01 March, 2012



U.S. court authorizes warrantless (but limited) cell phone search

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 09:59 AM PST

A U.S. federal appeals court ruled today that police officers can search a cell phone without a warrant.

The searches are to be limited to the device’s number; having the number enables officers of the law to request other, more specific information from carriers, such as call histories.

The case involved a drug bust in Indiana, where police used the numbers of cell phones found on the scene of a drug bust to track down and link together key players in a drug ring.

While the judges sitting on the appeals court panel said that obtaining a cell phone number from a cell phone without a warrant was akin to getting a personal address from a pocket diary without a warrant (which is also legal), they drew the line at doing any other kind of warrantless gadget search.

Also at play, both attorneys and judges in the case noted, are matters of remote data destruction (on the part of alleged criminals, who are often able to erase all data on a cell phone remotely, wiping it clean of evidence) and remote observation via webcams or mobile cameras (on the part of law enforcement, who could end up using gadgets for warrantless surveillance if unchecked).

“Lurking behind this issue is the question whether and when a laptop or desktop computer, tablet, or other type of computer (whether called a ‘computer’ or not) can be searched without a warrant,” Judge Richard Posner wrote in the court’s decision.

Ultimately, that issue is still at play.

“As far as I can tell, Judge Posner seems to have some sort of graduated scale in mind, in which minimally intrusive searches of phones are okay as a routine matter incident to arrest but more extensive searches require more justification or maybe a warrant,” wrote law blogger Orin Kerr in an analysis of the decision on the renowned law blog The Volokh Conspiracy.

Kerr concludes that while technology is still evolving too rapidly for many hard-and-fast rules to be written, he sees this type of search requiring a Supreme Court decision in the near future. Kerr himself feels that “searches of electronic storage devices should be allowed under the search incident to arrest exception if there is reason to believe evidence of the crime of arrest will be found on the phone, but not allowed if there is no such evidence.”

Image courtesy of Felix Mizioznikov, Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Social startup Highlight nabs new funding from Benchmark & a host of others

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 09:39 AM PST

Highlight, the “traveling dossier for people,” has just raised a round of funding from some well-known names in Silicon Valley venture capital.

Also today, the startup is launching worldwide, and it will release a new version of the app in about one week.

The round was led by Benchmark Capital, arguably one of the best-known venture capital firms in the tech world, with participation from Ron Conway’s SV Angel, Mike Arrington’s Crunchfund, and angel investors Andy Bechtolsheim (a Sun co-founder), Charlie Cheever (a Quora co-founder and former Facebooker), and Ariel Poler (an Internet oldtimer and serial investor).

While we can give you all the names, the terms of the deal, including the amount raised, were not disclosed.

The Highlight app [iTunes link] is a Facebook-connected mobile app that notifies you when a fellow Highlight user is in your vicinity. You can see a snapshot of the person’s social profile, including a picture and any friends you have in common.

"The real world is just this bizarre-o version of Facebook, and every profile is just a single photo," said founder Paul Davidson said in a recent interview with VentureBeat, concluding, "That version sucks."

The team is currently working on a new version of the app to be released during SXSW, they noted in a blog post this morning. The app will get new interactions, new search and discovery tools, and improvements for battery life — always a problem with proximity apps. The new version of the app, the startup stated, will end up “surprising you with hidden connections, surfacing information about the people you meet, and helping you remember these people when you bump into them at a random New York coffee shop a year later.”

Finally, the app was previously been available in the U.S. only; with the international launch, the team hopes to have an impact on social experiences during travel by surfacing cross-border commonalities and connections.

1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

Filed under: deals

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Say hello (and bonjour) to the new Flipboard for iPad

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 09:19 AM PST

Flipboard today launched a new version of its wildly popular social app for iPad. Company reps tell us the new app is even “more personal and more beautiful” than before.

Also today, the rep continued, the startup is introducing “more international content and a custom edition of Flipboard for France.”

The iPad app will now include Cover Stories, a popular feature of the Flipboard iOS app for smaller screens including iPhone and iPhone touch. It’s also gotten a few design tweaks to be even more magazine-like, the company said.

Cover Stories allow Flipboard users to to see the most interesting stories from all their sources at a glance. Cover Stories can include images, status updates, blog posts, news articles — you name it. Cover Stories now appear as a "double tile" on the Flipboard iPad app's first page, and the featured posts will become more relevant over time as you use the app and it “learns” what stories and sources you like best.

On the design side, users will see print-like features, including new covers, typography overlays on photos, and full-bleed images, which the startup said in a statement are intended to “make the social magazine pages resemble the beauty of print design that people love so much even more than before.”

In other features, the app’s Table of Contents now has a third page, bringing the total number of titles to 32; a new “first launch” experience to get new users onboard with a range of topics; and the ability to add entire folders, not just individual feeds, from a Google Reader account.

As for international content, the new app comes with “recommended regional reading” for users in UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, France, Hong Kong and Taiwan and a bespoke app for users in France.

Filed under: mobile, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Which cities have the highest salaries for social media jobs? (infographic)

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PST


It's official: social media is here to stay, and companies late to jump on the social train are scrambling to snatch up the social butterflies of the online world to humanize their brands.

With the ad-skipping mentality and technologies available to customers today, soft-sell social marketing seems to be the saving grace of the advertising world. Customers now opt to do their own research instead of being bombarded with annoying, impersonal ads – so someone had better be at the helm when customers come calling. Employees are jumping at the chance to be that social helmsman, too. With perks like working from home or a coffee shop and bragging to their friends how they are professional Facebookers, social media jobs equate to a win-win situation and business is a boomin'.

The infographic embedded below, created by OnwardSearch, exemplifies the demand for talented online socialites by displaying the social media job listing densities across the nation, percentages of available jobs in the social field, and the salary for those positions.

How do you feel about companies having a presence on social media? Think you have what it takes to represent someone other than yourself across an increasingly dynamic myriad of social networks? How does social media work for you?

Brian WallaceBrian Wallace is the President of NowSourcing, a premier social media firm specializing in infographic design, development and content marketing promotion. The company is based in Louisville, Ky. and works with companies that range from small business to Fortune 500.

Infographic via OnwardSearch (Click image to enlarge)


Filed under: social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

News.me hits the iPhone as it builds out a social network for news

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 07:48 AM PST

News.me is a service from the New York based innovation lab betaworks that filters users Twitter and Facebook streams to deliver them the most interesting stories they might have missed. It started out iPad only, but today is launching on the iPhone with some new features.

The company gained some strong traction recently when Summify shut down, with ten times the normal amount of daily sign ups. News.me general manager Jake Levine hopes that moving to the iPhone, which has roughly 100 times the users of the iPad, will add another boost. “We’re very focused on building a social network for news from the ground up, and the iPhone is a natural part of that ecosystem.”

In designing for the iPhone News.me made a few changes. The tablet version is a lean back experience that users spend a lot of time with. The iPhone is meant for quick consumption and response. To that end News.me has added a series of one tap “reactions”. When reading a story, users can see reactions from their social networks, and with a single tap, add their own response: Ha! Sad, Awesome, Really?, and Wow.

This model is something like the reactions people can record on Buzzfeed or Canvas, the idea being that lightweight, pre-packaged responses help more people to engage and give the news item a certain viral lift. Plus, says Levine, if people begin to use them a lot, News.me will have a powerful set of structured data they can play with to help reveal to users which stories inspired the most anger, confusion or joy.

“We look at what Instagram and Foursquare have been able to accomplish, building a new social network around photos and location,” said Levine. “We think news is another high value category where people want to be able to build a very specific network that has a high signal to noise ratio.”

Interestingly, with all the hard work people are putting into innovative services for news consumption, email is still the most popular way to share articles (News.me has a daily email digest as well). You can download the News.me iPhone app here.

Filed under: media, mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

More iPad 3 rumor goodness: 16GB & 32GB models coming, 8GB iPad 2 ready as well

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 07:36 AM PST


With Apple’s iPad 3 event scheduled for Wednesday, March 7, the rumor mill concerning the world’s most popular tablet has gone into overdrive.

So far, we've heard that the iPad 3 will be slightly thicker to accommodate several new features, including a higher-resolution Retina Display, improved cameras, and the inclusion of LTE 4G technology. Other rumors about the new iPad suggest that the unit will offer a new quad-core A6 processor to replace the iPad 2′s dual-core A5 chip.

Now, according to a new report by Taiwanese publication Digitimes, Apple will likely launch two iPad 3 models — a 16GB edition and 32GB version. While those hard drive capacities aren’t new, it would be surprising for Apple to no longer offer its 64GB capacity, which it offered for both the iPad and iPad 2. The only reason Apple would discontinue making a 64GB model is if only a minuscule number of consumers picked up that model.

Additionally, the report suggests another Apple change-up with a cheaper 8GB iPad 2 to be unveiled during the iPad 3 event. In theory, a cheaper version of the iPad 2 could help attract penny-pinching consumers that have opted for the less-expensive Amazon Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, or some other low-end $199 Android tablet. There’s also the looming threat of Windows 8 tablets that will be released later this year.

While Digitimes fanned the rumor flames for the iPad 3 event, it also pushed out an article today suggesting Apple would begin production on a smaller 7.85-inch iPad in the third quarter. We’ve heard that rumor a few times before, but as we noted above, competition in the tablet market is heating up, so it’s not unimaginable for Apple to explore a smaller form factor.

Would you be interested in grabbing a less-expensive 8GB iPad 2 or an iPad with a smaller form factor?

iPad photo: bfishadow/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Snack your way to FarmVille success, as Zynga teams up with Frito-Lay

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 07:11 AM PST

For better or worse, snacking and gaming seem to be inexorably linked. Now social gaming giant Zynga is building on this relationship, by teaming up with Frito-Lay and Walmart, to offer in-game rewards for its popular Facebook games with purchases of specially-marked snacks.

The promotion is a great way of giving the Zynga brand a strong presence in Walmart stores, where $15 and $25 top-up Game Cards will be sold alongside the snacks. They will be prominently placed, in displays near the check lanes, and will no doubt make a great impulse purchase for some of the 240 million active Zynga game players that will be out doing their weekly shop.

From March 1 to April 12, 2012, the promotional codes will be featured on five million bags of snacks. The codes can be redeemed against exclusive virtual items in the three participating Zynga games — FarmVille, CastleVille, and CityVille.

If you want a Flowery Oak to spruce up your castle, you’ll need to grab yourself some Funyuns. A Spring Dragon can be obtained by eating your way through a bag of Cheetos Crunchy Cheese, and a packet of Doritos Nacho Cheese will reward you with a virtual Nacho Garden for FarmVille. Seriously.

Players wanting to get their hands on super items, such as Glowing Glass Condos or Spring Pegacorns, will need to do some serious snacking. These items are unlocked by redeeming on-pack codes from four different specially marked Frito-Lay snack brands, along with a $15 or $25 Zynga Game Card, in the same game.

Jeff Karp, Zynga's Chief Marketing and Chief Revenue Officer, said: "This promotion between Zynga, Frito-Lay and Walmart is a fantastic example of how brands can work together to bridge the online and offline worlds, all for the benefit of the consumer. We are continually looking for ways to surprise and delight our more than 240 million monthly active users, and we can't wait to offer our players online, in-game rewards for their offline purchases.”

Full details of the promotion, including a picture of what a Nacho Garden actually looks like, can be found at the Zynga website.

Just remember, as much as you want that Spring Pegacorn, snack responsibly folks.

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Why Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is suddenly warming up to cable & satellite TV providers

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 07:00 AM PST

Game of Thrones

Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings is typically associated as one of the leading faces for the “cord cutting” movement, which is made up of people who canceled their expensive cable or satellite television subscriptions in favor of relying on streaming video services and web content. But earlier this week, that same face spoke of a happy coexistence between the two.

Blasphemy? Maybe to disgruntled cord cutters eager to see traditional TV service providers go the way of the newspaper, but for Hastings it’s just a business decision that could prove favorable to Netflix.

"It's not in the short-term, but it's in the natural direction for us in the long-term," Hastings said Tuesday at a technology and media industry event, reports PaidContent. He explained that many traditional TV service providers would welcome more premium services on par with HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and Showtime. Hastings added that he believes those TV service providers would bid on bundling Netflix over HBO if given the choice.

Hastings’ statements may seem bold because HBO has original shows like True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, and (the greatest show ever created) Game of Thrones, which Netflix will never get its hands on. Meanwhile, those TV service providers can justify choosing HBO over Netflix right now because you can only watch HBO programming when it’s bundled with a monthly TV package. Enough people are willing to pay the monthly TV service cost plus the $30-$50 HBO bundled cost just to watch that content. Since Netflix is a standalone service, it doesn’t hold nearly the same value to the TV service providers.

Netflix is also facing a new threat from TV providers that are beginning to launch their own complimentary OnDemand streaming video services to retain existing customers and attract new ones. This strategy has proved successful for the third-biggest TV service provider Dish Network, which reported an increase in subscriber growth for Q4 2011 due largely to Blockbuster’s DVD-by-mail and streaming video rental service bundles. And Dish isn’t the only provider expanding its streaming service presence.

Last week, Comcast launched its Netflix-like Streampix service, which will be free for customers with bundled TV/Internet/phone service packages and $5 more a month for those with only a single service. Comcast Cable chief Neil Smit told investors Wednesday that Streampix “is a great complementary service…” that will “give customers no reason to go anywhere else.” And since Comcast is also the owner of NBCUniversal, it’ll have plenty of leverage in gaining content from others to make Streampix more competitive with Netflix.

Overall, TV service providers added 343,000 new subscribers during Q4 2011, with AT&T Uverse up 208,000, Verizon FiOS up 194,000, DirecTV up 125,000, and Dish up 22,000. Charter and Comcast reported the lowest subscriber losses for the quarter. So, it would appear that traditional TV service is far from dead — something Netflix’s Hastings is undoubtedly aware of.

With TV service providers having exclusive access to premium content from the likes of HBO as well as launching their own complementary streaming service, Netflix could slowly become much less appealing. So, it’s understandable for Hastings to start warming up to the idea of having Netflix become another bundled content add-on for traditional TV providers. And depending on the success of its own original programming, the future of Netflix might not just look more like a premium cable channel, it might actually become one — complete with higher fees and exclusive availability through a traditional TV service provider.

At the same time, if Netflix’s content strategy is successful while keeping monthly fees low, it could kill off some TV service providers and cause others to vastly improve what they offer their customers.

Right now it’s a waiting game, and Hastings isn’t committing to either side.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Shhhh: Betaworks releases new version of Vibe (anarchist, anonymous Twitter) with private double ##

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 06:49 AM PST

One of the most interesting mobile apps to come out of the Occupy Wall Street protests was Vibe, created by Hazem Sayed, which allowed users to send anonymous messages in a tightly controlled distance. Betaworks recently bought the company, and today it is releasing version 1.5, with some new features it will be highlighting at SXSW this month.

Betaworks founder and CEO John Borthwick wrote to VentureBeat to explain his interest in Vibe, and what he thinks lies ahead. “As political, economic, and social tides continue to shift we hope the use of technology enables any kind of social movement to collaborate without hierarchies.” he told us by e-mail.

The most interesting aspect of the new release is the double hash tag (##) which has the opposite effect from Twitter’s famous trend hashtag. “What is the Double Hashtag? Think group direct messaging. Hashtags allow you to tag your messages to create more visibility. Get the word out to more people. The double hashtag is designed to pull your conversation out of the regular stream, making it invisible to the people who don’t know the double hashtag,” writes Borthwick.

The other interesting aspect of Vibe is that users can set the radius for their message. You can send out a public message, like a Tweet, or restrict it only to those within a mile, or even 160 feet. This becomes crucial when protesters are trying to organize but want to avoid surveillance by police. Vibe is also hoping there will be some less serious applications of this tech at SXSW, such as:

  • Share pseudonymous comments during talks and events. Say what your social graph might not want to hear.
  • Find out about spontaneous events and parties as they happen with Geolocation.
  • Share experiences with the local crowd without knowing them or following them on Twitter or Facebook.

We once attended a Digital Wesleyan panel where Borthwick was asked what keeps him up at night, and he responded that the collision of real-time networks and government surveillance was something that often weighed on his mind. Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson has also talked about a desire to invest in the coming cultural revolution, after witnessing the role social media played in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.

Vibe, a mobile app born at a protest, seems like the first of that new breed of startup. You can check out the Vibe website here and download it from the iTunes store here.

Image via Adrianne Jeffries: Vibe in action at #OWS

Filed under: mobile, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Social game startup Rounds launches We The Kings game (exclusive)

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 06:30 AM PST

Rounds, the maker of a platform that combines video chat and social apps, has launched a new web-based game that incorporates interactive music video from the band We The Kings.

In the game, users can control the actions of band members within a music video. Tel Aviv, Israel-based Rounds calls this “communitainment,” and it says the title is first of nine new games coming in 2012.

The game was created by developer Interlude as a single-player or one-on-one multiplayer title. Players who finish the game’s four levels can earn a free We The Kings song.The music video in the game is built around the band’s song Say You Like Me.

During the game, the band member avatar completes challenges as directed by the user. The user progresses through various levels and “saves the girl” in order to unlock the video.

Chief executive Danny Fishel and chief operating officer Ilan Leibovitch started the company in 2008. The company offers a web-based chat service that gives users a chance to participate in entertainment apps while they are chatting.

Interlude developers used the Rounds applications programming interface to integrate the video and game. High scores are tracked and posted on a leaderboard on the We The Kings official site, which will help get the game discovered. We The Kings is a platinum-selling band.

Fishel said the game is a “groundbreaking product that combines a compelling music video with an interactive game that really holds the viewer's attention.” He added, “The future of interactive entertainment rests with social media and we are proud to be a driving force of this new medium."

Rounds runs a web-based “live hangout” platform that combines real-time communications and rich applications. The free service has more than 4 million users around the world who play one million daily Rounds sessions.

Rounds' interactive "live hangout" platform combines real-time communication and rich applications for fun face-to-face socializing online. The free service already boasts more than four million users from around the world and more than one million daily Rounds sessions. Rounds has raised $5.5 million in funding from Verizon Investments, Rhodium, Startup Factory, Gitam, Tim Draper, Zeev Bregman, Uri Shinaar, Carmel Vernia, Benny Levin and Yaron Galai.

Rounds has 23 full and part-time employees. Rounds launched a Facebook app for video chat in August of last year and it has more than 3 million users who partake in 600,000 hangout sessions a day.



Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Want a deeper connection with your fans? Stop ignoring commerce on Facebook

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PST


If you haven’t heard by now, dumping your website's e-commerce experience into a tab on your brand's Facebook page doesn't work so well. I’m glad for those of you who figured this out a long time ago, but some people are just now getting the memo.

But just because commerce on Facebook hasn’t worked for you in the past, it hardly means that there isn’t a place for selling goods on Facebook itself. In fact, the lack of selling is likely the one thing preventing most brands from getting the full value out of their Facebook presence. Why? Because it’s the thing fans want most from them on Facebook.

You may be saying: "You’re crazy. Social Media is not about selling things. It's about content and conversation. Our fans want to be closer to our brand and show how much they love it." If that's your reaction, don't worry, you're not alone. Plenty of really smart marketers believe that exact line of logic. The only problem is, it's wrong.

Having worked with some the biggest affinity brands around (that also happen to be pioneers in social engagement), I’ve learned that the most important measurement to focus on is not just how many dollars a Facebook “like” is worth to a particular brand, but rather what the return is on the impact each fan has — both quantitatively and qualitatively. At my company Moontoast, we call this the “Return On Fan” metric, which can be maximized by building loyalty through social channels, growing relationships with fans, delivering relevant offers, and analyzing the results for improvement.

A recent study from the CMO Council in February illuminated the wide divide between what marketers think a fan's "like" means to a brand. The top two thoughts from marketers were: (1) The content is agreeable and (2) They want to be heard.

The study also showed that fans wanted two very different things when they click the "like" button: (1) Participation for games, contests and promotions and (2) To learn about new products.

That’s pretty off-target if you ask me. Marketers think fans want "content" and to "be heard” while fans are saying what they really want is a preferred consumer relationship with the brand. So how can we close the divide between what marketers think and what fans want without turning our programs upside down and inside out? It’s simple…

As marketers, we must add a loyalty component to our Facebook content, and be responsive to the fan feedback from offers we make to our Facebook fans. In so doing, we can hold true to the ideals of producing high-quality content and listening to fans, both of which are in fact very important. But now, we don't miss the mark on the core value that fans are looking for, special treatment as a consumer.

This is where social shopping psychology comes in, and where selling things on Facebook wins by a landslide when it comes to what fans want. With a few simple tweaks to our thinking, we can sell more things through Facebook while also adding value to the dialogue between fans and brands. Those tweaks include:

  1. Make any offer to your Facebook fans "exclusive" to them. Exclusiveness adds instant value to each fan's like and makes the content more share-worthy.
  2. Weave the offer into your content plan. Build anticipation, deliver in Facebook in a sharable way, and respond to the feedback on the offer.
  3. Curate your offer so that it is the star of the show. Each offer is an event. And if it's cluttered with too many products or deals, it becomes less compelling and less share-worthy.

That's really it. If you take this simple and novel approach, your investment in selling things via Facebook will be much more manageable and much more effective. You will instantly see metrics like new customer acquisition, post engagement, fan page growth and revenue grow as you improve the value of your consumer relationships on Facebook.

Futurama image via 20th Century Fox

Marcus-WhitneyMarcus Whitney is currently the CTO of Boston-based social commerce platform Moontoast, which offers musicians, celebrities, brands and companies a way to turn their social media presence into a source of revenue. He’s founded four startups to date and somehow managed to maintain a love affair with his family, friends and hip-hop. He is a cyborg innovator in Social and Music Startups and a student of Founder Happiness.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Playnomics figures out how game players rate when it comes to potential purchases (exclusive)

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PST

Playnomics, a startup that helps predict which gamers will be valuable to game developers, is announcing today a free player-scoring system for online game and app publishers.

This free scoring system could prove to be extremely valuable to game publishers and developers who want to know which players are the most valuable in terms of their likelihood that they will spend money in a free-to-play game, where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods. Publishes can use it as a live, predictive customer relationship management to find the right new players for a game or app and monetize them through targeted messages that are delivered inside games.

Playnomics began sharing the scoring system for publishers in November and it is now scoring more than 20 million monthly active players across dozens of publishers, platforms and portals.

"You are how you play," said Chethan Ramachandran, CEO of Playnomics. "Our predictive scoring system reveals hidden traits about players, and is applicable to both publishers and players of games. Just like a credit score, our scores are portable across games, and predict how a player will perform in any game environment.”

He added, “Scoring gives the marketers at game publishers a way to find the right player for their game and then message those players in-game with personal promotions. Scores also ultimately give players a way to see their play personality – how social they are, how competitive, which informs who they want to play with and what to play."

San Francisco-based Playnomics started under the name Turiya Media. it was a winner of our GamesBeat conference’s Who’s Got Game startup competition in 2010. Turiya created advanced predictive algorithms to track hours of logged time by individual players and creates behavioral profiles based on that data.It helps publishers with figuring out a game user’s life cycle in terms of acquisition, retention and monetization.

But since that time, the company has expanded its market beyond online game publishers to any brand that has an interest in building consumer loyalty. Playnomics provides a web-based dashboard that can be integrated into a game using Playnomics applications programming interface in a short time.

The dashboard shows how players rate when it comes to loyalty, attention, intensity, and monetization. It assigns them a personality score such as “social, competitor or explorer.” Publishers can use the tool to segment players by their activity, acquire new users whose scores indicate they would be a good fit, retain and monetize existing players, and benchmark scores against other games.

Publishers and platform owners can get the data at www.playnomics.com. In the coming months, publishers and game portals will be able to reveal Playnomics scores directly to players, giving the players a new way to find other players with similar behavior.


Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Just in time for SXSW, Dog Vacay will help you find a home-based dogsitter

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PST

Love the idea of having a dog, but hate the guilt of leaving your pet behind during business trips or vacations?

Dog Vacay, the latest launch from L.A. incubator Science, speaks to exactly that problem, solving it with the power of crowdsourcing and an open marketplace.

A far cry from a kennel, Dog Vacay will put your pooch in a cage-free home where he or she will receive personal attention (and where you can get pictures and updates for your own peace of mind). Environments range from modest apartments to luxo pads with extensive grounds. You pick and pay for the home that’s right for your dog, and boarding services start at $15 per day.

Also, we snagged y’all a sweet 25 percent discount; read to the end for the code.

So, what’s a dog site write-up doing on a tech outfit like VentureBeat, you ask? We’ve been big fans of most of the companies coming out of Science, which was created by former MySpace CEO Mike Jones and Color co-founder Peter Pham. Other recent launches from Science have included Eventup, a marketplace for cooler-than-usual event venues, and Wittlebee, a subscription commerce solution for fashion-forward parents and their fortunate kids.

As Eventup CEO Tony Adam told VentureBeat in a recent interview, “Science is bringing infrastructure to LA that hasn't been there before, including access to capital.” And Jones confirmed to us, "We're gonna build a whole breed of businesses over the next year that are incredibly successful. I think Science will be a conduit for Silicon Valley investors to feel comfortable investing in Los Angeles."

Dog Vacay might seem fluffy to some, but Jones and Pham told us they are looking for opportunities to build marketplaces. Fluffy or not, pet boarding and related services make up a $10 billion market, and currently, consumers have few enough options for meeting those needs. Between craigslist and Google searches, there was a lot of room for improvement — and a lot of opportunity for raking in some revenue, always at the top of an L.A. startup’s list of priorities.

The startup was founded by husband-wife team Aaron Hirschhorn and Karine Nissim Hirschhorn. In addition to providing a vacation-like boarding experience for dogs with insured and verified hosts, the startup will serve as a marketplace for other services, including training, walking, and pet massage, for example.

Doggie hosts are selected with a range of criteria in mind, such as background checks, completion of web-based training and emergency certifications, and interviews conducted by Dog Vacay staff.

“Vacations were always overshadowed with the guilt of leaving our dogs, Rocky and Rambo, in a caged kennel where they may not get the attention they need,” said Nissim Hirschhorn in a statement. “We believed there was a better way of caring for dogs, so we tested out the concept for Dog Vacay in our own home, and before we knew it, we had more clients than we could handle and decided to launch the Dog Vacay platform.”

To get 25 percent off your first booking, VentureBeat readers can use the code “SXSW” — don’t say we never gave you anything.

And here’s a video showing more about the service:

Top image courtesy of ck., Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Viximo launches Social Zone platform for mobile games

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PST

Viximo, a platform for cross-platform social games, is broadening its distribution reach today with the launch of its Social Zone platform which helps make mobile apps more social.

The company is attacking the problem of discovery, which is more difficult on mobile platforms than it is on social networks. Mobile app makers have a hard time getting noticed on platforms with hundreds of thousands of rival apps. By making the mobile apps more social, Viximo hopes to help the apps spread more easily by word of mouth.

Dale Strang, chief executive of Viximo in San Francisco, said in an interview that his company has already made it easier to spread games through the company’s collection of social networks. Viximo publishes social games across dozens of networks with more than 200 million users around the world. Now, with the mobile-focused Social Zone, Viximo will enable developers to publish games to Android and iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) devices.

“It’s adding purely social featurs to mobile gaming,” Strang said.

The hope is to amplify the virality of mobile apps; enable players to find, collaborate and compete with friends in real-time; and discover relevant games based on what their friends are playing. With Social Zone, developers can accelerate user acquisition, increase engagement, and drive monetization. The system is in beta and it will be released formally in a couple of weeks, Strang said.

Strang said that, in contrast to rivals such as Gree and DeNA/Ngmoco, Viximo will not put its branding on the social platform. Rather, it will allow the developers and publishers to put their own brands on it and also retain their direct relationship with the players.

"The other networks were made for downloadable games," said Strang. “Ours is made for the freemium world. They have leaderboards and achievements. They’re monolithic platforms. Ours is designed to be purely social. You can add more features and customize it. The options for social mechanics are in the hands of developers.”

He added, “We aren’t trying to build a Mobage network where we own the brand experience. We’re taking years of experience in social games and applying it to a mobile opportunity.”

Social Zone lets publishers publish games to multiple channels and send messages across those channels. It can create a real-time presence solution and cross-promote games across the whole network. Developers using it should be able to attract more players, make their games more social, and drive higher revenue, without letting someone else get between their brand and the customer.

Within the offering is something that Viximo calls the Social Supergraph (illustrated at top), which presents a unified social graph for a user from multiple social networks and mobile platforms, including the user's own address book, Facebook, Twitter, and the numerous regional social networks that Viximo works with today. Those include Google+, Yahoo Games, Tuenti, VZnet, Gaia Online, Orkut, IMVU, Odnoklassniki, and Nasza Klasa. Viximo will still expand its social games presence on social networks; the mobile expansion will be on top of that.

Social Zone runs under the surface and integrates seamlessly with a game, rather than operating as a branded channel above the game, as with DeNA’s Mobage. It enables freemium games to be customized for various social options. Social Zone uses Viximo’s own real-time analytics to give developers insights into game usage.

Social Zone gives developers an open applications programming interface that enables developers to seamlessly integrate social graph support into their app and customize the social graph with app-specific data. Viximo says it will protect user privacy and use their data only with permission. The company is signing new partners for Social Zone now.

“We want to get the features out there and then release the developers,” Strang said.

User acquisition is one of the big topics at our upcoming VentureBeat Mobile Summit.

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

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

One year after royally pissing off Apple, Readability’s iOS app is finally approved

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 04:33 AM PST

Remember that scathing letter the Readability team penned to Apple back in February of 2011, when they were first rejected from the App Store? Well it seems like Apple is finally ready to forgive, approving the Readability app, which goes live this morning for iPhone and iPad.

The initial conflict concerned the 30 percent fee that Apple takes on every in-app purchase. As Readability wrote:

We might as well share how we're feeling right now: we believe that your new policy smacks of greed. Subscription apps like ours represent a tiny sliver of app sales that represent a tiny sliver of your revenue. You've achieved much of your success in hardware sales by cultivating an incredibly impressive app ecosystem. Every iPad or iPhone TV ad puts the apps developed by companies like ours front and center. It was a healthy and mutually beneficial dynamic: apps like ours get exposure and you get to show the world how these apps make your hardware shine. That's why we're a bit baffled here.

Since the Readability app was already splitting subscription revenues 30-70 with the writers and publishers who featured articles were on its service, it couldn’t afford to split that 30 percent again with Apple. They saw themselves as more of a software-as-a-service business, not an app selling goods directly to the consumer. An e-mail from the same time last year, supposedly sent by Steve Jobs, clarified that SaaS apps would be exempt from the 30 percent Apple cut.

Readability has always occupied the moral high ground, in that they created a very popular piece of open source technology, a parser used by other apps like Pulse and, ironically, by Apple itself. As the letter noted, “It's your friends from Readability. Remember us? You put our technology into your Safari browser last year.”
The Internet came to the company’s defense, but Apple shut them out. Now, after a year in penance, it seems they can finally get down to business on iOS.

Filed under: dev, media, mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Kabam launches its first hardcore social game on mobile

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 03:00 AM PST

Kabam is launching its first hardcore game for mobile devices today. The new Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North game will be available on the Apple App Store on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch as a free-to-play mobile game.

The launch is part of a multi-platform expansion that Kabam is undertaking as it searches for hardcore gamers, who are the high rollers of the gaming industry and are willing to spend a lot of money in social games. Earlier this week, Kabam expanded to CNET’s Download.com and the week before it moved its games on the Kongregate indie gaming portal owned by GameStop.

“We are taking our best-loved brands and moving them to mobile,” said Matt Ricchetti, vice president of mobile of Kabam, in an interview with VentureBeat.

Kabam started on Facebook, but it makes sense for Kabam to move beyond the social network because it targets hardcore gamers, who are a minority of the game players on Facebook. Kabam could spend a lot of money on ads on Facebook, but the universe of possible players was small. So Kabam is seeking out the hardcore gamers on other platforms where they are present

That has led to a decline in Facebook users. In August, Kabam had more than 12.9 million monthly active users on Facebook, but that number has shrunk to 2.0 million, according to AppData. Meanwhile, the cost of advertising on Facebook is rising. The strategy is in marked contrast to that of rival Kixeye. Kixeye chief executive Will Harbin said in an interview that Kixeye is focused on Facebook and believes it is a great platform “if you have the right games.”

Kingdoms of Camelot has attracted more than 15 million registered users worldwide, though its active population has fallen to 490,000 monthly active users.

The action focuses on an Arthurian-style game of strategy and empire building in the north of medieval Britain. The free-to-play game allows users to try it for free and pay real money for virtual goods. More free-to-play mobile games are on the way.

The game features an all-new story, characters, and a persistent world where thousands of players can cooperate in real-time. In the story,  the savage Picts have overrun Northern Britain after the death of King Lot of Lothian. Lot's widowed queen, Morgause, appeals to her half-brother Arthur for help. You play as a powerful knight in King Arthur's court. The game is a stand-alone game that relates to the Facebook game but is not otherwise integrated with it. You can’t, for instance, start a game on the PC and continue it on the iPhone.

Andrew Sheppard, president of Kabam Game Studio, said. "We've applied all the knowledge we've gained building the leading free-to-play hardcore strategy games on the web to bring our first entry to the rapidly growing mobile games space.”

Kabam has around 20 people working on mobile games in San Francisco and another team in China. Over time, Kabam will team up with external mobile game developers with titles on both iOS and Android. Later games will be interoperable on both iOS and Android, Ricchetti said.

The graphics are still images that have a hand-painted feel. Players grow crops and build out a city with functional structures such as stables and barracks. The focus is on real-time synchronous battles on iOS devices, said Ricchetti. "We took care to create an experience that captures the essence of our strategy games while being tuned for fun and playability on a multitouch interface—essentially, Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North takes the best parts of the PC MMO experience and puts it right in your pocket."

Ricchetti said, “This is something we’ve thought about for a while. We have a big transition in the mobile market from downloaded games to free-to-play titles. We think our games translate really well to mobile. We have a lot of players on the web game and they have been asking for mobile versions.”

Filed under: dev, games, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1: This is what the S Pen stylus was made for (hands-on video)

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 01:57 AM PST

Samsung didn’t do a good job of hiding the fact that it was going to show off a larger Galaxy Note here at Mobile World Congress (there were giant posters everywhere before the show started), but that doesn’t mean the device is any less impressive.

As the video below shows, the Galaxy Note 10.1 looks a lot like the company’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android tablet. What’s different is that the Note 10.1 includes support for the company’s S Pen stylus, which is powered by Wacom technology. I found the S Pen to be a nice addition to the original Galaxy Note, but that device was too small to work well for handwriting, and too large to work well as a phone.

The Galaxy Note 10.1, however, seems perfectly suited to handwriting and drawing with the S Pen.

I only had a few minutes to play with the device, but from the get-go I found it easier to write on the Galaxy 10.1 than I could with the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note. And given that Samsung’s Android tablets so far haven’t exactly sold like hotcakes, the company could use a significant feature to differentiate its tablets from the iPad.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat, video

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Nokia’s 41MP 808 PureView wins best-in-show at Mobile World Congress

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 01:13 AM PST

The 41-megapixel camera on Nokia’s 808 PureView not only wowed the audience at the Mobile World Congress this week, it also landed Nokia the "Best New Mobile Handset, Device or Tablet at Mobile World Congress 2012" award.

A panel of judges selected the PureView as their top device of the show — likely not because it’s a smartphone everyone will want (it’s still running a dated OS), but because it was the only device to truly surprise us at Mobile World Congress. HTC’s One series phone was close in the running, and other devices, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and Asus PadFone, were also on the short-list for the award.

"It's a fantastic award because it signifies that consumer experience counts,” Nokia EVP of smart devices Jo Harlow said to the Nokia Conversations blog. “It's about tech, but it's about how tech is used to make a consumer have a fantastic experience. … These are first signals that we are executing against our strategy,” she added. “That we're back. That we're bringing great products to our consumers — and that this is just the beginning. There's lot more to come."

The PureView camera technology on the Nokia 808 is more than just hype. A Nokia engineer explained to us how the camera gets such killer shots, and the company has also put some excellent sample shots online at Flickr.

Thankfully, Nokia has said it intends to bring the PureView technology to future phones, so you can expect to see killer cameras in some Windows Phone devices from Nokia within the next few years.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

We need to recycle Anonymous’ talent into the companies they attack

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 06:22 PM PST

hiring hacktivists

Rehabilitating criminals is not a new concept, but their skills aren’t always as specific as those of a cyber criminal. With hacktivist arrests on the rise, perhaps it’s time for companies to realize the potential gain in employing the very people they’re fighting against.

“There is no rehabilitation structure for hackers,” said author Mischa Glenny at the RSA Conference today in San Francisco. “If your only skill is using a computer, and you’re not able to do that, I think that’s likely to put you back into the underground.”

A rehabilitated cyber criminal, such as the many Anonymous members being cuffed by law enforcement now, could provide valuable insight, as well as real hacking skills.

Kevin Mitnick is a good example example. Mitnick spent the 90′s in and out of jail, hacking into well-known companies such as Sun Microsystems and Nokia. He also stole a lot of precious source code, which he considered trophies. After being caught for the last time and spending years in jail, he reemerged to create Mitnick Security Consulting. The company performs penetration tests to find vulnerabilities exploitable from the outside as well as test how weak security is at physical buildings and how easy it is to gain access to systems.

However, not everyone comes with such a resume. Like any organization, Anonymous is filled with people of varying levels of skill. There are very talented hackers who have spent time in the industry and can be considered “professionals.” And then there are the impressionable younger people, the minors, who have enough technical savvy to launch a low orbit ion cannon. Their skills in technology are transferable, and Glenny believes it’s time to grab hold of it.

“Most of [Anonymous members] are minors,” said special agent Eric Strom of the FBI at RSA. “How do prosecute someone like that?”

According to Strom, when the FBI does minors involved in cyber crime, they don’t storm in immediately with handcuffs. Instead, they knock on the perpetrator’s door and do the worst. They talk to their parents. He explained it as a “wake up call,” that the child isn’t actually up there doing homework. That they “need to be better parents.”

“I think a lot of people think these are just a bunch of kids fooling around, but they can really hurt a company,” said Strom. However, “A minor child will just get slapped on the wrist.”

Grady Summers, the vice president of security company Mandiant, isn’t yet convinced. Taking in rehabilitated cyber criminals might come off as community service — a responsibility not all companies want.

Glenny says the result is that a lot of knowledge is going to waste.

“We have a lot of skills out there with young people who are persuaded to go … to the dark side,” said Glenny, “But there’s a large grey area here. I think there ought to be a mechanism for bringing them in, to see if any of those skills can be used in a positive way.”

Filed under: security

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library balloons to 100k books

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 05:37 PM PST

Get cozy. Amazon has expanded the shelves of its digital library to include enough books to let you borrow for a lifetime.

The Kindle Owner’s Lending Library now sports more than 100,000 titles, including one third of the top 20 Kindle best-sellers, all free for the borrowing, Amazon announced Wednesday.

Launched late last year, the Lending Library is a delightful little Kindle perk for Amazon Prime customers who pay a $79 annual fee for two-day shipping and unlimited video streaming — and now free book-borrowing. Prime customers can borrow one book a month to read on their Kindles, and there are no due dates.

The library’s selection has already grown 20 fold in its short lifespan, with readers showing a collective appreciation for self-published titles. Readers checked out more than 1 million books from independent authors, Amazon said. Altogether, the independent authors participating in the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select service have earned more than $1.8 million in royalty fees from the Lending Library books borrowed by Kindle owners.

Not all authors and publishers are keen on the expanding library, however. Right after launch, The Authors Guild, which represents more than 8,000 U.S. writers, said the Lending Library constituted a breach of contract.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Troubled U.K. retailer Game will not be stocking Mass Effect 3

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 05:34 PM PST

Fresh concerns about the future of European game retailer Game Group have risen today, as it was revealed that the company will not be stocking the highly anticipated role-playing-game Mass Effect 3. A company spokesperson blamed this on a "supply issue", while a leaked memo to store staff suggested Game could not agree to credit terms with publisher Electronic Arts.

The beleaguered U.K.-based retailer has already seen its shares lose 90 percent of their value over the past year. Today's news that it will not be stocking Mass Effect 3, or any of EA's other March releases — including FIFA Street, Tiger Woods 13, and Sims 3 Showtime — saw its share value drop a further 16 percent, to less than £0.05.

With Game set to post an £18m loss for the year to January 31, and lenders pressing for the company to sell its stores in continental Europe, credit issues have come to the fore. The retailer recently failed to stock Wii RPG The Last Story, Tekken 3DS, as well as Ubisoft's entire PlayStation Vita launch line-up.

Game's problems are partly due to a general lack of activity at brick-and-mortar stores, with strong competition for sales coming from online giants such as Play.com and Amazon. Its position has not been helped by the general decline in video game sales seen during 2011, alongside the increasing number of people downloading games directly from digital marketplaces.

In addition to the EA titles missing from Game's shelves this March, there will be no copies of Mario Party 9. A Game spokesperson said, "We are in talks with Nintendo to resolve this, and we apologize to our customers for this disappointing news.”

Game has issued a statement on its website, explaining the problem with Mass Effect 3 to its customers. The statement says, "The high street is having a tough time at the moment because people have less money to spend. We’re doing as much as we can to give our customers the widest possible range during this time, but as flagged before, we need our partners’ help in order to do this. We want to be in a position where we’re selling as much of their products as we possibly can. We need their help to do this and that’s what we’re working on at the moment."

EA's Q3 financial statement, issued on February 1, spoke of concerns "with the financial condition of one of our major European retail partners, which could lead to both increased bad debt and lost sales." The current situation at Game certainly reflects these concerns, and a leaked internal memo, obtained by Eurogamer, indicates that the failure of Game and EA to agree to credit terms is the cause of the situation.

The memo reads as follows:

"Last week we held an event for our partners in the industry and explained the challenges we are facing in the short term – and we asked for their support. We asked them to trade with us using manageable credit terms, and for them to continue to do that whilst we work through the strategic review and refinancing our business.

"We gave the industry commitments – we committed to integrity and openness in our dealings, and working with everyone equally.

"We committed to only stocking products on which we could get the right credit terms, regardless of the title or the supplier. We will not stock products if the terms are not right for our business – we will not sacrifice long-term credit requirements for short-term sales opportunities.

"As a result of us taking this position – a position that we believe is critical to our long-term health as a business – we have taken the very difficult decision not to stock EA's March releases, including Mass Effect 3.

"As a specialist retailer dedicated to games and gaming, it is never easy to make a decision not to stock a title, particularly one with such a strong fan base, it is imperative that we treat every supplier evenly, that we stick to our commitments, and that we don't sign up to payment terms that will hamper us further in the future.

A spokesman for EA told The Guardian newspaper, “Game’s challenges with several of its suppliers is regrettable, however given the incredibly high demand for Mass Effect 3 we want our consumers to know that the game is available at a wide variety of retailers across the UK and Europe.”

Piers Harding-Rolls, from research firm IHS Screen Digest, said: “It’s a big blow that they can’t stock these bigger titles.” He added that it was in EA’s interest to help resolve the problem: “Game is a vitally important partner in terms of their distribution network. They will both be working for a solution that works for both companies.”

With Mass Effect 3 set to be a sure-fire hit this month, Game will no doubt be counting the cost of lost revenue from its failure to stock the title. In the long term, it remains to be seen whether these financial troubles can be overcome, or whether they will eventually lead to the closure of Europe's largest brick-and-mortar video games retailer.

VentureBeat has reached out to EA for further comment but has yet to hear back.

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Facebook log-out page ads will flop with fans, but brands will still buy

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 04:01 PM PST

Facebook’s log-out page will soon be transformed into premium digital billboard space ripe for messages from advertisers. The ads, should history repeat itself, will flop with Facebook members, but buyers will snatch them up anyway.

“This is a fairly traditional play in the ad world,” Mindjet head of marketing Jascha Kaykas-Wolff told VentureBeat. “It’s a natural progression for them … it’s clearly a huge amount of inventory, and I don’t think people are going to turn [the ads] down, but it’s not a silver bullet by any stretch of the imagination.”

Facebook announced log-out page ads Wednesday as part of its souped-up Premium ad offering. The units, arriving in April, are a brand new, optional fourth placement for buyers, and are designed to complement the other three placements: Page posts, right-hand side ads on the homepage, and ads in the News Feed.

With 37 million people logging out of Facebook each day, the company believes advertisers will want to reach this massive audience.

The log-out page ad is quite the opposite of novel. Yahoo, Microsoft, and others have more than toyed with such placements, offering their advertisers a way to present those exiting their sites with an enormous ad unit too big to ignore. But consumers do tend to ignore them.

Yahoo, which ran the ads for several years, initially positioned them as higher CPM units, but later deeply discounted them due to poor performance, Kaykas-Wolff told VentureBeat. The ads were eventually discontinued.

Kaykas-Wolff spent more than four years as a business development manager for Yahoo in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and he would often put together ad packages for prospective buyers. “They were, historically, capturing a lower CPM, because it’s not really an interaction point that’s meaningful,” he said.

Kaykas-Wolff likened the log-out ads to the targeted coupons consumers receive with their credit card statements. “They’re not really going to elicit you to go purchase more stuff … it’s not the right environment,” he said. “If I’m logging out of Facebook, leaving Facebook … I’m logging out. Could somebody capture my attention and bring me back in? Maybe, but it’s not going to be the first thing that’s on my mind.”

Facebook is likely aware that the log-out page ads won’t dramatically increase engagement for its advertisers or bring back droves of members ready to depart, so why bother?

“There’s definitely a desire for Facebook to look a little bit more and feel a little bit more like what we’ve understood as buyers in the ad space,” Kaykas-Wolff explained.

So, the addition is all about appearances — and getting buyers to buy more, of course.

“This ad unit … is a lot more consistent with other networks that you have the ability to buy into,” he said. “This is another indication that Facebook is a larger network and that it does have different types of inventory that, as a buyer, you can think about in concert with buying on CBSi, Yahoo, or MSN.”

The ads, he said, are a wholly uninteresting addition to the experience. “They’re just another piece of inventory.”

But as uninteresting as these ads may be, and here’s the key, they will attract buyers — including MindJet. “Would I buy it as part of an overall program? I wouldn’t have an issue with that. It’s just another part of Facebook’s network,” Kaykas-Wolff said.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Check out Eric Schmidt’s must-see Mobile World Congress keynote

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 03:56 PM PST

Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s Mobile World Congress keynotes have always been interesting, but his keynote yesterday just about floored me as he put on his futurist hat with complete sincerity.

It’s not only a good watch, it’s required viewing.

Now you can check it out for yourself, as Google has just uploaded the entire keynote to YouTube. Skip past the opening Android on Chrome demonstration (though it’s still cool), and you’ll see Schmidt discuss the digital divide, how technology will fundamentally shape society in the future, and how tiny robots will let us experience remote events in holographic 3D.

It’s also worth watching for choice quotes like this: "Computer science is more than writing code and coding is more than writing programs… Developers are the engineers of human freedom."

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

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Facebook’s mobile ad strategy is a risk for Facebook and its advertisers (analysis)

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 03:47 PM PST

Facebook’s mobile ads, announced today, are an attempt to patch one of the biggest holes in the company’s revenue model.

Until today, the company didn’t have any way to make money from its mobile apps due to the lack of ads. Compounding the problem is the fact that consumers really don’t like it when ads take up valuable real estate on their tiny smartphone screens.

The company recognized this lack of revenue as a big enough problem that it listed its mobile platform as an investment risk in its S1 filing for an initial public offering.

Now Facebook has a strategy to turn brand content into ads that show up in your mobile news feed, thus tapping into a previously unused ad revenue stream. Facebook’s strategy is similar to Twitter, which announced yesterday that it would be inserting promoted tweets into the timeline on its iPhone and Android apps.

For Facebook, brands can now make popular news updates with high levels of engagement into “Sponsored Stories”(shown right) that show on Facebook’s website and mobile apps. Rather than hitting the viewer over the head with outright advertising, these stories have a similar status to updates from his or her friends and family members.

While the strategy is aimed at unlocking Facebook’s final ad revenue frontier, it is also a big shift in the way brands interact and advertise on Facebook. That means a lot is riding on how advertisers react to the new options.

Less ads, more engagement for businesses

To get some perspective, VentureBeat spoke with Victoria Ransom, chief executive at WildFire, a social media company that helps brands market themselves on Facebook.

“Facebook’s strategy really puts the pressure on brands to send out the right content,” said Ransom. “Facebook’s mobile platform has limited real estate and brands need to be careful to make sure their ads are entertaining.”

In short, companies will need to provide engaging, valuable content. If you got constantly bombarded with blatant ads whenever you checked Facebook on your phone, you’d un-like that company’s page pretty quickly. Ransom says that brands will have to focus on starting conversations and make use of the new Offers feature so that customers can engage with the brand and don’t ignore advertising efforts.

The timeliness of ads will also play a crucial role, and Ransom says that a six month-planned ad campaign may not be relevant enough for Facebook’s ever-changing news feed.

“Basically if you’re gong to start putting ad content in someone’s stream it needs to be interesting and timely, otherwise it won’t do well,” Ransom told VentureBeat. “Especially now, with Facebook’s new features, brands need to be nimble, they need to listen and understand their customers.”

Will companies like the changes?

In order to be successful, brands will likely need to shift much of their marketing strategy to get the most visibility with Facebook’s new strategy. But will they want to?

“For Facebook, there is a lot of anxiety over changes like this, but people ultimately get used to it, and find it substantially better,” Reggie Bradford, chief executive of social media dashboard Vitrue, told VentureBeat in an interview. “For example, when Facebook shifted between becoming a Fan of a company to Liking a company page, there were short term dips in engagement and then it skyrocketed. I expect a period of transition, but then marketers will see the increased value, especially with the direct messaging of brands and a more curated timeline.”

Bradford also pointed out that it is in a company’s best interest to embrace these changes, especially when it comes to mobile.

“If you’re a marketer and you’re not optimized for mobile, you’re missing 40 to 60 percent of your audience. Companies need to optimize the mobile experience as their primary screen,” he said.

As long as brands can see the value in following Facebook’s new strategies, Facebook will reap the benefits. It might not be enough to eliminate the mobile platform’s risk entirely, but it is the first step in generating revenue from platform that has been free of ads for a very long time.

Mobile phone on a table with Facebook app image via Flickr user Johan Larsson

Filed under: social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Time to panic: Google’s scary privacy changes go live tomorrow (updated)

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 02:41 PM PST


Updated at 7:20 p.m. PT with official comment from Google.

Google’s controversial changes to its privacy policy will go into effect tomorrow, even with pushback from European regulators, U.S. Congress, and many U.S. state attorneys general.

In late January, Google announced that it would change its privacy policy by combining 60 policies into one. While simplification of hard-to-read policies is nice, Google has attracted criticism because it will now combine user data across all of its services, including search, Gmail, YouTube, Google+, and Google Docs.

The biggest local critics have been U.S. Congress and state attorneys general. The National Association of Attorneys General outlined several concerns around the new policy in a stern letter. "Google's new privacy policy is troubling for a number of reasons," the letter read. "On a fundamental level, the policy appears to invade consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information consumers input into one Google product with all Google products."

Additionally, in early February, an independent European body focused on data protection, requested that Google halt the new policy to give the organization more time to examine the changes. At the time it said: “We call for a pause in the interests of ensuring that there can be no misunderstanding about Google's commitments to information rights of their users and EU citizens, until we have completed our analysis.”

Google has defended its privacy overhaul, saying that it is not collecting any new information about users, nor selling it to advertisers. The difference users will notice will be new integrations of their data from one product being used in another. For example, Google search results will be more accurate since they’ll be based on your history using YouTube and Google+.

A Google spokesperson, upon seeing this article, adds:

Our updated Privacy Policy will make our privacy practices easier to understand, and it reflects our desire to create a seamless experience for our signed-in users. We've undertaken the most extensive notification effort in Google's history, and we're continuing to offer choice and control over how people use our services.

Are you concerned about the new Google privacy policy?

Screaming women: Kati Neudert/Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

AMD buys Sea Micro for $334M to get into energy-efficient “microservers”

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 02:27 PM PST

There’s a sea change happening in a segment of the server market dubbed microservers. And Sea Micro has been at the center of it, disrupting the market with energy efficient servers that use lightweight processors from Intel.

Advanced Micro Devices is acquiring Sea Micro today for $334 million, including $281 million in cash. Sea Micro has been disruptive because it can pack a lot of computing power in a server rack that is about a sixth of the usual size. Its servers use a quarter of the usual electricity and cost a lot less.

The servers use Intel’s Atom microprocessors, which are targeted at energy efficient devices such as tablet computers. But AMD’s move could shake things up for Intel, which presumably will lose some of its business.

The advantage of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based SeaMicro's small and power-efficient computers is that enterprises can now shove a lot more computing power into a given amount of space and use a lot less electrical power, thereby cutting electricity bills dramatically. That matters because electricity costs are the biggest part of the budget for operating data centers.

Andrew Feldman, chief executive of Sea Micro has said in past interviews that SeaMicro had become the fastest-growing system company in Silicon Valley history. SeaMicro's customers include France Telecom, Skype, Rogers Wireless, Mozilla, eHarmony, and China Netcom BB. Hundreds of millions of internet users traverse SeaMicro's hardware daily.

As we’ve described in earlier stories, Intel has been improving its server microprocessors by making them more power efficient. But the microprocessor only accounts for a third of the power consumption in a server. SeaMicro's innovation lies in how it attacks the remaining two-thirds of the power consumption problem. It does so by combining a lot of the extraneous chips into a single, more-efficient custom chip, Feldman said.

In its earliest system, SeaMicro put 384 Intel Atom dual-core processors (for a total of 64-bit 768 cores) in a 10-rack system, which is just 17.5 inches high. The newer SM10000-64HD was a 20 percent improvement over SeaMicro's previous server line and a 150 percent improvement on its compute density record, or the amount of computing power in a given space.

That single machine could replace rival systems with a bunch of equipment: 60 traditional servers, four rack switches, four terminal servers, and a load balancing server. It uses a quarter of the power and a sixth of the space. SeaMicro can put an entire server on a motherboard that is 5 inches by 11 inches. Since the hardware is Intel-based, customers don't have to change their software at all.

SeaMicro was founded in 2007 and is backed with $60 million in funding by Khosla Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Crosslink Capital, and a number of strategic investors. It also won grants from the U.S. Departement of Energy ($9.3 million) and the state of California ($250,000). SeaMicro has 80 employees. Most recently, it raised $20 million.

SeaMicro also attacked the power consumption problem with a very clever trick known as virtualization.

Today, virtualization is frequently used with servers. It is a layer of software that rests between an application and the servers that it runs on. If an application needs only two servers, the virtualization software finds two available servers to run the application. If the application gets busy and needs 10 servers, the virtualization software finds 10 available servers to do the job. The application is no longer tied to specific servers; the virtualization software frees up the overall system and gets more use out of the available servers.

SeaMicro did the same thing, but it applied the concept of virtualization to the inside of a server. Feldman designed custom chips that could take the tasks that were handled by everything beyond the Intel microprocessor and its chip set. The custom chips virtualize all of those other components so that it finds the resource when it's needed. It essentially tricks the microprocessor into thinking that the rest of the system is there when it needs it.

SeaMicro virtualized a lot of functions that took up a lot of space inside each server in a rack. It also did the same with functions such as storage, networking, server management, and load balancing. Full told, SeaMicro eliminates 90 percent of the components from a system board. SeaMicro calls this CPU/IO virtualization. With it, SeaMicro shrinks the size of the system board from a pizza box to the size of a credit card.

By boiling down the rest of the system into a couple of chips, SeaMicro can get rid of a lot of the components in a system, thereby getting rid of space, cost, and power consumption.

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Fear of Anonymous is changing how corporate lawyers litigate

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 02:11 PM PST

gavelIn the age of the hacktivist, corporate lawyers have a new responsibility: deciding whether or not to litigate based on their ability to handle attacks from groups like Anonymous.

“Everyone needs to be aware of information security,” said Tanya Forsheit, a founding partner of the InfoLawGroup LLP at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. “I think a lot of law firms have not historically paid attention. They thought they were not required.”

Law firms and the clients they represent are the latest groups to be targeted in online hacker-activist attacks. As Steven Teppler, partner at Edelson McGuire explains, Anonymous is an entity that acts when it is affronted or when it takes on a cause. The group is industry agnostic and will bully any group or person it sees as related to or helping the opposition. For example, the group took down and defaced the website of law firm Puckett Faraj for representing a sergeant charged with leading the Haditha Massacre, a 2005 killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines.

“We once tweeted something about Anonymous, and our site went down very quickly,” said Marcia Hofmann, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Personal computers and mobile devices are also vulnerable. According to Teppler, a lawyer’s laptop can be worth up to $30,000, not because of the hardware, but because of the information stored on it. If a lawyer’s laptop is broken into, he or she could face competency issues associated with failure to protect sensitive data. If it’s a medical-related case, the lawyer may even face HIPPA privacy problems.

And the size of your law firm won’t save you.

“I think sometimes the bigger the law firm the more impervious they feel.” said Teppler. “They are now a threat to their clients in some ways.”

Teppler suggests that before a law firm gives counsel to a client, it needs to look in the mirror and assess its own vulnerabilities. And because of groups like Anonymous, lawyers need to also then council their clients on attack risks. A company needs to consider if it is prepared for an attack, and whether it can survive being victimized on the Internet, before making a decision to litigate or not.

Clients that want to keep a case private may consider not entering litigation at all. Another option is getting a protective order, which can limit how information about the lawsuit is viewed, but even this isn’t fail safe. “Google has its very own protective order,” said Teppler. “It’s creative. I’m not surprised that it comes from Google.”

No matter what precautions a company takes, Anonymous could still try to attack a firm or its employees. The group regularly opts for denial of service attacks when all else fails. While these attacks are not the most sophisticated, Anonymous is, if anything, extremely persistent.

If you are attacked and want to strike back by suing your hacktivist attackers, you’re probably out of luck. “I think that suing Anonymous is going to be like chopping off the head of a hydra,” said Teppler.

Gavel image via walknboston/Flickr

Filed under: security

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform down for more than half a day

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 02:00 PM PST


Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform suffered a serious outage Tuesday evening and many customers are still without full access, according to the Azure Service Dashboard.

Azure is used by many companies to host and build web applications through Microsoft’s own data centers.

According to a circulated statement from Microsoft’s outside PR firm, Microsoft first noticed the issue Tuesday at 5:45 PM PST and did what it could to resolve the issues. “Windows Azure engineering teams developed, validated and deployed a fix that resolved the issue for the majority of our customers,” the statement reads. “Some customers in 3 sub regions – North Central US, South Central US and North Europe – remain affected. Engineering teams are actively working to resolve the issue as soon as possible.”

As of this writing, the Azure Service Dashboard indicates that much of the services provided by Azure have been restored. But the biggest glaring problem appears to be the company’s SQL Azure Data Sync feature, which is down in every region of the world it serves. This feature allows developers to sync and backup important database and coding.

Vineet Jain, CEO of Egnyte, a cloud storage provider for businesses, said in an e-mailed statement that the downtime highlighted a flaw with traditional cloud infrastructure. Egnyte offers a hybrid cloud solution that helps eliminate downtime. Jain writes:

The outage that occurred today with Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform can be crippling and cost millions if not billions of dollars, but more importantly highlights the down side of a pure cloud strategy in the enterprise. While we certainly don’t relish these moments, the downtime can be significantly mitigated if organizations were to adopt a hybrid cloud strategy. By maintaining a behind the firewall presence and syncing that to the public cloud, companies are creating an insurance policy just for these situations. At the same time they can keep downtime to a minimum and insure their employees are as productive as possible in an emergency situation like this. Hybrid cloud is the smartest path to a productive workforce for today’s enterprise.

Did your Azure service go out? How many features stopped working?

Storm clouds photo: divingrocks/Flickr

Filed under: cloud, dev, enterprise

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Blizzard Entertainment lays off 600 employees as World of Warcraft shrinks

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 01:01 PM PST

Blizzard Entertainment, the publisher of the perennial blockbuster World of Warcraft online game, said today it is cutting its staff by 600 employees.

That’s a big chunk of an estimated 5,000 employees for the company, which is based in Irvine, Calif. About 90 percent of the cuts will come from areas not directly related to game development. The layoffs are likely the biggest in the company’s history, since it has been growing fast since the launch of World of Warcraft in 2004.

“Constant evaluation of teams and processes is necessary for the long-term health of any business,” Blizzard president and CEO Mike Morhaime said in a statement. “Over the last several years, we’ve grown our organization tremendously and made large investments in our infrastructure in order to better serve our global community. However, as Blizzard and the industry have evolved we’ve also had to make some difficult decisions in order to address the changing needs of our company.”

Blizzard said it remains committed to shipping several games this year, including Diablo 3, Blizzard DOTA, and expansions for Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft as well as “other unannounced projects.” Blizzard will reportedly announce Diablo 3, a major fantasy title, in the coming weeks.

The cuts are believed to focus on the company’s community service department. World of Warcraft, the company’s flagship game, has seen its subscriber numbers fall from 12 million subscribers in 2010 to 10.2 million in the last quarter.

Atul Bagga, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, said in a note that the cuts were probably 20 to 30 percent of the company’s customer service staff. He said the headcount reduction is likely linked to the downward slope of World of Warcraft usage. He believes that WoW’s subscriber base will fall 300,000 to 400,000 users in the current quarter, due to churn and tougher competition from titles such as Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Facebook acquires team behind YC alum Caffeinated Mind

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 12:01 PM PST

Facebook has acquired the team behind Caffeinated Mind, a small San Francisco-based startup focused on rapid in-browser file transfer and big data transfer.

The Caffeinated Mind team is joining Facebook to help the social network develop better tools for sharing information internally. Additional details of the arrangement were not disclosed.

“We see an opportunity to go and continue the work that we’ve begun over at Facebook,” Caffeinated Mind co-founder John Egan told VentureBeat. Egan added that he feels the team can still have an important impact on the world while at Facebook.

Caffeinated Mind got its start though the Y Combinator accelerator program. In March of last year, the company launched with an in-browser file transfer service called Sendoid. More recently, Caffeinated Mind attempted to tackle the gigantic enterprise problem of big data transfer with a tool called Expresso.

The three-person team will cease operations of its two products, effective almost immediately. The Sendoid web application will be shut down on March 7 and the desktop application will stop working on March 14. The corporate pilot of Expresso will also be shuttered within the next two weeks.

Facebook has not acquired the technology behind Caffeinated Mind’s products, and the social network will not be venturing into the file-sharing business by way of the team acquisition, a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat.

Photo credit: javaturtle/Flickr

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now