02 March, 2012



Pocket Gems grows fast with its “mobile first” game business

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PST

Pocket Gems was one of the early “mobile first” game companies that did nothing but make games for mobile devices. The company was founded by Stanford University students in 2009 and it has never stopped running.

All 13 of the company’s games, from Tap Farm to Tap Pet Hotel, have been big hits on the App Store. Three games are available on Android. Yet another game, the ambitious Paradise Cove title, is launching today.

A year ago, San Francisco-based Pocket Gems had around 10 people. Now it has more than 100. And the strategy of running fast, doing original games, and getting them out before rivals is paying off, said Ben Liu (pictured right) chief operating officer of Pocket Gems, in an interview with VentureBeat. The company’s games have been downloaded more than 60 million times.

“We had an amazing year in 2011,” Liu said. “We went through four different offices, and we’re still growing.”

Liu says that it’s a great time to be an app developer because the transition to mobile gaming is well under way, with engagement and monetization growing. Plenty of imitators have piled into the app stores. On Apple’s store, there are 100,779 active games. Copycat games are rampant. Tons of mobile game competitors are growing by the day. They include Gameloft, Electronic Arts, Zynga, TinyCo, DeNA-Ngmoco, Digital Chocolate, Glu Mobile, Backflip Studios and others.

But this is an environment where San Francisco-based Pocket Gems thrives.

“It does bother us that there are so many imitators, but that happens with success,” Liu said. “We focus less on what others are doing. We try to see what’s next in gaming. Our best defense is creativity and innovation. Those things are hard to copy. Any specific genre can be cloned. But the fundamental engine of innovation is hard to copy.”

Daniel Terry, chief executive, and Harlan Crystal, chief technology officer, founded Pocket Gems in 2009 while Terry was still an MBA student at Stanford University. Their first game was Tap Farm, an idea borrowed from Facebook farm games such as FarmVille, but executed in an original way for the iPhone’s touchscreen. The title was a big hit and it enabled Pocket Gems to get on the growth treadmill. In December 2010, they raised $5 million from Sequoia Capital and others.

In a number of cases, Pocket Gems has created the first successful title in a genre, even if it doesn’t invent the genres.

“We follow the principle of mobile first, creating things that make good use of the device,” Liu said. “We don’t worry about competition because the opportunity is huge. The shift from the PC to mobile computing is irreversible. The tide is with us.”

Other developers have been hurt by the rising cost of user acquisition. Ad costs are going up and it often costs more to get a new user than the amount of revenues that user generates. But Liu says the best solution for that is to have popular games. That way, each new game you launch can be cross-promoted inexpensively to existing users.

“Everything flows from having good games,” he said.

Pocket Gems still makes use of ad networks and promotional platforms such as Tapjoy. And Pocket Gems would like to take advantage of a mobile social network.

Discovery is still a large industry problem. Liu looks forward to seeing new social layers from companies such as Gree, Facebook, Apple, Google, Tencent and DeNA/Ngmoco. But he isn’t quite sure who will build the most successful social layer that makes it less expensive to promote games and get them noticed.

Over time, Liu expects the quality bar to rise for mobile games. That’s why the company spend considerable time creating its first exploration simulation game on mobile: Paradise Cove. The title has lots of moving objects on the screen and effects such as moving cloud that are semi-transparent.

In that game, two explorers are stranded on a desert island. They build a house to survive, find food, and then start exploring. They clear the jungle and build a fleet of ships. Then they uncover artifacts from a lost civilization and the game story proceeds from there, said Rich Cooluris, creative director, and Niels Hoven (both pictured), head of a new game studio and project lead for the title. The game map is large and the title has dozens of levels.

“This is the kind of game you have to do to stay competitive,” Liu said.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Otoy buys Refractive Software and announces cloud-based digital animation technology (exclusive)

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PST

Cloud-gaming startup Otoy is making some big moves in advance of next week’s Game Developers Conference, including its first acquisition of the animated film technology firm Refractive Software.

In an exclusive interview, Otoy chief executive Jules Urbach said that this move and others are big steps in the company’s vision to enable developers to create next-generation video games and animated films that take advantage of cloud rendering technology, where the computing happens not in the user’s own machine but in a web-connected data center, or cloud, that is primed for doing graphics processing. These technologies could turn the world of digital animation upside down, said Urbach, by making it much easier to render high-end animations like the one pictured above by Bernard Benoit.

“We think this will be disruptive for film and game animation,” Urbach said.

Otoy's team has created cloud-based animation tools that can create hyper-realistic imagery, which are stills from Otoy animations. And they will put this technology in the hands of people who could otherwise never afford such special effects. These technologies can be used to create imagery that accurately creates lighting in an animated scene without requiring a huge amount of supercomputing power or programming know-how.

So artists creating films or movies can now reduce a lot of their computing costs and save a lot of time by shifting to tools and computing power in Otoy's cloud. Artists can tap the cloud to render their imagery and will never have to upgrade their hardware or download the latest creativity software again. Consumers will be able to see this kind of content in the future via just about any device through game or video streaming, where the computing is done in the cloud and images are piped over the network to the user's computer, iPhone, iPad or TV.

Refractive Software is working on a technology Octane, which is targeted at film animators. Octane is a cloud-rendering platform that is supported by Autodesk and will make it much easier and cheaper to create animated films. Otoy is also working on Brigade, a technology to render cloud-based games with high-quality 3D graphics.

On top of the acquisition, Otoy is doing other things. Through Refractive, Otoy is creating several plug-ins that will make animation software much more visual. The company will soon release plug-ins dubbed Octane for Autodesk Maya, Octane for Autodesk Softimage and Octane for DAZ 3D Studio. These plug-ins will change the way these animation software packages — used to create films and games — display the designs being created by artists. Without Octane, the software is slow and shows images in blueprint formats, before the animations are fully rendered. But with the Octane technology, the images are photorealistically rendered all of the time. As an artists draws or manipulates an animation, he or she can see the effect on the image in real-time. The new plug-ins will be sold alongside Octane 3D Studio Max, which was released last month for $99.

“In going from a blueprint to a photograph, the productivity gain is huge,” Urbach said. “You used to have to hit the render button to see the image. Now you don’t. It is there in real-time with perfect lighting.”

Brigade, on the other hand, enables next-generation technology, dubbed raytracing, at 60 frames per second on commodity graphics chips. Jeroen van Schijindel, who developed the Brigade engine with Jacco Bikker, is now working at Otoy with Otoy’s Rob Wyatt on the Brigade technology.

Brigade 2.0 has rolled out to third-party developers and it runs twice as fast, enabling 60 frames per second gameplay for raytraced games on a single graphics chip. Brigade will work with the art pipelines of all major art tools. And it works with both Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia chips.

Rivals in online games include OnLive and Gaikai, but Otoy is using the same kind of technology for a very different kind of purpose. Once it seeds its technology among game developers, those developers will be able to write their games to the Otoy game cloud, and the high-end games will be able to run on any device.

With the Refractive deal, Otoy will now have 40 employees, including a number in New Zealand where Refractive is based. Autodesk has invested an undisclosed amount in Otoy.

Filed under: dev, games, media

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The DeanBeat: GamesBeat 2012 in July will focus on disruption, change, and innovation

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PST

We’ve unveiled our first speakers and other details for our fourth annual game conference, GamesBeat 2012. Our roster of speakers includes Will Wright, creator of blockbuster video games from Sim City to The Sims and Spore. Wright is now the founder of two startups: a transmedia think tank called Stupid Fun Club, and a game-focused company called Hive Mind. His next big project is based on what he calls “personal gaming,” where a game can be customized to the tastes and habits of an individual player.

I’m excited about this conference because, after the hard work on our three previous conferences, I feel like we’re getting the hang of it. Our team is ready to talkabout details about the conference earlier than ever done. We’re in conversations with a lot more potential speakers than we have ever had and the reputation of the event has been established. We’ve also ramped up our GamesBeat coverage in a big way and we will continuously write about topics that will turn into hot items for discussion at the conference. We hope you can help us make it the best GamesBeat ever. Our in-house game talent includes Dan “Shoe” Hsu, editor in chief of GamesBeat, and Sebastian Haley, GamesBeat review editor and executive video producer. We’ve also got an events team headed by Elyssa Thorp, who will keep things running smooth.

The whole conference will revolve around the themes of disruption, change and innovation in the video game market. While last year’s conference focused on the theme “Mobile Games Level Up,” this year’s conference will be expanded to include big changes in the social, online, and core video game markets as well as mobile games. The event will be at the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco on July 10-11.

Other speakers include:

  • Bing Gordon, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
  • Peter Relan, founder and chairman of YouWeb and CEO of CrowdStar
  • Peter Vesterbacka, Mighty Eagle and chief marketing officer at Rovio
  • Seamus Blackley, president and co-founder of Innovative Leisure
  • Tim Chang, managing director at the Mayfield Fund
  • Tim Merel, managing director at Digi-Capital
  • Atul Bagga, senior equity research analyst at Lazard Capital Markets
  • Mitch Lasky, general partner at Benchmark Capital
  • David Perry, CEO of Gaikai

The event gathers top execs, investors, and entrepreneurs from the hottest companies to explore the gaming industry's latest trends, newest monetization opportunities, and overall impact on the tech and business verticals.

The industry is on the verge of introducing its next generation of console technology, but that is happening against the growth of games on almost all platforms, from connected TVs to smartphones to tablets. In 2011, investments into game companies doubled to $2 billion and acquisitions grew 160 percent, according to Merel at Digi-Capital. In 2012, the changes should be even more astounding.

We'll have the best industry insiders to make sense of it all, and as always, you'll benefit from lots of high-end networking opportunities that VB events have become known for.

GamesBeat 2012 is co-located with our fifth annual MobileBeat conference. Both events will have a number of congruent themes and overlapping sessions. We're offering a discounted joint pass that allows for full access to both events.

If you’d like to submit a speaker proposal, please do so here. We expect we’ll have more than 60 speakers, not counting moderators, for the event. We’re trying to get the best and highest level speakers ever for this conference.

We’ll have our usual Who’s Got Game startup competition for the best startups in the game industry. We choose five to seven finalists who will present live on stage at the GamesBeat conference before a panel of expert judges. Entry forms are available now and the deadline for submission is June 18 at 5 pm PST. Our judges will rate the startups on freshness, innovation and potential for business success.

Sponsors this year include Flurry and Game Insight. If you’re interested in being a sponsor, send a message to sponsors@venturebeat.com. (Here’s the sponsor list from last year.) To register for tickets, sign up here.

Filed under: games, mobile

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Wall Street awards 5 stars! Yelp jumps 60% at IPO, currently worth $1.43B

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 07:44 AM PST

Review site Yelp, which has turned into a ubiquitous guide to restaurants, opened 60 percent above its strike price of $15 today, valuing the company at $1.43 billion or roughly 17 times earnings.

That’s not bad for a business with only $83 million in revenue last year, on which it managed to lose a record high $16.86 million.

We’ve included a handy graph from Statistica below with lots of detail about Yelp’s user base and financials. Check back in for more analysis at the closing bell.

Filed under: mobile, social

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Streaming service Aereo ready for legal war with TV networks over copyright claims

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 07:30 AM PST

Incumbent industries have a history of challenging new technologies that disrupt the established way they do business. AT&T sued to keep everything from the answering machine to the Hush-A-Phone out of the market. Yesterday’s news that all the major TV networks are filing suit against streaming TV service Aereo is the latest in a long line of battles about how technology evolves. And Aereo, which recently raised $25 million from backers that include billionaire Barry Diller’s IAC, is ready for a war.

Aereo responded to the lawsuits in a statement this morning:

Today, two groups of broadcasters filed two separate federal lawsuits against Aereo in the Southern District of New York claiming that Aereo will infringe their copyrights by making available technology which enables consumers to access broadcast television via a remote antenna and DVR.  Aereo does not believe that the broadcasters' position has any merit and it very much looks forward to a full and fair airing of the issues.

Consumers are legally entitled to access broadcast television via an antenna and they are entitled to record television content for their personal use. Innovations in technology over time, from digital signals to Digital Video Recorders ("DVRs"), have made access to television easier and better for consumers.   Aereo provides technology that enables consumers to use their cloud DVR and their remote antenna to record and watch the broadcast television signal to which they are entitled anywhere they are, whether on a phone, a tablet, a television or a laptop.  Aereo looks forward to its upcoming product launch as well as a prompt resolution of these cases.

The approach is similar to what streaming service Zediva, which owned physical DVDs and players, but streamed the content to users. They were shut down by a federal court last summer. Another service, Ivi TV, tried to do exactly what Aereo is doing, rebroadcasting network TV as a web stream, and was also shut down by the courts. Legal precedent, it seems, is not on Aereo’s side.

The Copyright Act authorizes secondary transmissions of copyrighted works when the party doing the re-transmission pays appropriate licensing fees. But it’s unclear who sets those fees in the new world of streaming video online.

Filed under: media, mobile

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StyleCaster to launch redesign with influence from Pinterest and Tumblr

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 07:27 AM PST


Fashion and style media company StyleCaster is just a few days away from launching a redesigned site that takes much influence from social media darling Pinterest and blogging service Tumblr.

StyleCaster's main website, Stylecaster.com, and its social channels offer news and features related to style, fashion and celebrities, and the company focuses intently on fostering conversations around those topics. Stylecaster.com and sister site Beautyhigh.com, attract more than 2.5 million uniques visitors per month, and the company sells ads through other blogs as well. The company also offers proprietary ad platform called Style as a Service that helps offer ad placement advice.

“When I wake up in the morning, I go to ESPN; that’s my homepage for sports,” StyleCaster CEO and co-founder Ari Goldberg told VentureBeat. “There really isn’t anything like that for style. I want StyleCaster to be the homepage for style.”

Now the site will take its next logical step to offer access to curated fashion news stories and products with a homepage that mimics the design of Pinterest. There will also be a brand-new news page that delivers fresh editorial content daily on beauty, fashion, and pop culture.

Every piece of content on the new StyleCaster site will feature an easy-to-click “Love” button, a feature that is already offered on StyleCaster but now will be much more prominent. The Love button will also be available to other publishers and e-commerce services for installing on their own sites in the very near future.

“This is the product we’ve envisioned for the three and a half years we’ve been working on the site,” Goldberg said.

New York-based StyleCaster was founded in 2009 and has raised a total of $5.5 million in funding to date. Its last funding round in November came from the likes of Zynga chief mobile officer David Ko and former MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta.

Finally, let’s compare the looks of the current homepage to the upcoming news page, which share the most similarities. Take a glance below at the current homepage, which does its best to blend news, features, and shopping together:


And now take a look at the new StyleCaster news page, which is essentially a well-designed news blog inspired by the look and features of Tumblr:


What do you think of the upcoming redesign?

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Forget the Nokia — play Snake on the sides of buildings

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 07:20 AM PST

An imaginative projection project in Sydney, Australia, is taking the classic game Snake and making it into an large scale interactive urban experience.

The Snake the World project uses projection mapping to create custom games on the fly, with anything from architectural features to passing pedestrians forming part of the game environment. Windows, doors and signs become obstacles and boundaries, and pixels in the game react to them appropriately.

The game allows two players to battle it out in the improvised arena, with a Tron-like competitive element, where one player can block the others’ path to win.

Mobile Projection Unit (MPU), the collective behind the project, comprises three members, all of whom are media artists and computation designers. According to MPU member Rene Cristen, computation design is “basically just creative coding”.

Speaking about the project on MPU’s explanatory video, Cristen says, “Snake the Planet… is a way that we can cruise around the city and pick out walls to just scan and throw up a game of snake on. Basically we've got a camera, a projector, and a computer, all powered from a portable battery. We just scan the counters of the building, or whatever happens to be passing in front of the camera at the time, and we automatically build our levels from that.”

The camera being used is apparently pretty standard. Cristen explains, “We try and get a nice clear image from the lens and basically try and analyse a high contrast black and white image from that.” This image is then used to extract individual shapes, using a process called blood detection, which “will work for any features on the building like windows or doors, but it will also pick up anyone walking in front of the camera as well.”

According to Cristen, the most fun part of the project is the guerilla element of just rocking up to a public space and having the game set up in a matter of seconds.

“Culture is as much about the feeling of experiments as it is about the council sanctioned public sculpture, so it’s kind of why were really excited to be able to take all these little quick experiments and games out to the public.”

The software powering Snake the Planet was created using OpenFrameworks, and MPU will soon be distributing it freely as open source.  The group is also planning to develop the work into an iPad application, for other artists and designers to adapt and use in their work.

You can watch Snake the Planet in all its glory below.

Filed under: games

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Iddiction’s App-o-Day aims to cure App Store discovery woes with “Groupon for apps”

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 07:00 AM PST

Discovery is still a huge problem on the Apple App Store, with 578,716 active apps and no sure-fire way to stand out. Iddiction hopes to tackle this problem with its App-o-Day promotional app.

Making one app to promote another app may not sound like much of a solution. But Iddiction, founded by former Outfit7 chief executive Andrej Nabergoj, has studied the problem and come up with a way to help indie developers stand out. He sees the solution as a daily deal, or a Groupon for apps, gaining consumers by the day.

Nabergoj said in an interview with VentureBeat that App-o-Day will curate its recommendations, highlighting only one app per day. In doing so, it hopes to lure consumers back to get the best, coolest and newest apps and games for free on a daily basis, much like existing sites such as FreeAppaDay or App King. Apple itself is aware of the problem of discovery and that may be why it recently bought Chomp.

To set itself apart, Iddiction has created an attractive user interface that is clean and relatively simple. It has a rating score and allows consumers to give their own ratings. And Nabergoj says his team works hard to find only the best apps.

“We don’t give you bugs or scams,” Nabergoj said. “We find the best. We're interested in showcasing the hard-to-find, the up-and-comers, the unexpected. In this case, traditional marketing channels don’t make sense.”

“We looked to Groupon and focused on the daily deal mechanic and thought that it could be brought to the App Store,” he added. “We thought about how Apple would approach this if they did it.”

The app provides new selections straight to your iOS device, where you can download the apps for free.

A number of developers are already participating, including indie app makers Azumio and Appty. Nabergoj says the first month is already booked and the company has more than 1,000 apps already under consideration. Many of those will be paid apps that will be available for free for a day.

This kind of daily deal makes sense for developers because they can get a huge influx of users. Those users will share the app with their friends, who may come back the next day and discover they have to pay for the app. Since their friends are using it, they may be more willing to pay.

"The App Store itself is the best place to discover and download new apps.  But we take it to the next level – giving consumers a very focused and convenient way to find fresh new apps or games, and giving independent developers a new platform to promote their handiwork," added Nabergoj.

Nabergoj is hoping for another big hit with the new startup. Previously, he ran Outfit7, which struck gold with the Talking Tom app, which prompted the Talking Friends series of silly-sounding voice apps that have been downloaded more than 300 million times.

While in his previous job, Nabergoj said it was always a mystery as to why the apps became so successful when so many others failed. He studied the problem and found people don’t search for an app. They find out about apps from friends.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company was founded last October and it got its $3.5 million funding in November. Now it has 15 employees.

“We’re trying to move very fast,” Nabergoj said.

Of course, it’s possible that Apple may try to do the same thing. But Nabergoj said his company will keep evolving its service to stay ahead.

Nabergoj thinks that App-o-day is especially relevant because advertising isn’t serving developers well. The cost of acquiring a new user is rising and becoming higher than the value created by those users for some apps. Some developers are desperate and turning to paid third-party marketing services that guarantee placement in the top app rankings. Apple cracked down on those services for manipulating its rankings. Nabergoj thinks the competition from such services is a short-term problem, as Apple clamps down on it.

Iddiction will focus on games, health, education apps and others.

Backers include Comcast Ventures, Highland Capital Partners, IDG Ventures, Playdom founder Rich Thompson, Google engineering director Francisco Larrain, and investor Aydin Senkut.

Disclaimer: Aydin Senkut is an investor in VentureBeat.

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

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Ludei’s CocoonJS enables blazing-fast HTML5 mobile games (exclusive)

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 07:00 AM PST

As the lingua franca for the web, HTML5 is becoming the format for choice for making cross-platform apps. But when it comes to games, HTML5 apps run too slow. So Ludei, a San Francisco company with a team in Spain, is launching a new platform to turn the HTML5 games into blazing fast applications that take advantage of the graphics hardware in mobile devices.

Making HTML5 games run fast is important because it will simplify life for game developers. Right now, they have to use valuable resources either creating cross-platform but slow games or fast native apps that have to be rewritten for each new platform.

“We manage to get much better performance for games in a browser,” said Eneko Knorr, chief executive and founder of Ludei. “But we aren’t forcing anyone to learn custom code. You can port games to iOS and Android without losing performance.”

The free tool can be used to quickly port HTML5 games so that they run on the iPhone and Android devices as if they were native code, or specially written to take advantage of every piece of hardware in the mobile device, such as its graphics chip. Many HTML5 games run in a mobile browser that does not take advantage of native hardware. Consequently, they run at a speed of 15 frames per second or so. But CocoonJS games can reach more than 100 frames per second, resulting in much smoother gameplay and fluid 3D animations.

Other companies such as GameClosure do this, but some of them use a special applications programming interface. Sibblingz’s Spaceport converts Flash games to run on mobile devices. By contrast, developers who use CocoonJS don’t have to learn how to code in a new way. It does not require a new API. Knorr says that the current technologies that support HTML5 games add a layer of complexity for the developer to learn.

The CocoonJS is a hybrid solution that blends HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. It uses OpenGL libraries to take advantage of the native hardware. Ludei is announcing a public beta and a new CocoonJS Launcher for iOS and Android developers so they can test how their game works in CocoonJS. Knorr says that implementing CocoonJS is as simple as zipping a folder. Ludei plans to monetize using ad networks and in-app purchases.

“We use HTML5 with the graphics support of OpenGL to get the performance,” Knorr said. “Developers do not need to use a proprietary API or SDK.”

One of the customers is Appoint Solutions, a Dutch developer of mobile and web apps. That company used CocoonJS to create the MonsterMove mobile game. Robert Boreman, co-founder of the company, said his team used the platform to run HTML5 games at a speed of about 50 frames per second without any code changes.

Ludei, which has offices in San Francisco and Bilbao, Spain, created its own successful native mobile games iBasket and Slide Soccer. Those games have been downloaded more than 15 million times. The company is self-funded by Knorr, who previously sold a web hosting company to Telefonica four years ago. The team has 17 people.

Here’s a video of how CocoonJS works.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Pres. Obama’s switch to Facebook Timeline shows ability to control your life story

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 06:58 AM PST

President Obama made the switch to Facebook Timeline on Thursday, and no page might better illustrate how well Timeline helps individuals control all aspects of their life story.

Timeline was announced last September at the f8 conference, and it is one of the most ambitious features Facebook has introduced since its signature News Feed. The feature exchanges your profile page for a scrapbook-inspired list of your history on Facebook, telling the story of your life in a collection of photos, status updates, and more. You can also add highlights from your life throughout the timeline.

Obama’s team has taken great care to pepper the Timeline with notable events from the President’s life before and during his stay at the White House. One of my favorite entries is “Obama gets his first job working the counter at Baskin-Robbins” in 1978. I also had my first job working at Baskin-Robbins, so it creates a sense that I understand his life story a little bit better. This sense of connection is calculated and intentional, and Obama’s social media managers probably hope that I relate more than I did before.

Interestingly enough, Obama’s personal history and life story was routinely questioned during the 2008 presidential campaign, with some claiming Obama wasn’t born in the United States and not eligible for the presidency. The Facebook Timeline pokes fun at the “birthers” with the first entry linking to a coffee mug with Obama’s birth certificate on it.


Filed under: social

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The DEMO Asia winners! Hoiio API, joined by FlexiRoam, Gilcrux, Pixtelz, Sofshell, Fiett

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 06:25 AM PST

Source: SGEntrepreneur

Sofshell team member tries to break an iphone with a bowling ball

Winners of the DEMO Asia conference were just announced.

This brings to an end two days of presentations, and in fact months of grueling preparation by the companies that launched products here at our first DEMO event here in Singapore. Of course, there was plenty of networking too, and now that it’s over, plenty of partying (as I write this!).

Really, every one of the 76 companies are winners, since it was tough enough to get here. Companies qualified from hundreds of applications. We had some pretty eye-catching demonstrations — one team speared watermelons, another tracked live tango dancers with sensors. The competition was stiff.

Congrats to the following winners!

Hoiio API won the People’s Choice award.

This means it won among votes from the entire audience of several hundred people.

Hoiio is an API product for developers to build communications applications easily. It is a competitor to Twilio, a popular U.S.-based company we’ve written about before. As such, Hoiio allows developers to build things like conferencing, click-to-call, IVR systems, SMS broadcast, voice broadcast, voicemail, interactive phone polling and more including.

However, Hoiio does show some promising differentiation, including its geographical focus. Hoiio has plenty of territory here in Asia to go after, while Twilio has its hands full, “getting hell from the US telcos and the European counterparts.”Hoiio offers an international API, while Twilio’s international API is in closed beta. Much of the business for these two companies entails negotiating gateways owned by the various telcos across different countries and governed by multiple legal frameworks.

The Hoiio team has flair, too. They were smooth and fun on stage, showed some very clean code on the stage screen, and promised that it has more up its sleeve.

In fact, we’ll be hearing from them soon in the U.S, because part of the People’s Choice award gives the winner a free spot at DEMO in Silicon Valley next month. As winner, Hoiio also collects $20,000 in services from Plug & Play, effectively offering Hoiio free office space in the SF Bay Area for several months. Not to mention a free Lenovo tablet, which the DEMO Gurus (see below) also got.

There were five winners of the DEMO Guru awards, decided by the DEMO production team, including myself (I’m executive producer of DEMO) and my DEMO Singapore partners.  They are the following:

Sofshell: The Sofshell padding system is a shock absorbent material used in personal protective wear against mechanical injury. The composite material is soft to touch, yet hardens upon impact, serving as a cushion for falls or other impacts. This was arguably the most entertaining demonstration of the day (see picture at top of this story). Team members showed how the pad could stop a metal rod from spearing a watermelon, and protect an iphone from being broken even when smashed from on top by a 12-pound bowling ball.

Dropmysite from Gilcrux: Dropmysite is a scheduled email backup in the cloud, which also provides email migration between cloud email providers and one view for all your backed up email. The demo was pretty cool, wowing the crowd by how quickly it worked.

Pixtelz — The company’s CuteChat allows video chat users to change their background images or videos real-time without a blue-green screen, thus providing the illusion that users are somewhere other than they really are. This was another crowd-pleaser, as the entrepreneur showed off how he could fake out his boss, or even his wife, by pretending to be in his office, while he was really out having fun. Users can also stylize their streaming video into cartoons, making it fun and cool. By cutting out the background, CuteChat says it reduces the bandwidth by a factor of three, thus providing less drop calls and screen freezes.

FlexiRoam – An easy-to-use mobile client that allows you to make and receive unlimited roaming calls while overseas for a flat rate per day.

FiettFiett — This was the winner of the Alpha Pitch category of products. The company’s “Isgloves” product is a patent-pending, eco-friendly, touch sensitive gloves-mitten allowing people out in the cold for a period of time, like snowboarders, to use their touchscreen devices like their iPhones in the cold with precision and warmth. This demo also delighted the crowd, as the entrepreneur showed off a pretty rad looking mitten (see image left).

Congrats to all of the winners. In fact, congrats to all of the DEMO Asian companies. Now that they’ve made it this far, they all qualify to attend the U.S. DEMO (in fact, today is the last chance to apply for DEMO). We look forward to keeping up with their progress, and seeming them back stateside!

Go to our Singapore partner blog SGEntrepreneurs to see more coverage of DEMO Asia,

Oh, and below is a pretty map of the 14 countries where each of the 76 DEMO Asia companies came from.

[Top/Bottom Image credits: SGEntrepreneur]

DEMO Asia represented 14 countries

Filed under: DEMO

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MetaLayer launches community to make better infographics (exclusive)

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PST

MetaLayer, a startup that helps you make visualizations from complex sets of data, has launched a new data community for people to share visualizations they’ve made with its service.

“Insights are exactly new, but we are forced to hear them from CNN. We want to do to data analysis what Apple has done to computers; make data so intuitive that anyone can gather insights from tons of data,” said Metalayer Chief executive Chris Burrage in an interview with VentureBeat.

MetaLayer helps you gather insights and make visualizations, also known as infographics, from massive amounts of data on the web. The company has poised itself as the “Photoshop of data”, mainly because you can drag and drop sets of data onto one another to help make sense of datasets with graphs and diagrams. Pictures, statistical figures, Twitter feeds, documents, and news feeds can be imported to MetaLayer’s dashboard and then analyzed for trends or other insights. Metalayer aims its service at data analysts, non-profits, and journalists who may not have the immense knowledge needed to analyze huge amounts of data, nor the money to pay for a robust system to do it for them.

Now the company is launching a community platform called Delv, where infographics can be vetted and shared. People can pick apart the data that others have put together, and point out flaws or ask questions. Down the road the company hopes the platform will become a place to share data visualizations created by “real people”, not statisticians and professional analysts.

“Our new community project platform DeLv is for people to come delve into the information analyzed on our site,” said Burrage, “People can look at infographics and other visualizations that community members have created, see the raw data that went into making them, mix up the data, and point out weak points.”

The company graduated in December 2011 from DreamVenture’s incubator and launched its dashboard, which is still in beta, in November 2011. MetaLayer also offers two APIs, imgLayer and dataLayer. ImgLayer takes words and objects from images and makes tags out of them, and dataLayer adds context to social data. Right now all the services are free, but in the future MetaLayer plans to charge for premium services such as private infographics that aren’t automatically shared with the community. It also plans to license infographics that are created by members at some point.

MetaLayer is based in Washington DC and is run by a three-man team.


Filed under: cloud, media

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Apple’s tough talk backfires in negotiations for new streaming TV service

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 04:49 AM PST

Apple-iTV-conceptApple has big plans to launch a streaming TV service by Christmas, and of course the rumor mill is already running wild on when they will launch an actual TV. But negotiations with the big media companies for rights to shows are not going well, as Apple takes its usual approach, “our way or nothing at all”.

According to a report from the NY Post, Apple is telling media executives that it wants to control all elements of the new streaming service, including how the content will be priced, much as it does for albums and tracks in the iTunes store.

The TV networks have their back against the wall in a certain sense. It’s clear that more and more viewing is being done online, and even when they choose withhold their best shows from services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime, technology is finding a way to get around that.

Aereo, for example, a new service from IAC, will begin streaming all the network channels and some cable channels March 14 in New York City. It does this by using an array of tiny antennas, each the size of dime, which belong to individual customers. Not only can Aereo customers watch TV anywhere they want, since it also acts as a DVR, they can watch anytime they want. The networks, of course, have responded how they know best, with a lawsuit.

Apple will be holding an event March 7 which is believed to include a new version of its Apple TV. The hope, according to the NY Post, is to bundle TV channels like apps, which can be sold through Apple’s store and streamed to users phones, tablets, computers and televisions. The pay TV industry, meanwhile, is looking at iTunes and the fall of the record industry, and running the other way.

Filed under: media, mobile

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The most memorable cloud and enterprise startups at DEMO Asia

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 11:24 PM PST

A version of this story originally appeared on SGEntrepreneurs and is published here with permission.

We saw a number of cloud and enterprise startups pitch the crowd at Demo Asia 2012 this morning, some of which were pretty memorable. Since this is Oscars season, we're giving each startup our own awards just for fun.

The No-Brainer Pitch award: Tradesparq

Tradesparq lets merchants and businesses search through AliBaba suppliers and then ranks them based on a merchant’s social networks and contacts. It LinkedIn meets AliBaba.

The company’s demo walked the audience through the process of trying to find a kitchen sink supplier in AliBaba. It showed that AliBaba had no problem returning thousands of results but had a problem finding a supplier that could be trusted. Tradesparq was able to filter the results based on the trust established in your existing network.

The panel straight after the pitches was unanimous and effusive in its praise of Tradesparq as well as its product-market fit.

The Highly Promising Pitch award: Hoiio API

If you’re into consumer-driven, social and local mobile apps, APIs are bound to turn you off immediately. But as someone who knows programming, I have to say that Hoiio and its Hoiio API lets developers quickly develop voice-related telephone apps.

Of course, Twilio is operating in the same space. So Hoiio's play would be to quickly be a Twilio for Asian telcos.

Given the difficulties of negotiating with the various telcos across different countries and legal domains, Hoiio has a chance to play catch up in this area.

The Freedom Award: DropMyEmail.com

DropMyEmail.com does two things cleanly. It switches your emails from one email account to another, and it backs up your emails.

The play here with these two functions is that you are free from the fear of getting valuable emails tied up to any email provider.

I have to say, this is only obvious to people who are running businesses or media sites and whose livelihoods are dependent on emails. However, the issue here is that the backup business is decidedly unsexy in the world of technology — especially with social networks and the like.

The So What Are You Selling Again? Award: e-Xefs

This crowd definitely wants the startups presenting here to succeed, judging by the generous encouragement shown to those who experienced technical hiccups. But we want to be constructive to the winners of this award — e-Xefs.

It is supposedly an expert forecast system churning out instantaneous forecasts based on raw business data. Beyond that, we can’t see the appeal or the possible user community for this. We had an issue Googling for the company’s website as well. On top of that, I have no idea how to pronounce the name. (e-saf? e-x-f? eeks?)

Clearly, judging from the demo, there is some technical talent here. I wanted to see the WOW factor of using the product, and there is a significant gap between the WOW I expected and what I saw in the pitch itself.

So what do you think about the awards we have given? Any memorable pitches we missed? What kind of award should they get?

Filed under: cloud, enterprise

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DEMO Asia: 3 startups focused on saving you money

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 10:54 PM PST

A version of this story originally appeared on SGEntrepreneurs and is published here with permission.

Sageby, Squiryl, and Trade Hero are three new startups pitching at DEMO Asia in Singapore this week that are betting you want to make, keep, and invest your money wisely.

Squiryl is an iPhone app that lets you track your customer loyalty points and trade with friends. If you're the type who has lost several Subway Club Cards, this is what you need to make sure you redeem your points and earn that free $5 foot long.

Squiryl takes the stage.

Just scan the QR code on the receipt to record your points (which Squiryl calls “acorns”).

If you don't want those points, you can trade them for something you do want, like a Big Mac. Squiryl saves you money and helps put food on the table!

While you're waiting in line to redeem your Squiryl loyalty points, Singapore-based Sageby wants to help you make money. Its app lets you earn online credits in your free time by taking a simple survey. An adorable video of the founder, George Chen, quickly exchanging his credits for a milkshake proved just how easy it is to redeem credits for meals, cabs, or purchases at the mall.

The final money-maker really shines. Trade Hero is a community of financial traders who invest with virtual funds and tracks the results. You can follow the top-ranked traders to see exactly what stocks they chose and get a good idea of their investment strategy. In an industry shrouded in mystery, Trade Hero provides transparency and personal access to financial superstars.

Whether you're a small time trader betting on the stock market or a venture capitalist betting on the next Asian start-up to make it big, these three startups will give you something to think about.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of web startups at DEMO Asia

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 10:38 PM PST

A version of this post originally appeared on SGEntrepreneurs. We’re publishing with permission.

Mobile apps may be all the rage right now, but startups are still doing very interesting things in the web space. Here, we present you the good, bad, and ugly of the web technology companies that presented at DEMO Asia yesterday.

Fitness Buffet, Singapore

As a business, Fitness Buffet shows a lot of promise. I've written about them once before, and I'm glad to see that they're getting validation from the Sages, who have a lot of good things to say about them.

In a nutshell, Fitness Buffet is a service that offers a wide variety of special deals at a fixed price of $99. Customers who sign up receive a whole list of deals that they must redeem by a set date.

The founder, New Zealander Callum Laing, explains that his company wants to make exercise fun again by offering really interesting activities.

From a business standpoint, it makes a lot of sense, as the company’s able to generate revenue very quickly. It's also scalable — all it needs are local partnerships to secure the deals in various countries. Fitness Buffet also appears to be a first mover; I don't see many websites doing similar things.

Laing emphasized that his company is different from group-deals service Groupon in two ways: 1) While Groupon brings many customers to one deal, Fitness Buffet brings one customer to many deals (he calls Fitness Buffet the "AirBnb of the fitness industry"; 2) While Groupon refused a buyout from Google for $6B, Fitness Buffet would not.

I do think Fitness Buffet has one thing in common with group buying sites, though: They're both easily copied. Which means Fitness Buffet must aggressively expand iinto multiple markets. It seems to be doing that: Callum announced that the company’s aiming to reach 500 cities by the end of the year. It’s in 44 right now.

Heyawanna Labs, Singapore

Heya! Wanna? is a web app to makes event planning with friends more fun. It's also an event discovery tool that allows users to share and join activities.

Upon entering the website, users will see a list of activities they can participate in. They will also be able to track which of their friends are checking out the event. The website does this through your Facebook account. Besides checking in to an activity, users can vote on timings for the event and chat with one another. The company plans to monetize through listing fees. Airlines, hotels, and tour agencies can pay to have their services suggested to users.

It's simple, elegant, and fulfils a niche. It's suitable for events that aren't as complex as an overseas trip and not as simple as a date to the movies. Its social discovery component makes it special.

The revenue model is quite straightforward. too, although the company’s immediate focus would be to gain traction and the loyalty of thousands of users in order to generate substantial profits.

PlayMoolah, Singapore

I think most people agree that PlayMoolah, a fun online platform where kids aged six to 12 can learn about money, is a great idea. The founders seem confident and knowledgeable about their industry. "Think Mint.com meets ClubPenguin," said Lee Min Xuan, co-founder of PlayMoolah, which was started in 2008.

But here's the problem: Why haven't they launched?

They were the winners of Echelon 2011 launchpad last May. It's been almost four years since they started on PlayMoolah and 10 months since Echelon. That's a long time in the tech world.

Splaype, Singapore

The Sages at DEMO Asia seem to think Splaype is a very good idea. I'm not sure I agree. Splaype is essentially a desktop app that lets parents interact with kids through video calls and games. Parents can also read to their children, watch videos, and do a whole host of other educational activities together.

Jeffrey Paine from Golden Gate Ventures believes an iPad version would do even better.

But it seems like a lot of what Splaype offers can be done via other means. If I want to play Tic Tac Toe, I can use the good ol' pen and paper and do it over Skype. If I want to read to my child remotely, I can simply recite the story book to him over the phone.

Sure, Splaype wants to make all these activities richer and more interactive, but I'm not sure if the market is large enough, since many parents would be happy with less technological methods anyway.

Nundino, Singapore

Nundino is a social network for traders, aimed at sharing information about companies, discussing strategies on trading, and sharing about trades. My beef with it is that it may have entered the field a little too late. It faces competition from Currensee, a more established startup that has series B funding, and also StockTwits.

Another startup at DEMO Asia itself, Trade Hero, seems to be doing the very same thing as Nundino. Erwan Mace, developer relations at Google Southeast Asia, said he preferred Trade Hero over Nundino because the former had some gamification elements.

I'm not sure if there's enough room for four tigers on the same mountain.

To survive, they'll have to find ways to really differentiate themselves and try to capture the Asian market before their more established competitors swoop in for the kill.

Epsilon Mobile, Singapore

Epsilon Mobile is developing Papyrus, a platform that enables publishers to create their own e-books that are published in the App Store as apps. They appear to be more focused on the marketing industry, seeing a gap in the market for an easy way to produce interactive marketing materials.

Now, they’re reaching out to magazine, comic, and book publishers as well as listed companies that want to publish their annual reports. I'm not certain whether Papyrus will work, though, given the intricacies of the e-publishing world. I would also want to find out how it'll stack up against Apple's iBooks and Zeenco, which offers a complete solution for textbook publishers.

BCZ.com, Singapore

When a salesman comes and promises you the world, you automatically hear alarm bells. That's how I felt about BCZ.com. It purports to be an all-in-one business platform that consists of a social network, a website, and an e-commerce site builder, as well as an "award-winning, "location-aware" search AI called Qryos (think Apple's Siri without the voice).

I would love to find out what award it has won.

The damning part for me was when BCZ showed a slide promoting its "website builder", which is essentially WordPress with plugins installed. Now, I use WordPress every day; it is free, and anyone can download and use it. What BCZ may have essentially done is repackage WordPress and offer it in a bundle with its own services, for a price.

BCZ's pitch didn't quite hit the mark.

BCZ, it seems, is trying to be all things to all people. But here's the problem: Even Google, with all its might, can't do everything well. Most certainly not a resource-strapped startup like BCZ.com.

Studio Ousia, Japan

Searching for information on a smartphone can be a pain in the ass. It requires that I select a text with my fat fingers, then copy and paste it into the search box.

Phroni is a Mobile Firefox plugin that aims to solve this problem. It automatically adds links to relevant keywords on the web browser using algorithms.

I'm not convinced that this will work as a business. While it has received close to a million dollars in funding, Phroni is a great feature for mobile phones but not a great business. At a flick of a switch, Google and Apple can instantly improve their mobile platform's search functionality, rendering Phroni obsolete.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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OnLive brings its amazing Windows desktop access to Android tablets

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 10:05 PM PST


OnLive Desktop’s debut on the iPad captured our imagination for what tablets were now capable of: With just your iPad in hand, you could now access a virtual Windows PC, apps like Word and Excel, and enjoy crazy-fast web browsing.

Now that experience has come to Android tablets with a new app in the Android Market. While not nearly as many total Android tablets have been sold versus the iPad, it’s still a great development that means Android fans get to check out the revolutionary app as well.

OnLive Desktop requires Android 2.3 and up, so it will support almost any mainstream Android tablet. The company claims it has been tested and works on the Acer Iconia Tab A500, ASUS Eee TF101, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 and 10.1, and HTC Jetstream.

OnLive first made its name with streaming complex 3D games to low-end and middling PCs. This application, in a similar fashion to its gaming app, uses OnLive's well-built cloud-based service to stream desktop apps and an Internet Explorer web browser that can transfer data at 1 gigabit per second and handle Adobe Flash applications.

The OnLive Desktop Plus service is available for $4.99/month. Let us know in the comments if you download OnLive Desktop for your Android tablet and how it runs for you.

OnLive Desktop screenshot: OnLive YouTube video

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

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DEMO Asia: 3 startups find new ways to gamify life

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 10:04 PM PST

A version of this story originally appeared on SGEntrepreneurs and is published here with permission.

This week’s DEMO Asia saw several startups pitch new ways to gamify real life.

Keith Ng at GameMaki challenged the audience to put away their mobile games for real-world challenges. He asked them to take a picture with a DEMO friend and put it up on the GameMaki app, which allows people to see what interesting challenges are taking place around them and easily join in by snapping a picture of the completed activity.

Businesses, sports teams, and everyday people can create their own games and casually engage customers or challenge their friends.

There haven’t been many takers, though. Perhaps everyone at the conference is just too busy to take the time and compete. I, for one, am determined to win!

Christophe Zenner, founder of Singapore-based startup Wildfire, began his perfectly polished presentation by telling the audience that Coke Zero causes cancer — or at least that's what they say online. He pointed out that, whether it's true or not, once an idea gains traction and goes viral online, it's nearly impossible for a company to change the conversation.

He was joined on stage by his co-founder and brand manager Benjamin Duvall. Together, they explained that their product, InfluencerForce helps companies by scanning online conversations and alerting and engaging passionate customers when an inaccurate message starts to spread.

Why would someone care that  several million people tweeted that Coke Zero causes cancer?  Christophe pointed out that people like to be right and share their opinions. More importantly, InfluencerForce makes it fun to engage in the conversation and interject the truth. InfluencerForce rewards active influencers.

Teamie took a different approach to gamifying real life. The Singapore-based team wants to make online learning social and fun. The product aggregates video, documents, and opinion polls into a place where students can interact with their homework and each other. Teamie rewards students for asking and answering questions or submitting their homework before it's due.

Teachers and parents have access to a detailed analysis of the student's performance, making it easy to identify students who may need more attention.

With this layer of gaming built into so many companies, it's important to ask – what really motivates people?  As the expert panel pointed out, rewarding customers with badges worked four years ago, but a simple badge no longer carries the same weight.

GameMaki, Wildfire, and Teamie all depend on a community of users who want recognition for their participation. Gamification is a way to add to the user experience but won't keep people around forever. To be successful, each of these companies must concentrate on building its customer base to find out if people really want life to be a game.

Filed under: DEMO, games

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Angry Birds showcased with gesture control

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 07:19 PM PST

Not content with being flung into space, the Angry Birds behemoth is now evolving alongside the popularity of motion control. SoftKinetic, a leading developer of gesture- based platforms for consumer electronics, has flaunted a tech demo showcasing this experience in full flight.

The Belgian-based company, whose DepthSense DS311 camera brings Kinect-like controls to the PC, claims it has developed software that allows any application to be played with gestures, unchanged from the original experience.

As an example of this, the Angry Birds tech demo arrived on YouTube today:

After extremely successful releases on a number of platforms, Rovio’s Angry Birds franchise is far from slowing down. Gesture control is a logical step for the series, so I’d wager we’ll see an official adaptation before the year is out. How long before we’re forced to throw individually bought plush dolls towards our television screens?

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DEMO Asia kicks off with 76 startups from 14 countries (slideshow)

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 07:18 PM PST

The very first DEMO Asia officially kicked off Wednesday in Singapore. The three-day conference is a launchpad for entrepreneurs and startups from around Asia, and for non-Asian companies that want to get their products on the Asian market.

An impressive 47 companies from 14 countries are launching their products and ideas at the vent. Each presenter was hand-picked by the DEMO team in Singapore. Once they’re on stage, presenters have six minutes to demonstrate their product. Some attendees will participate in the Alpha Pitch instead, where they get just 90-seconds to sell the audience on their product or service.

The audience is made up of technology press, venture and angel investors, buyers, entrepreneurs, corporate and business development professionals, and other tech professionals.

The event, which started February 29 and goes through March 2, is taking place at Matrix @ Biopolis in Singapore. VentureBeat's own editor-in-chief, Matt Marshall, is executive producer for DEMO and is helping emcee the event.

Check out a slideshow of the event below, and stay tuned for more from DEMO Asia here on VentureBeat over the next couple of days.

Filed under: DEMO, Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Qualys CEO creates security non-profit to fix the Internet

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 07:15 PM PST

Philippe Courtot, chief executive of compliance software maker Qualys, launched the Trustworthy Internet Movement last night, pledging $500,000 of his own funds to integrate security into the product-making process.

“Just the very fact that I could get the domain name “trustworthy internet” says it all,” Courtot told VentureBeat.

Much of security is reactionary. McAfee general manager of network security Pat Calhoun likens it to a house break-in. You get the alarm system after your house has been robbed. If you already have an alarm system, you start using it when your possessions go missing. Security is an afterthought. Prevention means admitting that you’re vulnerable, a difficulty for any person or corporation.

But if we don’t build security technology in from the start, we open ourselves up to zero-day attacks, said Courtot. He said it’s like brushing your teeth. Scrub first to prevent issues. “It’s basic hygiene.”

The Trustworthy Internet Movement, like many movements, has a focus but no real solution — yet. Courtot’s $500,000 will go toward recruiting members and providing resources to start creating security technology that is company-agnostic. Members can come from anywhere, any company, but the innovations won’t exist under their title. Courtot is looking for those with expertise in domain-focused enterprises, technology leaders, “stakeholders” or individuals who want to solve a particular problem (such as botnets), anyone willing to make a donation, academic institutions, and non-profits.

Before he’s ready to announce partners and talk more about the initiative, however, Courtot wants a win. A win being a solution to a well-known problem. Currently he’s focused on botnets, e-mail spoofing, and SSL compliance, but he hasn’t chosen the problem he’d like this growing group to attack first. While solving a basic Internet issue like e-mail spoofing might seem laughable, it’s not impossible. Courtot explained that the cause of e-mail spoofing is already known, so finding out “how” people do this is not the problem. Gathering the right people together to make a solution is. By coming up with actual technology, the Trustworthy Internet Movement will be better equipped to pitch venture capitalists.

Despite his quiet start, Courtot said he has the support of Qualys’ big name customers such as Google.

Unlike Qualys’ mission, however, it’s not about protecting the cloud. “The cloud is done,” he said, “The train has left the station.” It’s about solving the Internet’s problems because without starting at the beginning, the cloud will never be safe.

Filed under: security, VentureBeat

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Yelp prices at $15 a share for NYSE debut (updated)

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 05:33 PM PST

Review this. Yelp has priced its stock at $15 a share Thursday evening, and will make its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange under the YELP ticker symbol tomorrow.

With 7.15 million shares for sale, Yelp will raise more than $107 million in its IPO. The deal, CNBC stocks editor Bob Pisani tweeted Thursday, is said to be heavily oversubscribed.

Yelp earned $83.3 million in net revenue in 2011, a 74 percent year-over-year jump, but the reviews site, which touts around 66 million monthly unique visitors, also lost $16.7 million during the same period.

Yelp originally filed its papers with the SEC in mid November. The restaurant and business reviews company, which makes a majority of its revenue from local advertising, later amended its S-1 filing to show a starting price of $12 to $14 per share.

“I do think it will probably have a strong opening day, given how small the float is on the stock,” financial data company PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh told VentureBeat. “It’s the only consumer Internet IPO currently available, so it will benefit very short-term from the lack of other new supply in the sector.”

A strong opening day, Hamadeh said, would have Yelp’s share price close up by 25 percent.

“Beyond the opening day of trading, we don’t think Yelp will perform well given its many business model issues,” Hamadeh added, citing the company’s inability to turn a profit or dramatically cut losses, a too-high valuation, competition from Facebook and Google, and low annual revenue.

“Yelp can’t seem to be able to lose less as it grows, showing the unattractiveness of a business model based primarily on local advertising salespeople to sell to small local merchants,” Hamadeh explained.

This post was updated with the share price at 5:33 p.m. Pacific.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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In the post-PC future, businesses will use notebook and tablet hybrids

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 05:27 PM PST

Many have speculated that we’ve crossed the chasm to the Post-PC era, and that the PC as we know it will be relegated to niche-market status. While it is true that many more smartphones are sold each year than PCs, and that tablets are increasing market share rapidly, I believe business users and many consumers are still not in a post-PC era.

Instead, I think PCs will transform and meet mobile technology in the middle. This is especially true of notebooks, which make up the majority of PCs. But can notebooks compete with tablets?

Today's tablet (e.g., Apple's iPad, Android-powered devices from Samsung, Motorola, and RIM's PlayBook) has much more processing power (CPU and graphics) than PCs of just two or three years ago. But tablets are not good at everything. Current generation devices are primarily for information and media consumption, but highly portable and easy to use. PCs, on the other hand, are great information- and content-creation devices, but much less portable and more complicated to interact with.

Over the next one to two years, this level of complexity will be reduced (as it has with the Windows 8 Metro interface), the usability will increase (more touch interfaces) and the portability of design (small like Intel’s Ultrabooks) will move towards the newer user-paradigms. This model has been pioneered by Apple's MacBook Air, but Apple's market share of notebooks won't threaten the traditional Windows-based PC market in any substantial way.

What do I expect to take place over the next couple of years? Intel, Microsoft and the notebook vendors are not standing idly by; they are substantially morphing the traditional notebook to meet the challenge from by mobile devices. Upcoming hybrid designs will gain user acceptance by having today's notebook features, coupled with the low power, ease of use, and long battery life of tablets and smartphones. Low power mainline chips from Intel (<15W) and others will give notebook vendors the freedom to move away from the current high-powered (low battery life) designs.

Windows 8 will allow enough flexibility to change the end-user experience while maintaining backwards compatibility with existing productivity and corporate apps. ARM-based notebooks running Windows 8 will help push the envelope. However ARM-based Windows systems will not be fully backwards compatible with existing apps, and I do not believe ARM will offer enough significant benefit over traditional Intel (or potentially AMD) based systems to garner more than 10 percent to 15 percent market share within the next two to three years.

The new notebook form-factors will have an impact on tablet market-share, especially in business markets where tablets offer some unique challenges for enterprises.

  • Although popular with end users, tablets generally do not offer a significant ROI for enterprises except in certain well-defined areas.
  • Tablets won't replace more than 10 percent to 15 percent of enterprise laptops within the next two or three years. Most tablets will be supplemental, rather than replacement, raising over cost.
  • Although iPads will continue to dominate short-term, by 2013-2014 Android tablets to acquire a majority share of the market including in the enterprise where specialized features will be added.
  • A variety of screen sizes, price points and capabilities will expand the choices and enable more application scenarios. However, TCO for tablets will remain high, and on-board security will remain a concern for the next two to three years.

Organizations will need to adopt a "best use" strategy when evaluating the upcoming new form factors, and weigh not only market pressures and user desires, but also look at productivity and usage models that align with enterprise needs. In this regard, the new breed of hybrid notebook devices will effectively compete with tablets in many corporate scenarios and displace some current tablet deployments.

While initial cost of the new devices may be high, I expect prices to fall rapidly, and the overall ROI for these notebooks will exceed that of tablets for many users. So, bottom line, we are not in a post-PC era, yet.

Jack Gold is the founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, an information technology analyst firm based in Northborough, Mass., covering the many aspects of business and consumer computing and emerging technologies.

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.

Future computer image via ShutterStock

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Listen up, Google: Here’s what Windows 8 can teach you about tablets

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 04:32 PM PST

Photo of a Windows 8 tablet showing the Start screen

Windows 8 is certain to make a huge splash with consumers — not just because it’s the next version of Windows, but because Microsoft has finally managed to crack the code for putting Windows on tablets.

But I think Windows 8 also teaches us something important about the fledgling tablet category: effective tablets need to be laser-focused on offering an experience that’s more than just a blown up mobile OS. (And making sure developers are eager to build for your platform doesn’t hurt either.)

Google has learned this the hard way in its struggles with Android tablets. First-generation Android slates, like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, offered the typical Android smartphone experience on a bigger screen, without any tablet app support. Google added a shiny new interface and support for true tablet apps with Android 3.0, but developers (and consumers) didn’t really bite.

It also certainly didn’t help that Android tablets were typically more expensive than the iPad, while offering a less-useful experience.

Meanwhile, Apple figured out early on that the iPad had to offer something beyond the iPhone’s experience to entice consumers. Even though the iPad is running iOS, the same mobile operating system as the iPhone, Apple has pushed developers to create tablet-specific apps, and the iPad sports gestures and features that the iPhone still lacks.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is taking its approach to tablets a step beyond Apple, something that the company made abundantly clear during its unveiling for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in Barcelona. (Check out our hands-on preview with a Windows 8 tablet.) Unlike Android or iOS, Windows 8 is a full-fledged desktop operating system, not just a souped-up mobile OS on a bigger screen. Microsoft is positioning Windows 8 as its OS approach for all computers in the next decade, not just tablets.

Since it’s banking so heavily on Windows 8, Microsoft has decided to boldly go beyond our preconceived notions of Windows. The Metro interface, borrowed from Windows Phone 7, is a fundamental reshaping of how we approach Windows. Now the OS is equally suited to touchscreen tablets, the keyboard and mouse, and even hybrid devices that combine all of those input mechanisms.

Despite the wide variety of device support, there’s a clear focus on design with Windows 8 that Android has lacked on tablets for some time. Android 3.0 was an improvement over Google’s initial stab, and Android 4.0 steps it up even further, but even that doesn’t sport the same cohesive design vision that Windows 8 does.

Microsoft has also been courting developers heavily to create Metro-style Windows 8 apps for the Windows Store. Google, on the other hand, has done very little to encourage Android developers to create tablet apps. The app ecosystem is vital to the success of any platform, and without it, Google doesn’t have a shot at succeeding with tablets.

Google’s Android head, Andy Rubin, said the company will “double down” on tablets this year, although he said developers shouldn’t have to build their apps multiple times for different form factors.

Windows 8 fulfills a decades-long quest for Microsoft, which started pursuing pen-based tablets in 2001 with the Microsoft Tablet PC specification. Prior to that, the company spent the ’90s on the ill-fated Windows for Pen Computing software.

Microsoft may have been wrong about the use of a stylus pen, but the company has clearly seen the potential of tablets for some time.

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: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Uh oh: Google’s new privacy policy might be illegal in the EU

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 03:24 PM PST


Google’s controversial new privacy policy went into effect today, but resistance to the sweeping changes still appears strong, with a judge in the EU saying it violates EU law.

In late January, Google announced 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. Critics have included European regulators, U.S. Congress, and many U.S. state attorneys general.

Now we’ve finally hit Google Privacy Policy (GPP) day. Clearly, many organizations are not down with GPP, but now a judge in the EU has taken that criticism a step further by saying it’s a violation of EU law.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told BBC Radio Four that there were serious issues with the privacy changes. She noted that France’s data protection watchdog, the CNIL, had decided necessary “transparency rules have not been applied.”

“Protection of personal data is a basic rule of the European Union. It is inscribed in the treaties. It is not an if, it is a must,” Reding reportedly said.

A Google spokesperson, echoing past statements from Google, told us the company is not worried about the criticism.

“We are confident that our new simple, clear, and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles,” a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat via e-mail. “It provides all the information required in Articles 10 & 11 of the directive, plus much additional information, and it follows the guidelines published by the Article 29 Working Party in 2004.”

Are you down with GPP? Or are you concerned about the changes?

[Angry man: olly/Shutterstock]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Fox and PBS file suit against streaming TV service, Aereo

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 03:21 PM PST

File this one under bound to happen. IAC’s new service, Aereo, which charges users $12 a month to stream the basic TV networks and a selection of cable channels, is the target of a lawsuit filed by Fox, WPIX, Univision, and PBS. They want to shut Aereo down and collect damages for unlicensed use of their content.

“No amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo — or the claims that is simply providing a sophisticated set of ‘rabbit ears’, changes the fundamental principle of copyright law that those who wish to retransmit Plantiff’s content may only do so with Plantiff’s authority.”

Aereo uses an array of tiny anntenas to capture broadcast signal and convert that into streaming video that can be watched live on the web without a delay. This is the crux of their legal defense, as Investor Place notes:

Legal disputes have laid low past attempts at similar services. Ivi TV, a service almost identical to Aereo, was shut down by a federal judge in New York after content providers sued on the grounds that their services, rebroadcast online, were stolen. Aereo plans to work around this sort of entanglement through its network of tiny antennas, thousands of which are arrayed around the borough of Brooklyn. It's a license to use those antennas, which are receiving broadcast signals, that Aereo customers are actually paying for. Still, Aereo and IAC are bracing for legal disputes.

The tiny Aereo antenna

Companies like Disney and Time Warner chose not to have their cable programs streamed on Aereo. But the networks were given no choice in the matter.

"The key issue is the exhibition is private; media is never mingled, the DVR is never mingled, the antenna is never used by multiple people," Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia told GigaOm.

"You can think of each of those little antennas with a name on it," IAC chairman Barry Diller said at the Aereo press conference. "It's entirely consistent with the basis of over the air broadcast. If you have an antenna, you can receive TV without an intermediary." That is true, but rabbit ears also don’t charge a monthly subscription fee.

Here’s a PDF of the court filing with all the legal details.

As Peter Kafka points out, one of the reason’s Aereo raised $25 million in venture funding was because they expected to do battle in court. We’ve reached out to IAC and Aereo investor First Round Capital for comment.

UPDATE: Brian Stelter, who covers TV for the New York Times, is reporting that ABC, CBS, and NBC have jointly filed a second lawsuit against Aereo.

Filed under: media

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Kodak passes off Gallery printing service to Shutterfly for $23.8M

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 02:58 PM PST

Just a month after filing for bankruptcy, Eastman Kodak Company is dumping some of its digital assets off on personal photo-publishing company Shutterfly in the hopes of becoming a more tightly focused company.

Shutterfly has agreed, by way of a court-supervised auction process, to purchase Kodak Gallery for $23.8 million, the companies announced Thursday.

“This sale is consistent with our objective of focusing Kodak on a core set of businesses in which we can most profitably leverage our technology and brand strengths,” Kodak CMO Pradeep Jotwani said in a statement.

Kodak Gallery is an online destination where customers in the U.S. and Canada can upload, share, and print their “Kodak moments” as keepsakes. Through the deal, the product’s more than 75 million users and their images will be transferred over to Shutterfly, though customers can choose to opt-out of the transfer and download images instead.

The Shutterfly deal is expected to close in the spring, but will first need to secure the approbation of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Other potential buyers can still submit bids for Kodak Gallery in the interim.

Earlier this month, Kodak announced that it would stop selling cameras.

[via TechCrunch]

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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DEMO’s coming – Last chance to apply

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 02:07 PM PST

DEMODEMO Spring 2012 is just under seven-weeks away (April 17-19 in Santa Clara, CA), and this is your last chance to get in on the action. If you’re working on the next big idea, and about ready to take your company to the next level, we want you on stage at DEMO. The deadline to apply is tomorrow, March 2. Fill out this form now, and we’ll be in touch shortly with more details.

DEMO has proven itself to be a top launch-platform for companies of all sizes over the past 20 years. Startups, mid-level companies, and fully developed, publicly traded corporations have all presented on the DEMO stage before taking off with tremendous amounts of success.

There are of course the massive DEMO success stories from companies like Palm, Salesforce, Netscape, E-Trade, WebEx and VMWare, Sun (Java), and Adobe (Acrobat). But we’ve also had a lot of recent hits including SuccessFactors (which was recently acquired by SAP for $3.4 billion) and Fusion-io (which went public in June).

We've also made plenty of refinements recently, including the start of our DEMO scholarship program, which covers the costs for many early stage companies to launch. You’ll still get all of the same perks that have always come with a DEMO launch like the presentation coaching, PR support, top-notch production team, and the option to show off your company at other DEMO conferences around the world at no cost at all.

So apply here today, and come show the world what you’ve got at DEMO in April.

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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Kiip entices more game developers into its mobile-rewards network

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 02:00 PM PST

Rewards-network Kiip is about to kick off a big effort to get more game developers to use its mobile program. The company is announcing a new $100,000 independent-developer fund to get companies to use Kiip’s rewards in their games.

With Kiip, mobile-game users will see some kind of real-world reward, like a Starbucks coupon, whenever they hit a milestone, such as getting to a high level. Brian Wong, chief executive and co-founder of the company, said that the point is to capture the moment when a user is happy, and to hit them with a positive brand message at the same moment. To date, more than half a billion such “moments” have happened in the network, and the company is serving four rewards per second in the U.S.

In addition to the indie fund, Kiip is opening its rewards network to any developer so they can instantly begin rewarding their players with a self-serve program. By making its system self-serve, Kiip can get an unlimited number of mobile-game developers in its fold. Those developers will be able to see improvements in the form of better user acquisition, engagement, and monetization.

Participating brands include Carl's Jr., Sears, Popchips, Intuit, Kodak, Disney, Pepsi, and more.

Graeme Devine, game designer and owner of GRL Games, said, “One of the first things I noticed using Kiip’s SDK is that players kept coming back to my game because of the rewards. My players are also getting a huge win out of it while I still get to make a great game. I’m blown away by the quality of the rewards too; they are from great brands and people love earning them. Their SDK really was a breeze to integrate – most companies claim ease of integration, but Kiip’s is really the first where it was extremely smooth. Any question I had was answered in no time by their team. It’s been fantastic to work with Kiip.”

The so-called Build fund is for smaller developers who are introducing Kiip-based games. Kiip will dole out about $5,000 each to 20 different game companies.

San Francisco-based Kiip was founded in September 2010 by Wong, Courtney Guertin, and Amadeus Demarzi. The company has raised money from Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, True Ventures, and Crosslink Capital. San Francisco-based GameSalad was founded in 2007. Kiip has 20 employees.

Filed under: dev, games, VentureBeat

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After price hike, Foursquare and StreetEasy switch from Google to OpenStreetMaps

Posted: 01 Mar 2012 01:55 PM PST

Can you spot VentureBeat's brand new NYC office?

Foursquare ditched its corporate overlords and showed some love to a little startup this week. After Google raised the price on its Maps API, Foursquare began looking for new options. It liked OpenStreetMaps, a sort of Wikipedia for geography, but couldn’t translate that to actual map images. Luckily, a little startup called MapBox was working on that problem, and with their help Foursquare left Google behind this week and joined the OpenStreetMaps movement.

The Facebook status of Google and Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley? It’s complicated. The search giant bought his first startup, Dodgeball, but Crowley left after feeling Google wasn’t supporting his project. Google eventually killed the product but has gone on try similar things with HotPot, which was later folded into Places. Foursquare has also poached a healthy number of Google employees over the last few years.

A blog post from Foursquare lays out a few reasons it chose to switch, beyond the pricing:

  • It's based on OpenStreetMap data, so it'll continually get better.
  • They give us a ton of design flexibility. We can alter things like colors and fonts, so we can match our own aesthetic. And we'll keep tweaking the look to make it better.
  • It also allows us to use the open source Leaflet javascript library to power the maps. We look forward to contributing to that project and being part of that community.

Foursquare isn’t the only big service to recently make the switch. Real estate portal StreetEasy also jumped from Google to OpenStreetMaps, after calculating that it would cost them around $300,000 a year to stick with Google’s new API terms.

Both Foursquare and StreetEasy also pointed out that with OpenStreetMaps, they can customize the look and feel of the map to fit their business aesthetic. This is technically possible with Google, but costs extra money. StreetEasy’s Sebastian Delmont said the search giant’s new API usage rates are a bridge too far.

“I think that someone at Google got their pricing wrong by an order of magnitude. Large companies might be willing to pay that kind of licenses, but this is not the CMS market in 1998, where people would pay half a million for a Vignette license and another million for Oracle. There are so many open source options out there that the value of proprietary solutions has come down dramatically. And if Google keeps pushing companies into experimenting with these open source solutions, it’s only going to get better. I think 2012 is going to be the year of the Open Map. And I’m happy to be part of the front lines.”

Filed under: dev

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