12 March, 2012



Oh snap: Megaupload had a ‘large number’ of users from DOJ and U.S. Senate

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 09:11 AM PDT

Kim Dotcom

Megaupload, the popular file-hosting site that the U.S. government shut down in mid-January, may have had many users in the U.S. government, according to new interview with founder Kim Dotcom.

Dotcom (pictured) and several other Megaupload employees were named in a 72-page indictment issued in January. It alleged that Dotcom and his colleagues facilitated $500 million in damages to copyright owners.

In a new interview with TorrentFreak, Dotcom said that Megaupload has been “negotiating” with the Department of Justice to get back files that were lost when Megaupload was shut down. At the time of the shut down, many users were vocally upset that they lost legal files that were hosted on Megaupload.

While Dotcom talked about helping users get their files back, he also let slip another revealing detail about Megaupload that could make the U.S. government look bad: “Guess what – we found a large number of Mega accounts from US Government officials including the Department of Justice and the US Senate,” Dotcom said.

If Dotcom’s statement holds true, it will likely strengthen Megaupload’s position in court. If the files U.S. employees were sharing were legal, Megaupload can use them as an example to show how it is a legitimate business. Alternately, if the files government employees were sharing were illegal, Megaupload can use them to show how it had no control over what users were doing and that even the government had copyright violators.

The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) offered help to those users in early February, but Megaupload customers still have no simple way to get their files back. Megaupload users who are still without access to important files (including government employees!) can e-mail the EFF at megauploadmissing@eff.org.

Dotcom is now out on bail in New Zealand, but the U.S. government has filed extradition papers to send him to the U.S. for trial. Dotcom maintains that he is innocent of all charges.

Filed under: media

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Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures actually doing better after The Old Republic’s launch (exclusive)

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PDT

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, an online gaming world aimed at fans of the animated TV show, has crossed more than 10 million registered users.

Senior producer Todd Carson said in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat that the game hasn’t suffered a dip in users even though another big competitor, Electronic Arts’ Star Wars: The Old Republic, launched in December and got more than 1.7 million paying subscribers.

“We haven’t noticed much in common with the audiences,” Carson said at the recent Game Developers Conference. “Theirs is a hardcore massively multiplayer online game with a different gameplay style than what we offer. Ours is more casual. It doesn’t have as much character development, and we have features such as the ability to own and decorate your own house. It hasn’t affected us at all, the fact there is another cool Star Wars game out there. December and January were our best months since our launch.”

Clone Wars Adventures, published by Sony Online Entertainment, has been out since September 2010, and it gets a continuous stream of new users in part because of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV show that appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on the Cartoon Network. The show is now in its fifth season. The game is a family-oriented, free-to-play title with subscription options.

“We get a big influx of users whenever a new episode airs on TV,” Carson said. “We consider the game and the TV show to be one entertainment property.”

One of the big episodes airing soon is a show that features the return of Darth Maul, the devilish Sith Lord who Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi sliced in half (but apparently didn’t kill) in the Star Wars: Episode I film, which is out in stereoscopic 3D in theaters now. Maul is now on prosthetic legs, and he’ll make a splash in the online game after his appearance on TV.

Carson says that about 30 percent of the game’s users are adults, and 70 percent are children. That may be one reason why The Old Republic hasn’t cannibalized the Clone Wars Adventures audience, since the EA game is aimed at an adult audience. The primary age group for Clone Wars Adventures is eight to 12-year-old boys.

Asked why the game is so popular, Carson said, “It’s Star Wars. Who doesn’t love Star Wars? The TV show is great, looks great, has lots of action. And we’ve taken that and put it right into our game.”

The team had 55 developers working on the online game before it launched and it now has about 25 or so developers working on it. Full told, counting operations, customer support, and other staff, there may be around 150 people working on Clone Wars Adventures. Every week, Sony Online Entertainment collaborates with George Lucas’s team at Lucasfilm. The Lucas folks share assets from the show so that Sony’s artists can craft additions for the game.

And the Lucas staff reviews what Sony does to make sure it all fits with the Star Wars canon. Mary Bihr, vice president of global publishing at LucasArts, says that Clone Wars Adventures does an exceptional job of integrating the storyline from the TV show.

Sony’s team often writes separate storylines, such as new fiction in the game that will bridge the end of one TV episode season to the start of the next one.

The free-to-play Clone Wars Adventures now has a wide variety of gameplay, from 3D minigames to tower-defense battles. About 20 percent of the game is available for free to players. But Jedi members pay $5.99 a month and get access to the full experience.

At the one-year point, Clone Wars Adventures had reached eight million registered players. It has had more than 80 updates, including some major releases that coincide with events in the animated TV series, including the summer release of Mission on Iceberg Three, the minigame Aquatic Assault, and the combat environment in the Battle of Umbara. (In December, this addition introduced combat for the first time.). More than 1,000 items have been added.

Clone Wars Adventures now has 584 stages of gameplay for players. There are 96 trophies to earn and 20 minigames, the most popular including Republic Defender, Galactic Forces, Lightsaber Dueling, and Starfighter. The most popular character to battle in the game is the Rancor monster on Umbara. The game has 30 droids and creatures, more than 15 titles for players to earn, 37 lightsabers, 36 ranged weapons, and 18 other weapons. And Jar Jar Binks has been tossed more than 4.5 billion meters in the Stunt Gungan game.

Darth Maul will be making his debut in the Clone Wars Adventures game on March 15, horns and all. The Sony team prepared for Maul’s debut for four months. Beyond that update, another world is in the works.

“We’re going to have a lot of content in one update, like Darth Maul’s lightsaber,” Carson said.

Check out our giveaway of Gold Death Watch armor from Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures today.

Filed under: games

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Visual.ly’s new service lets anyone make infographics, even if they stink at Photoshop

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 08:16 AM PDT


Infographics startup Visual.ly is launching its automated service today that plans to quench the public’s thirst for interesting and visually stimulating data without the need of Photoshop or a team of expensive designers.

Visual.ly’s service intends to create custom infographics using information from various databases and APIs, such as those from social networks or statistics. Users only need to specify the kind of information they want to visually display to produce an infographic. The company showed an example of what the service can do with its Twitter Visualization Project in July, as VentureBeat previously reported.

The new service allows people to plug in data from their Twitter or Facebook accounts, but more data integration from other places will soon follow, Stew Langille, co-founder and CEO of Visual.ly told VentureBeat.

“Social media is really just the first step in what we’re trying to accomplish,” Langille said, adding that the company is working to make things like sports statistics available through their infographic service. “Increasingly, there will be more tools for people to use for free.”

The automated infographic service is available for free to everyone now and is the first step of Visual.ly’s plan. Step two, Langille said, will be to roll out a premium version to brands and companies. Visual.ly sports a collection of over 11,000 infographics (shared by its users), 4,000 designers, and about 2 million unique visitors per month.

Founded in 2011, the startup raised an initial $2 million round of funding in October from Crosslink Capital, SoftTech VC, 500 Startups, Kapor Capital and others.

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Peel now lets you cheer (and boo) American Idol singers as they humiliate themselves

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 07:44 AM PDT

The social TV startup Peel has added yet another feature to its multifaceted iOS app: the ability to boo and cheer American Idol contestants in real-time.

The American Idol integration — which isn’t an official partnership with Fox — serves as the pilot launch for Peel’s real-time TV engagement platform. So now not only can you use Peel’s app to discover things to watch and remotely control your TV (using the company’s hardware accessory), it’ll also be the place where you can commiserate with your friends over your favorite show as it’s airing.

“It looks like the definition of social TV today is checking into a show and tweeting about it, and we think that’s an interesting starting point, but it’s far from the finish line,” Scott Ellis, Peel’s vice president of marketing, told VentureBeat in an interview. With real-time engagement, Peel is looking to push the concept of social TV even further.

Here’s how it works: While you’re watching American Idol, you can jump into the real-time feed in the free Peel iOS app. You can boo and cheer singers as they appear on the show, which is synchronized by someone in the Peel offices viewing the East Coast Idol stream. Every week Peel will issue a report showing how the community responded to each performance — data that both Fox and fans could find interesting.

Ellis tells me that the company didn’t form an official partnership with Fox because such negotiations would have taken too long. And since Peel isn’t using any of Fox’s content, they didn’t need the network’s permission anyway. Once the company has some useful information from its engagement usage, it’ll bring that data to Fox for further discussion.

I played around with an early version of the real-time integration (obviously, without a live American Idol showing), and it performed smoothly. But the real test for Peel will be to get its users on-board, and to market itself to fans of American Idol who haven’t yet heard of its app.

After American Idol, Peel will look to integrating live engagement with other reality shows like Dancing with the Stars, as well as for special-interest sports like the Olympics. The company is also working on bringing the live engagement platform to its Android apps within the next few months.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Peel landed $16.7 million in a second round of funding last year.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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How Tumblr could make $100M a year if it just tried

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 07:28 AM PDT

This is a guest post from Dave Lifson, co-founder of Postling, a unified social media dashboard for small businesses. It originally appeared here

I believe e-commerce can make Tumblr over $100M a year. I've shared my thoughts with the Tumblr team directly, but I figured I'd share it with all of you as well. It comes in two flavors: independent stores (bottom up) and retail partnerships (top down).

Independent stores are like Etsy, but not limited to handmade – Tumblr users can sell what they craft, draw, photograph, and compose directly to their followers. Tumblr facilitates the transaction via credit card or Paypal, taking a modest 5% transaction fee. Not only does this generate meaningful revenue, it creates a really amazing virtuous cycle for user growth: sellers promote their tumblogs offline to drive business, which drives more users registrations, which create more sellers, who then promote their shops, etc. At least, that's what we saw at Etsy.

At last estimate, Etsy did ~$3M/month in revenue, an easily attainable goal for Tumblr. The integration is non-instrusive: Tumblr users can choose to add a "Purchase" button to the bottom of their post that is tied to an item they've added to their tumblr shop (also viewable at user.tumblr.com/store). Followers who click the button input their billing and shipping info via an overlay to purchase, then are returned right to where they were in the dashboard. Like at Etsy and Ebay, Tumblr processes the payments but otherwise leaves transaction coordination to the buyer and seller. Down the road, Tumblr could aggregate all of these items together into a Tumblr Marketplace, for people who want to exclusively browse the items for sale by all Tumblr users.

Retail partnerships would work like this: Tumblr does custom integrations with the major retailers (Barneys, Nordstrom, Gilt) so that every time a post containing a link to a partner's product page is detected, a "Purchase" button is embedded at the bottom of the post. Clicking the button leads the user through a purchase pipeline. Tumblr gets a 5-15% affiliate fee. I believe Tumblr can negotiate very aggressive revshare deals because of the volume, the incremental revenue, and the demographic. The reason why nobody can do this except Tumblr is because Tumblr's users are curators, and curators are the missing component. Amazon is great at selling books but is awful at softlines (retail speak for fashion items) because there are so many items and they go out of style every 3 months. (Read my post for more detail.) Tumblr's community of curators is the secret ingredient that I believe can bring e-commerce's current single digit share of the $225 billion US fashion market into the double digits.

Here's the math: Tumblr claims 60M posts per day or 22B per year. If we assume 0.1% of posts fall into the e-commerce category, each post gets viewed by 200 followers, 1% of those followers buy something, and Tumblr makes a $2.40 transaction fee per sale (8% on $30 item), that's $105 Million per year.

Given a small team with the right skills, Tumblr could get this going in 3-6 months. The $100M question is, why aren't they already doing this?

Image via Flickr user InaFrenzy

Filed under: social

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Nokia’s tablet plan: A 10-inch Windows 8 ARM slate by year end

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 06:50 AM PDT

Stephen Elop and the Nokia crewWe’ve been expecting Nokia to announce some sort of Windows 8 tablet soon, and it looks like the company may be gearing up to announce just that.

Nokia is apparently working on a 10-inch Windows 8 tablet running an ARM-based processor for release by the end of the year, according to a report by Digitimes, a Taiwanese news site with admittedly flimsy rumors at times.

In this case though, I don’t find Digitimes’ report too hard to believe. Nokia has gone all-in with Windows Phone 7, and its CEO Stephen Elop has often mentioned the opportunity tablets provide. Microsoft is betting its entire tablet strategy on Windows 8 — both through full-fledged Windows 8 PCs in tablet form and more lean Windows on ARM (WoA) devices, which won’t run legacy Windows apps.

It makes total sense for Nokia to be one of the leading Windows 8 tablet makers. Not only has the company consistently shown its manufacturing expertise (look at the gorgeous Lumia phones), it’s also in the rare position to build a WoA tablet with fresh eyes. Nokia hasn’t wasted its time building Android tablets (though it did pioneer early tablets with devices like the N800), and it’s not coming at slates from the perspective of a traditional computer maker like Dell. (We’ll forget the Booklet 3G ever existed.)

According to Digitimes, the Nokia Windows 8 tablet will run a Qualcomm dual-core CPU — most likely the company’s Snapdragon S4. Nokia is said to be outsourcing production of the tablet to Compal, and it’s aiming for initial shipments of around 200,000 units.

Photo Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual MobileSummit 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 themobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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With 4 women leading 300 men, Game Insight will triple revenues in 2012 (exclusive)

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Game Insight has quietly become a big force in mobile. The Moscow-based game publisher owns a majority stake in 15 game studios with more than 300 developers. The company has published dozens of games on Android and iOS. And it is run by five women.

Now the company is expanding and making some noise about it. Alisa Chumachenko, chief executive and founder (pictured below, right), said in an interview that the company aims to triple its revenues from $50 million in 2011 to more than $150 million in 2012. It is expanding from greater Russia to San Francisco with a new office that could have dozens of employees. It plans on publishing 26 games this year and will expand to publish third-party games, developed by outside studios. The first third-party games may hit the market by this summer.

The company is one more example of how the world has flattened in the game business, with barriers to entry dropping so that anyone with talent can start a mobile game business and become an international success. In Russia, companies such as ZeptoLab, Mail.ru, and others have proven they can make hits.

“We’ve learned how to make good games and how to market them,” Chumachenko said in an interview at the Game Developers Conference. “Now we are making the bridge from Moscow to San Francisco. And I’m very much thinking about how we will go to Asia.”

The company is profitable and it already has 50 million monthly active users. In February alone, it grossed $6.5 million. It released its first Android game in China a couple of weeks ago. Darya Trushkina (pictured above, left), vice president of business development, is heading the expansion in San Francisco, where there may be 30 to 40 employees by year-end.

Chumachenko has been in the game business since 2000. She was the marketing and ad chief for Astrum Online Entertainment until the company merged with Mail.Ru Group in 2009. After that, she started Game Insight, which started out first as an incubator. The company has only 15 employees in its headquarters, which handles publishing and marketing, but it owns a 51 percent to 75 percent stake in its 15 studios.

“I knew a lot of talented developers and focused on investing in them,” Chumachenko said.

Besides Chumachenko and Trushkina, other executives include Olga Skvortsova, chief operating officer; Alexandra Pestretsova, vice president of marketing, and Leonid Sirotin, vice president of production.

Those studios publish games through 6L (formerly 6waves Lolapps) on Facebook. Game Insight publishes its own games on the mobile platforms. The company tried social games on Facebook at first, but found the market was saturated with Zynga titles. Then it launched its first game on mobile in January, 2011. The game, Paradise Island, debuted on Android just as Google was kicking off its in-game payments system to enable free-to-play games.

Within two days, the title jumped to the top-grossing games list on Android in 26 countries and stayed there for 20 weeks. In the first month, revenue was $700,000 and in the second month, revenue jumped to $1.2 million, even with minimal advertising expenses of around $20,000.

Game Insight also broke new ground when it created Mystery Manor (pictured at top), the first hidden-object game on Facebook, which was followed by Playdom’s big hit Gardens of Time. Hidden object games are a big deal in single-player games on the casual web, but Game Insight and Playdom turned the genre into a more social experience.

“We decided to focus heavily on the Android market and word-of-mouth marketing,” Chumachenko said. Then the company expanded into iOS. By the end of 2011, it was publishing on Facebook, Android, and iOS.

The studios are spread out across Russia, Byelorussia, and Ukraine.

“We concentrate on getting the best of the best,” Chumachenko said. “We help them understand free-to-play monetization. To us, quality of content is what matters. That gives you word-of-mouth marketing and that is what leads to the best results.”

As for getting five women to run the company, Chumachenko said, “We look for the best people. We are not afraid to innovate.”

[Photo credit: Dean Takahashi]

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Wikia, Jimmy Wales’ for-profit company, passes IGN to become the largest gaming site on the web

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 05:20 AM PDT

What happens when you combine the Wiki model of open, collaborative editing with just a pinch of old school oversight? In the case of Wikia, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales for-profit company, you get the largest gaming site in the world, with 26 million monthly unique views, moving past IGN and Gamespot for the first time ever last month. These numbers come from Comscore data seen by VentureBeat which has not yet been made public.

Just as anyone can create a new article on Wikipedia, anyone can create a new community in Wikia. The founder sets the rules for that site and elects the moderators who help to govern it. There are now over 300,000 wikis generating around 50 million unique visitors a month. 600 new sites are created each day.

Wikia CEO Craig Palmer stopped by the VentureBeat office during a recent visit to New York to talk about what the company is doing to try and capitalize on its massive traffic and growth. “We’re not a forum or a place for Q&A. These are communities creating lasting content, like a traditional media company, but without the hierarchy.”

Wikia has received $14 million in financing from Bessemer, First Round, Amazon and a list of big names angels like Ron Conway, Reid Hoffman, and Mitch Kapor. Palmer believes that its well positioned to thrive in an age when social media seems to be dominating the conversation.

“On Facebook and Twitter there is so much content, it gets lost in the stream. Our users are also creators of these sites, so they are deeply engaged,” Palmer said. The average member of the gaming Wikia, for example, spends 30 minutes a day on one of the companies sites.

To manage its two largest and fastest growing properties, gaming and entertainment, Wikia poached the heads of IGN’s gaming and movie sites, Hilary Goldstein and Eric Moro. While Wikia says it has been profitable since 2005, it is looking to capture more high-end brand dollars by creating a more refined editorial product. Goldstein and Moro will manage hub pages that collect the best in gaming and entertainment from around Wikia.

“We’re turning up the dial in terms of our strategic relationships and aiming to provide our community with more exclusive and pre-release material. Hilary and Eric can really help us to craft those partnerships,” Palmer told us.

Image via Flickr user Sendoa Portuondo

Filed under: games, media, social, VentureBeat

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PayOne aims to enable frictionless mobile lifestyle

Posted: 12 Mar 2012 03:00 AM PDT

PaymentOne, a mobile payments startup, is rebranding itself today as PayOne, an enabler of a “frictionless mobile lifestyle” where you can use your mobile phone to pay for just about anything.

The 12-year-old company is focused on powering carrier-billed mobile payments beyond the typical borders of mobile content purchases. It is also relaunching its service as a one-click mobile payments platform that can be used to pay for everything for pay-per-view movies to purchasing a mobile app.

"Different from offline and e-commerce, every added data element or keystroke required of a mobile consumer on the small screen is a serious point of friction and a measurable point of failure or falloff for a merchant," said Joe Lynam, chief executive of PayOne. "Requiring the consumer to enroll, pre-register, provide sensitive personal or credit card data or establish a separate user name and password to make a simple payment amounts to far too much friction for a mobile user. The new PayOne brand represents our mission to streamline and eliminate every single step, process and keystroke possible to optimize the mobile payment experience for the consumer and our partner merchants."

For consumers, the company’s service is simple. It lets them pay for digital services by charging it to their monthly mobile phone bill. They make a purchase using PayOne’s “Pay by Mobile” button. Then they enter their mobile or fixed-line phone number, and then enter a pin code that they receive via text message to confirm the purchase.

But it’s a complex business. San Jose, Calif.-based PayOne has arrangements with 1,000 carriers in more than 80 countries, with services such as authentication and fraud management. It pays in seven days in contrast to traditional 60 to 90 day pay periods. Full told, it has billed more than $5 billion worth of transactions to mobile bills. It supports 23 languages. Rivals include BilltoMobile, Zong and Boku. By 2016, remote mobile payments will surpass $250 billion by 2016, according to Jupiter Research.

The company envisions paying for games, app downloads, streaming music, movie tickets, parking, merchandise advertised billboards, items with QR codes, bus tickets, or donations while on the run. One of the company’s new customers is Snap MyLife, which uses PayOne’s AnyPhone service to pay for digital goods and services, both offline and online. Princeton, N.J.-based Snap MyMobile currently has 500,000 subscribers for its service associated with photo sharing.

"There are a dizzying number of use cases where newly connected devices coupled with a simple transaction process will enhance and improve the way we live, work and play," adds Lynam. "Even the simplest example of paying for parking with a single click from my mobile phone, receiving a text alert when I'm about to run out of time, and the ability to remotely pay for more time with just one click, represents a true convenience that is a reality today with PayOne."

The company is profitable and privately held. PayOne has raised $13.5 million to date and it has 55 employees.

Filed under: mobile

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VentureBeat heads to Israel Innovation Marathon — in search of Startup Nation

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 11:45 PM PDT

Next week, I’ll will be traveling to Tel Aviv, in a long overdue trip to one of the most innovative places in the world — especially in the area of security start-ups.

For those of you who read VentureBeat, you’ll know I’ve been on a world tour, trying to find the most innovative companies to write about, but also to invite to our conference DEMO.

What better place to have as our next stop than the Israel Innovation Marathon, on March 27-28? The event is being organized by BootCamp Ventures, the same group that organized the Istanbul tech conference I attended back in November.

I’ll be opening the event with a talk about the global landscape of investing, comparing the major tech centers of the U.S., Asia and Europe. Honestly, though, my main reason for going will be to explore Israel, while trying to answer the question posed by the book Startup Nation: “How is it that Israel — a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources — produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?”

At the event, I’ll also be interviewing two respected Israeli high-tech investors, Zohar Zisapel, founder of RAD, and Ed Mklavsky, founder of Gemini Israeli Funds, where we’ll discuss similarities and differences between Silicon Valley, and what the one can learn from the other.

I’ll also be moderating start-up presentation sessions featuring some of the hottest new companies in the region.

Joining me will be 14 other experts and investors from different countries.

Can’t wait. For now, though, I’m stuck in the tumble jumble world of Austin’s exciting SXSW, where the buzz never stops. It’s like 1:45am right now, and the place is still alive. Notably, an Israeli-based company, Fooducate earlier today won a mobile application competition hosted by analytics company Flurry, beating out 700 other competitors. Fooducate is a pretty awesome app, in my opinion, providing key nutrition information about grocery store items while you shop (it lets you scan bar codes with your phone, providing you all kinds of information). I interviewed the founder and CEO, Hemi Weingarten, whose team is based in Tel Aviv. Hope to write more about it soon.

I’m really looking forward to meeting more disruptors in Israel.

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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Will CNN buy Mashable for $200M? (rumor)

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 11:40 PM PDT

CNN will reportedly buy social media blog Mashable for more than $200 million, according to Reuters blogger Felix Salmon.

Salmon said that a source told him that CNN will announce the deal on Tuesday. We are checking with Mashable for confirmation but are unable to confirm anything at the moment. If true, it would be the latest marriage of old and new media in a changing landscape of internet news.

The deal price is a big one, considering that Mashable was founded by Pete Cashmore from his home in Aberdeen, Scotland in July 2005. The company now has dozens of writers and has more than 50 million monthly page views. Cashmore himself has 2.7 million followers on Twitter.

For some perspective, TechCrunch, a competing tech blog, sold to AOL last year for less than $30 million. AOL also purchased the Huffington post last year, paying $315 million.

Cashmore won the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders award last year.

[Photo credit: Mashable]

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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The Japan-China connection: DeNA and Sina team upin mobile gaming

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 11:23 PM PDT

Japan’s DeNA and China’s Sina have teamed up to form a big mobile gaming market.

DeNA is a $1.4 billion company that operates the Mobage mobile social gaming network with 35 million lucrative users. Under the deal, Sina will enable users of its giant microblogging platform, Weibo.com, to log into DeNA’s Mobage platform with their existing account information.

The move shows that Japan’s DeNA is wasting no time in expanding from its Japanese and U.S. operations (it owns Ngmoco in San Francisco) to other big markets around the world as it seeks to build a multibillion-dollar mobile social gaming empire.

That means Weibo.com’s 300 million members will be able to play the Chinese-language version of Mobage. DeNA and Sina plan to create a special Mobage web site under a Sina domain in April, where Weib.com users can download Mobage China games to their Android-based smartphones. The Mobage icon will appear inside the Weibo.com Android app, making it easy to log in.

About 50 percent of Weibo.com users access the service from mobile devices, and the Weibo.com mobile app has been downloaded more than 40 million times. DeNA launched Mobage China for Android in July 2011 and iOS in November. It has 30 games currently available.

Filed under: games, mobile, social

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Instagram hits 27M users, founder waves anticipated Android app in front of crowd

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 07:09 PM PDT

Android Instagram

Instagram announced that it hit 27 million users today, and continues its ongoing mantra that the photo sharing app will come to Android “really soon.”

Instagram is a photo sharing social network that only exists on the Apple iPhone. It allows people to take pictures, assign filters, and then post them to a variety of social networks including Facebook and Twitter. In November 2011, the company had already amassed 13 million members in its 13 months of existence. That number has now grown by 14 million in the last 5 months. Founder Kevin Systrom, who spoke about the achievement at interactive conference South By Southwest, did not disclose how many of those 27 million users were actually active users.

He did, however, wave a phone for the audience that supposedly had the Instagram Android application on it. The application has been long anticipated by Android users who have waited nearly a year and a half for the iteration. But its estimated time of arrival remains the same as always: “coming soon.” Systrom did note that the application was fast, however, and the company has “been able to put together one of the most incredible Android apps you will ever see.”

Despite the long turn-around time for Instagram’s Android app, the company may be looking into a Windows 7 phone version.

It is also rumored that the company is raising a $40 million round of funding that could rocket its valuation from $25 million up to $500 million. It hasn’t yet figured out a business model, however, at least not one that it has mentioned publicly. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, venture capitalists are hesitant to jump into the funding pool without first knowing what Instagram’s financial potential is. The company lacks advertising — a possible business model — as of now, and may be hard pressed to include ads in its photo stream. It could, however, monetize brands pages.

(Yeah, I drew that little Android dude.)

via CNN

Filed under: mobile

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Khan Academy releases iPad app, mobile education is upon us

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 05:33 PM PDT

Khan Academy iPad App

The Khan Academy released its iPad application today, bringing its new wave of education to the mobile world.

Currently, the Khan Academy has over 3,000 videos of all different subjects in its education warehouse. Progress on these videos can be viewed with information about how long students took to answer practice questions, and whether they’re stuck on a certain topic. The app now allows you to watch these videos offline by downloading them to your iPad. You can also as sync progress between your devices, according to Fast Company. For instance, if you’re watching a video on your laptop, it will pick up in the same place on your iPad to be viewed wherever you go.

People often repeat certain sections of Khan Academy’s videos to understand the topic better. In fact, creator recent Sal Khan attributed this ability to re-watch a lesson without the pressure of a human teacher to the success of the program at this year’s RSA conference. For this reason, the company added easier backtracking to its videos. A list of “subtitles” and associated timestamps appear below the video for you to click on and return to that segment. The iPad app does not yet support practice exercises, but the company does plan to include them in the future.

Khan Academy is the brainchild of Sal Khan who was working as a hedge fund manager when he started tutoring his younger cousin in math. The young girl could answer harder, logic-based questions, but was held back by her inability to understand units. After writing small programs to help her practice their tutoring sessions, he decided to create full-out YouTube videos for her to watch on her own. That’s where the idea took off, and soon he was tutoring up to 25 of his family members.

Apple, the iPad’s creator, has been getting into e-learning as well. Recently it announced its textbook initiative, iBooks 2. iBooks 2 takes existing textbooks and makes them into interactive e-textbooks, where students can watch demonstration videos, look up words as they read and more. Companies such as Inkling, Chegg and Kno have similar offerings as well. Apple introduced iBooks Author in that same initiative, which helps publishers automatically create e-books through drag and drop templates, as opposed to taking a print book and transforming it to meet the digital generation’s needs.

Schools have been experimenting with digital education and have been rolling out experimental iPad programs to see how students react to the technology. The Menlo School in Atherton, Calif. has had one of these programs in place for roughly a year. It gave iPads out to its eighth and tenth graders to read, do projects on and take home.

The Khan Academy iPad app is currently available in the App Store for free.

Filed under: mobile

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IndieGoGo releases new algorithm for promoting crowdfunding projects

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 04:25 PM PDT

People money

Crowdfunding website IndieGoGo has flipped the switch on its promotional algorithm, which pushes campaigns to its front page. The algorithm adds, what it says is, more democracy to a human bias-driven industry.

“Like America, IndieGoGo is equal opportunity for all, but no guarantees,” said co-founder and chief executive Slava Rubin in an interview with VentureBeat.

IndieGoGo, like competitor Kickstarter, allows groups to go online, post a funding request and accept money. Anyone with a big idea down to an individual project can create a page and set a funding goal. Goals are not set in stone, however. Some competing crowdfunding webites won’t allow its users to collect promised money unless it has hit a funding goal. IndieGoGo, on the other hand, lets people choose whether to “fix” their funding to an all-or-nothing structure, or take whatever they can get.

The algorithm, which Rubin explained lightly given its proprietary nature, ranks different funding projects based on interactions with its IndieGoGo page. It takes into account how many comments and social shares the page has, how many times the author uses the page to communicate or updates the page, as well as if the project is actually attracting funding. These factors all determine whether a project is featured on the homepage, as well as in newsletters and other promotional materials.

This process of choosing what to feature used to be a combination of both human decision and mechanical algorithms, but Rubin wanted the human element completely removed. For him, adding a human element took away the “democracy” of crowdfunding. He wanted everyone to have an equal chance of finding investors. In theory, this move should also promote users to engage on the website and draw in more traffic.

“We are really putting the power of exposure into the campaign owners’ hands and the community,” said Rubin. “If you do your work well, you do updates, you get people to fund, view, and promote…you know you’ll have a great opportunity to be on the homepage.”

Competitor Kickstarter recently grabbed attention for hitting its highest funding round yet: $1 million dollars raised by two separate companies on February 9, 2011. The iPhone Elevation Dock hit $1 million, soon to be outdone by Double Fine Adventures, which hit $1million in 24 hours that same day. Another project raised $1 million soon thereafter, putting the total for Kickstarter at three million-dollar-funded companies in two weeks. IndieGoGo’s highest amount funded is a bit more modest at $325,000.

IndieGoGo was founded in January 2008 and is headquartered in San Francisco, Calif. Recently, the company took on its own funding, a $1.5 million round led by MHS Capital (an investor in VentureBeat, see our ethics statement here) and Zynga co-founder Steve Schoettler.

Image via Shutterstock

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Geoloqi adds 3 partnerships, extends reach to 1.6M devs

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 01:43 PM PDT

mobile map

Geoloqi, a company helping developers add geo-location abilities to their applications, announced three partnerships today that will enable the company to reach to 1.6 million mobile developers.

Geoloqi, which is pronounced geo-low-key, provides tools developers need to add geo-location features into their apps, but are generally a pain to build. The company closed on three partnerships today with Appcelerator, Factual and Locaid. Appcelerator helps 1.6 million developers create mobile applications in a general sense. Locaid processes location-oriented queries for over 350 million smartphones and adds a layer of security to mobile data transactions, and Factual provides databases for developers to tap into and make content-rich apps.

The tools Geoloqi offers can be used to develop with any carrier and on any smartphone. These include geofencing, which allows an application to monitor a specified area and provide interactions to users based on whether they’re in that zone,  “battery-safe trigger zones,” which tells an app to reduce its GPS monitoring based on whether a user is near a geofence, and “location-based messaging” which pings a user with information relevant to where they are.

The company is not alone in the space, however. NeuAer and SimpleGeo, recently acquired by Urban Airship, both produce similar products. Geoloqi founder Amber Case explained that SimpleGeo and other competitors don’t provide “true location-based analytics or true geofencing,” in an interview with VentureBeat when the company first opened its SDK.

Factual, which provides application programming interfaces (APIs) for topic-specific databases, absorbed SimpleGeo’s “places” customers when the latter company was purchased by Urban Airship. “Places” was SimpleGeo’s product that allowed developers to use Factual’s database. It seems Geoloqi will use the service in a very similar, if not same way. Eva Ho, a vice president at Factual, explained that the partnership helped Geoloqi reach its benchmark of 60 million business places available to developers.

Geoloqi launched in February 2012 and has taken on $350,000 in funding thus far.

Image via Shutterstock

Filed under: dev, mobile

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Gowalla goes dark during SXSW 3 years after launch

Posted: 11 Mar 2012 11:53 AM PDT


Location-based social network Gowalla is, as of today, no longer available to the public. The company was recently purchased by social networking giant Facebook.

Gowalla’s website now loads to a page that says, “”Thank you for going out with Gowalla. It was a pleasure to journey with you around the world. Download your check-ins, photos, and lists here soon.”

It’s an appropriate time to take the service completely offline as well. The company launched at South-By-Southwest, an interactive conference, in 2009. The conference known for helping mobile and social companies get off the ground – Twitter and Foursquare got their starts here –is taking place this week in Austin, Texas. The company went through ups and downs, however, changing direction from a sociallocation-sharing network to social travel.

Facebook, which often acquires companies for talent, purchased Gowalla in early December 2011. Co-founder Josh Williams explained in a blog post that he and fellow co-founder Scott Raymond met Facebook at its developer conference f8. They found a fit and soon thereafter Gowalla was purchased. The Gowalla team is working on Facebook’s Timeline feature, and its employees have been relocated to Facebook’s California offices. Existing data from Gowalla’s services will not be transferred or owned by Facebook.

Gowalla’s contact and help pages are still available for users.

Image from Gowalla

Filed under: social

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