11 March, 2012



Love it or hate it, here’s our op-ed take on the week’s news

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 09:34 AM PDT

This week brought a ton of interesting news, and as always, VentureBeat staff writers had an interesting take on it.

In this week’s video, we discuss:

In other news, we’re at South by Southwest right now, hobnobbing with social media goofballs and getting you some really great scoops. Stay tuned now through Tuesday for video coverage and interviews with some impressively big names.

Filed under: video

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13 things you can do instead of going to SXSW

Posted: 10 Mar 2012 04:36 PM PST

Kara Swisher and Brooke Hammerling in GroupMe ponchos at SXSWYou might notice a sudden surge of inexplicable tweets from the digerati over the next few days, as the hippest kids in hipsterdom descend upon Austin, Texas for the annual nerd-fest known as South by Southwest, SXSW, or just “South-By” if you’re really cool.

It’s a festival of parties, schmoozing, drinking, looking for good barbecue, eating breakfast tacos, and, of course, searching for the next big thing, the way Twitter was at SXSW in 2007 and AT&T most definitely wasn’t in 2008. Somewhere in there everyone finds time to go to a hugely packed schedule full of panel discussions on social marketing, entrepreneurship, music, social networking, whether Twitter is burned out, or not. Along the way, everyone will be trying out otherwise-useless apps like Highlight, Nomenclature, and a host of other “stalker” apps.

Feel like you’re missing out? Here are some things you might consider doing for the next few days instead (with a hat tip to Alexis Madrigal).

  1. Throw your own party. Tequilas and tacos seem like a good bet. Invite everyone you can think of who has cool eyeglasses or ironic T-shirts.
  2. Go for bike rides. If you live in a tech-heavy town like San Francisco or Brooklyn, there’s bound to be less traffic than usual in the bike lane.
  3. Start a band.
  4. Catch up on your Netflix queue.
  5. Help hunt down Joseph Kony.
  6. Order a new iPad. (Warning: It might take awhile to arrive.)
  7. Play Magic: The Gathering with your friends.
  8. Start a company to tackle a terrifyingly ambitious idea.
  9. Go hang out in some douchy hipster bar and tweet about it. (Hat tip: Charlie Sorrel)
  10. Learn to fly.
  11. Take up the ukulele.
  12. Enjoy the sunshine. You won’t need a poncho.
  13. Follow #notatsxsw and tweet about what you’re not doing.

Photo: Brooke Hammerling

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Stephen Wolfram has much better data on his life than you do

Posted: 10 Mar 2012 03:43 PM PST

Stephen Wolfram. photo from stephenwolfram.comStephen Wolfram, the genius behind the seminal math software Mathematica, the ambitious book A New Kind of Science, and the quirky search engine Wolfram Alpha, has been collecting data on his life for a long time.

  • For instance, he’s been recording every single keystroke he’s made since 2002, totalling over 100 million (including 7 million hits upon the backspace key).
  • He’s got a complete archive of all of his email and calendar events going back to 1989.
  • He’s got 1.7 million files in his filesystem, with backups going as far back as 1980.
  • He’s kept and scanned (and in many cases OCR’ed) over 230,000 pieces of paper.

But rather than just pile up all this data, Wolfram has also plotted it, revealing some interesting patterns in his work. For instance, like many of us, he’s pretty much sending email almost every hour he’s awake, so plotting email timestamps by hour of the day reveals his sleep patterns.

He can plot the first appearance of new Mathematica functions in his emails, letting him get a rough idea of how creative he’s been over the years.

He can plot how many hours a day he spends on the phone, and how often those phone meetings tend to start on time (answer: quite often, when they’re calls with people outside his company, but not very often with internal meetings).

I’m not entirely sure what I’d do with this much data, but I am certain of one thing: I want tools to do the same thing. To heck with entering my daily calories and workouts manually, I want to track every single keystroke I make, and use that data for … something. It’s one of the most intriguing and obsessive applications of the “quantified self” theme, or what Wolfram calls “personal analytics,” that I’ve seen yet.

I hope Wolfram follows up his impressive post with another one describing the tools he’s used to collect and analyze all this personal data.

Distribution of various activities in Stephen Wolfram's life, as a stacked series of graphs


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A private social network, just for you and your sweetie

Posted: 10 Mar 2012 03:19 PM PST

Photos in the Between appThe Korean entrepreneurs behind Between have a charming idea: Let couples create one-on-one social networks for purely private sharing.

With the app, from South Korea-based VCNC, two people can connect with each another to share private photos and secret messages. The private “chat” function includes support for emoticons, so you can dress up your sweet nothings with as many smiley faces, winks, and hearts as your sweetie can stand. In the future, the network could support coupons or other offers, enabling marketers to reach the desireable demographic of young, happy couples in search of romantic experiences and adventures.

“We want to build a global couple platform,” VCNC’s chief executive Jaeuk Park told VentureBeat.

Between launched on March 7 at the Launch conference in San Francisco. Park and “value innovator” Edward lee visited VentureBeat’s offices to demonstrate the app, which runs on both iPhone and Android phones — and to show off a picture of Israeli president Shimon Peres checking out a demo at the conference (below).

Perhaps the nicest feature of Between is the ability to view previous communications and photos in an album view called the Memory Box (much like Facebook’s Timeline). With the passing months, this will gradually become an annotated photo album documenting your relationship. I can’t think of an easier way to create a romantic history of a relationship, and it’s considerably less narcissistic than gazing at your own personal Timeline. Of course, for some people, it might turn into a rather racy documentary — but that depends on how you and your S.O. use it and what kinds of pictures you like to send each other.

The app is free to download and use. The company plans to add for-fee services soon that will enable it to generate revenue, starting with printed photobooks. Later, the company may offer other premium services, such as high-resolution image backups, the ability to upload video, and more.

Chat window in the Between appAdditionally, Between is looking for partnerships with companies that want to offer special deals to the couple in its network. For instance, a travel company might want to offer a weekend getaway, or a restaurant might offer a 20 percent off coupon for a romantic dinner. Those offers will appear in the app in the future.

Between sounds like a strange sort of social networking service, but actually cuts straight to the heart of what we use network technology for: To connect with one another. Even Mark Zuckerberg recognized this, in his letter to shareholders published in Facebook’s recent document filing for its initial public offering: The biggest social network starts with something very small, the relationship between two people. Between merely takes that thought to an arena where it really matters, your love life.

“Our company vision is to enrich real and offline relationships through emotional communications services,” said Lee.

Plus, as anyone who has ever used social networks will know, it’s all to easy to @ message someone instead of sending a direct message, or accidentally upload a private photo to a public photo album. If you have a social network that’s restricted to just you and your loved one, there’s no risk of those sweet nothings slipping into the public sphere and causing great embarrassment.

Between launched an open beta on November 22, 2011. Since then, the company has updated the app no less than 11 times, and has gathered more than 350,000 users, 54 percent of which use the app weekly. The founders brag that they’ve spent nothing on marketing, and admit that the app has no network effects (since each pair of users is isolated from the rest of the network). The growth has been entirely word of mouth.

Most of the app’s users (78 percent) are in South Korea, but 9 percent are in Japan, 6 percent in China, and 4 percent in the U.S. The company is looking to open a U.S. office soon, in order to expand its presence here and forge locally-relevant marketing relationships.

Of course, I had to ask if it was possible to create Between “networks” with more than one partner. For instance, suppose you’re on a dating site, and still shopping around. Sure, the founders told me: All you need to do is register with a different e-mail address for each partner.

As for polyamorous people or polygamists, I think they’re out of luck. Between is strictly one-on-one for now.

Between is based in Seoul, South Korea. It has raised $1 million in seed funding from Softbank Korea, and employs 15 people. You can download the Between iOS app and the Between Android app for free.

Shimon Peres checks out a demo of Between at LAUNCH

Shimon Peres checks out a demo of Between at LAUNCH, in San Francisco, March 8, 2012. Plus: cupcakes! Photo courtesy VCNC.

Between Value Innovator Edward Lee (left) and CEO Jaeuk Park (right)
Source: Dylan Tweney/VentureBeat

VCNC Value Innovator Edward Lee (left) and CEO Jaeuk Park (right), at VentureBeat's offices in San Francisco. Photo: Dylan Tweney/VentureBeat.


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The future of U.S. manufacturing: Nanotech, 3D printing, and self-aware factories

Posted: 10 Mar 2012 10:44 AM PST

Computer rendering of a carbon nanotube, by Geoff Hutchinson/FlickrPresident Barack Obama reportedly asked Steve Jobs what it would take to bring iPhone manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. to which Jobs replied, "Those jobs aren't coming back."

The exchange, according to a Jan. 12, 2012 report in the New York Times, occurred in Feb. 2011 at a dinner in Silicon Valley. The late Steve Jobs was right. Even though advances in automation, 3D printing, and the rising costs of labor in China will cause manufacturing to return to U.S. shores, we won't need the millions of factory workers we needed in the past. That's because the manufacturing jobs we need filled today are different from the ones we sent abroad. These jobs require fewer workers with very different skills.

Does that mean we are we destined to suffer from chronic unemployment? Far from it. We will create new types of jobs in industries that we have not even conceived of yet. These jobs are likely to raise our standards of living, improve our quality of life, and unleash our creativity.

This may strike you as a utopian dream, but look at the industries that the mobile phone applications economy has spawned since the advent of the iPhone in 2007. An analysis by economist Michael Mandel showed that, as of December 2011, the mobile "app economy" employed 155,000 tech workers in the U.S. Another study by University of Maryland professors Il-Horn Hann, Siva Viswanathan and Byungwan Koh determined that the Facebook apps platform, which was also launched in May 2007, resulted in the direct employment of an estimated 53,434 third-party developers as of September 2011. These numbers don't include the jobs created in related technical fields and other sectors of the economy: 311,000 in mobile apps and, on the lower end of study's estimate range, 129,310 in Facebook apps.

Similarly, the new manufacturing will create new types of jobs. We can only guess what these jobs will be and what new industries will emerge, however. The one thing we can be sure about is that we will require a workforce with much different skills and education than what was required for the manufacturing jobs of yesteryear.

Carl Bass, President and CEO of Autodesk, which develops 3D design software for manufacturing, engineering, and entertainment, sees three key developments that will define the new manufacturing jobs: new materials, new processes, and complex integration of automated systems. (Full disclosure: Autodesk is a corporate founder of Singularity University, where I serve as vice president of academics and innovation in addition to my roles at Stanford, Duke, Emory, University of California-Berkeley and Harvard.)

Engineers and scientists are developing many new types of materials such as carbon nanotubes, ceramic-matrix nanocomposites (and their metal-matrix and polymer-matrix equivalents), and new carbon fibers—such as those which BMW is using in its new i3 Concept vehicle. These new materials enable designers to create products that are stronger, lighter, more energy efficient and more durable—opening up new applications that create new markets and displace traditional materials. The key, however, is the ability to apply these materials in high volume and with low costs. This is a challenge that requires innovations in material processing technologies and more highly skilled employees to manage the complex, new manufacturing processes. Prospective employees will need extensive training in order to work in this new environment.

The process of manufacturing is also changing. In conventional manufacturing, parts are produced by using power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses to physically remove material and achieve a desired geometry. To achieve this, skilled machinists use sharp cutting tools to carve objects from metal wood, plastic, ceramic, and composites. In a new method called "additive manufacturing," parts are produced by melting successive layers of materials based on 3D models—adding materials rather than subtracting them. This allows manufacturers to create complex objects without any sort of tools or fixtures. The process also doesn't produce any waste material. 3D printing is only one example of "additive manufacturing." Machinist jobs will need to evolve in order to deal with greater complexity. This new manufacturing environment will also need legions of 3D designers and people who can operate and maintain sophisticated computer-based equipment.

In today's manufacturing plants, information systems are usually very hierarchical and depend on predetermined rules. As manufacturing systems become more complex, it will become much more difficult for individuals to spot small deviations and trends within the system. This means that factories, in a way, will need to become "self-aware" in order to support optimized systems. This self-awareness will cause transformations in the way people work. There will be far greater use of simulation to look at the manufacturing systems' ability to react to changes, such as the introduction of a new product or factory rearrangement. The line between the virtual and physical world will also start to blur, forcing most manufacturing engineers to become more adept at dealing with virtual control systems simulation and other such technologies.

The good news is that this new manufacturing, if and when it's realized, will allow American manufacturers to compete on a global scale again. But the U.S. will have to fundamentally re-engineer its education system if its citizens are to enjoy a rising standard of living. The current system was designed for a rural, agrarian population, not one that's increasingly urban and competing globally. Tomorrow's manufacturing workforce will have to be prepared to do new jobs that are less mechanical and, instead, require creativity and thought. There is no shortage of problems to solve, products to build, and technologies to develop. So, the more skilled workers the nation has to address these challenges, the better the employment and economic outlook will be.

Photo of Vivek WadhwaThis story originally appeared in the Washington Post. Top image: Rendering of a carbon nanotube by Geoff Hutchinson/Flickr.

Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa is a visiting scholar at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, director of research for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and senior research associate for the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

Filed under: Entrepreneur

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The new mobile platform wars: It’s time to look beyond iOS vs. Android

Posted: 10 Mar 2012 10:21 AM PST

It is shaping up to be a critical year for mobile tech.

If you’re tired of the endless iOS versus Android market share reports, take heart: There are new issues, and new challengers, making 2012′s mobile landscape more complex and more important than ever before.

Windows 8 is emerging as a viable threat to the iPad, while Android tablets continue to struggle. Google and Facebook are continuing to square off for domination of social interactions on your phone. And several mobile payments services, including Google Wallet, Isis, and PayPal’s offerings, are hoping to replace your credit card. More than ever, platforms are fighting to get and maintain a share of what you carry with you every day.

Meanwhile, the years-long iPhone versus Android battle has reached a bit of a standstill. Android continues to dominate in terms of overall smartphones sold (though Apple had a particularly great fiscal first quarter), and Apple remains triumphant in terms of actually making money from its devices.

We’re going to be discussing all of the above, and more, at our second Mobile Summit next month in Sausalito, California. If you haven’t yet scored one of the 180 invitations to this exclusive event, here’s a glimpse of what we’re expecting for the next year in mobile platform wars.

Tablet wars: Episode 3

Photo of a Windows 8 tablet showing the Start screenWe’re now three years into the post-iPad tablet generation, and it seems like the competition is finally beginning to get interesting. After suffering through mostly lackluster Android tablets over the last few years, Microsoft has emerged as a surprisingly refreshing tablet competitor with Windows 8. (Check out our in-depth preview with an early Windows 8 tablet.)

As I’ve written before, Microsoft is taking its approach to tablets a step beyond Apple with Windows 8, something that the company made abundantly clear during its unveiling for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in Barcelona. 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.

Indeed, Microsoft can show Android tablets a thing or two. Google has said that it’s going to be focusing even more on tablets this year, but I think the bigger problem for the search giant is its fundamental misunderstanding of tablets. They’re not just bigger mobile devices, as Android tablets initially were. Instead, tablets are more akin to PCs, thanks to their bigger screens and support for peripherals like keyboards.

The confusingly named new iPad will likely continue to dominate the tablet market (and the now-cheaper iPad 2 won’t do Android tablets any favors either). But Microsoft has a good shot at snagging the second-place spot this year — if it can keep Windows 8 tablets cheap and keep computer makers from ruining its shiny new OS with bloatware.

Facebook and Google battle for your smartphone

One of the biggest reveals from Facebook’s S-1 filing (its first step towards an IPO) was the huge risk that mobile represented for the social networking giant. Facebook said it had an impressive 425 million users accessing through mobile, but at the time it didn’t have a way to monetize them. To address that problem, Facebook recently revealed its mobile ad plan, and it looks a lot like Twitter’s: sponsored posts within your friend stream (see the screenshot to the left).

Google, meanwhile, is still trying to coax consumers into Google+, but it will likely have less trouble making a buck from them. I expect to see sponsored posts from Google+ as well, but knowing Google’s ad mastery, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some surprises up its sleeves.

There’s no doubt that mobile is the next big goal for social networking dominance. You can look to the rise of other mobile-only social networks, like Instagram and Foursquare, as one major indicator. And unless you’re Google, you’d be crazy to take on Facebook head-on when it comes to launching a mainstream social network (LinkedIn and Twitter have been successful by focusing on things completely different from Facebook).

Last year, Facebook launched its innovative Timeline feature, and Google officially launched Google+. With the initial ground laying already done on the desktop side, expect both social networks to spend more time and energy perfecting their mobile experience.

Battle for your mobile wallet

After years of hype, we’ll finally begin to see mobile payments become a reality in 2012. PayPal is expanding its payments program to all Home Depot stores, and it’s gearing up to show off its long-awaited mobile wallet app at South-by-Southwest in a few days. Google Wallet will make its way to even more Android phones, and the carrier-backed Isis will continue to piece together its mobile payments platform.

2012 will also mark the first time most consumers get their hands on mobile payments offerings. Many have dabbled in mobile payments with Starbucks’ uber popular mobile app, but that’s a relatively simple solution. It’ll be interested to see if complete mobile wallets — which will not only handle payments, but also keep track of your purchases, loyalty cards, and wrangle special offers — actually take off with mainstream consumers.

More so than the other platform battles, there’s a ton of money at stake in mobile payments. Juniper, for example, predicts mobile payments to hit a whopping $670 billion by 2015 (with about $74 billion of that being NFC payments).

Since we’re at such a nascent stage, any mobile payment success helps to legitimize the field, according to Isis CEO Michael Abbott. In an interview with VentureBeat at the Mobile World Congress, Abbott said he didn’t think the mobile wallet war actually existed, since all mobile payments solutions are fighting against payment options consumers are already used to.

Looking ahead to VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit and MobileBeat

Our second invite-only Mobile Summit is just three weeks away, where we’ll also be exploring mobile in the enterprise, mobile media, and user acquisition. We’re holding our fifth annual MobileBeat conference on July 10-11 in San Francisco, which will open up the discussion to an even wider audience.

Stay tuned as we explore the shifting mobile landscape, both on this very website and through our conferences.

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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