenflik also tweets, “Worth noting: there had previously been plans for him to release these duties as he ascended at News Corp, where he is 3rd highest executive.”

Here is the full statement from Rupert:

We are all grateful for James’ leadership at News International and across Europe and Asia, where he has made lasting contributions to the group’s strategy in paid digital content and its efforts to improve and enhance governance programs. He has demonstrated leadership and continues to create great value at Star TV, Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia, and BSkyB. Now that he has moved to New York, James will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay-TV businesses and broader international operations.

And from James:

I deeply appreciate the dedication of my many talented colleagues at News International who work tirelessly to inform the public and am confident about the tremendous momentum we have achieved under the leadership of my father and Tom Mockridge. With the successful launch of The Sun on Sunday and new business practices in place across all titles, News International is now in a strong position to build on its successes in the future. As Deputy Chief Operating Officer, I look forward to expanding my commitment to News Corporation’s international television businesses and other key initiatives across the Company.

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Facebook Pages for brands are getting a Timeline-flavored overhaul

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 06:15 AM PST

We’re loving the new Facebook Timeline features for personal profiles, and those features (and a few more) are now launching for brand-focused Pages, too.

At Facebook’s headquarters yesterday, we got a sneak peek of the new Pages, and the new designs amount to a lot more than just a facelift. These Pages are full of features that any social media manger for an organization will love.

Yes, Pages are getting those big, glossy cover photos and full-width media highlights. But Page admins are also getting messaging capabilities (a first for businesses on Facebook), an all-new dashboard for analytics, and a friends-focused approach to growing an audience.

Timeline recently launched as a new way for people to curate and design their profiles, but as Facebook’s designers and developers see it, corporations and other organizations are people, too.

Looking through the eyes of friendship

Facebook design guru Sam Lessin, who captained the Timeline design, said in yesterday’s show-and-tell session that Timeline “wasn’t ever meant to be just about people, just for humans. It’s a phase shift for the company overall and how we think about identity… We always start with people. We’re Facebook, that’s kind of what we do… and then we do it for other types of organizations that also have a story and want to be able to tell it.”

He continued to say that Facebook Pages will now embrace “the whole concept that organizations have identities, that a nonprofit, a sports team, all have identities that they want to express.”

Lessin said at the launch of Timeline that the new design’s distinctly emotional appeal was intentional, and yesterday, product director Gokul Rajaram reiterated that concept, but with a brand-focused bent.

“We’ve seen that most businesses have a core group of loyalists, but those loyalists also have friends,” he said. “We’ve made it easier for people to connect with a business through the lens of their friends… It’s a much more personalized experience.”

When you go to a Facebook Page now, instead of just seeing a wall of information or updates, you’ll first notice how many friends of yours already like the Page. You’ll also see highlighted activity from your friends that’s relevant to the Page, whether it’s a checkin or a story about the brand.

“You can very quickly see what your friends think about the organization,” Rajaram continued. “Pulling friend activity… is going to be one of the more powerful aspects.”

As Lessin noted, “Friend activity makes things better and leads to higher engagement.” It gives the average Jane or Joe an immediate reason to feel connected to a branded Page, and it starts the storytelling off on a more personal note than before.

Phenomenal cosmic power: the new Admin controls

Next to highlighted friend activity on Pages, the second-most important aspect of the new Pages is likely going to be the new admin panel. The panel will appear at the top of any Pages you manage, and it will act as a sort of activity snapshot for notifications, post performance and stats, and messaging.

Yes, we said messaging.

Previously, Pages didn’t have the ability to send or receive Facebook messages — an inconsistency that Lessin said troubled the social network’s designers and developers. With the new Pages, admins will be able to respond to messages from everyday users.

Admins won’t be able to proactively send messages, which could quickly lead to Page spam in your Facebook inbox, but the new capability is a welcome tool for continuing user-initiated conversations and responding to questions.

In addition to stats and notifications, admins also now have the ability to cherry pick “pinned posts,” which will appear at the top of the Page’s Timeline for up to seven days.

“A pinned post is a way for the Page to indicate the ‘post of the week,’” said Rajaram. “For example, Livestrong is highlighting a post from two years ago.”

And just like you, the normal Facebook user, Page admins can now select activity to highlight in full-page-width posts with larger images and videos, which Rajaram said will “enable organization to tell their stories in much more engaging ways.”

Also, just like you and me, Page admins will also be able to add “life events” for their organizations. For individuals, a life event might be a child’s birth or a job change; for organizations, it could be a new store opening, an award, a new product launch, or a founding. Basically, it’s all revolving around Facebook’s new approach to creating better profiles through structured data.

These milestones can even take place before the Page was first created. For example, the Manchester United soccer team’s Timeline starts in the 1870s with a full-width black and white photo of athletic-looking dudes with hipster mustaches, a memento of the club’s founding. The Livestrong Timeline begins with a video of Lance Armstrong’s press conference the day he announced to the world he had cancer.

All this data — these stories — are fully curated by Page admins, allowing brands, corporations, nonprofits, and others to have even more control over how their stories are told on Facebook.

Sticking it to the Man: Anti-commercial controls

Interestingly, as much control as Page admins will now have, they won’t be allowed to use their new powers for evil. For example, Facebook isn’t allowing Pages to include calls to action or overtly promotional text in cover photos. Your Page could include a logo or an image of your location or your staff in the cover photo, but it couldn’t say something like “Get 40% off today only” or “See more at our website.”

“The key with cover photos is storytelling and expression,” said Lessin. “We want to create a good experience for everyone, and we think these guidelines really help brands… They’re encouraging people to create engaging content that people want to come back to and create and emotional connection with.”

Rajaram echoed the concept that positive emotion and overt commercialism are opposed forces, saying, “Brands don’t want to be overly promotional; in the long term, they know it’s a turn-off to people… They want to have a deeper connection.”

If that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy, follow the money for a moment: Facebook makes its money from brands buying ads on Facebook. In giving brands a huge bit of new real estate via the cover photo, Facebook stands a chance at losing some of that ad money. Marketers love and live by calls to action, so if calls to action are illegal in Page cover photos but legal in Facebook ads, marketers will still be shelling out for Facebook ads to the tune of billions each year. But let’s get back to the warm and fuzzy part.

“A lot of brands aren’t great storytellers, but the best ones are,” said Lessin, noting that with added friend activity, the new Pages are better at representing “the story of your relationship with the organization. Those types of moments and vignettes are how you associate with the brand.”

The long and winding rollout

The new Facebook Pages will be in preview mode over the next 30 days — a significantly longer preview than the weeklong period given individual users. During that month-long period, admins will have ample time to craft, prune, and curate the Timelines and highlighted stories so that the organization’s message is told powerfully and visually.

“We’ve been focused on giving tons of notice,” said Lessin. “It really helps in terms of people understanding what’s coming.”

By Wednesday, March 7, all Pages should have been notified of the preview and curation period. The new designs will be rolled out by March 30.

Top image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Get ready to brag! Raptr turns on its reputation system for 12M hardcore gamers

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 06:00 AM PST

Gamers of the world, get ready to brag! Raptr, the social network for hardcore gamers, is launching a new gamer reputation system for its 12 million monthly active users.

The idea is to create a ranking system based on how much users play games, how many achievements they accrue, and other precise measurements. And by being the best player at a certain game, the Raptr members can unlock rewards from retailers and game publishing partners. Raptr will be able to identify the world’s best Max Payne 3 player or the most dedicated World of Warcraft gamer, said Dennis Fong, chief executive of Raptr in an interview with VentureBeat. And at some point, the reputation system will generate revenue for Raptr.

“We are trying to measure what someone’s reputation is in the industry,” Fong said. “We can look at how influential they are. And then you can use that as a building block for everything you do in Raptr.”

So far, Fong is trying to take a page out of the playbook of Mark Zuckerberg in the early days of starting Facebook. (The companies share an investor in Accel Partners). Fong is trying to amass a critical number of users before he turns on any monetization. It costs nothing to join the gamer social network and there are no ads on the site except some occasional experiments. Back in September, Raptr had only 1 million monthly active users and now it has surpassed 12 times that in five months.

But the reputation system and the rewards that come with it are a path to making money. Fong said that Raptr is testing its own rewards at the moment where it will give rewards from its own pocket money to gamers for reaching the highest achievements in games. But at some point, sponsors such as retailers or game publishers will likely step in and pay to give rewards directly.

Game companies can figure out who early adopters are and target them with attention, after Raptr does the sorting work. And gamers can settle grudge matches by proving that they deserve cred when it comes to playing certain games.

“We can partner with anyone or offer the rewards ourselves,” Fong said. “You could try to figure out what games will lead people to become gold members at GameStop. Our users win because they get more rewards.”

Fong said that Raptr is being careful to set up a good “gaming rep” system. The ranking system is per game; it’s not an aggregation of all of your activity. If you haven’t reached the rank of “amateur” in a game, then you aren’t allowed to write a review of the game on Raptr. That will stop uninformed fan boys from trashing the ratings of games that are rivals to the ones they love.

“We want to be a place where your gaming rep matters,” Fong said. “Everything you do leverages your rep. If you reach a certain rep, you might unlock a 30 percent discount for downloadable content.”

With permission, the service already automatically imports all of the data associated with how much a gamer plays a game, such as how many levels they reach or how many levels they have climbed in multiplayer play in Battlefield 3. If others pass you by, you may drop into a lower rank for that particular game.

Raptr has a six-level system at the moment, from Newbie to Elite, and each level unlocks a new level of status for the gamer. Raptr profiles now give a complete picture of a user’s gaming persona, interests, expertise and achievements. That makes it easier to make friends with similar interests and capabilities, discover more content you might like, show off, and earn rewards. Raptr will share relevant content with a user based on their rank, progress, and recent activity. A Newbie will be shown strategy guides and FAQs, while an Elite may see the best community-curated “machinima” (game animated) videos.

The profiles will have a percentile ranking system that tracks a user’s hours and achievements and compares them with the rest of the community. Social leaderboards show how gamers stack up against friends. And the news feed will be personalized based on the ranking.

Since 2007, Raptr has raised more than $27 million in funding from investors Accel Partners, Founder's Fund, DAG Ventures, and Tenaya Capital. Rivals include Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty Elite and a number of other gamer social networks, but Raptr has more members than any of them, Fong said.


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Ticket engine SeatGeek launches developer platform, offers 50/50 revenue split (exclusive)

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 05:05 AM PST

As the world’s biggest ticket search engine, New York based SeatGeek has built the mother lode of data about live events, everything from sports to concerts. Today it’s announcing the launch of a SeatGeek developer platform that will allow anyone to tap into that information and, more importantly, collect affiliate fees for any ticket sales that happen through their website or app.

“We’re not some flighty Web 2.0 music discovery platform,” SeatGeek co-founder Jack Groetzinger told VentureBeat by phone. “We’ve gotten big because ticket sales is a powerful business, and now we’re offering to split that revenue stream 50/50 with developers who build on top of our data.”

Groetzinger offers this example of how the platform might work. A popular music blogger in Seattle writes about undiscovered local talent and the best big name shows that are touring through town. With the SeatGeek API, that blogger could start showing their audience when and where the best time is to buy for upcoming concerts connected to these posts. For current partners, which include the massive concert site Pollstar and the local calendar startup Gtrot, that has worked out to $170 for every one thousand referrals.

A mobile check-in app could also tap into SeatGeek’s data, which includes the geo-location info about each live event. A check-in at a restaurant in a new city on a Saturday night could prompt a simple follow up with links to live concerts and sports happening nearby that night.

The Y-Combinator startup Songkick offers a similar API for anyone interested in concert tickets. But it doesn’t do sports, predictive pricing, and most importantly, says Groetzinger, “You have to have a certain level of traffic before Songkick will work with you on an affiliate basis. We don’t have any such threshold.”

Right now the SeatGeek platform is wide open, there are no API keys and developers can store the data locally if they choose. In the future it may begin to include taste graph data from Columbus, its event recommendation platform, which learns users favourite bands and teams and suggests good deals. If and when that data is shared, says Groetzinger, it will be completely anonymous.

“We’ve built the company with the help of big content partners like Yahoo and Hearst,” Groetzinger said. “Now we’re excited to let the little guy start making money by working with our data.”

Image via Flickr user Mavis

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Original web series ‘Leap Year’ season 2 features Alexis Ohanian, Randi Zuckerberg & others

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 05:00 AM PST

Leap Year

In the early days of television and radio, some companies paid nearly the entire production cost as an experimental form of advertising (e.g. Ralphie’s decoder message from A Christmas Story). When it comes to the growing world of original web series, the same is also true.

Such is the case with big insurance company Hiscox, which is attempting to gain the attention of the small online business crowd by producing an original web series. Today, the company announced that it had ordered a second season of Leap Year, a half-hour web show comedy about (what else) five friends running tech startup C3D. It’s first season garnered over five million views across multiple streaming video channels.

The show isn’t exactly an amateur effort either. Hiscox is collaborating with CJP Digital Media and Happy Little Guillotine Films on the show, which will feature plenty of established actors like Steven Weber (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Emma Caulfield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Craig Bierko (The Three Stooges) as well as Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Randi Zuckerberg, Zaarly CEO Bo Fishback, and What's Trending Host Shira Lazar. The show also name checks plenty of others in the tech investment world, including TechStars founder David Cohen and others.

Filming for the new season of Leap Year Begins next week, with episodes due out this summer on Hulu and Hulu Plus.

Projects like Leap Year are bound to sprout up more frequently going forward. And will all the attention surrounding tech startups as the future innovators of television, it makes perfect sense to target this type of crowd first. Check out the trailer recap for the first season below and let us know what you think. Is this as good as (or better) than the laugh-track prime time sitcoms on the major networks?

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Cloud service SugarSync raises another $15M to help it fight Dropbox, Apple, and more

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 04:30 AM PST


Cloud syncing service SugarSync has raised $15 million in its fourth round of funding, some well-deserved cash that will help it grow and define itself in a hugely competitive cloud storage market.

Much like its biggest rival, Dropbox, SugarSync helps individuals and small businesses manage and back up files across multiple platforms, including PCs, Macs, and iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices. But unlike headline hog Dropbox, SugarSync has been more of a word-of-mouth success, with millions of users telling their friends and family to join in.

San Mateo, Calif.-based SugarSync has been around since 2008 and has grown steadily as demand for consumer and business cloud storage solutions has skyrocketed. It now has to compete side-by-side with Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox, Box, and others for those consumers who want some kind of cloud backup.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it is now to get money for expansion, says SugarSync CEO Laura Yecies. “We had prominent venture capitalists telling us in 2009 that we were niche,” Yecies told VentureBeat. “They are not saying that anymore.”

One of the biggest standout features for SugarSync is its availability across a staggering number of platforms, including almost all smartphones. Next up on the company’s docket is an application for the Windows Phone 7 OS, which Yecies says will arrive within two months. “We invested early on in cross-platform technology, so adding new platforms to support has been easier than expected,” Yecies said.

SugarSync makes money be offering a freemium model that teases the ease of cloud storage and then charges as your storage needs grow. Anyone who signs up with the service can get 5GB for free (much more generous than Dropbox’s free 2GB) and then add in more storage. A 30GB account runs $4.99/month, a $60GB account runs $9.99/month, and so on. Signing up yearly rather than monthly brings the overall cost down.

The new funding round of $15 million was led by new investor Coral Group and saw participation from existing investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Sigma Partners, Hatteras Venture Partners, and Hercules. Yuval Almog, Founder and Senior Managing Director of Coral Group, has joined SugarSync's board.

"We see a massive opportunity in the Cloud services market as the proliferation of mobile devices continues," said Almog, in a statement. "SugarSync has the most robust and complete cloud solution for accessing, syncing, and sharing files across all devices — regardless of platform.”

SugarSync’s total funding including the new round has reached $50 million. The company plans to use the new funds primarily for hiring many new staffers and building new data centers. Yecies said the plan is to double SugarSync’s 55-person staff by the end of this year.

Filed under: cloud, deals

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Bigpoint shows off online Game of Thrones, based on HBO series (exclusive)

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 04:00 AM PST

Online gaming powerhouse Bigpoint is showing off scenes today from its upcoming online role-playing game based on HBO’s hit television show Game of Thrones.

The company is already one of the biggest players in online games thanks to licensed titles such as Battlestar Galactica Online, which has more than nine million registered users. It is using big brands such as Game of Thrones to get an edge with its free-to-play online games.

The Game of Thrones TV series was inspired by George R.R. Martin’s fantasy book series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Since the HBO series debuted, video game fans have been chomping at the bit to see a game adaptation.

Martin and HBO spilled the news about the game last year, but Bigpoint hasn’t had a chance to show off its work until now. Bigpoint’s new web site for the game offers you the chance to sign up and “die for your house.”

Bigpoint grew big as a browser-based game publisher in Hamburg, Germany, but in the past couple of years it has expanded into the U.S. and moved its headquarters to San Francisco. The company will show a sneak peek of the game, a browser-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game (an MMORPG that doesn’t require a long download) at the upcoming Game Developers Conference next week in San Francisco.

The game will be set in the fictional medieval world of Westeros and its Seven Kingdoms, where summers can last for decades and winters can last a lifetime.

"With a rich and complex story, expressed through an amazing level of detail, it's easy to see why the HBO series … has amassed an army of fans worldwide," said Heiko Hubertz, chief executive and founder of Bigpoint. "We intend to build a game that resonates intimately with its diehard community of followers, while also creating an authentic gaming experience that attracts newcomers to the franchise. The excitement of online games is that, over time, their collective input will help shape the game's destiny; we're eager to see how the story unfolds."

Bigpoint plans to create high-end graphics to deliver a “visceral gaming experience” and capture the “bloodthirsty struggle for power, corruption, and deception” from the series. Players will have to master both combat and politics to ensure survival of their dynasties.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss of HBO said the series can be naturally extended into a game, which is one more example of transmedia, or the exploitation of a popular property across books, televisions, games, and other media. Norwegian game studio Artplant will develop the title for Bigpoint on top of the Unity 3D development platform. Artplant helped develop Battlestar Galactica Online.

Work on the game began last summer and a closed beta test is planned for the fall of 2012. Bigpoint has more than 250 million registered users. Last year, investors Summit Partners and TA Associates bought a majority stake in Bigpoint for $350 million in a deal that valued Bigpoint at $600 million. Bigpoint has more than 800 employees now.

Filed under: games

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Customer service app Tello raises $2.7M

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 10:28 PM PST

Tello, a mobile application service that connects consumers with businesses in order to improve customer service, received $2.7 million in funding today.

Photo via William Hook/Flickr

Through Tello's app, customers can direct feedback straight to a vendor — feedback about the business as a whole, an individual employee, or a specific experience, whether good or bad — to help vendors refine problem areas and ultimately increase sales.  The system promises to be more effective and open to possibilities than surveys.  For example, if a disgruntled patron walks out of their neighborhood shop, they can log in to Tello and provide feedback immediately.

Currently, the masses flock to Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter to voice negative experiences and demand reimbursement.  Tello says it expands on that trend by enabling users to request a response from managers.  Tello's aim is to connect both parties instantly and give business owners a real-time look into employee ratings, metrics, and more.

"As every savvy businessperson knows, the key to building a sustainable company is repeat business and loyal customers.  A focus on listening to your customers and adapting your business goes a long way to achieving just that," said chief executive officer Joe Beninato in a statement. "Tello for business gives companies both big and small a scalable platform to monitor customer feedback and resolve service issues that can have a direct effect on sales."

Tello first debuted its app at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in September 2011.  It evolved over the last year and now equips customers to interact via text messages and a thumbs up/down system.

Beninato launched this Palo Alto-based startup in February 2011.  Before Tello, Beninato started Presto, a venture-backed firm in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard.

This is Tello's first round of funding, led by True Ventures, Bullpen Capital, and SV Angel.  Other investors include 500 Startups, Felicis Ventures, Forerunner Ventures, Founder Collective, Lowercase Capital, Mark Goines, Naval Ravikant, Russ Siegelman, Shervin Pishevar, Tim Donmoyer, and Transmedia Capital.

Filed under: deals, mobile

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DOD spending $500B on 6 preparations for cyber war

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 05:42 PM PST

Ashton Carter

Cyber war is more than a threat, it is something the Department of Defense is spending money on as we speak. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter outlined six ways the DOD is taking action today, as well as legislation he believes can help the government act quickly against hackers at home and abroad.

“Cyber will overtake terrorism as the persistent gnawing … kind of threat and danger,” said Carter at the RSA Conference in San Francisco today. “The market, both economic and political, undervalues security at the moment. Doesn’t see it. Doesn’t fully get it. This is wrong, this is a mistake.”

The DOD is charged with protecting the United States not only with ships, airplanes, and tanks but also with cyber weapons. Former National Security Agency director Mike McConnell pointed out that if terrorists find their way into our banks, the ensuing economic havoc could result in greater devastation than that of 9/11. He said the US must be prepared not only to defend itself on the Internet but also to fight back. Six core DOD missions speak to this responsibility:

  1. Developing and preparing to use weapons of cyber warfare
  2. Preparing the U.S. for what the battlefield may look like
  3. Listening for and analyzing defense intelligence over the Internet
  4. Defending both classified and unclassified networks
  5. Creating technology using the DOD’s and the NSA’s “weight and resources” and distributing them to Homeland Security, law enforcement agencies, and partners
  6. Protecting these tools and infrastructure with the military.

The DOD is spending half a trillion dollars to run these projects, according to Carter. He says he has never heard of anyone wanting to cut the budget back. Indeed, he would like to increase the spending if he can find worthy areas to develop. However, despite governmental support, he wants the technology sector to help push the agenda further. The legislation Carter is pushing for would allow the government to act more freely with the public sector to develop tools. He explained it would enable the government to share threat information with the private sector and would enable public companies to report intrusions “without liability or trust concerns.” It would also allow members of the private sector to share threat information with each other “without liability or trust concerns.” And, if passed, it would force companies to report intrusions to the government.

Carter is aware that legislation and bullet points are small steps but asks that the security industry understand that “trying to get our act together as a country … is not an easy thing to do.”

“Of course, we were involved in birthing the Internet itself,” said Carter, “We have a history here, and we’re going to continue it.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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YouTube captions mature for television-viewing audiences

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 05:00 PM PST

Because everyone in the world should be privy to the pleasures of “Friday” (we gotta get down on Friday, after all), YouTube is making the prized machinations of its filmmakers more universally accessible by way of enhanced captions.

YouTube has been hard at a work on video caption features since 2006. Tuesday, the company expanded its collection of tools to encourage more creators, especially broadcasters, to add captions to their videos and to improve the overall caption-viewing experience for video watchers.

YouTube’s auto-captioning tool, capable of generating video captions from speech-to-text algorithms, now supports Japanese, Korean, and English languages. Viewers have also been given the ability to change the appearance of captions. Plus, should you be watching a YouTube video with a video caption file in a broadcast file format, captions will be better weaved into the video and your experience will more closely resemble what you’d normally see on TV.

The video site has also enabled support for more file formats (.SCC, .CAP, EBU-STL), meaning broadcasters and film creators can upload their existing caption files to add sophisticated subtitles to their YouTube movies.

Rebecca Black jokes aside, the addition of these new captioning conveniences will go long way in proving that YouTube can be a grown-up destination, especially when it comes to the big screen, for enjoying (and even paying for) premium video content.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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HP drops 275 webOS employees it “no longer needs”

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 04:49 PM PST

HP_TouchPad_sadIt’s not a great day for HP employees. The company just announced it has laid off 275 employees from its webOS division, The Verge reported.

The news follows webOS head John Rubinstein’s recent departure.

HP released a statement today, saying that it is letting go of most of its webOS team because the employees are no longer needed for webOS projects:

As webOS continues the transition from making mobile devices to open source software, it no longer needs many of the engineering and other related positions that it required before. This creates a smaller and more nimble team that is well-equipped to deliver an open source webOS and sustain HP's commitment to the software over the long term.

HP is working to redeploy employees affected by these changes to other roles at the company.

It’s unclear how many engineers came from Palm and how many HP hired to work on webOS, but either way its an unfortunate number of people who lost their jobs. As unfortunate as it is, the move doesn’t really come as a surprise. HP ended up killing off webOS hardware because it wasn’t selling enough devices. And last September, All Things D reported that HP cut 500 employees from its webOS division.

In December, HP chief executive Meg Whitman made an announcement that webOS was going to become open sourced and that the OS would live on HP tablets again, but laying off 275 employees doesn’t inspire confidence in that plan.

HP thought it was on to something with the Touchpad and thought bigger, better devices were to come. Hopes were high last year before the Touchpad launch that the new HP tablet would blow Apple’s forthcoming iPad 2 out of the water. But the iPad already had a loyal following and proved too tough a tablet to beat.

HP had no other comment about the layoffs.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Updated Apple TV could be announced at March event too, report says

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 03:56 PM PST

After a dose of actual news from Apple this morning — invites to an iPad event on March 7 — we’re back to the rumor mill. An Apple TV might be announced at the same time, and the next generation iPads may already be arriving at retailers to be available right after the official announcement, says 9to5Mac.

Citing “Reliable sources familiar with Apple's upcoming product release,” the report says a new Apple TV offering will be unveiled at the same event in San Francisco March 7. The updated Apple TV will be a refresh, with a speedier processor for better video playback. The site also says there will be three versions of the next iPad launched, all with Retina displays and each version with a different connectivity option. Each iPad model will be available with three different memory options.

The Apple TV and iPad are already nicely matched, so it’s logical to pair them up for a joint release. You can use AirPlay features to steam music, photos, or video content from your iPad to an Apple TV, or see a mirror image of what’s on your tablet on the big screen — handy for presentations or demonstrations.

VentureBeat will be reporting live from the Apple event on March 7.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Microsoft shows off its Holoflector augmented reality mirror (video)

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 03:06 PM PST


When you combine the technology behind motion-sensor device Kinect, Windows Phone software, and a mirror, you get Microsoft’s Holoflector — a creation that looks like it belongs in a sci-fi movie.

Basically, Holoflector is a unique, interactive augmented-reality mirror that the company presented yesterday at its TechForum 2012 event. Walking in front of the mirror will prompt superimposed graphics to display where your reflection should be, as demonstrated in the video embedded below. The technology also uses both Kinect and the location of a Windows Phone device to track your movements in conjunction with the graphics, which can produce some pretty cool imagery.

For instance, Microsoft Principle Researcher Andy Wilson demonstrates how you can make a tiny holographic image of yourself hover about the position of your phone’s screen. You can even “grab” the holo-image with your other hand to control its movements. (Personally, I would have gone with something more practical, like a sonic screwdriver.)

I’m assuming that this technology can eventually be altered to superimpose the likeness of someone else onto your reflection. Imagine looking into a mirror and seeing Abe Lincoln, Batman, or a zombie staring back at you. And while it might be years before we see a consumer product based on Microsoft’s Holoflector project, it’s still worth checking out now. Let us know what you think of the video demo in the comments.

Via GeekWire; Photo: Microsoft’s Andy Wilson gives a demo (center) while VentureBeat Executive Editor Dylan Tweney (right) takes a picture.

Filed under: media, mobile, offBeat, VentureBeat

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Streaming music service MOG pushes back (slightly) on report that it’s looking to sell

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 02:40 PM PST


Streaming music service MOG may be looking to sell itself in the wake of strong competition from Spotify, Rhapsody, and Rdio.

MOG is on a quest for a buyer, CNET reported citing anonymous sources. MOG, however, would have you know that things are super fine and daddy for the Berkeley, Calif.-based company.

Marni Greenberg, MOG’s head of PR, pushed back on the rumor of a pending sale in a cheerily worded, non-committal statement to VentureBeat:

We're always looking for the best opportunity for our business and shareholders, but don't comment on specifics of those conversations.

I can tell you that we have an outstanding product and continue to innovate and are always looking to build the brand and distribution. We currently have over 500K people using MOG, our deal pipe is full, and recent partnerships, specifically Verizon and AT&T, are doing phenomenally well. And, we're hiring across the board!

But competition is fierce. Rhapsody acquired Napster in October and has more than 1 million subscribers. It also has the most paid users in the U.S. Spotify, the other major force in streaming music, has more than 3 million paid subscribers spread out across 13 countries.

In this context, MOG doesn’t appear to be on as solid of financial footing as its peers, even if the service is quite good.

Have you tried MOG? What do you think of it compared to Spotify, Rdio, and Rhapsody?

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In its third acquisition this month, Groupon buys Uptake

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 02:39 PM PST

Daily-deals company Groupon has purchased travel site Uptake for an undisclosed amount of cash. This deal marks the third acquisition for the newly public Groupon in February 2012.

Groupon reportedly paid over $10 million for the company, which helps you find information on cities you’re traveling to, All Things D reported today. A source told All Things D that the deal is more of an “acqihire” of Uptake, meaning that Uptake’s 20 person team will likely be merged into Groupon’s operations.

“Groupon has acquired Uptake and we’re excited to continue to build the Palo Alto engineering team with an all-star roster of startup founders and engineers,” a Groupon spokesperson said in an email to VentureBeat.

Uptake enables people to use their social networks to research travel destinations and find accommodations, places to eat, and sites to see in locales all over the world. Groupon has tried to elbow its way into the travel industry with Groupon Getaways — deals that include airfare, hotel reservations, and entertainment provided in partnership with Expedia. Perhaps Groupon is looking to expand its travel services with its purchase of Uptake.

Both companies are staying tight-lipped on the details of the acquisition, but Uptake’s co-founder Yen Lee wrote on the company’s blog that he is delighted by the news: “We're excited to jump in at Groupon right away — with our attention focused there, you may notice that some of Uptake's features will slowly wind down.”

Earlier in February VentureBeat reported the company had purchased Hyperpublic, which aggregates place and deal data and Adku, an e-commerce data firm.

It’s interesting to see Groupon throwing money around, given that its first quarter earnings recorded a net loss. However, the company has hinted at an initiative to expand its technology, which could be the motivation for all these acquisitions.

Uptake was founded in 2008 and has raised a total of $14 million from Shasta Ventures, Elliot Ng, and Trinity Ventures.

Filed under: deals

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Twitter ads now unavoidable in iPhone, Android apps

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 01:21 PM PST

If you like ads on your phone, then you’re going to love Twitter’s new move to pump up the ad volume in its mobile apps.

The company is adding Promoted Tweets, ads that double as tweets, to the mobile timeline inside Twitter’s iPhone and Android apps. Promoted Accounts, or the Twitter accounts that brands commission for additional exposure, are already being featured in both of the apps’ “Who to Follow” recommendation list.

And there’s a fun bonus that Twitter thinks you’ll go nuts for. “Initially, a small number of users may see Promoted Tweets near the top of their timelines from brands they already follow,” the company said Tuesday in an announcement. “This will help ensure that people see important Tweets from the brands they care about.”

Altogether, the mobile app experience, Twitter said, is now on par with what users already find on the web.

“Promoted Tweets will appear in your timeline like any other Tweet, and like regular Tweets, they will appear in your timeline just once; as you scroll, the Promoted Tweet will flow with the rest of the Tweets in your timeline,” the company explained.

Unsightly though the new ads may be for some users, the addition makes (dollars and) sense. A small majority, or 55 percent, of Twitter’s monthly active users access the information network via mobile device, meaning mobile is where the most money is to be made.

In fact, the proactive move makes mobile less of a risk for Twitter than it is has become for Facebook — unless you consider the potential to annoy people a risk.

Photo credit: info grrl/Flickr

Filed under: media, mobile, social

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Symantec, Facebook, Salesforce execs want a new firewall for the social age

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 01:19 PM PST

Enrique Salem

Today’s younger generation suffers from “continuous partial attention,” Symantec chief executive Enrique Salem said at a security conference today. And it’s going to take a new kind of firewall to protect us, he said; one that doesn’t just pay attention to what’s coming in, but what’s going out.

Salem is specifically concerned about protecting today’s “digital natives,” or individuals born after 1990, who have never experienced a time without smartphones. To leave home without a connected device for this generation is like leaving home without your wallet for the previous generation. They turn to YouTube and social networks for answers and will quickly take this method of problem solving into the workplace.

“Most digital natives don’t think about identity and security like we do; their identities are free and open,” Salem said, speaking on stage at the RSA conference in San Francisco. “The way they work, we can’t stop it.”

Enter the next generation firewall. For Salem, this will be a piece of software that looks at every piece of information leaving the company’s system. It will know who accessed the information, when it was accessed, where it went, and will report these details back to administrators. The software will have to look at each file, determining what it is, and whether or not that user is allowed to have it. It’s protecting a company’s trade secrets from the inside, as opposed to defending against the outside.

“You and I know what I just described is not an easy task,” said Salem. “[But] we need to reduce administrative burden.”

Some companies fear the mobile and social world, and have adopted “lock down” mindsets — blocking off all kinds of social communication in order to protect what is inside. But this method is insufficient. Digital natives always seem to find a way to connect. Facebook chief security officer Joe Sullivan recalled an elementary school, which blocked all chat functions in its facilities. A class of fourth graders decided to use a “collaborative document” — probably a Google Doc — that had a built-in chat feature. It was a double whammy. Not only did they look like they were doing work, but all the students were in one doc having an instant message conversation under the noses of the school board.

While ingenious, this still poses a problem. Digital natives don’t think of how easily accessible their content is, or realize that a shared document is just that: a shared document.

Marc Benioff“Security for us, the digital immigrants, we grew up in the Wild West of the Internet. We learned about carrying our own guns,” said Sullivan at RSA.

Because of this, Salem calls digital natives the “sledgehammer” of change. The task of building technology such as reverse-firewall, while difficult now, will never truly be a finished product either. Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff explained it as companies learning to become completely new organizations to address new and evolving threats in cyber space.

“We’re holding it all together, but it’s a highly dynamic and rapidly changing environment,” said Benioff at RSA. “There’s no finish line when it comes to security.”

Filed under: security, social

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Duo Security raises $5M to keep online account hackers at bay

Posted: 28 Feb 2012 01:04 PM PST

Duo Security, an authentication-as-a-service company that uses your phone for two-step logins, announced today it has raised $5 million in its second round of funding.

Duo Security uses your phone as a second line of defense to keep your accounts from being hacked. Why might you want that kind of protection? For starters, some online accounts are so important you want to make doubly sure that you are the only person accessing them. A strong password is a good line of defense, but attacks from Anonymous and other hackers have made it clear that your passwords aren’t always safe.

Duo Security uses passcodes, sent to your smartphone, feature phone, or even a landline, to add an extra layer of security. When you go to log in into a Duo Security supported account, you enter your credentials plus a Duo Security passcode. For iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices, Duo Security has a free app called Duo Push. The app sends a login request to your phone with your account details, and by tapping the accept button, you can log in to your account.

If you don’t have a Duo Push-supported smartphone, the Duo Mobile app will generate a random passcode for you to enter online. Feature phone users can get texts with passcodes, and landlines can receive a call to authenticate themselves. If you’d rather avoid the entire phone process, Duo Security provides hardware tokens that generate passcodes.

Duo Security faces competition from RSA SecurID, PhoneFactor, and even Google, which launched its two-factor authentication service for every Googler earlier this month. SecurID and Duo Security’s mobile offerings are nearly identical, though Duo Push is supported by more mobile devices and sends login details to your phone for context.

Duo Security will use the funding, amassed from Google Ventures, True Ventures, and Resonant Venture Partners, to grow its team, develop new technology, and conduct mobile security research.

The company is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and was founded by Dug Song and Jon Oberheide. Duo Security’s customers include Tumblr and Toyota.

Filed under: deals, mobile

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