29 March, 2012



Put your hand down! Hailo, yet another cab app, gets $17M from Accel Partners

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PDT


Today, lots of mobile applications help tired city-dwellers flag down cabs. But Hailo, London’s cab app company, is picking up passengers by focusing on the drivers. Accel Partners noticed and gave the company a $17 million first round of funding to make cabbies happy.

“In London where competition has been intense, Hailo seems to have emerged by all accounts as the clear leader,” said Adam Valkin, a partner with Accel Partners, in an interview with VentureBeat. “They have done this by … aggregating the largest network of cabs (by far) — 3,000 in just a few months.”

London-based Hailo doesn’t require the cabbie install any hardware. Instead, it creates two separate, connected mobile applications — one for the driver and one for the customer. The passenger app is fairly standard. It lets a person request a cab, choose a form of payment (cash or credit), counts down until the cab arrives, and asks the passenger to rate the experience. Co-founder and chief executive Jay Bregman, however, believes the driver’s app is the real reason they’re in the money.

“The taxi market is the quintessential mobile app. You’re mobile, they’re mobile,” said Bregman in an interview with VentureBeat. “No one has been able to make big networks of cabs without having the customers. [Drivers are] using this [app] even when there aren’t any customers because the app helps them.”

Bregman says Hailo only fills 20 percent of a driver’s roster in a day, but the built-in tools attract cabbies to use it even in downtime. This includes the ability to communicate with other Hailo cabbies through the app, create a personal log book to set financial goals each week, and share information about traffic with each other. Indeed, hotel pick-up lines, or places where an accident has been reported, are outfitted with a geo-fence. The app knows when a cabbie has entered that area and is prompted to rate if there is business there.

Hailo obviously isn’t alone, though. Companies like Get Taxi and Uber, the high-end car service app, are entering Hailo’s territory in the U.K. Bregman, however, describes calling Uber a competitor like calling a bus a competitor.

“Uber, by the way, is a fantastic service for the one percent of people who can afford it,” he said. “In San Francisco, Uber works well because the taxi market is so highly dysfunctional.”

Uber, which rents out town cars and offers them to passengers for a markup over the meter price, has boomed in places like San Francisco where hailing a cab on your own is nearly impossible. Hailo makes its money addressing the broader market of cabs already on the road, and takes a transaction fee on credit card purchases.

“I don’t really understand where they fit into the infrastructure in London,” Bergman said of Uber’s move to the rainy city. Investor Valkin stays safe and predicts, “Time will tell.”

Like Uber, Hailo will spend money on Olympics-focused marketing, though Bregman says there’s already a lot of confusion about how the Olympics will work in London this summer. He suspects cabs will leave town instead of braving the traffic. Hailo will mainly use the funding to expand internationally, first to Dublin, Ireland. It will then hire general managers for future international locations and continue expanding.

Hailo currently has around 15 percent of the 23,000 available cabs in London. Investors include Accel Partners, Wellington Partners, and Atomico. The app is available on both iPhone and Android.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Badgeville powers gamified reality TV show Escape Routes

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 09:00 AM PDT

Gamification, the use of game-like rewards in non-game applications, is moving into reality TV. Badgeville will provide gamified achievements to the multiplatform reality TV series Ford Escape Routes, where six teams of two people compete in a road trip competition from city to city.

The series is being created by TDI and digital agency Rokkan, which are tapping Badgeville for the digital companion to the TV series.

Viewers at home will participate in real-time on EscapeRoutes.com, helping their favorite team win. The viewers can help out the teams by playing interactive challenges and games online. Badgeville provides those challenges.

"Badgeville's technology enabled the team at Rokkan to easily deploy their strategic, creative, and technical visions around this new interactive form of entertainment," said Jim Blackwelder, executive technical director at Rokkan. "We selected Badgeville as one of our key technology partners because of their flexible and powerful gamification platform. Working with Badgeville’s unique features, we were able to easily build a sophisticated and unique gamified user experience that couldn't have been achieved otherwise."

Ford Escape Routes airs Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. eastern on NBC and will also air on mun2, the leading bicultural cable network for young Latino Americans, Saturdays at 11 p.m. eastern.

Filed under: games

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With a big funding round on the table, Spotify extends free music for all listeners

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 08:28 AM PDT

Spotify is your classic freemium service: users get ten hours of music a month, but have to upgrade to the paid version to go mobile or listen to more tunes without ads.

But for the second time this year, Spotify has extended the free ride for all U.S. subscribers, who can now avoid the ten hours per month and five listen per song limit. And unlike the extension in January, Spotify didn’t bother to put a time limit on this extension.

Why would Spotify extend the party for listeners who don’t pay? Well its reportedly in the middle of trying to raise a round that would value it as several billion dollars, so keeping growth juiced is a must.

Second, the RIAA announced earlier this week that streaming services have turned out to be good for the record labels bottom line. Paying customers rose 18 percent over the last year, and revenue grew thirteen percent. The music industry may continue to give Spotify a break on royalties in order to see how far this new model can expand.

Spotify is still in the early stages of building out its app platform, but its easy to see how that could become a lucrative revenue stream. Labels could release new albums, compilations, or multi-media experiences as a paid app tied into Spotify’s music player.

Image via Flickr user he.neidhardt

Filed under: media, mobile, social

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Apple chief Tim Cook pays a visit to Chinese Foxconn plant

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 08:25 AM PDT

Factory workers

Apple CEO Tim Cook made his first trip to a Chinese Foxcoon production facility that is charged with making the company’s ultra popular iPhones.

Cook’s visit comes after weeks of accusations that employees of the Foxconn plant(s) with the victims of inhuman working conditions, low wages, and unreasonably long shifts. Those same claims, which were perpetuated by an NPR program’s interview with activist Mike Daisy, caused quite an uproar from Apple’s customers. It even sparked protests outside Apple retail stores and petitions calling for the company to end its relationship with many of its manufacturing partners.

While Daisy’s claims about Foxconn’s labor practices were later revealed to be mostly fabricated, Apple apparently got the message from its customers.

It’s likely that Cook’s visit is part of a new effort by the company to find out more about its manufacturing partners. According to a Reuters report, Cook was said to be smiling and shaking hands with employees at the Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park facility, which employs 120,000 people.

China is a very important part of Apple’s business. The country is home to several factories that build its products, like the iPhone, iPods, iPads, and others. It’s also Apple’s biggest market overall. Despite that, Apple has yet to achieve deals to sell the iPhone through large Chinese wireless carriers China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile.

Cook’s trip also included meetings with Vice Premier Li Keqiang, the mayor Beijing, and a visit to Apple’s largest retail stores in the country, according to the Reuters report.

Factory workers photo via BartlomiejMagierowski/ShutterStock

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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How seedy social spam is affecting the 2012 elections (infographic)

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 08:24 AM PDT


There’s no doubt that social media will play an important role in the 2012 elections, just as it did in both 2008 and 2010. But as its influence grows, so do the amount of spammers using social channels to unethically sway voters.

A new infographic from anti-spam company Impermium shows just how bad social spam has gotten already on Facebook, Twitter, and more with the ongoing 2012 Republican primary. The company estimates that 85% of readers on major news networks have been exposed to political spam through social user comments this year.

The culprits behind this political social spam? They’re actually the same guys who send you spam e-mails for Viagra and winning some magical lottery. Impermium says it compared IP addresses and other clues, and it found several matches between political and common spammers.

Although election spam so far has been mostly focused on the GOP primary candidates, Impermium predicts that spam attacks will affect candidates of all parties as the fall general election heats up.

“Our concern is not that political organizations are tapping the power of social networks to get out the vote,” CEO of Impermium Mark Risher said, in a statement. “The challenge is that social media, if leveraged by unethical groups, could be highly effective in coercing voters, and when combined with the criminal spam techniques we observed, could have a devastating impact."

Check out the full infographic below:


American flag photo: Alex Staroseltsev/Shutterstock

Filed under: social

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Fake ID holders beware: facial recognition service Face.com can now detect your age

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PDT

Facial recognition platform Face.com could foil the plans of all those under-age kids looking to score some booze. Fake IDs might not fool anyone for much longer, because Face.com’s new application programming interface (API) can detect a person’s age by scanning a photo.

With its facial recognition system, Face.com has built two Facebook apps that can scan photos and tag them for you. It also offers an API for developers to use its facial recognition technology in the apps they build.

It’s latest update to the API can scan a photo and determine a person’s minimum age, maximum age, and estimated age. It might not be spot-on accurate, but it could get close enough to determine your age group.

The hope is to build the technology into apps that restrict or tailor content based on age. For example, a mobile app could scan a child’s face, determine they’re too young to view adult content, and block it. Or — and this is where the tech could get futuristic and creepy — a display with a camera could scan someone’s face when they walk into a store and deliver ads based on their age.

In addition to the age-detection feature, Face.com has updated its API with 30 percent better facial recognition accuracy and new recognition algorithms, according to the company. The updates were released Thursday and the API is available for any developer to use.

Other companies in this space include Cognitec with its FaceVACS software development kit and Bayometric, which offers FaceIt Face Recognition. Google has also developed facial recognition technology for Android 4.0 and Apple applied for a facial recognition patent last year.

The technology behind scanning someone’s picture, or even their face, to figure out their age still needs to be developed for complete accuracy. But, the day when bouncers and liquor store cashiers can use an app to scan a fake ID’s holder’s face, determine that they are younger than the legal drinking age, and shoe them away may not be too far off.

Superbad McLovin’ image via Gary J. Wayne/Columbia Pictures

Filed under: mobile

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Sony’s PlayStation 4 may be code-named Orbis

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 07:57 AM PDT

Sony’s next PlayStation is code-named Orbis and it will use chips from Advanced Micro Devices, according to video game publication Kotaku.

Sony isn’t expected to begin talking about it for months, and Kaz Hirai, the new chief executive of Sony starting April 1, said in January that the company will not talk about a PlayStation 4 at the next E3 trade show in June. If and when it launches, Orbis will be Sony’s attempt to regain supremacy in the video game business.

But Kotaku, citing a reliable source, said that the Japanese company will launch the machine in time for the holidays in 2013. Microsoft is expected to launch a new machine in 2013, while Nintendo plans to launch its Wii U this year. Sony declined to comment to Kotaku.

The upcoming console reportedly uses an AMD “x64″ CPU, Kotaku said. That would be x86, according to common chip language. An AMD Southern Islands graphics processing unit, or GPU, will also be in the machine. That’s consistent with rumors reported by SemiAccurate, a chip blog. AMD is prepping the Southern Islands graphics chips for high-end PCs this year. The resolution will reportedly be 4096 x 2160, far ahead of today’s high-definition TVs. It will be able to do stereoscopic 3D in full HD. Some developers are reportedly getting early developer kits already.

The PS 4 will likely not run PS 3 games, and used games will likely be unable to run on the Orbis. The games for the device will be authenticated via a PlayStation Network (Sony Entertainment Network) account.

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Millennial Media shares double after IPO debut

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 07:47 AM PDT

Shares of Millennial Media, the second-largest mobile ad firm in the U.S., opened at $25 on the New York Stock Exchange this morning, up from an initial price of $13.

While its major competitors Quattro Wireless and AdMob were bought by Apple and Google, respectively, Millennial Media has stuck it out as an independent mobile ad company. And that seems to have paid off:  at $25 a share, Millennial’s valuation has increased to almost $2 billion. The company raised over $130 with its initial offering.

The Baltimore, Maryland-based company makes it easy for brands and companies to advertise on mobile devices, and it also provides useful analytics about users to determine the effectiveness of campaigns. Millennial’s technology is cross-platform, unlike Apple’s struggling iAd platform (the remnants of Quattro Wireless).

Millennial Media has yet to be profitable, but saw its revenue double last year to $103.7 million and its net loss improve to $287,000 (down from $7.1 million in 2010). The company’s clients include McDonald’s, Zynga, and Coca-Cola.

Via the Wall Street Journal; Image courtesy of emin kuliyev, Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Zuckerberg visits Asia, incites rumors Facebook may finally launch in China

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 07:40 AM PDT


Tim Cook wasn’t the only American tech CEO running around China this week. Mark Zuckerberg was also making the rounds in the world’s most populous country, reportedly on a vacation with his girlfriend but potentially doing some work as well.

China is the largest country that Facebook is not currently playing in, and with Facebook’s impending IPO, people have wondered if Facebook will finally launch there. Mainland China has 460 million Internet users, so there’s a huge opportunity for growth there. An estimated 450,000 people in China already access Facebook and other banned sites using proxies and VPN software, according to SocialBakers.

"We continue to evaluate entering China," Facebook told the New York Times. "However, this market has substantial legal and regulatory complexities that have prevented our entry into China to date."

Zuckerberg said he was simply on vacation with his girlfriend Priscilla Chan (see photo above), who is Chinese-American. However, Zuckberg labeled a trip in 2010 to China as vacation as well and he still found time to meet with major Chinese Internet companies Alibaba, Sina, and Baidu.

On his way back from China, Zuckerberg met briefly with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Japan is the only country outside of the U.S. where Facebook has an engineering office. Prime Minister Noda thanked Zuckerberg for Facebook helping victims communicate with family after last year’s massive earthquake and tsunami. In February, Facebook also launched a “Disaster Message Board” in Japan to help with future emergencies.

“With more than 10 million people on Facebook in Japan, a robust developer community, and a sophisticated mobile market, Japan is an important country for Facebook,” Facebook spokeswoman Debbie Frost told Reuters.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Comixology adds Nerdist CEO Peter Levin as an adviser

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Peter Levin

Digital comic books startup Comixology has added Nerdist Industries CEO Peter Levin to its board of advisers, the company announced today.

Comixology is the leading platform for the sale of digital comic books and graphic novels. The company’s sales are driven largely by purchases on the iPad, which routinely rank’s the company’s iOS app among the top 10 highest grossing on a weekly basis. Comixology is also the only platform that sells digital comic book titles from all the major publishers, including Marvel, DC Comics, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and others.

“They are the 800 lb. gorilla in the space. I’m honored to be on board,” Levin said in an e-mail to VentureBeat about the news. He joins several other influential Comixology advisers in the publishing space, including ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp, former DC Comics President Jenette Kahn, and former ZDNet head Jeff Ballowe. Levin will advise Comixology on strategic initiative and partnerships as well as business and corporate development.

A key part of Comixology’s success has been in forging partnerships. The company not only sells a variety of comic book titles from top publishers, it also provides the backend for many of those publisher’s official mobile apps (Marvel, DC Comics). That also includes special-branded apps for specific titles like The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Star Trek, and others.

With Levin joining the board, Comixology is bound to forge new lucrative partnerships in the geek/entertainment genre space. In addition to his position at Nerdist, Levin has also acted as executive adviser to Japanese media company Yoshimoto Kogyo and Rovio Mobile. Last month, Levin’s Nerdist announced a joint partnership with Lucasfilm, Machinima and Octagon for Course of the Force, a 120-mile relay run where a chain of joggers will carry a lightsaber like an Olympic torch to their final destination San Diego Comic-Con International 2012.

It also helps that Nerdist’s website regularly covers entertainment news that’s loosely related to Comixology’s business, and produces a popular weekly podcast hosted by G4TV correspondent (and founder of Nerdist) Chris Hardwick.

Founded in 2007, the New York-based startup faces competition from Graphicly, iVerse, and PanelFly.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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The magic moment: Smartphones now half of all U.S. mobiles

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 07:00 AM PDT

We’ve finally reached the point where half of U.S. mobile consumers own smartphones — a significant moment that proves the smartphone revolution is more than just hype.

As of February, 49.7 percent of U.S. mobile owners have smartphones, according to the latest figures from Nielsen. Additionally, the research group found that more than two-thirds of new phone buyers in the last three months opted for smartphones over feature phones.

The big takeaway: The strong rise of smartphones will continue, and feature phones are on their way to becoming extinct (see graph below).

Nielsen notes that smartphone penetration has jumped significantly since February of last year, when it was only 36 percent. If growth continues at this rate, smartphones could account for 70 percent of all U.S. mobile devices by next year.

48 percent of smartphone owners have an Android handset, 32 percent have an iPhone, and 12 percent have a BlackBerry, according to Nielsen. Among new buyers the figures look similar, with 48 percent going for Android, 43 percent for the iPhone, and a misguided 5 percent going for BlackBerry.

Come next year, I suspect we’ll see Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform breaking out of the Nielsen “Other” category and gaining significant market share. RIM is on the decline, and the upcoming $100 Nokia Lumia 900 will likely pull some consumers away from cheap Android phones.

Smartphone picture via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Amazon could launch up to 4 tablets this year with shipments of 20M

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 06:07 AM PDT

We’ve been hearing that Amazon is working on a powerful 10-inch tablet since before the Kindle Fire’s launch, but now it appears that the company may have many more in the works.

Amazon could launch between two and four new tablets this year, according to a Digitimes report citing the usual “industry sources.”Additionally, the sources estimate that Amazon’s tablet shipments could reach 20 million this year, up from 5 to 6 million units shipped in 2011.

Amazon’s 10-inch model is expected to be priced between $250 and $300 (I’d bet on it being on the higher end), with shipments beginning in July, Digitime’s sources say. The company also reportedly has a new $199 7-inch tablet, which will most likely replace the current Kindle Fire, in the works for shipment at the end of the second quarter. If true, that means Amazon could announce the new 7-inch Kindle by this Summer or early Fall.

We’ve pretty much expected those two models, but Digitimes also shed some light on two other tablets from Amazon, a potential 8.9-inch model, and a $169 7-inch model for the entry level. The 8.9-inch model “has not been confirmed by Amazon” due to price concerns, Digitimes says (and honestly, it seems like a waste of time if the 10-inch model is going to be under $300). As for the cheaper 7-inch model, I’m thinking that will just be the new price for Amazon’s current Kindle Fire, rather than an entirely new tablet.

Photo Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Outbid mixes gamification and social networks with real-time online auctions

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Online auctions often lack the thrill and challenge of battling against other bidders in an auction house setting. Outbid is a new service blending the tension of real-world bidding with social and gaming flourishes.

Rather than waiting days at a time for auctions to end, Outbid is live and commentated on by an auctioneer. It blends the competitive real-time action of a penny auction with a more social environment complete with an animated bid tracker and chat room.

"Outbid can be used by anyone who wants to hold auctions that are fun, engaging, and highly interactive," said Dan Granger, chief executive of Outbid. "From individual sellers to offline auctioneers who want to recreate the excitement of the auction room online, Outbid transforms online auctions into thrilling social events."

The main idea behind Outbid is dispersing with the layers of anonymity many services have in favor of a more transparent and social atmosphere. When bidding on items on eBay, you cannot see who is competing against you. In Outbid, you are directly bidding against clearly identified people. Each time someone bids a continuous countdown clock resets. The larger the bid, the more time is thrown back up. Participants who make consistent offers also have the chance of using a monster bid which is much higher than the typical $1-2 recommended increase.

Outbid rewards users who bid often and successful auctioneers and keeps track of their stats. Auctions are often fast-paced and won based not only on how high an offer is, but how expertly a user implements their monster bids.

Outbid is run by a nine-person team in Oakland Calif. It’s funded by NASDAQ-quoted Copart, the company which owns the patented VB2 online auction technology and founded by Copart’s CEO Jay Adair. His goal is to create a "virtual lemonade stand"so people could safely sell things they make to friends and family. "Online auctions bear little resemblance to traditional auctions," said Adair.

Live auctions generate more than $300 billion a year and outsell their online alternatives by a ratio of 9 to 1. Outbid hopes to bridge the gap between the off and online auction worlds while instilling a fun and interactive social component. "Outbid brings the best of both worlds together and infuses a heightened social experience into the auction industry," said Adair.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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ShoeDazzle hits 10M members and steps out of its comfort zone

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Less than one year receiving $30 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, shoe-of-the-month company ShoeDazzle is dropping its subscription payment model and announcing impressive new user-numbers.

When it was founded two-and-a-half years ago by serial entrepreneur Brian Lee, ShoeDazzle set-up shop with a unique payment structure for an online fashion company. Would-be shoppers had to sign up for a $39.95 a month membership, which got them one item a month. If they didn’t buy something during any given month, the credit would roll over like cell-phone minutes.

As of Thursday, ShoeDazzle is dropping the membership requirement so anyone can buy its products. It’s also expanding its selection from just shoes and accessories to include clothes, lingerie, and other fashion items.

“We’re more augmenting what our customers want,” said new chief executive of six months, Bill Strauss, in an interview. “We have to be ready for people who want to buy one-off.”

Dropping barriers to sales is a natural move for a company with a booming customer base. Since the Andreessen-led $40 million round of funding last May, ShoeDazzle has jumped from 3 million to 10 million members. Killing the monthly subscription model could also be a smart move for Strauss whose last company, Provide-Commerce (parent company of ProFlowers), was sued over fraudulent monthly membership fees.

Even with the changes, ShoeDazzle is sticking with some features that have made it stand-out, including the dollar store approach to pricing (everything costs $39.95, mostly), and custom recommendations. After you take a fun survey covering a limited range of fashions (what style of sexy, extremely high-heel shoes do you prefer?), the site begins to recommend products it thinks you will like. All the items on the site are ShoeDazzle brand, made exclusively for the company in the same factories that produce similar brand-name goods, which helps to keep prices low.

Another of ShoeDazzle’s claims to fame is its celebrity connection. “Brian says he loves to take advantage of the natural resources in LA, which is celebrities,” said Strauss. The company brought on reality personality Kim Kardashian as a co-founder, and credits her with being one of the keys to its success early on.

Just how useful is a big name for a small startup? “At the time that it launched, it was very important. It gives a brand, especially a startup brand, credibility,” said Strauss,. “If Kim Kardashian is out there talking about it, you open up the brand to her whole audience for relatively low-cost.”

The LA-based company currently has 185 employees. It has raised $60 million in funding to date from Andreessen Horowitz, Polaris Venture Partners, and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

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Omers Ventures leads new $20M round in social media management startup Hootsuite

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 05:47 AM PDT

In one of the biggest venture deals Canada has seen in the last decade, Omer Ventures has led a $20 million round in Hootsuite, a social media management service that counts blue chip companies like Pepsi, Fox, and the NBA among its clients.

Hootsuite is headquartered in Vancouver and has grown from 25 people last year to a team of 140, with plans to expand to 250 this year. This mirrors the growth trajectory of its competitor Buddy Media in New York, which recently moved into new offices to accomodate its rapidly expanding staff, and raised $54 million dollars.

The power of Hootsuite is that it allows companies to execute their social media campaigns across multiple networks from a single, simple dashboard. As diverse  networks come to play a role in business –Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest, the list goes on — companies need more help than ever.

HootSuite was founded in 2008 and its major investors include Blumberg Capital and Hearst Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Hearst Corporation.

Filed under: social

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Bump now lets you hand out money by tapping your phone

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Bump, the wildly successful iPhone app, is joined today by sibling app Bump Pay, a new tap-to-send-money application.

The app is pretty much what the name says: You pick an amount of money to send, bump phones with a friend, and voilĂ , money is magically sent from your PayPal account to your friend’s.

The app is available today on the Apple App Store for U.S. folks; we’re assuming we’ll be seeing other locations and platforms opening up soon. The main Bump app is currently available for Android, as well.

“Bump Pay solves the problem we all feel every day when splitting a lunch bill or buying movie tickets for a group of friends,” writes Bump co-founder Dave Lieb today on the Bump blog. “Inevitably someone doesn’t have cash, and keeping track of IOUs is a pain. In fact, Bump Pay was originally a tool that one of our developers created just for our own internal use to settle up after lunches out, but we liked it so much that we’ve decided to open it up.”

The Bump team has been focusing a lot lately on simplicity — doing one thing, and doing it well. In a recent update to the company’s core app, the crafty product folks managed to whittle Bump 3.0 down to just two features. At that time, Lieb told VentureBeat, “Technology is a big enabler, but it can also make things way more complicated. We took the great part of technology and kept the simplicity of how you want to share things.”

That same simplicity is now being applied to the mobile wallet/mobile payments issue. When users download the app, they’ll only be asked to enter their email address to get started.

“The app uses PayPal to process the payments, so there are no new accounts to create, and it’s totally free as long as you have your bank account linked to your PayPal account,” Lieb continued. “After the initial setup, there is absolutely no typing required, and you can pay someone in about five seconds.”

When Bump 3.0 launched, Lieb hinted that the team wanted to bring the trademark “phone bump” action and the shop’s new focus on beauty through simplicity to a lot of other needlessly complicated areas of modern life, from music and media to money. Bump Labs, the “internal incubator of sorts” that Lieb credits with cooking up Bump Pay, will be aimed at bringing that ease to a few other verticals soon, as well.

“We see many other problems in our daily lives that could be solved with the philosophy, technology, and design that yielded Bump,” Lieb writes in the post. “Our mission at Bump is to solve real problems that people have in their lives by making connections between people and between devices as simple and accessible as possible.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Cost of mobile user acquisition creeps up in February

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PDT

After a lull in January, the cost of acquiring new mobile users rose again in February, according to mobile marketing firm Fiksu.

That’s a sign that mobile app makers are placing more ads to promote their products in the Apple App Store. If the costs keep rising, then smaller developers may find that it is going to cost too much to promote their apps, given the amount of money they can generate in revenue from those apps.

Gabriel Leydon, chief executive of Machine Zone (formerly Addmired), said in an interview with VentureBeat that the competition is heating up among new entrants in the mobile game business, such as Gree, Zynga, and Ngmoco. He expects that to lead to a further spike in user acquisition costs.

The cost of acquiring a new user in February was $1.31, compared to $1.14 in January and $1.81 in December. The December number was an all-time high that occurred in the midst of the holiday gift season. The cost refers to the cost per loyal user, or someone who opens an app at least three times.

The Fiksu App Store Competitive Index (which measures the average aggregate daily download volume of the top 200 free U.S. iPhone apps) decreased by six percent to 6.35 million daily downloads, from January's record high of 6.79 million.

The Fiksu Indexes reveal that after a reduced spending in January, advertisers began gearing up for new marketing campaigns in February. Even though Fiksu was not working with “bot” install traffic sources, a decline in overall app download volume may have reflected early signs of app marketers responding to Apple's February 6 announcement to crack down on “bot” install tactics.

"As we moved out of the holiday and New Year discovery rush period, consumer download activity slowed during the month of February," said Micah Adler, Fiksu CEO. "Still, with plentiful volume at reasonable costs, our indexes show that February presented another valuable opportunity for mobile marketers to acquire loyal app users."

The data is based on 16.9 billion mobile app actions.

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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Watch a blind man drive to Taco Bell with a little help from Google’s robot cars

Posted: 29 Mar 2012 04:26 AM PDT

Self-driving cars are one of the projects that remind you of the good old days of Google, when the company was more focused on quirky “twenty-percent-time” projects than playing catch up in the social networking space. While the cars are still far from a legal reality in most states, Google has released a new video showing Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, enjoying a ride in one of its robo-cars.

Back in February, Nevada became the first state to pass regulations that would legalize these cars for use. It’s not clear yet if they would be available to the general public or be targeted to the differently abled. Google has also said the cars might serve as taxis and delivery vehicles.

In the video below, Mahan talks about how much extra time everything takes when one is blind and the liberating possibilities of a self-driving car. Then he takes ride to Taco Bell and enjoys his meal with two hands while heading to pick up some dry cleaning.

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Kabam buys Battle Punks social game creator Gravity Bear (exclusive)

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 08:09 PM PDT

Kabam has acquired Gravity Bear, creator of the Battle Punks social game on Facebook.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Kabam makes hardcore games for social network audiences such as Dragons of Atlantis. With Gravity Bear, the company brings in a new developer that has focused on 3D browser game development. Gravity Bear launched its 3D combat dueling game Battle Punks in the spring of 2010.

The acquisition will bring some fresh games to Kabam’s portfolio as it expands beyond strategy games. 3D games will become more fashionable on Facebook and in browser-based formats thanks to the launch of new technologies such as Adobe’s Stage 3D. Gravity Bear has been working on a 3D-accelerated version of Battle Punks for more than a year.

"With their terrific track record in developing high quality, engaging games for core gamers, Phil and the Gravity Bear team make an outstanding addition to Kabam and our strong lineup of games," said Andrew Sheppard, president of Kabam Game Studio, in a statement. "The original Battle Punks was already a fun, immersive game. We look forward to taking the game to a new level with Stage 3D and building this title into a very large franchise, much like we did with Dragons of Atlantis.”

Emeryville, Calif.-based Gravity Bear was formed in 2008 by game veteran Phil Shenk as part of a quest to take games to the next level on social networks. Shenk previously held key roles at Origin, Blizzard North (Diablo II), Wild Tangent, and Flagship Studios (Hellgate: London and Mythos).

"It's great to be part of a company that has a clear vision for taking FTP games to the next level along with the state of the art technology, distribution, and analytics required to successfully scale a game," said Shenk. "We will benefit from Kabam's outstanding capabilities and resources. And their focus on creating immersive experiences and worlds for core gamers is a perfect fit for our team."

Filed under: games, social

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The post-OMGPOP boost: Zynga prices secondary offering at $12 a share

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 06:38 PM PDT

Fresh from the $180 million acquisition of OMGPOP, Zynga has priced the secondary offering of its stock at $12 a share. The San Francisco maker of social and mobile games is using the secondary offering to give longtime investors a chance to cash out.

Mark Pincus, chief executive of Zynga, didn’t sell any of his multibillion-dollar stake after Zynga’s initial public offering in December. But Pincus is poised to sell 16.5 million shares, valued at $198 million, in the secondary offering. Pincus and other selling shareholders have agreed to lock-up agreements that prevent them from reselling their shares until at least 90 days after the offering. Full told, Zynga shareholders will sell 42.9 million shares of Class A common stock at $12 a share. Zynga went public in December at $10 a share.

The purpose of this offering is to have an “orderly distribution of shares” and to increase the company’s public “float,” or number of shares available for trading on the market.

Zynga acquired OMGPOP earlier this week, getting its hands on the No. 1 mobile app, Draw Something, a Pictionary-style game. Underwriters have the option of selling 6.4 million in additional shares.

Draw Something
Created by: MBAOnline.com

Filed under: games, mobile, social

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Kindle Fire update will amplify your desire to consume media

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 05:39 PM PDT

Kindle Fire

Amazon rolled out a software update for its Kindle Fire tablet today that adds lots of new functionality for sharing, offline media consumption, movie rentals, textbooks, and more.

With the new update, Kindle Fire owners can share passages or notes from their ebooks on social networks without navigating away from the page. You can also choose to share those notes/passages with other Amazon users  interested in reading the same book. While sharing video clips and snippets from news stories has become much easier over time, books have always lagged behind. This feature, in theory, could change that.

Another way Amazon is trying to enhance the reading experience on its Fire tablet is through a new “Book Extras” feature, which is powered by Shelfari. Book Extras gives you character descriptions, a glossary of common terms, author information, settings/location references, and more. It’s basically like an imdb for readers.

The update also adds support for an archive of personal documents via Amazon Cloud, a simplified reader mode for viewing things in the Amazon Silk browser, improvements to Wi-Fi connectivity after waking a sleeping Kindle Fire, and many general performance enhancements (like the movie rental availability time beginning only after you first start watching the rental).

Probably the strangest addition included with the new update is for what Amazon calls “Print Replica Textbooks”. This is basically a photocopy version of a traditional printed textbook, meaning you cannot select text like you can in other digital books. You also can’t search for words, which is a deterrent for a digital version of a book. (This is especially true when studying.)

The Print Replica Texbooks do, however, let you add notes, highlight sections, zoom in, and quickly jump between chapters listed in the book’s table of contents. Why on earth would you want to bother with a textbook without being able to utilize the actual text itself? Well, apparently they are up to 60 percent less expensive than the printed version, which will come in handy for poor college students. And I’m guessing that since most textbooks don’t have digital counterparts, this is also a nice alternative to lugging around a heavy backpack full o’ knowledge.

Overall, the Kindle Fire 6.3 software update adds lots of new stuff not available on both more expensive tablets (iPad, Galaxy Tab, Xoom) and similarly priced competitors like Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet.

The new software is available as an over-the-air update on the Kindle Fire or through Amazon’s website. (And for those who like to tinker, it’s also worth noting that a 6.3 Kindle Fire update root is now available, too.)

Filed under: cloud, media, mobile, VentureBeat

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CafePress at $19 a share, could pop as high as $26 on opening day

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 04:51 PM PDT

Thirteen year-old do-it-yourself printing service CafePress has priced shares higher than anticipated at $19, an underwriter said on the eve of the company’s public debut.

CafePress, a San Mateo, Calif-based company best-known for its popular custom t-shirt printing business, will start trading Thursday on the Nasdaq under the symbol “PRSS” and is offering 4.5 million common stock shares (2 million shares from investors) on opening day. At $19 a share, the company will raise $85.5 million in the offering.

CafePress infographic. Click to enlarge.

In its prospectus, CafePress detailed that it has more than 15 million members and an expansive catalog of more than 320 million different products. The company made $75 million in gross profit from $175.5 million in net revenue in 2011. The 2011 revenue figure amounts to 37 percent year-over-year growth.

“Overall we think it’s a good buy at $19,” financial analysis company PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh explained to VentureBeat. “We wouldn’t be surprised by a first day pop — if we had to anchor a number, we’d predict a first day pop to $26 before settling around $23, for a healthy pop.”

CafePress will win favor on Wall Street, Hamadeh said, because of solid annual revenue and impressive year-over-year revenue growth. “It’s one of the stronger IPOs coming online so far in 2012,” Hamadeh added.

CafePress has raised $15.5 million in funding to date. The service competes with a slew of long-running online printing companies such as Zazzle and slightly overlaps in purpose with a crop of young upstarts looking to capitalize on printing mobile photos.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Funding daily: Australian Zappos, mobile site builder, and cloud security providers

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 04:22 PM PDT

At VentureBeat, we come across a lot of funding news every day. In order to bring you the most information possible, we're rounding up the quick-and-dirty details about the funding deals of the day and serving them up here in our new "Funding daily" column.

MediaPass grabs funding for content subscriptions

MediaPass helps online publishers can make money by selling subscriptions to their content. The company raised $1.75 million in its second round of funding from undisclosed investors. The service can be integrated into major content management systems, such as WordPress, Joomla, and Blogger. MediaPass also announced a partnership with Automattic’s WordPress VIP program. The company is based in Los Angeles, Calif.

StyleTread raises $12 million

In the world of e-commerce, StyleTread raised $12 million from Starfish Ventures, Lakestar, Nine Entertainment Co., and Adinvest. StyleTread is an Australian company that sells men’s and women’s shoes, and is described as the “Zappos of Australia.” The two year-old company is headquartered in Sydney.

DudaMobile grabs funding to build mobile websites

Tuesday, DudaMobile announced a $6 million second round of funding from Pitango Venture Capital. The platform lets people build mobile websites and just passed the one million websites built milestone. The company has also received funding from angel investors Jeff Fluhr, StubHub founder, and Audible.com CEO Don Kat. DudaMobile is based in Mountain View, Calif. and was founded in 2009.

$8.7 million goes to CloudLock

CloudLock just raised $8.7 million from Ascent Venture Partners and Cedar Fund in a second round of funding. The company does what it name implies: locks up company data stored in the cloud. It works with Google Apps customers that want extra security.

UnboundID raises $12.5 million to protect customer data

UnboundID announced Tuesday that it has raised a second round of funding for $12.5 million from OpenView Venture Partners. Similarly to CloudLock, UnboundID protects customer data and identities stored in cloud servers, mobile apps, and social networks. The company is based in Austin, Texas.

If you've got funding news to report, send it our way at tips@venturebeat.com.

Shoe shopping image via Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, deals, mobile

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Strength of AOL’s $1B patent porfolio lies in fundamental communication tech

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 02:34 PM PDT

AOL patents

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s claims of the company’s patent library being worth an estimated $1 billion might prove true, according to patent research firm Envision IP.

AOL has struggled over the past few years to transition itself from relying primarily on dial-up internet service subscriptions to an advertising/media powerhouse. The company’s overall revenue is down sharply compared to two years ago, and activist investors are questioning Armstrong’s strategy for some of its news publications, like the local-news hub Patch. Because of this, Armstrong felt it necessary to start promoting AOL’s patent portfolio as a way to generate more money.

Armstrong claims that AOL has about 800 patents that are very important, half of which are essential for internet users. Envision IP thinks a fifth of the company’s valuable patents are related to online messaging.

“Many of these patents relate to fundamental online communication technologies, stemming from AOL's early dominance in the instant messaging and email markets,” writes Envision IP in its assessment of AOL’s portfolio. The company also has a large number of early patents for webpage rendering, search engine technologies, and multimedia compression/transmission.

“While AOL does not seem to have any patents that could be deemed essential to wireless standards, it certainly owns many technologies that are fundamental to electronic and voice messaging, Internet user experience, multimedia sharing, and web-based data retrieval, technologies that have become common place in today's online world,” the firm writes.

It’s interesting that AOL recently laid off a chunk of employees from its e-mail and messaging services department. Perhaps the company is much less interested in maintaining those services as it is licensing off the technology behind them for a greater profit.

Via AllThingsD

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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YouTube for nerds: Slashdot TV has launched

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 01:18 PM PDT

Screw those stupid cat videos; Slashdot TV has arrived, and it might actually make you smarter.

While most video aggregators these days lean heavily in favor of the cute, the bizarre, and the clickbait-y, Slashdot TV lives up to the site’s “news for nerds” tagline. On the front page of the new property, we see fascinating car tech, Linux running on a TV, and our good buddy Bre Petis demonstrating his newest Maker Bot 3D printer. Can you imagine a Beowulf cluster of those?

Of course, like any good aggregator, Slashdot TV will feature tabs for popular and recent clips, but it also has the lovingly curated Editor’s Picks section. The site divides vids into handy categories, such as Linux, science, and security, and it includes content from SourceForce and Think Geek, which share a parent company with Slashdot.

In a post about the new hotness, the editors write, “You may have noticed that we’ve posted quite a few original videos on Slashdot in the past few months. Rather than being the work of a few rogue editors with newly-acquired Christmas cameras, this was part of the groundwork for a new site we’re launching today. SlashdotTV.”

Videos are embeddable (except on WordPress, unfortunately) and shareable via the usual social sites. A commenting system should be coming soon, as well. And yes, the site does include some preroll advertising. They gotta pay the bills too, y’all.

Slashdot was founded in 1997 by Rob “CmdrTaco” Malda, currently of the Washington Post. The site is owned by GeekNet, and its current editors are Jeff “Soulskill” Boehm, Clinton “unknown lamer” Ebadi, Timothy Lord, and Rob “Samzenpus” Rozeboom.

Image based on photo by Alterov, Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Facebook’s IPO roadshow starts next week, sources say

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 01:11 PM PDT

Facebook will officially start courting investors and kick off its IPO roadshow next week in a one-month run-up to a late-April offering, multiple sources close to the company have said.

This revelation comes from financial data analysis company PrivCo, which also learned that the Facebook IPO roadshow video has already been recorded and will go live either Friday or Monday. The social network also plans to permanently halt trading of shares on secondary markets this Friday at noon.

“Our sources are very reliable,” PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh assured VentureBeat. “We also know that the IPO is to begin trading [the] last week of April.” A Wall Street Journal report Wednesday claims the IPO will happen in May, as has been previously speculated.

Facebook filed to become a public company on February 1, 2012. The social network, which made $3.7 billion in 2011, will raise at least $5 billion with a possible $100 billion valuation. Just yesterday, Facebook made a third amendment to its prospectus to update would-be investors on the status of two high-profile lawsuits.

With its offering so soon on the horizon, the timing of the roadshow makes sense. As further evidence, Facebook held a pre-roadshow discussion with analysts and bankers at its headquarters last Monday. CEO Mark Zuckerberg skipped the three-hour meeting. Altimeter Group founder and partner Charlene Li told VentureBeat that Zuckerberg's absence from the meeting was a move likely designed to set expectations early on.

As for the roadshow video, Hamadeh said that it includes an introduction from lead-left underwriter Morgan Stanley, but primarily features Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CFO David Ebersman. The company’s celebrity CEO is not featured prominently in the video, but he does make an appearance.

Hamadeh, who admittedly does not know the schedule of cities, speculates the roadshow will start at Facebook’s Menlo Park campus and continue in the Bay Area, “before ending up in New York to ring the opening bell.”

Facebook declined to comment on this story.

This post was updated to reflect that PrivoCo now anticipates a permanent ban, not a suspension, of secondary market trading on Friday.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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Half all U.S. households contain at least one Apple product

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 12:57 PM PDT

Whether it’s a humble iPod nano or a state-of-the-art, Hummer-sized Mac desktop, Apple gadgets reside in half of all households in the United States.

This statistic comes to us via a CNBC survey on Americans’ view of the economy, which touches on home ownership, investments, presidential approval ratings, and more. The Apple-related stat shows us that regardless of our hard-times talk about a tough economy, many of us are still capable of conspicuous consumption when we feel like it.

According to the survey, around 55 million households currently have at least one iPod, iPhone, iPad, or Mac lying around the house. Of the roughly 55 million households that don’t currently have an Apple-made device, about 5 million said they planned to bring one into the fold sometime during 2012.

Of course, many of these households don’t stop at just one measly iPod. They survey results also showed that the average household contains 1.6 Apple devices and that around 25 percent of households planned to add at least one more piece of Apple hardware in 2012.

While age does make much of a difference in determining whether or not you’ll go Apple (if you’re under 65, anyhow), income certainly does. Less than one third of households earning less than $30,000 per year own at least one Apple device. However, for households earning $75,000 per year or more, that figure shot to 77 percent.

Apple’s ever-growing popularity among normal consumers has a dark side, too, which we’re starting to see in the form of protests over the company’s manufacturing process. At the beginning of the year, Apple’s self-audit of its factories in Asia showed the existence of child labor, slave labor, and other grossly unjust practices.

Given the popularity of Apple products and Apple stock, we conclude that there’s no good excuse for the company’s continued labor abuses.

Image courtesy of wavebreakmedia ltd, Shutterstock

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Republicans seek to reform FCC, exercise more control over telecom mergers

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 11:56 AM PDT

Republicans in the U.S. government are seeking to limit the Federal Communication Commission’s power to oversee mergers in the tech and telecommunications arena.

The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act passed in the House of Representatives last night, 274-174, with only 12 Democrats voting in favor of the bill. The legislation seeks to bring more oversight to the big (and rapidly accelerating) business of communications mergers and acquisitions.

Recently, the FCC was involved in the approval of major deals such as Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility — a combination that had many sidelines-bound watchers scratching their heads. Google carefully avoided the appearance of antitrust issues, and the FCC, which was involved primarily because Motorola Mobility owned some licenses under the commission’s jurisdiction, gave the deal the nod.

However, about a year ago, when AT&T announced its intention to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion, the FCC was the agency that needed to decide whether or not the deal would leave the wireless industry competitive. In the end, when the FCC chair decided the merger would be bad for consumers, and the companies’ application to the FCC was killed off and withdrawn.

And then there was the Comcast-NBC merger, which the FCC approved but with some interesting stipulations about content.

The new proposed legislation does require more transparency from the FCC on merger applications and other activities, but it might impede the FCC’s ability to propose stipulations that promote the public interest — for example, the FCC’s pressuring Comcast for more diversity-friendly programming during the NBC merger.

House Democrats argued that the reform bill would effectively shut down the FCC, and some question whether the bill will pass muster with Senate Democrats. However, Democrats on Capitol Hill are making amendments to the bill as it works its way through the legislative branch.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google Maps for Android now looks crisper on new devices, adds transit options

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 11:51 AM PDT

android-google-mapsGoogle updated its Maps application to version 6.5 for Android today, and with the update comes a new Navigation home screen for Ice Cream Sandwich users, faster maps on high-pixel-density devices, and new public-transit options.

The most noticeable part of the update will go to owners of newer Android phones with high-pixel-density screens, including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Samsung Galaxy S II, and Motorola Droid Razr. The update enables higher resolution map images that take better advantage of the screen, resulting in a crisper look. A side-by-side comparison below shows how Maps has been altered for such devices:


For Android 4.0+ users, Google has redesigned the Navigation home screen “to make it easier to enter a new destination or select from recent and favorite locations by swiping left or right.”

Those who depend on Google for public transit directions (like me!) will also be happy with the update. With 6.5, you can prioritize which transit mode (like bus or subway) you would like to take. Transit directions and schedules are available for 475 cities around the world. The update gets the app one step closer to HopStop-level functionality.

Users who want the Google Maps update can download it now from the Google Play store.

Watch Google’s video about the update below:

Filed under: mobile

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Porn today, gone tomorrow: Egypt bans porn websites

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 11:43 AM PDT

Fig LeafLooks like the Internet’s oldest profession is putting some clothes on in Egypt. Courts in the country have ruled that porn websites are illegal.

The decision is based on a similar 2009 ruling against online smut that has not yet been enforced. Egyptian publication Egypt Today confirmed the news in a tweet, stating courts would be banning the websites as of now. Of course, the 140-character social network promptly lit up like a switchboard with angry people wanting their porn (or freedom from censorship, one of the two).

One Twitter user says, “Rejoice Egypt, a new black market for porn CDs is in the making.”

Another user jokingly (we think) offers to sell proxies to Egyptian porn-watchers, allowing them to access the scandalous material online anonymously. His going rate is $8 a proxy. You can follow the conversation on Twitter using the #EgyPornBan hash tag.

The Egyptian government has been accused of censoring the Internet before, most recently during the overthrow of former leader Hosni Mubarak. During that time, social media was cut off, making it difficult for protesters and demonstrators to coordinate over the Internet.

If we are sure of anything in this world, it’s Rule 34: If it exists, there’s porn of it. If the lawmakers are serious, they can’t stop at the Internet. They will have to censor books, paintings, music, college dorm posters, email, sex text messages (sexting), and just about every teenaged-boy’s brain. The Egyptian government will now have to figure out a way to determine what is actually porn and what is artistic expression or a private moment.

hat tip The Next Web; Fig leaf image via Shutterstock

Filed under: social

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