15 March, 2012



Is Seattle the next Silicon Valley? (Infographic)

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 09:15 AM PDT


This week the eyes of the tech world were firmly fixed on Austin, Tex. for South by Southwest Interactive. Partly because of that event, Austin is often mentioned with Silicon Valley and New York City as one of America’s great tech hubs.

Let’s not forget about Seattle. Cost of gas, energy, and real estate (not to mention natural beauty) are just some of the reasons why the Emerald city is not only one of the best places in the country to live, but also one of the most attractive places for startups to bootstrap or for bigger companies to make the hires necessary to scale their operations.

As this infographic demonstrates, average salaries are lower in the Pacific Northwest for positions such as Project Manager, as well as cost per square footage of office space. There is also a deep talent pool in the form of top tech companies and several strong universities with engineering programs.

Even though Austin hogs the spotlight this time of year, spend a few minutes soaking up Seattle in the infographic below. It may leave some entrepreneurs willing to consider a move.

Infographic via Seattle Nissan  (Click image below to enlarge)

John Boitnott is a writer and social media consultant who has worked at Village Voice Media and NBC. He is now Vice President of Business Development at Hasai Inc.

Seattle Infographic


Filed under: VentureBeat

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Japan’s Gree launches first U.S. mobile social game, Zombie Jombie

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PDT

It’s just a cute little zombie game, but it could be the start of something big.

Gree has become a billion-dollar company in Japan with its mobile social games network. Now it is launching Zombie Jombie, the first title made by Gree’s U.S. developers for an American audience.

The title is an important one for Gree, which is competing with a larger rival Japanese firm DeNA, which has launched its worldwide mobile social network Mobage in an attempt to expand far beyond its audience of 35 million Japanese users.

It also marks the beginning of a big marketing campaign that includes a $50 million advertising budget, most of which will be spent when Gree launches its own mobile social network for gamers in the second quarter. To put that amount in perspective, it is the same sum Sony is spending on its enormous launch of the PlayStation Vita gaming handheld in the U.S.

Gree and DeNA are locked in a fierce battle to turn American mobile gamers into lucrative audiences in the same way that phone-crazy Japanese fans are. Both are vying to figure out the mobile social game market before rivals such as Electronic Arts, Gameloft, and Zynga do. The first one to do so could enjoy vast riches, said Naoki Aoyagi, CEO of Gree’s international subsidiary, Gree International, in a recent interview with VentureBeat.

Like DeNA, Gree has figured out how to monetize Japanese gamers, who make lots of purchases of virtual goods in games downloaded from Gree’s mobile social network. But Zombie Jombie will test whether Gree has what it takes to cater to U.S. tastes.

The new iOS-exclusive game is a free-to-play card-based game where the zombies are the good guys and the humans are the evil destroyers. (I guess that’s what it takes to be creative in the crowded zombie game market). A “Jombie” is a powerful being that can raise and control zombies and battle tough human bosses. Gree promises that, due to the variety of ways players can power-up their cards, no two players will ever have the same deck.

"The truly talented team members of the North American studio have really focused on creating an innovative game experience that ties together strong gameplay and great social features, an approach we plan to implement for all of our games moving forward." says Eiji Araki, senior vice president of social games at Gree International.

Last year, Gree started preparing for its entry into the U.S. market with its acquisition of OpenFeint, a U.S.-based mobile social network. DeNA, meanwhile, purchased Ngmoco to take DeNA’s Mobage network to a global level. Other rivals include Electronic Arts and PapayaMobile.

Gree also recently created a 40,000-square-feet game studio in San Francisco. Thanks to OpenFeint’s large network, Gree can now reach 190 million players through 7,500 game apps. Among those developing games for Gree’s network are Ubisoft and Gameloft.

“Developers need a comprehensive social gaming platform with support for iOS and Android,” Aoyagi said. “There is a lot of competition, but there is no big winner like Facebook yet in mobile. The market is still fragmented, and it is going to be so big.”

Gree’s platform for social mobile games will launch in the second quarter. That means it is behind DeNA/Ngmoco, but Aoyagi said his company focused on building its team first. Gree International has around 180 people, and it has hired 50 people in the last two months, Aoyagi said.

Aoyagi believes that larger companies with “massive financial capacity” will come to dominate the mobile social gaming market. The social network will help with the problem of game-discovery, which has gotten worse as hundreds of thousands of game apps compete with each other for attention in mobile app stores. Gree will help developers with distribution, engagement, and monetization.

“We are in the best position, and in the next six months or 12 months, we can become a leader,” he said.

Will the U.S. become like Japan? It’s a tough question, Aoyagi notes, as the Japanese market is unique, with best-selling titles such as role-playing games and cat collection games.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Nokia’s design head spending a third of his time developing a tablet

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 08:16 AM PDT

Photo of a Windows 8 tablet showing the Start screen

As if you needed further proof Nokia is working hard on a tablet, the company’s design chief Marko Ahtisaari has admitted that he’s spending one-third of his time developing the company’s upcoming slate, according to an interview with the Finnish magazine Kauppalehti Optio.

The confirmation follows comments by Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop, who hinted that the company is very interested in tablets. A recent rumor also pointed to Nokia developing a Windows 8 ARM-powered tablet for release later this year. (Above, a Samsung Windows 8 tablet prototype.)

As I’ve written previously, 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.)

It’s also heartening to hear that Ahtisaari is spending quite a bit of time on the tablet, as Nokia will really only have one shot to make an impact with its slate. If Nokia’s tablet isn’t immediately impressive at first glance, it could easily go the way of RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook.

Via Reuters

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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WTF: New iPad doesn’t allow FaceTime video chat over 4G LTE

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 08:08 AM PDT


Apple, you’ve got some splainin’ to do. The new iPad, which will be released tomorrow, does not allow FaceTime video chat using 4G LTE networks, according to a report by The Verge.

Former CEO Steve Jobs said that FaceTime would be Wi-Fi only in 2010 when it was introduced at WWDC 2010. “We need to work a little bit with the cellular providers to get ready for the future, so we’re Wi-Fi only in 2010,” he said at the time. In theory, the company was waiting for better network connections to support video chat before allowing it over more than just Wi-Fi. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, even with powerful 4G LTE speeds.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T’s 4G LTE speeds are significantly faster than anything their respective 3G networks can cook up, so video chat should work fine in those markets that have LTE. Verizon expects to cover 260 million Americans with LTE by the end of the year. AT&T, on the other hand, plans to cover 150 million Americans by the end of 2012.

What’s especially frustrating is that the new iPad allows you to create a Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices, such as an iPhone 4S. Using an iPhone 4S over an iPad-created hotspot would allow you to run FaceTime using a 4G connection all the same.

Apple did not immediately respond with a comment. (And in this case, we don’t expect them to.)

Filed under: mobile

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Google search is in for some drastic changes

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 07:55 AM PDT

Google Search

Google is planning to roll out several changes to its search engine over the next few months that will give people more than just the standard list of links and supplemental media, according to top Google Search executive Amit Singhal.

Singhal told the Wall Street Journal that results will now contain more semantic search information — meaning Google will be able to understand the true meaning of your queries, rather than simply relying on its current method of returning results of the most linked/trafficked sources across the web. The semantic results will allow search queries to better identify people, places, and specific things.

Basically, you’ll soon be able to type in a question to the Google search bar  and get a relatively intelligent response, if all things go according to plan. For example, typing in “What are Nashville, Tennessee’s largest public parks?” would bring up a list of the parks, instead of just a link to a website that contained the same information. The company already offers this for simple search queries, but the practice will gain more of a spotlight in the coming months.

The search changes will be some of the biggest the company has ever implemented, and will likely affect search engine optimization techniques.

The company also recently rolled out a social search option, which returns results for queries based on your circle of friends from Google+. The option can be toggled off, much to the delight of annoyed web users everywhere. Google is also experimenting with a new “sources” feature, which spits out a side bar of relevant information for some people, places and events.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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One year later, Amazon’s Android Appstore boasts 31K apps and millions sold

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 07:40 AM PDT

Amazon is celebrating the first anniversary of its Android Appstore launch by putting a bunch of its most popular titles on sale. The company revealed that it now sports 31,000 apps on the store, up from 4,000 at launch, and that customers have purchased millions of apps.

Unfortunately, Amazon isn’t being too specific on just how many apps were purchased. The company is historically shy when it comes to granular statistics, like revealing the total amount of Kindles it has sold (which we still don’t know for sure). But I have a feeling that, thanks to its daily app deals and promotion, Amazon has done a better job of selling premium apps than Google’s Android Market (now Google Play).

In celebration of its first birthday, Amazon is offering several of its most popular apps for sale, like Plants vs. Zombies, Fruit Ninja, and other titles, including “Wolfram Alpha, Splashtop Remote Desktop, Dr. Seuss's The Shape of Me and Other Stuff, TuneIn Radio Pro, TETRIS, PAC-MAN, The Lost City, MONOPOLY, AccuWeather Platinum and Jamie Oliver's 20 Minute Meals.”

"We expected that the Amazon Appstore would be a success and it's been evidenced in the growth of the revenues since the launch," Adam Flanders, SVP of Sales & Marketing at Glu Mobile, said in a statement today. "We have seen revenues from Amazon grow by over 1,000 percent in the four months since the Kindle Fire launched alone, and Blood and Glory recently reached the #2 spot in Top Selling Games. Glu is thrilled with the momentum behind Kindle Fire and the Amazon Appstore's strong platform, global customer base, and exceptional merchandising capabilities."

Amazon also boasted about its Test Drive feature, which lets you try out apps on your computer before you download them to your Android phone or tablet. The company says consumers have spent over 7,700,000 minutes test driving apps, with Bubble Buster being the most-tested. Not surprisingly, Amazon says games were its most popular app category.

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: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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At last: Diablo III debuts on May 15

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 07:27 AM PDT

Blizzard Entertainment plans to release its long-awaited Diablo III fantasy action role-playing game on May 15.

It seems like this one has been in the works forever, and it can’t come too soon for Blizzard, a division of Activision Blizzard, which recently laid off 600 employees due to a loss of subscribers for World of Warcraft. Many observers expect this game, where you fight the legions of hell, to be one of the biggest of the year. Previous Diablo games have sold more than 20 million units, or roughly $800 million at retail.

The game comes 11 years after Diablo II and will debut on the same day in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South Korea, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Players in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil will be able to buy the game digitally via Blizzard’s Battle.net web site. Players can now place digital pre-sale orders for the game today. The game could boost WoW’s numbers — now at 10.3 million users — since WoW users who pay for an annual pass can get Diablo III for free. The pass option expires on May 1.

“After many years of hard work by our development team and months of beta testing by hundreds of thousands of dedicated players around the world, we’re now in the homestretch,” said Michael Morhaime, chief executive and co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We look forward to putting the final polish on Diablo III over the next two months and delivering the ultimate action-RPG experiences to gamers on May 15.

The game will debut on Windows PCs and Macs for $59.99 for either the retail or the digital version. A collector’s edition with a behind-the-scenes Blu-ray two-disc set, the soundtrack CD, a 208-page Art of Diablo III book, a four-gigabyte Soulstone, and Diablo skull base will sell for $99.99. Collector’s edition players also get exclusive in-game content for World of Warcraft.

This release date means gamers will have a fun May. Another big game, Max Payne 3, the next big first-person shooter game from Rockstar Games, will debut on May 29.

In Diablo III, players can be one of five heroic characters: barbarian, witch doctor, monk, wizard or demon hunter. Their job is to rid Sanctuary from the corrupt forces of Burning Hells. The game will be playable on the Battle.net online gaming platform, which offers matchmaking and communication tools. Players can also trade their treasures in the game in the Diablo III auction house, where players can pay in-game gold for other digital items. Players can also receive real-world currency for their digital goods.

Atul Bagga, an analyst at Lazard Capital, said he believes Diablo III can sell 6 million units during 2012 and it will be a slight positive for Activision Blizzard’s stock price.

Filed under: games

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Cisco to acquire video software maker NDS for a whopping $5B

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 06:51 AM PDT


Networking titan Cisco has agreed to purchase Israeli video software company NDS for a cool $5 billion, the company announced Thursday morning.

NDS focuses on software that delivers video and interactive entertainment to set-top boxes and across other devices. The company said it can “enable subscribers to intuitively view, search and navigate digital content anytime, anywhere and on any device.” Private-equity firm Permira owns 51% of NDS, while media company News. Corp owns 49%.

The acquisition will most likely help Cisco with its many video and content delivery initiatives. The company offers products like Videoscape for set-top boxes and TelePresence for video conferencing.

“Our strategy has always been driven by customer need and on capturing market transitions,” Cisco CEO John Chambers said in a statement. “Our acquisition of NDS fits squarely into this strategy, enabling content and service providers to deliver new video solutions that leverage the cloud and drive new monetization opportunities and service differentiation.”

Cisco will pay around $5 billion, including the assumption of debt, for NDS. The company expects the deal to close in the second half of 2012.

Cisco’s shares are trading down about 1 percent in early trading on the NASDAQ exchange.

Woman hugging money photo: suravid/Shutterstock

Filed under: deals

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Boku lands $35M from Telefonica, NEA to expand mobile payments

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 06:38 AM PDT

And the mobile payments gold rush continues. Boku, a company best known for its carrier payment offering, announced today that it has received an additional $35 million investment led by Telefonica Digital and New Enterprise Associates (NEA).

The funds will be used to expand Boku Accounts, the company’s white white-label platform to let any carrier offer point-of-sale mobile payments on smartphones, as well as to expand the team, infrastructure, and the company’s global presence. The news comes on the heels of PayPal’s Square competitor card, which is expected to be announced later today.

“Payments is an industry that requires scale, and in the three years since Boku launched we've grown rapidly to partner with more than 250 mobile network operators, processing transactions in 67 countries around the world," Boku CEO Mark Britto said in a statement today.

In addition to its investment, Telefonica has signed a global payments partnership with Boku, which will see the carrier pushing mobile payments to merchants and consumers alike.

San Francisco, Calif.-based Boku has raised a total of $75 million in funding across several rounds. This most recent round also received participation from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, DAG Venture, Index Ventures, and Khosla Ventures.

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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Matcha.tv’s iPad app is better than the remote for navigating streaming video services

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 06:35 AM PDT


Streaming video content on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and several others have significantly grown over the past year, leaving people with a wide selection to choose from. Unfortunately, you have to sift through each service to find what’s available.

The experience can prove rather daunting if you’re simply searching something to watch while vegging on the couch, which is something Matcha.tv intends change.

Matcha’s new iPad app, which officially launched earlier this week, aggregates a list of content from several of the most popular streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Comcast’s Xfinity TV. Additionally, Matcha’s app collects available video rentals/purchases on both iTunes and Amazon as well. And while I’d like to avoid the standard comparison with the old printed TV Guide publication, that’s pretty much exactly what the app is — a tablet-optimized TV Guide for streaming content.

“There really isn’t anything that can easily help you find what to watch now, and what to watch next across all these streaming services,” Matcha.tv co-founder and CEO Guy Piekarz said in an interview with VentureBeat. He added that the new iPad app is the perfect companion for people that watch a lot of streaming video.

Pulling up the app initially reveals a user interface very similar to Netflix’s iPad and Android apps. The screen is locked in horizontal mode, which is probably the best orientation for viewing the several rows of TV show and movie box art. There are a total of five rows that organized according to “hottest” overall videos being watched by all users, newly available videos, a recommended section of videos (based on a variety of factors), a friends video watching activity section, and finally, your personal queue.

Unlike Netflix, the UI doesn’t devote specific rows to a particular genre. Instead, you can select a genre at the top of the screen, which will alter what gets shown in the rows below (except for your queue). You can also alter what’s displayed in the rows by toggling each of the video streaming services on and off using the buttons located along the bottom of the screen. So, if you never plan on purchasing Amazon Prime, you won’t be forced to see the service’s content library within your viewing guide.

There’s a lot to like about this app if you’re subscribed to a ton of streaming services, such as the ability to use a unified queue of content. This is a nice feature for saving videos from Xfinity and Amazon Prime, both of which don’t have an easily accessed queue on their own. Videos previously saved on Netflix will automatically show up in Matcha’s queue, but unfortunately stuff from Hulu Plus does not. (I suspect this has something to do with Hulu being the only service to automatically add new videos to your queue as they become available.)

Another nice thing Matcha offers is the ability to read information from imdb, check out reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, and watch trailers when you select a video. This is far from an original set of features, but it is a helpful addition. It would be nice if Matcha could eventually pull in information like this using fan-generated Wikia sites, such as those for Star Trek, which could add even more to the viewing experience.

I really only had a few small issues with the Matcha iPad app. The first of these is that some of the video selections are unnecessarily treated as separate videos. For example, Netflix treats old Doctor Who episodes as separate movies because they aren’t packaged as part of a DVD box set. Amazon Prime, on the other hand, recognizes all the episodes as part of an entire series. Obviously Netflix and Amazon aren’t going to rectify this, so its up to Matcha to determine a solution. The other problem I have is that Matcha’s app doesn’t have the same capabilities of a smart remote control. I don’t enjoy juggling three remotes and an iPad while watching something on TV. It would be nice if I could just open up the Matcha app on my tablet and relax.

Fortunately, Piekarz sympathized with my plight and told me that the company is looking into remote control functionality as a possible feature in the future. Also in the pipeline are apps for other mobile devices, he said.

Founded in Sept. 2010, the startup has raise an initial $300,000 in angel funding to date. Matcha faces competition from Fav.tv, Clickr, AOL TV’s iPad app, and a handful of others.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Callaway Digital Arts teams with Sesame Street on 3 new kids apps

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Callaway Digital Arts has built a name for itself as a maker of interactive mobile apps for children. Now it’s inked a deal to make three new apps in a partnership with Sesame Street.

The young company, which has had a number of award-winning apps in the App Store, has worked with New York-based nonprofit Sesame Workshop before on some two big app hits. It is partnerships like these that can make mature brands seem hip in an age when kids are looking at small screens instead of big ones. If iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and other mobile devices keep selling the way they are, we could see more interactive apps consumed than kids books, one day.

“We’ve very selective about the products we work with and this is going to be among the most important partnerships for us,” said Rex Ishibashi, chief executive of New York-based Callaway, in an interview with VentureBeat. “This year, we’ll continue to prove the kids market is a digital evergreen.”

Callaway’s apps are combinations of games and books that build reading and math skills for children ages 2 through 8. The company has made 10 apps to date and all but one have been bestsellers. They’re based on familiar kids properties such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Angelina Ballerina.

“A lot of parents want to get a break, and the iPad is the new digital babysitter,” Ishibashi said. “We know that 50 percent of iPads sold are going into homes with kids up to 16 years old.”

This time, Callaway will create a reimagining of the classic Sesame Street book The Great Cookie Thief for the iPad, iPhone, and iPad Touch. It will include high-definition art optimized for Apple’s new iPad retinal display. Callaway will also develop interactive mobile apps featuring both original and adapted content in partnership with Sesame Workshop.

The first app will be out in the first half of the year.

Callaway previously partnered with Sesame Workshop on the interactive app The Monster at the End of This Book, which reached No. 1 in books in the App Store. It also created Another Monster at the End of This Book, which held the No. 1 spot in books in the App Store for several weeks. Callaway doesn’t do any advertising.

“Callaway’s team has done an outstanding job in bringing two of our most beloved books to life as apps in a way that embraces their classic style, but also makes them look and feel brand new,” said Scott Chambers, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Media Distribution, Sesame Workshop.  “We look forward to our continuing partnership with Callaway and to creating new apps that families will enjoy and learn from together.”

Callaway raised $7 million in 2010 from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and others. The company also got a five-year, $12 million grant from the Department of Education to do iOS apps for kids. The first of those apps is arriving mid-year.

The company received attention from Steve Jobs himself after it created a title called Miss Spider’s Tea Party under a different company name. He invited the company to make iPad titles and they launched in the spring of 2010. Ishibashi said the company also did some early Martha Stewart apps but now is focusing solely on kids ages 2 through 8.

Ishibashi said that the company has original properties in the works. Ishibashi noted that the 1947 book Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, still sells about 750,000 copies a year. Callaway wants to create original content that lasts for just as long, so parents and kids can enjoy them together, generation after generation, Ishibashi said.

Callaway has a long way to go before it gets there, but its apps are engaging. Even 12 months after an app is sold, about 60 percent of its users still open the app every month. In apps where there are virtual items, 60 percent of the users make some kind of purchase. The apps are priced from $1.99 to $4.99.

The company has 45 employees with offices in New York and San Francisco. Callaway expects to raise a round of money soon, Ishibashi said. The goal is to be profitable in 2013. Rivals include Oceanhouse Media, which makes Dr. Seuss book apps.

“We think there is a lot of growth in this business,” Ishibashi said. “It’s going to be a billion-dollar business.”
GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Third Point’s activist investor Daniel Loeb warns Yahoo a proxy fight is coming

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 05:25 AM PDT

When it rains, it pours. The embattled Yahoo, which made itself the black sheep of Silicon Valley this week with a patent lawsuit against Facebook, is now facing a proxy battle over a new board from activist investor Dan Loeb at Third Point.

Apparently Daniel Loeb is not happy with the way Yahoo treated his suggestions for new board members. Third Point is one of the largest Yahoo shareholders, with a 6 percent stake, and has been campaigning for a group of four new board members. Yesterday Mr. Loeb sent an email to Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson declaring that he will begin a proxy battle the week.

“The Board's stonewalling, apparent insouciance and decision not to engage with us in a serious manner, has left us no choice but to directly approach our fellow owners with the Shareholder Slate. Accordingly, we hereby notify you that we intend to file our Preliminary Proxy Statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission within the week,” Loeb wrote in his letter.

If there is one thing Loeb clearly brings to the table, it’s a word of the day calendar (insouciance = casual lack of concern). Loeb’s slate of new directors includes former NBC chief Jeff Zucker, former MTV chief operating officer Michael Wolf, turnaround expert Harry Wilson, and himself, naturally. Loeb says that his candidates each got one brief call from the current board, which wasn’t even classified as a official interview.

“Scott, it is not too late for you to take decisive leadership action and avoid the costs and distraction of an expensive proxy contest fighting the Shareholder Slate (which, according to our research, will be well-received by shareholders). If you invite us on, we will bring strong shareholder advocacy, leading corporate governance, first class restructuring capabilities and leading media strategies to a Board that is sorely in need of each of the above. In addition, you will have avoided an unnecessary battle with your largest outside shareholder. You appear to have enough battles to fight already,” wrote Loeb. Ain’t that the truth.

Image via Flickr user Superwebdeveloper

Filed under: deals, media

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Salesforce HR tool combines social networking and employee reviews

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Remember when your Facebook feed was dotted with achievements that your friends won by playing Farmville? Well, you’ll see something similar now with Salesforce’s new Rypple HR tool.

Rypple uses badges and achievements to praise employees for the work they’re doing. It comes preloaded with cutesy badges, and managers can custom create any badge or achievement they like, such as “Sales staff just closed a huge deal, let’s buy private jets!”

Salesforce acquired Rypple in December 2011 and announced its version of the service today at Salesforce’s Cloudforce Social Enterprise Tour event in San Francisco.

In the acquisition announcement, VentureBeat reported that Salesforce would re-brand Rypple Successforce. Guess that name didn’t stick, because Salesforce’s branded version of the app is called, not-so-creatively, Salesforce Rypple.

“Performance reviews are the least enjoyable tasks done and they always have to be done once per year. We want to ensure there is a continual dialogue between employees and managers,” Salesforce software development executive John Wookey said in an interview with VentureBeat, ”Rypple defines key results and actions, monitors the status of objectives and fosters a dialogue of the goals being set in the organizations, so people understand what’s expected.”

Employees and managers can access the service from its own website, which features a social media-like stream of achievements and goals. Anyone can set goals and objectives, then invite people to participate, and track their progress. Once someone does something awesome, you give them a badge. Employees can also “Thank” fellow employees for helping each other out.

Thanks to Salesforce’s acquisition of the company, Rypple is now accessible from the Salesforce dashboard. When you see that someone has closed a deal in Salesforce, you can give them a Rypple badge without leaving the site. Badges will also show up in your company’s Chatter feed, so everyone can see what you did and give you praise.

Salesforce Rypple will go up against Taleo and SuccessFactors, two human capital management companies that help companies measure their employees’ performance and offer feedback.

Let’s get social image via Flickr user Steve Rhodes

Filed under: cloud, deals

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Salesforce’s new Site.com is content management for dummies

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Salesforce unveiled a new content management system for the technologically un-savvy today, called Site.com. It showed the system off at its Cloudforce Social Enterprise Tour event in San Francisco.

“The social mobile revolution increased expectations from customers for fresh content on company’s websites, Facebook pages, and mobile pages,” Salesforce senior vice president of platform operations Michael Rosenbaum told VentureBeat. “Many content management systems were designed 10 years ago; we’re replacing them with a CMS that can push content out to different sites easily.”

Site.com is based in the cloud and can be used to build custom websites, hosted by Salesforce, that also connect with social media services. The service is designed so that anyone, even people who don’t understand website code, can pick a template, drag and drop content, and publish a website.

In keeping with Cloudforce’s theme of “social enterprise”, Site.com makes maintaining a social presence easier for companies that don’t have the skills to build websites themselves. Site.com offers templates that look the same across mobile sites, Facebook pages, and a company’s main website. Marketers and others who don’t have the slightest clue how to write code, but can use drag and drop controls, can build a custom website that sends content directly to Facebook.

Also, because Salesforce is so interconnected, marketers can also pull in all the data from Salesforce’s other services to add content to the website. Once the content is published to a website, it can be pushed out to other social networks. For example, you can create a careers page that is populated by job listing data stored in Salesforce. It will cost you $1,500 per month for a website created with Site.com, an extra $125 monthly for each publisher, and $20 monthly for each contributor user you set up.

Site.com competes with other popular content management systems, such as WordPress and Sitefinity, that many companies use to build and host their sites. In addition, many companies choose to build their own website from scratch and not bother with content management systems.

Angry old man with computer image via Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, enterprise

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PixyKids raises $3M for a social media platform just for kids

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 02:00 AM PDT

PixyKids has raised $3 million to develop its social platform for kids ages six to 12. It is built on the idea that kids want to socialize, even though they’re too young for Facebook.

Kids can join PixyKids under their parents’ supervision and can share experiences and pictures the way that adults do on Facebook. The company is betting that social networks, not virtual worlds or education sites, will resonate most with kids.

In PixyKids, children can create their own 3D avatars (resembling the 2D avatar pictured) and create other content with interactive tools and apps. They can connect and share with family and friends and build and publish a curated digital portfolio, in an uninhibited yet safe manner, chief executive Rajul Kadakia told VentureBeat.

“It’s a cross between Facebook and Disney,” Kadakia said. “We take what Facebook stands for, such as user-generated content, the platform, the social networking, and engaging apps. And we combine that with Disney-like engaging experiences and family friendly content.”

Kadakia, a mother of two, co-founded the company in December 2010. Prior to PixyKids, Kadakia founded a gift products company, Designs by Rajul, which created hand-made memory albums for online and retail stores. She decided to take that idea online and focus on kids; she believed so strongly in the idea that she moved from the land of outdoor shopping malls to Silicon Valley, relocating from Newport Beach to Menlo Park, Calif.

Adair, a father of three, helped Google make acquisitions such as YouTube and DoubleClick. He liked Kadakia’s idea because his daughter had made more than 100 singing videos that he would love to be able to share easily with grandparents and friends without putting them on YouTube for the world to see.

Kadakia felt that educational sites were favored by parents, but not kids, and virtual worlds were fun for kids but hated by parents. Facebook limits its users to 13 and above; it has something like 7.5 million illegal child users and is deactivating accounts at a rate of 20,000 a day.

“We play in the space that can be enjoyed by both kids and parents,” Kadakia said. “We have 3D avatars. We have customizable options. We have sticky pre-patterns. We also allow user-generated content, and kids can share what they create with family.”

Children can upload photos, videos, artwork, and projects. They get their own space on the site, resembling a control panel from which they can access a community wall, text and video chat, email, and a personal URL.

Kadakia said the site protects privacy and complies with COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The company verifies that a child has a parent or guardian who can approve the child’s account. And the parent has to approve each friend the child adds. PixyKids will also patrol the site for bad behavior and naughty words.

Getting parents involved is key because the age group still embraces parents and extended family in a way that older children do not. Parents can provide the attention and positive reinforcement for the child’s accomplishments that are trumpeted on the network.

The company has added Michael Adair, a former Glam Media and Google finance veteran, as chief operating officer. Kristen Alexander, an ex-Disney marketer, is vice president of marketing; and Neil Markey, formerly of PlayFirst, is vice president of engineering. Other co-founders include Kalpesh Savla, formerly of Juniper Networks and 3Com, and Altaf Shaikh, founder of Neova Solutions. The firm has nine employees in the U.S. and 11 in India.

Competitors include virtual worlds rivals such as Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters; game sites; and other kids social networks like Everloop and Imbee. PixyKids’ platform is built on Adobe Flex.

ATA Ventures supplied $2 million of the total funding, while angels provided the rest. Pete Thomas, co-founder of ATA Ventures, said that kids have already become rapid adopters of digital technologies and want to participate in social networks and user-generated content in a way that is relevant to their daily lives.

PixyKids’ advisory board includes Ryan Steelberg, chief executive and president of Brand Affinity Technologies; Emmy award-winning producer Sherry Gunther; John Trimble, chief revenue officer of Pandora; Jonathan Sposato, CEO of Picnik; and Brandon Barber, senior vice president of marketing at Kixeye.

Kadakia noted there are 30 million kids ages six to 12 in the U.S. Around the world, there are 850 million kids in that age group. Kadakia figures it’s time someone empowered them all. It’s just too bad that Kadakia’s kids are almost too old to benefit from her social media platform. They’re 10 and 12.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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Appirio raises $60M to be your one-stop cloud service shop

Posted: 15 Mar 2012 12:01 AM PDT

cloud with money appirioCloud service consulting company Appirio announced today it has raised $60 million in its fourth round of institutional funding.

“We are seeing more companies going cloud first, saying they’re not ever going to buy another server,” said Chris Barbin, Appirio chief executive, “We’re also seeing companies making the migration to 100% cloud to reduce costs and help them scale faster.”

The five-year-old company started out helping big companies adopt cloud services such as Google Apps, Salesforce, and Workday. It then turned its attention to cloud app development, creating apps that tie together multiple cloud services and social networks. For example, it developed an app that integrates Google Calendar and contacts with Salesforce calendar and contact lists.

Appirio’s current offerings run the gamut of cloud services. The company will help you decide which cloud service is right for your company, build custom apps to work with the cloud, move your data to the cloud, and manage the cloud services it’s set up for your business. Essentially, it hopes to move your business away from in-house IT departments and run it solely in the cloud.

“Customers are driving us to go bigger faster, and we will continue to drive the cloud community,” said Barbin, “We are finding that companies don’t want a large $100 million project from Accenture. Our customers are seeing value in weeks and months, not years.”

Appirio’s competitors are other technology and cloud service consulting firms, including Bluewolf, Accenture, Cloud Sherpas, and Cloud Technology Partners. Appirio focuses more on large corporations that spend millions on IT and cloud services each year. The company even issued a guarantee that it would save large companies $1 million if they used its service, but your company would have to spend at least $5 million to see that kind of savings.

Appirio’s funding is reflective of the steadfast adoption of cloud services among large businesses. Joyent, another cloud service provider that builds private clouds and applications, received a whopping $85 million in funding in January 2012, a further indication of the cloud industry’s traction.

“Global IT is a $300 million industry and there haven’t been many changes in the industry since companies began outsourcing IT jobs to Indian in the 90s. Appirio said lets disrupt the IT industry,” said Jeff Richards, partner at GGV Capital, a venture capital firm that participated in this round, “The company has grown the business 10 times since we first invested in 09, which impressed us.”

General Atlantic led this round for Appirio. Existing investors Sequoia Capital and GGV Capital also participated. Appirio intends to use the money to develop its technology and support Cloudspokes, its crowdsourced cloud app development service that hosts hackathons for developers. The company previously raised $10 million in 2009. This latest round brings Appirio’s total funding to more than $76 million.

Appriro is based in San Mateo, Calif. and has 400 employees.

Filed under: cloud, deals

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Wasteland 2 raises $903K, hitting its Kickstarter target in just two days

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 11:54 PM PDT

Crowdfunding triumphs again. In just two days, Brian Fargo has raised more than $903,000 on Kickstarter to fund Wasteland 2, a sequel to a game he created in 1988.

More than 15,768 people have pledged to help fund the game, which is a post-apocalyptic survival game. The title is the second major game to get funding through Kickstarter’s crowdfunding site, following a Double Fine Productions campaign that raised more than $3.3 million from more than 87,000 donors.

“Exciting stuff!” Fargo said in an email tonight.

Fargo, the chief executive of InXile Entertainment and a veteran game-maker, was inspired by Double Fine’s Tim Schafer to come up with a slick and funny video pitching Wasteland 2. Now it looks like he’ll have more than enough money to fund the title, as he still has 33 more days to go in the campaign.

Traditional publishers shied away from funding Wasteland 2. The original game was a single-player game with lots of characters. After it came out, Fargo’s former company, Interplay, switched over to making Fallout games. But Fargo has wanted to make an online multiplayer version of Wasteland for the Internet, where large parties can come together and play.

Pledges are for $15 or more. Fargo said in his Kickstarter video that Wasteland was made in the golden age of games when creativity was at its peak. As envisioned, Wasteland 2 is a turn-based, top-down, role-playing, party game set in a Fallout-like post-apocalypse game.

"This really might be a last chance for a Wasteland 2," Fargo said in the video.

With respect to other game Kickstarter projects, Rusel DeMaria has one going to finance the writing and publishing of the third edition of his High Score video-game history book. And Exato Games is running a Kickstarter campaign for its Guncraft game. Cipher Primes is raising $60,000 for its Auditorium 2 game. Josh Hughes is also raising money via Kickstarter for an indie rhythm game. But Fargo's is the most ambitious of the new crop.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we're calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: dev, games, VentureBeat

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New iPad review roundup: Retina Display + LTE are a killer combination

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 09:12 PM PDT

With one day left until Apple’s new iPad launches, review embargoes on the tablet have lifted, and geeks everywhere are getting their panties in a twist.

Not surprisingly, reviewers have gone head-over-heels for the new iPad’s ultra-high resolution Retina Display and its built-in 4G LTE capabilities. While there are other improvements in the tablet, like it’s quad-core graphics A5X chip and better camera, it’s the screen and LTE that steal the show as the most significant upgrades.

Apple’s new iPad goes on sale in stores at 8 a.m. Friday morning, and the wise shoppers who pre-ordered the tablet will also start receiving their shipments in time for the weekend.

Here’s Daring Fireball’s John Gruber on how the new iPad handles text:

Reading on the big retina display is pure joy. Going back to the iPad 2 after reading for a few hours on the iPad 3 is jarring. With bigger pixels, anti-aliased text looks blurry; with smaller pixels, anti-aliased text looks good; but with really small pixels like these, anti-aliased text looks impossibly good — and what you thought looked pretty good before (like text rendered on older iPads) now looks blurry.

Not everyone considers the new iPad a computing revolution though. David Pogue of the New York Times, who is often criticized for being a major Apple fan, didn’t think the tablet was a major upgrade over the iPad 2:

Really, the new iPad should have been called the iPad 2S. In the past, Apple added the letter S to iPhone models that weren't exactly new but had been tastefully enhanced (iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4S). That's exactly what's going on with the new iPad. Its technical improvements keep it at the forefront of desirability — just ahead of the snapping jaws of its Android competition — but don't take it in any new directions.

The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg was impressed with the iPad’s 4G LTE speed (and he wasn’t the only one):

On Verizon's network in Washington and Austin, Texas, I averaged LTE download speeds of over 17 megabits per second, faster than most home wired networks. A colleague using a new iPad on AT&T's LTE network averaged over 12 mbps. My iPad 2 running Verizon's 3G network averaged just over 1 mbps.

For people who bought an iPad 2 in the past year, Joshua Topolsky at the Verge doesn’t think the new iPad is a must-have upgrade:

For owners of the iPad 2, this isn’t necessarily a slam dunk. While the updated features are boon to the new iPad, it doesn’t offer an experience that is significantly different from the previous version. If your screen never bothered you, and you never wanted a faster cellular connection or a better camera, there’s not a great argument to upgrade (especially considering many of you just shelled out for a new tablet less than a year ago).

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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What I’ll be looking for in a Square competitor

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 08:21 PM PDT

PayPal is set to launch a competitor to media darling Square at an event in San Francisco scheduled for tomorrow, according to GigaOm and Bloomberg.

Mobile payment enabler Square has set the benchmark for small business applications in terms of design elegance and simplicity. Here’s what I’ll be looking for in the PayPal announcement:


It will be interesting to see if PayPal goes with simple hardware similar to Square’s iconic dongle or tries for a PCI-compliant solution. Such devices are significantly more expensive, require power and are more secure. Competitor VeriFone tried to make a big deal out of the Square dongle’s security risks last year with an open letter claiming, “In less than an hour, any reasonably skilled programmer can write an application that will “skim” – or steal – a consumer’s financial and personal information right off the card utilizing an easily obtained Square card reader.”

I consider VeriFone’s attempt just a lot of fearmongering. All the information you need to process a credit card transaction is printed on the piece of plastic you give to your waiter, so by comparison the Square dongle’s security risk is trivial.

User interface

As much as people like to focus on the Square dongle, the real brilliance of the service is in the elegance and simplicity of the user interface of the applications. There are some tweaks that I’d make to it, but on the whole it does what it needs to do quickly and efficiently.

That’s the exact opposite of PayPal’s online interfaces. Every time I complete a PayPal checkout, I think I hear a user-interface designer crying. The design isn’t geared toward completing your task as fast as possible; it’s about avoiding the traps that PayPal puts in place to get you to do what it wants. The only flow that I’ve seen that is consistently worse is United’s online check in, which tries to get you to buy premium seats, extra bonus miles, priority access, etc.

Time to task completion is even more important in retail point of sale than online, because a customer may be holding up the line.


One of the big potential advantages that PayPal has is that it has money on file. Many of PayPal’s more than 100 million active users keep money in their PayPal accounts. Because this doesn’t have to hit the credit card or debit card networks (which Square’s service currently does), PayPal could offer such transactions for free to merchants. As of December 31, PayPal had more than $4 billion on file, according to eBay’s annual report.

But according to the Bloomberg report, PayPal isn’t going to be that aggressive. Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg says that PayPal will charge 2.70%, compared with the 2.75% that Square is charging. For this market, a 5 basis point difference is irrelevant.


Getting the reader into hands of small businesses is going to be critical. Square readers can be purchased at more than 11,000 retail locations, including Apple stores, UPS stores, Best Buy, and Target. These are all places small businesses frequent.


PayPal is available in 190 markets and supports 25 currencies. If PayPal launches in markets other than the U.S., that’s a big deal.

With as many users as PayPal has, it would be foolish to dismiss them, despite Square’s early lead in the offline payments space. Square’s currently at a run rate of $4 billion in transactions annually. In 2011, PayPal processed more than $118 billion in transactions.

If I were at PayPal and trying to compete aggressively with Square, here’s what I’d do:

  • Eliminate the transaction fee on all transactions under $25. This would be a significant differentiator. Low dollar value transactions are a money-loser for Square; they could be free for PayPal.
  • Rebate a substantial portion of fees for money-on-file transactions.
  • Seed the existing 100 million+ customer base with special offers to use PayPal at small offline retailers, much as American Express has done.
  • Focus on consumer- and merchant-friendliness in the application and customer service.

Rocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social, and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org and tweets at @rakeshlobster.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Grindr creator on his new app, lesbian gaydar, & more at SXSW [video]

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 08:13 PM PDT

Grindr is a huge success, as apps go. The location-based dating app for men-loving men has won several awards and counts millons of gay, bisexual, and bi-curious men among its users.

Grindr creator Joel Simkhai, who spoke with VentureBeat at South By Southwest Interactive in Austin this week, also recently launched a new, similarly location-based app called Blendr. The app is intended to allow like-minded folks to find new friends in proximity, and Simkhai says it’s been tweaked with straight people and lesbians in mind, as well.

Stay tuned for more video interviews coming from SXSW.

Filed under: mobile, video

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Passphrases weaker than expected due to lack of imagination

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 06:29 PM PDT

When passwords weren’t good enough, passphrases came into play as a much safer login option. But a new study is saying passphrases may not be as effective as you think.

Researchers Joseph Bonneau and Ekaterina Shutova looked at Amazon’s now out of commission PayPhrase System to see the types and effectiveness of passphrases people chose. PayPhrase was a passphrase-based login system that allowed consumers to go through the e-commerce check out line quickly. It required users set up a phrase of two words or more that would be connected to a credit card and shipping address. Entering the passphrase and a PIN would result in the purchase. Because the phrase itself related to financial information, PayPhrase did not allow people to use the same phrase. This gave Bonneau and Shutova the ability to query PayPhrase and collect a wide range of passphrases chosen naturally by humans.

“Our results suggest that users aren't able to choose phrases made of completely random words, but are influenced by the probability of a phrase occurring in natural language,” said Bonneau and Shutova in their report. “Examining the surprisingly weak distribution of phrases in natural language, we can conclude that even 4-word phrases probably provide less than 30 bits of security, which is insufficient against offline attack.

They attempted a dictionary attack against the formed database of passphrases. A dictionary attack is when a hacker takes a list of well-known words or phrases, chooses which ones are most likely to succeed, and then attempts all of them. Bonneau and Shutova formed their list by gathering various sports team names, movies titles, album titles, proper nouns, names and more using IMDB, Wikipedia, and a number of other popular websites. Using this list, they ran their own dictionary attack.

The experiment showed that people rarely chose random phrases such as “panda train sunset.” This makes the passphrase significantly more vulnerable to attack. People also tended to “prefer phrases which are either a single modified noun (“operation room”) or a single modified verb (“send immediately”), according to Bonneau in a blog post about the study.

The two do conclude that their test was limited to the 100,000 passphrases extracted from the PayPhrase system, and suggest the phrase in combination with a 4-digit PIN makes it significantly stronger. But for login tools that don’t require two forms of identification, a stronger, less natural passphrase is going to be necessary.

“We recommend further collaboration between the security and linguistics research communities to explore what is possible in multi-word passphrases,” the team stated, “In particular, user testing for longer phrases is necessary to determine the extent to which users will tend to choose passphrases with natural-language-like properties as more words are required and not resort to easier-to-remember patterns like repeated words, idioms, or well-known titles.”

via ReadWriteWeb; Image via Shutterstock

Filed under: security

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Mozilla CEO gets realistic about Boot2Gecko [video]

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 04:40 PM PDT

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs has some interesting ideas about optimism and technology.

In this interview with VentureBeat at the South By Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Kovacs took some time to chat about Mozilla’s next steps into the world of mobile technology: Boot2Gecko, a web-based paradigm that this CEO thinks will frame many important conversations about the way mobile applications and mobile browsers are supposed to work.

We also got to talk about Google’s privacy PR problems and what users should feel entitled to expect, even out of a capitalistic company making proprietary software.

Stay tuned for more video interviews from SXSW.

Filed under: dev, mobile, video

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Entrepreneurs take over at Live Nation, launch new fund to finance innovation (exclusive)

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 03:52 PM PDT

Just months into their new careers at Live Nation, the always entrepreneurially minded Eric Garland and Ethan Kaplan have taken over the asylum (their words) and will bring back bleeding-edge innovation to the ticketing-and-promotions conglomerate, which is comprised of Ticketmaster, Live Nation, and Front Line Management.

The pair are heading up LN Labs, Live Nation’s first-ever investment vehicle created to acquire, invest in, and partner with the most cutting-edge early stage music, entertainment, and infrastructure startups.

The just-announced acquisition of Setlist.fm, a live-music community site for curating concert set-lists, represents the first of LN Labs’ strategic investments.

The notion behind the fund, first envisioned when Live Nation entered into talks to acquire Garland’s consumer-data startup BigChampagne last year (the deal went through in December), is to try and marry innovative startup culture with the advantages of an existing ecosystem like Live Nation, Garland, now executive vice president and general manager of LN Labs, told VentureBeat.

“You find your holes by walking into them,” added Kaplan, vice president of products for LN Labs.

Kaplan, also new to Live Nation, came to the company from Warner Music Group, where he served as senior vice president of emerging technologies, and spearheaded development around new technologies for some the label’s hottest bands.

In an exclusive conversation with VentureBeat, Garland and Kaplan both came off as quick-moving, sharp-witted brainiacs gung-ho about keeping ingenuity alive at an enormous, aging company. So bright, in fact, that they’ve done a little prototyping of their own in order to solve one of the biggest mobile challenges around: providing app users with information they need, when they need it most, without interrupting life’s richest experiences.

With that problem in mind, Live Nation is furtively field-testing a mobile application called Laminate with roughly 100 alpha testers at the SXSW music festival in Austin this week. The application, released little more than 12 hours ago, aims to help festival goers find the best stages and shows, tell them when to leave to get there in time, and instruct them on other practical matters. The app also provides users with a real-time, streaming experience for sharing photos as they capture them at live shows.

But the boys are also anxious to tackle even bigger problems beyond their scope, and LN Labs will make as many deals as it takes to find the types of products and services that solve big challenges for concert fans, they said.

Specifically, LN Labs will make investments in or acquisitions of consumer-facing products that enhance the before, during, and after-show experience or infrastructure companies that make the overall experience more seamless for users.

For some perspective as to why the fund could prove an important opportunity for nascent companies, consider that Ticketmaster has 27 million monthly unique visitors, and that Live Nation Concerts produces more than 22,000 shows annually for more than 2,300 artists. Reach to that large of an audience and events database are the things upstarts salivate over, especially when fighting off obscurity.

Live Nation did not disclose the size of the fund.

Photo credit: crsan/Flickr

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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PayPal to take on Square with lower fees and spiffy blue design

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 02:56 PM PDT

PayPal is expected to show off a credit card reader tomorrow that will compete directly with Square’s product. Now we have a clearer idea of what the company is planning — and it could give Square a run for its money (literally).

PayPal will reportedly charge merchants using its card reader only 2.7 percent of every transaction, lower than Square’s 2.75 percent charge, two sources told Bloomberg. The sources said that the device will be shaped like a blue triangle, an obvious jab at Square’s design, and will sport a high-end design, courtesy of the Yves Behar-founded design firm Fuseproject, best known for designing Jawbone’s bluetooth headsets and wireless speakers.

Both of those details make it clear that PayPal is aiming for Square’s jugular. But, if true, they don’t seem like big enough improvements over Square to entice consumers away. Square could easily lower its transaction fees to compete, and a fancy design likely won’t matter much to people who just want to make payments easily. Square, which was founded in 2009, also has a huge head start on PayPal, and is free from the terrible customer service reputation that haunts PayPal.

Square isn’t PayPal’s only competitor either: Intuit’s GoPayment device, which also plugs into your smartphone’s headphone jack, has been available longer than Square (though doesn’t get nearly as much hype).

The card swiper will be just one of many strategies PayPal will use to be a prominent force in mobile payments. The company just showed off its digital wallet at SxSW, is currently dabbling in NFC money transfers and carrier payments, and has recently expanded its pilot payments program with the Home Depot to include all of the store's locations. (VentureBeat’s Rocky Agrawal doesn’t have many nice things to say about the latter.)

VentureBeat will be on the ground at PayPal’s media event tomorrow, so stay tuned for more.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Yammer CEO says he won’t hire anyone from Yahoo who doesn’t quit in next 60 days

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 02:01 PM PDT

David Sacks, the CEO of Yammer, is pissed. Last month he was hit with his first lawsuit from a patent troll. So when he saw that Yahoo was going after Facebook for patent infringement, he drew a line in the sand (well, on Twitter to be precise): “I’m declaring it: Yammer will never hire another former Yahoo employee who doesn’t leave in the next 60 days. Who will join me? #stopyahoo

After some backlash, Sacks is considering modifying his proposal to only extend to executives and lawyers, but he still feels all employees should take some ownership.

“People were telling me I need to think of the Yahoo rank and file, folks who have families, but the talent market in Silicon Valley is so hot right now, the only folks staying at Yahoo are the ones who have stopped caring,” Sacks told VentureBeat.

No matter what Yammer’s official policy is, says Sacks, Yahoo employees should think hard about their current employer. “We don’t need an official blacklist. There is a growing stigma around working at Yahoo, and you better believe the first question people are going to ask when you go in for that next interview is, ‘Why were you there?’”

Sacks says the aggressive patent litigation is being aimed at younger and younger companies. “Now they are going after series B and C companies. I know of one series A company forced out of business by patent litigation. When I was at PayPal (as COO) ten years ago, things were not nearly this bad.”

Yahoo’s suit against Facebook is a watershed moment for Sacks. “The law needs to be changed, but that will take years, with the patent lobby fighting it tooth and nail,” he said. “That’s why companies need to speak up, and take a stand, so that legitimate companies will see that turning to patent litigation as a business is not a viable option.”

Sacks isn’t alone in his rage against Yahoo. Union Square Ventures principal Fred Wilson lashed out against the company yesterday, saying that Yahoo had “crossed the unspoken line, which is that web companies don’t sue each other over their bogus patent portfolios.”

But the bigger problem may be software patents in general, not just Yahoo’s use of them. Albert Wegner, a partner at Union Square Ventures, posted today on some ways in which engineers could take a stand against the use of the work for aggressive patent litigation:

 A first step here might be to change how patent assignment works.  Engineers at a startup could require that assignment is made only for defensive purposes instead of unconditionally. This would prevent the kind of fate that befalls so many of the patents when companies are either acquired, get into trouble or fail (and their patents are acquired by a non-practicing entity, better known as a troll).

As another approach (albeit one that might take more time to construct), companies could assign their patents to a pool that would be used for defensive purposes only.  RPX does something along those lines but seems to be geared at big corporations and in RPX's case the patents are still available for offensive purposes as well (at least as far as I know).

Between mobilizing developers and approaches to peer producing research to invalidate patents, I believe it is possible to build enough outside pressure on the system to achieve some real change.

This follows up on a revealing post from developer Andy Baio, who wrote about how Yahoo create incentives for its developers to create very broad patents, told them it would use those patents only in a defensive way, then later weaponized their work.

Why all the sudden outrage from the tech world? Yahoo pulled the same patent attack on Google in the run up to its IPO back in 2004. The difference is that now Yahoo is trying to milk the patents it has in the social/web 2.0, which opens up a whole new group of potential targets, especially social companies like, you guessed it, Yammer.

How do you feel about Yahoo’s patent litigation, and Yammer’s response to it?

Image via Tom Cheredar

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Microsoft spotlights Windows 8′s IE10, a browser you might actually want to use

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 01:35 PM PDT


Microsoft announced improvements to its touch-friendly Internet Explorer 10 browser in a blog post today, to be used on the upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

Both Mozilla and Google have declared that they are preparing Metro-style versions of their browsers for Windows 8. But Internet Explorer is a unique case. Microsoft seems to at least partially understand that Internet Explorer blows, and it wants to make big improvements for IE10 in Windows 8, which will be released later this year. The company writes:

“IE10 is designed to make website interaction fast and fluid for touch as well as for heavy mouse and keyboard use,” IE Group Program Manager Rob Mauceri wrote. “With IE10, websites participate in the Metro style experience in Windows 8, including the Start screen, charms, snap, and more. IE10 also provides the best protection from malicious software on the web while providing real control over your online privacy.”

The company is set on two main goals: make the browsing experience fast and make it safe. Whether you’re touching Windows 8 with your fingers or using a mouse, Microsoft believes it has designed it to run smoothly and help guide you with tabs, a navigation bar, and site pinning that lets you create shortcuts on the Windows Start screen.

On the safety side, the company said it will incorporate IE9 tools such as “SmartScreen, XSS filtering, Application Reputation, InPrivate browsing, Tracking Protection, and hang detection and recovery.” There’s also a new feature for IE10 called "Enhanced Protected Mode" that isolates a website in a single tab, so others aren’t affected. You can also do private browsing per tab as well.

Check out more screens of Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8 below:

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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FBI demands Google unlock Android phone of “Pimpin’ Hoes Daily” founder

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 01:26 PM PDT


The FBI is demanding Google unlock the Android phone of Dante Dears, a pimp who has allegedly violated parole by operating a prostitution business from his cell phone.

After failing to gain access through the Android smartphone’s pattern lock, the FBI filed a warrant authorizing it to force Google to open the phone. Law enforcement officials were let to this action by an anonymous tip that Dears was still prostituting young women, despite his recent time in jail for the same.

Dears was released from jail in May 2011 after being charged as a founding member of prostitution group “Pimpin’ Hoes Daily,” or PhD (we’re sure his doctoral thesis was on human anatomy). The group is considered a “criminal street gang” in California. After his sentencing in 2005, Dears was let out on parole four years later in 2009. He violated parole, was sentenced to another one and a half years in jail, and ultimately released last spring. Given his previous violation, Dears was forced to wear an electronic GPS ankle monitor, forcing him to turn to an Android phone to run his sex business.

The FBI wants Google to provide any subscriber information associated with the phone, including name, address, billing information, credit card numbers, social security number, account login credentials, and any other identifiable information. The agency would also like details on accessed websites, the duration of time on the Internet, any contacts in the phone’s address book, text, photo, and video messages, instructions on how to override the pattern lock, search terms used, and any GPS locations associated with the phone.

As part of his current parole, Dears gave up his search rights under the Fourth Amendment, which allowed FBI agents to find the evidence needed to for the warrant. Security researcher Christopher Soghoian makes the point, however, that this may go farther than forcing Google to open the Android. Phones are constantly receiving information. New phone calls, e-mails, and text messages intended for Dears will be sent to the phone after it is unlocked. The FBI is therefore intercepting those messages on the way to the intended receiver. To move forward with the investigation, the FBI may need to get a wiretap order.

via Ars Technica; Prostitute image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, security

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PayPal’s new POS service is a Piece Of Sh*t

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 01:12 PM PDT

PayPal is set to announce a major new payments service tomorrow. According to a GigaOm report, it plans to introduce a dongle that will compete with Square and Intuit’s GoPayment product.

This would be another move by PayPal to expand from online transactions into real-world payments. But if tomorrow’s announcement is anything like the point-of-service offering PayPal rolled out recently to get people to use PayPal for in-store purchases, I’m not overly optimistic.

I tried out PayPal’s point-of-sale offering recently at the local Home Depot in San Mateo, and I was far from impressed. Instead of swiping a credit or debit card to pay, you can enter your phone number and a PIN to pay with your PayPal account. PayPal’s goal is to introduce the service at a number of big box retailers, but for now, the service is being tested at several Home Depot stores.

PayPal signage on POS terminal

PayPal logo on self-checkout machine

Selecting payment method

Reviewing purchase on POS terminal

Entering phone number

Entering PIN

Receipt showing PayPal transaction

Entering my phone number and PIN took longer than it takes to swipe a credit card. This is something that the many companies going after the retail payments space don’t understand: Swiping a credit card is not a problem for people. The credit card companies make their money by taking a piece of every transaction. So they’ve made it super easy to do so.

I remember going to Kmart with my parents as a kid. Back then, the cashier had to pull out a booklet of credit card numbers that had been reported stolen and compare it against the card. Then there was the big ka chunck-ka chunck of the imprinter. And then my dad had to sign. Now, all of that has been automated and many transactions under $25 don’t require signatures.

PayPal offers a special card that can be used to swipe instead.

PayPal always tries to get me to use my checking account. I never, ever want to do that. I want to use my Starwood American Express card, because I get points for hotel stays and a 30-day interest free loan. I understand that PayPal makes more money if they get to hit my checking account, but that’s not my problem. Some consumers who keep little money in their checking account, could get hit with bounced check fees if they forget to enter a PayPal transaction.

There’s also a security concern: a 4-digit PIN combined with a well known identifier (a phone number) is significantly less secure than a PIN combined with a 15- or 16-digit credit card number that no one knows. Because people frequently use birthdays and other data available through social networking sites, it would be possible to guess the PIN.

Add in PayPal’s lousy customer service reputation and it’s unlikely I’d use this service beyond test purposes. I know that if I have a problem or a billing dispute with American Express, they will take care of it. I have zero confidence in PayPal’s customer service. PayPal’s POS product also doesn’t seem to fall within consumer protection laws that apply to credit cards.

One of the supposed benefits of the service is that you can decide after the transaction which actual account you want the money to come from. For example, you can decide after you left the store that you want the payment to come from your VISA instead of your American Express. I don’t see that as a frequent need.

The key to success in payments is having a strong value proposition for both merchants and consumers. Square and American Express have done that.

PayPal has been subsidizing acceptance of PayPal by merchants as it seeks to gain adoption. If it is successful in getting consumers to adopt the technology, it could lead to lower fees in the long term for merchants. But for consumers, I see no meaningful value proposition.

Rocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social, and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org and tweets at @rakeshlobster.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Smart grid startups compete for highly variable venture funding

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 01:00 PM PDT

PG&E smart meter made by Silver Spring Networks. Photo by Christian Haugen/FlickrVenture capital industry interest and investment in smart grid startups has been up and down over the past five years, ranging from a peak of nearly $316 million in 2009 to around $100 million or less in 2011 (as of the end of September). There’s reason to be optimistic about the future growth of the sector, however. Powerful fundamental factors — the shift to cleaner, renewable energy sources and market deregulation among them — continue to support growth, as do smart grid proponents and technology providers.

The initial focus was on developing smart grid infrastructure. Now, the market and industry financing focus has shifted to developing business models that promote changes in customer behavior on the energy demand management side, as well as improving customer relationships.

Recent History

2007: Redwood, California’s Silver Spring Networks could serve as the “poster child” for the up-and-down fortunes of smart grid startups over the last five years. Having raised $40 million in a Series C round in 2007, and nearly $200 million in follow-up rounds in subsequent years, Silver Spring had to cancel a $150 million IPO in July, 2011. Offering utility companies an integrated smart grid system platform that provides insight into customer behavior as well as helping them improve energy resource utilization, Silver Spring might have gotten a little bit ahead of itself and the market’s development, which was focused on developing and proving the “plumbing” to realize greater resource efficiencies.

2010: By 2010, the smart grid market had developed to the point where technology providers and utilities were beginning to change focus and concentrate more on customer engagement. Gloucester, Massachusetts-based Grounded Power was offering a smart grid platform — its “Interactive Customer Engagement System” — that integrated real-time energy monitoring with analytical behavioral tools. The platform is designed to promote and foster behavioral change on the part of energy consumers that result in sustained energy consumption and carbon savings while building closer, better relationships between utilities and their customers. Grounded Power was acquired by Boulder, Colorado’s  Tendril Networks in 2010.

2011: The increasing focus on shifting to taking advantage of the enhanced demand-side management and customer relationship building capabilities of smart grid platforms continued in 2011. Indicative of this trend were first-round financings for Bridge Energy Group, which raised $11 million to provide IT integration and implementation services to enterprises carrying out smart grid initiatives, and Clean Urban Energy, which raised $7 million in its first-round financing. Chicago’s Clean Urban Energy developed  smart grid software that enables commercial building owners in large metropolitan areas to improve energy efficiency and enhance their energy conservation potential.


The charts below, compiled by VentureDeal, shed some light on the ups and downs of this venture sector.

Chart showing the number of companies in the smart grid space funded each year

The number of companies receiving institutional venture capital funding has been uneven, though the average trend line has been positive.

Chart showing total dollars raised by smart grid companies from 2007-2011
Aggregate funding amounts peaked in 2008, then dropped in 2011 to under $100 million for the first time in the last five years, though the 2011 numbers are only through September 30.

Pie chart showing which U.S. regions received smart grid venture funding

California companies accounted for 42.9 percent of funding activity, almost double that of the mid-Atlantic region at 23.8 percent.

Investment in the smart grid industry focused on companies able to successfully develop and implement the “plumbing” of smart grid systems platforms — smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) — during the early part of the last five-year period.

Now, however, investment and market focus has shifted toward customer engagement and developing business models that can take advantage of the enhanced demand side management capabilities smart grid platforms provide, particularly when it comes to enhanced energy conservation, improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. Expect this trend to continue as the industry looks ahead to greater deregulation.

VentureTrends is a research service of VentureDeal, a national venture capital database based in Menlo Park, Calif.

Photo credit: Christian Haugen/Flickr

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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TODAY brings food trucks and more to digerati at SXSW [video]

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 12:51 PM PDT

The TODAY Show is something of an American institution, but TODAY digital director Jen Brown told VentureBeat at SXSW that the team behind the show is just  getting started. It is just beginning its makeover as a 24/7 content brand, which started with last year’s launch of TODAY.com.

With a large Twitter following and a presence on new apps such as Pinterest, TODAY also participated at South By Southwest Interactive in Austin this week, bringing with it a big emphasis on food.

Stay tuned for more SXSW interviews through the rest of this week.

Filed under: media, video

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