31 March, 2012



Google fools with Maps 8-bit for NES and Game Boy

Posted: 31 Mar 2012 09:23 AM PDT

Legendary prankster Google is out with some early April Fools’ tomfoolery ahead of schedule, teasing nostalgic gamers with an 8-bits version of its near-ubiquitous Maps application.

“In our pursuit of new digital frontiers, we realized that we may have left behind a large number of users who couldn’t access Google Maps on their classic hardware,” Google said in a blog post on the phony product for NES.

Maps 8-bit for NES (and soon Game Boy!) is the dream cartridge for the sentimental gamer who still totes around her classic Nintendo Entertainment System. The application features low-res graphics, an 8-bit-themed soundtrack, and even monsters.

“With Google Maps 8-bit, you can do all the things you already do on regular Google Maps. Search for famous landmarks and sites around the world. Take an epic journey with 8-bit Street View. Get detailed directions to avoid dangerous paths, and battle your way through a world of powerful monsters and mystic treasures,” Google said.

The video, embedded below, is a must-watch and includes appropriate instructions for operation — think blowing on the cartridge to fix bugs.

The Maps gag is no Google TiSP, but it’s quite clever and likely just one of many new “products” launching this April.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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How Android and iOS became smartphone superpowers (infographic)

Posted: 31 Mar 2012 08:49 AM PDT

Today, half of U.S. mobile consumers own smartphones. But five years ago, before Apple and Google turned the smartphone world upside down and “Angry Birds” were associated with feathery fowl dispensing poop from above, the world was a very different place.

But the world we live in has changed, and Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are at the center of a mind-boggling mobile revolution. Here we look back at how smartphone superpowers Android and iOS have taken over the universe.

The infographic included below, created by mobile security startup Lookout, puts it all into perspective, highlighting the major Android and iOS milestones over the course of the past five years.

So sit back, grab a cup of coffee (or mimosa), and soak in this rather astonishing history-in-the-making lesson.

Photo credit: Tsahi Levent-Levi/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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TweetDeck bug fixed, not used “maliciously”

Posted: 31 Mar 2012 07:31 AM PDT

TweetDeck is back online after a potentially disastrous bug gave a small number of Twitter users access to other members’ accounts.

“As soon as we learned about the issue today, we took TweetDeck down to diagnose the situation,” Twitter’s head of communications Caroyln Penner said in an email statement to VentureBeat. “We discovered a bug that caused a very small number of TweetDeck users to have access to other TweetDeck users' accounts.”

Friday, Twitter user Geoff Evason discovered that he was inadvertently granted access to hundreds of Twitter and Facebook accounts via TweetDeck and could post on their behalf. As a result, the popular Twitter-owned social media dashboard was taken offline as engineers investigated the issue. TweetDeck was back online Friday as of 9:05 p.m. Pacific.

“No one’s password was compromised, and we aren’t aware of any instances where this access was used maliciously,” Penner said.

While the TweetDeck bug will go down as more of a mortifying blight on the company’s reputation than a serious security breach, Twitter’s handling of the matter strikes us as troubling.

The company is attempting to assert itself as a grown-up business, but did little to inform the public until after the issue was identified and fixed. Twitter did not initially offer an explanation for why TweetDeck was taken offline, leaving Evason, journalists, and application users wondering about the severity of the issue for several hours.

These types of rookie mistakes could make Madison Avenue executives think twice about the stability and maturity level of the company as it tries to stand tall next to Google and Facebook in the big leagues.

Penner’s full statement is included below.

TweetDeck is now back online.

As soon as we learned about the issue today, we took TweetDeck down to diagnose the situation. We discovered a bug that caused a very small number of TweetDeck users to have access to other TweetDeck users' accounts. (The accounts that could be accessed were random; it was not possible to select specific accounts and access them.)

No one’s password was compromised, and we aren’t aware of any instances where this access was used maliciously. As a precaution, we removed account credentials associated with affected TweetDeck users; they will need to log in to authorize the TweetDeck application to access their accounts.

Photo credit: laRuth/Flickr

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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After 17 years, Sony closes SOCOM studio Zipper Interactive — with a tweet

Posted: 31 Mar 2012 12:04 AM PDT

The studio that created the SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALS video games has shut down after 17 years. In a tweet, Zipper Interactive, a Redmond, Wash.-based console game studio owned by Sony, announced that it had shut down.

“After 17 years it’s time to head off into the sunset. A sincere thank you to all of our fans for everything you’ve done for us. Farewell.” Zipper had about 80 employees.

The rumors of the closing started circulating last week. At the time, reports said that the studio had a project canceled and was undergoing layoffs. Sony said a statement that it did not comment on rumors. Zipper’s last official game, Unit 13, debuted on the PlayStation Vita earlier this month. The company had some bad luck with its last SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALS game, which debuted in April, 2011. That happened just as Sony shut down the PlayStation Network after a hacker attack.

That crippled the SOCOM game’s multiplayer play. Zipper also made MAG, a huge action online game for the PlayStation 3.

Filed under: games

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Groupon revises Q4 earnings, down 7 percent in after-hours trading

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 05:15 PM PDT


Groupon has revised its fourth quarter earnings report, admitting that revenue was actually $14.3 million less than originally indicated.

At the time of publication, Groupon was down nearly 7 percent in after-hours trading. The daily deals company originally reported $506.5 million in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2011, but scaled the total back to $492.2 million. Groupon cited “material weakness” and even further reduced net income by $22.6 million, and earnings per share by $0.04.

Operating income was also changed from its originally reported $15 million. The company actually had more expenses than anticipated, and wound up losing $15 million.

Leading up to and following its IPO, Groupon has dealt with a number of setbacks. Prior to going public, the company was criticized for including an odd accounting metric, called adjusted consolidated segment operating income (ACSOI), into its filing. It received so much flack for the bogus metric, which didn’t include operating expenses around customer acquisition, that it eventually struck ACSOI from the prospectus.

Executive chairman Eric Lefkofsky also stirred the pot by breaking the SEC quiet period. He reportedly said the company was going to be “wildly profitable” in an interview with Bloomberg News. The SEC later questioned Groupon chief executive Andrew Mason about an e-mail sent to employees during the quiet period. Mason, reacting to harsh words about his company’s ability to perform, reassured employees  that Groupon was growing and healthy.

Apple image via Shutterstock; hat tip Bloomberg

Filed under: deals

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Funding daily: eco-friendly plastic for electronics, mobile search, and flash memory

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 05:09 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.

FRX Polymers raises $26.7M for eco-friendly plastics

In the green-tech arena, FRX Polymers announced a $26.7 million second round of funding on Friday. The company has made an environmentally friendly plastic that is flame retardant for consumer electronics and other applications. DB Masdar Fund and BASF Venture Capital led the round.

Everything.me gets money for better mobile search

Mobile search app Everything.me raised $3.5 million in funding from Horizons Ventures. The company recently pivoted and offers an app that searches multiple places for information about a certain topic. For instance, if you search for country singer Taylor Swift, Everything.me would grab YouTube videos of her, her Wikipedia page, tweets, and IMDB information.

Learnzillion secures $2.4 million for video learning

Learnzillion announced a $2.4 million first round of funding on Friday. The company hosts short video lessons for students and teachers to improve math and literacy skills. DC Community Ventures led the round, with participation from O'Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, Learn Capital Venture Partners, NewSchools Venture Fund, Citybridge Foundation, ULU Ventures, and Calvert Social Investment Fund

Violin Memory grabs new funding for flash memory

Violin Memory has raised $50 million in a fourth round of funding at a market value of more than $800 million, the company said today. The company makes flash memory arrays that are used in enterprise data center servers. Toshiba, Juniper Networks, SAP Ventures, and Highland Capital all participated in the funding.

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

Plastic bottles image via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, green, mobile

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TweetDeck goes down as Twitter investigates security “issue”

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 05:08 PM PDT

In a fail whale moment of a different kind, TweetDeck was taken down Friday afternoon after a Twitterer claimed to have found a bug that gave him access to hundreds of accounts.

Twitter user Geoff Evason said he discovered the flaw Friday that allowed him to access other Twitter and Facebook accounts via TweetDeck, and post on their behalf. Evason tweeted his distributing finding with a screenshot of the accounts he was inexplicably granted access to (pictured right). He also said that he was able to tweet “test” and “testing” from another user’s account.

TweetDeck is the Twitter-owned social media dashboard. The popular desktop and web client received its biggest update yet late last week, but engineer’s may have pushed the release out too soon if today’s incident checks out.

“For the past few days when I logged into TweetDeck’s Chrome client TweetDeck would crash. Today, I downloaded the Mac client and was able to log in. I was shown Twitter and Facebook streams that were from accounts that we’re not mine,” Evason told VentureBeat. “When I tried posting, I was able to select from hundreds of accounts.”

Twitter is not acknowledging Evason’s claims, nor providing clarification on the matter. It has, however, publicly admitted to taking TweetDeck offline.

“TweetDeck is currently down while we look into an issue. Apologies for the inconvenience,” the TweetDeck Twitter account said in a rather ambiguous update Friday afternoon.

TweetDeck users have been able to access and tweet from the desktop application without interruption, but those that log out and attempt to log back in are denied access.

According to Evason, the security breach was an accidental occurrence not of his own doing. “To be clear — I didn’t hack TweetDeck or find an exploit,” he said. “I just logged in and was presented with lots of accounts that weren’t mine. I sent the two simple ‘test’ tweets so I could add more info in my report to Twitter.”

A Twitter spokesperson declined to provide additional comment. Evason said he has not received a reply from Twitter about the incident.

Update: Twitter claims that the bug is fixed and was not used maliciously. TweetDeck was back online Friday as of 9:05 p.m. Pacific.

[via TechCrunch]

Photo credit: tveskov/Flickr

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Zynga confirms engineering head on Zynga.com has departed

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 05:05 PM PDT

Zynga has confirmed that one of its key technologists, Neil Roseman, has resigned from the company. Roseman served most recently as vice president of engineering on Project Z, which was announced earlier this month as Zynga.com.

Roseman, who also served as manager of the company’s Seattle office, reported to Manuel Bronstein, who remains the lead on Zynga.com. Meanwhile, Jim Veevaert is heading Zynga’s Seattle office. Roseman resigned after 15 months at the social games company, AllThingsD reported earlier today.

The Zynga.com platform is strategic for the San Francisco company’s effort to diversify beyond Facebook. Roseman left the company about three weeks ago, after the platform launched. He told AllThingsD that he had been spending three to four days a week in San Francisco and left the company because he wanted to spend more time with his family in Seattle.

Before joining Zynga, Roseman was chief executive of Evir, a semantic web startup funded by Paul Allen. He was also one of Amazon.com’s first engineers. Veevaert was previously president of Jerry Bruckheimer Games and also worked for Microsoft’s game business for about eight years. He helped steer Epic Games and Gears of War to Microsoft and was the executive producer of Halo 3.

The Seattle game studio recently helped launch Slingo on Facebook.

Filed under: dev, games, social

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Facebook valued at $104B in secondary auction

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 03:28 PM PDT

In a prelude to its Wall Street debut, Facebook received a $104 billion valuation from private investors in a secondary market auction.

The transaction, completed on secondary market SharesPost Friday afternoon, had a clearing price of $44.10 per share.

“SharesPost Financial Corporation completed its auction on March 30, 2012 of 150,000 units of an investment vehicle designated to hold shares of Facebook,” SharesPost said in an email to members. “We would like to thank the more than 1,100 institutions and individuals who participated in our Facebook auctions, resulting in total share and unit sales of more than $425,000,000.”

With a total count of 2.358 billion shares, including restricted stock units and options, according to private financial data company PrivCo, the transaction values the soon-to-IPO company at $104 billion.

Friday’s secondary market auction may be the last of its kind, as Facebook has permanently halted secondary market trading in preparation for its its pubic offering.

Facebook filed to become a public company on February 1, 2012. The company, which made $3.7 billion in 2011, is expected to start its IPO roadshow as soon as next week, and could debut on the public market as soon as late April.

Filed under: deals, social

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GamesBeat Weekly Roundup

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 02:28 PM PDT

Here are some of the stories that ran on GamesBeat this week. We're running more articles exclusively in the GamesBeat section of VentureBeat, particularly when they're mainly of interest to our game readers. The broader-interest posts will continue to run on VentureBeat as well. Please visit the GamesBeat section to catch up on the latest game news. We're ramping up our game coverage, so you'll find a larger amount of deeper news at GamesBeat.

Here are the best stories that appeared exclusively on GamesBeat this week:

Minecraft makes multimedia history with a novel-inspired adventure map

Armored Core V: A blend of motorheads and samurai

4 things you won't see in Assassin's Creed III

At 700K now, this dude is aiming for 1M gamerscore on the Xbox 360

Martha Stewart guest stars in Zynga's CastleVille social game

Sony readies three new freemium PlayStation Home games

An in-depth preview of SimCity reveals an intricately crafted experience

Meet the one OMGPOP employee who turned down a new job at Zynga

Mobile search ad StartApp raises $4M in first round of funding

Call of Duty front man resigns from Infinity Ward

Troubled U.K. retailer Game closes 277 stores

Mass Effect 3: Character deaths

Mass Effect 3: Romances

Mass Effect 3: Endings, analyses, and theories

And here are some of the big game stories of the week:

Disney and DeNa to collaborate on mobile social games

THQ lays off 118 people and downsizes ambitions for Warhammer 40K game

Worldwide mobile gaming revenue could reach $7.5 billion by 2015

Journey team loses one of its co-founders

Badgeville powers gamified reality TV show Escape Routes

Sony's PlayStation 4 may be code-named Orbis

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

Kinect for Windows 1.5 will have better tracking and broader reach

Mob Science raises $1M for social games on Zynga's platform

Angry Birds creator Rovio acquires Futuremark Games Studio

Angry Birds Space zooms to 10M downloads in just three days

Guild Wars 2 challenges MMO establishment with hybrid business model (preview)

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Why you & your girlfriends should stop checking in

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 01:59 PM PDT

Checkin apps have always disturbed me. Why would I want to tell everyone in the world where I am? Call me a curmudgeon, but I like my privacy.

For those of you with a more laissez-checkin attitude toward location and privacy, have a look at this app: Girls Around Me. It lets any random creeper scan women’s public Foursquare checkins and renders a map scattered with profile pictures, allowing the aforementioned rando to stalk to his heart’s content, flipping through your photos and reading your profile data.

See this? This is why I don’t check in, not anywhere, not ever. Publicly telling the world where you live and work, where you’re going, and whom you’re with isn’t just narcissistic; it’s a very bad idea for your own personal security. And making all that data publicly available online is just asking for someone to scrape it up and make apps like these.

As an astute Cult of Mac writer notes, this should be a wake-up call to all of us — especially the ladies — about the importance of privacy, of discretion in what you post online, and of understanding how your data is being or could be used. However, I’ll wager that most of the social media-happy women already using Foursquare and similar services will be hitting the snooze button and continuing to check in.

Apps like this are not new, not by a long shot. Every now and then, I get a truly disturbing pitch from a developer — always a man, always insisting the app is “all in good fun” — who wants me to know about his checkin-tracking app for finding chicks. There are apps just like Girls Around Me for telling you the guy/girl ratio at a party (based on Facebook RSVPs); there are many apps for showing you your friends’ checkins around you. Ban.jo is one that will show you not only the location-tagged checkins, photos, and tweets from your friends; it’ll go a step further and show you all the public activity from anyone in your vicinity.

Showing women’s public checkins with the specific intention of making women into moving targets isn’t even the creepiest app idea out there. SceneTap, an absolute sewer of an application from two Chicago-based men, uses hidden cameras and facial recognition technology to determine the age and gender of unwitting people in public bars.

But did any of those apps get shut down by a barrage of vitriol from concerned citizens? Did young women stop checking in and sharing their location with anyone with a 3G connection? Hardly.

The wake-up call should have happened back when each person signed up for these services. There should have been a long, hard moment of thinking, “Why, again, do I want to share my location with anyone? And why do I want to share it publicly, not just with my friends and family?”

If we were, as a gender, going to pick a time to start being concerned about our digital privacy, we should have done so long before now. I can only hope that the spotlight currently being aimed at Girls Around Me will prevent some of the public checkin activity that allows apps like this one to be possible in the first place.

Update: Foursquare has shut off Girls Around Me’s access to its API. “This is a violation of our API policy, so we've reached out to the developer and shut off their API access,” a Foursquare spokesperson told the New York Times.

hat tip: Reader Gaurav Sharma for pointing out Ban.jo as a specific example

Image courtesy of Couperfield, Shutterstock

Filed under: social

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Over 50K Visa and Mastercard credit cards compromised, banks alerted

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 01:49 PM PDT

credit card processor

Cyber-criminals have stolen Visa and Mastercard credit-card data by hacking into payment processors in New York City parking garages. Visa confirmed that the data — enough to create counterfeit cards — was stolen, and both companies are doing damage control by alerting banks and credit unions for the 56,455 cards.

According to security researcher, Brian Krebs, a group of individuals have compromised the a payments processor, rumored to be Global Payments Inc. The group is believed to be New York-based, targeting the payment systems in New York garages. The criminals gained access through the processor to “Track 1 and Track 2 data,” which gives them enough information to make fraudulent purchases on the compromised cards.

Visa and Mastercard have alerted a number of banks and credit unions associated with the cards, warning that they should be on the lookout for fraud.

“Visa has provided payment card issuers with the affected account numbers so they can take steps to protect consumers through independent fraud monitoring and, if needed, reissuing cards,” the company said in a statement, “As always, Visa encourages cardholders to regularly monitor their accounts and to notify their issuing financial institution promptly of any unusual activity.”

The company takes a small jab at the individual business (potentially the NY garages themselves). It explains that each business accepting credit payments is responsible for updating its systems and putting in place the most recent security measures.

According to Krebs, the Public Service Credit Union (PSCU) is saying 56,455 cards have been compromised, with only around 1.5 percent of those cards actually showing fraudulent charges. Joe Levy, chief technology officer of Solera Networks, believes there may be more to the hacks, which have occurred in the past in cases like Heartland Payment Systems.

“It would not be surprising if the investigation slowly reveals that the breach involved techniques such as web application exploitation, maneuvering from a compromised public system into the internal systems, and that the presence on the network was a longer-term than estimated,” said Levy in an e-mail. “These tend to be common characteristics of these kinds of events. And it underscores the fact that perimeter defenses are imperfect and will almost always be breached by a sufficiently motivated adversary.”

The hack has seemingly been isolated at the third-party payments processor, according to Visa. Visa’s own systems have not been compromised.

Credit card image via Shutterstock

Filed under: security

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Gorgeous “Instagram for news” app Flud heads to Android, Windows Phone — raising up to $8M

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 01:49 PM PDT

The social news-reader Flud isn’t just for iOS fans anymore: the company recently launched both Android and Windows Phone apps. And now, it’s planning to raise up to $8 million in a new round of funding.

Like competitors Pulse and Taptu, Flud is a fun way to keep track of your news (and it’s a bit of a looker too). But unlike the other apps, Flud is building up a social network of its own for news junkies, instead of just relying on Facebook and Twitter. You can create a profile, follow others, and directly share news to those following you. Basically, it’s a lot like the hot photo-sharing app Instagram, except with a focus on news.

“When you give people a profile in a specialized network so they can share content with each other, you start to see interesting things in interaction,” Flud co-founder and CEO Bobby Ghoshal told VentureBeat in an interview.

Flud lets you share stories on Twitter and Facebook, but Ghoshal tells me users are 600 percent more likely to “Flud” news and share with their followers. The company updated its platform and iOS app to function more as a social network back in December, but now users on other platforms will get their chance.

Ghoshal says the company is also working on launching a web app next month — so you’ll be able to use Flud for news outside of your mobile device. The company also recently updated its iPad app to take advantage of the new iPad’s Retina Display.

Flud initially launched an Android app back in August, but the company had to pull it a month later because of a variety of issues. “We ended up screwing that up a bit,” Ghoshal said. But the company has come back even stronger with its new Android app after working closely with Google. Similarly, Flud tapped Microsoft for help when developing its Windows Phone app.

San Diego, Calif.-based Flud is now working on raising between $5 million and $8 million in a first round of funding. The company doesn’t have many details to share on that round yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some participation from its seed investors (who put in $1 million) Scott Belsky, Detroit Venture Partners, and Ludlow Ventures.

Filed under: deals, media, mobile, VentureBeat

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LivingSocial Instant flops, co-founder exits

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 01:47 PM PDT

In two big twists, LivingSocial said so long to its “Instant” deals product and its co-founder on the same day.

The number-two deals service aborted its location-based Instant deals product and replaced it with a food takeout and delivery offering Thursday. The same day, CEO Tim O'Shaughnessy emailed the staff to announce the departure of Eddie Frederick, company co-founder, one-time president, and now former board member.

“The email being circulated on some blogs is authentic, and Eddie is leaving the company,” a spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat.

LivingSocial, the Facebook app-maker turned powerhouse purveyor of deep discounts, was started by O’Shaughnessy, Frederick, Aaron Batalion, and Valeriy Aleksenko in 2007. Late last year, the burgeoning startup closed a $176 million round of financing for a grand total of $808 million in funding. The Washington D.C.-based startup made $245 million in revenue in 2011, but closed its books with a $558 million net loss, according to financial information it shared with Amazon.

Instant, launched one year ago, was LivingSocial’s attempt to capitalize on consumers looking for immediate, nearby deals on their mobile phones, and is similar in nature to competitor Groupon’s Now service. From the sound of the company’s own statements, Instant appears to have been dead on arrival.

“Consumers aren't pulling their phones out to search for the nearest real-time discount on a car inspection or framing service,” takeout product manager Greg Mazanec said in a statement. “They are, however, looking for a faster and better way to order food from their favorite local restaurants.”

Takeout & Delivery, as the replacement offering is called, instead enables members to order food for carryout or delivery, and turns instant gratification into a more intentional activity than a serendipitous one. The takeout product is now available in 26 U.S. markets and will compete with existing players such as Seamless and GrubHub.

Meanwhile, O'Shaughnessy delivered the news Thursday that Frederick was not only stepping down from his leadership role, but also relinquishing his position on the board. Despite the unusual move, both O'Shaughnessy and Frederick couched the departure in the pleasantest of terms.

“Today I'm writing with a little sadness and a lot of gratitude to let you know that Eddie Frederick will be stepping down from his current position on our leadership team and our board and moving on to new challenges and adventures,” O'Shaughnessy wrote in the internal email. “On every decision, Eddie framed it with a binary question: Does this help us win? And he usually helped us get the right answer.”

“Thanks Tim for the flattering send-off,” Frederick said in his response. “Wanderlust aside, the opportunities in local ecommerce are enormous and I'm more confident than ever that livingsocial has just the right team to capitalize on them.”

The digital hugs and kisses should be read with some healthy skepticism. If all were fine-and-dandy at LivingSocial, it’s unlikely that Frederick would completely walk away from a company he co-created, especially considering that talk, prior to the startup’s latest funding round, was that it would IPO. But maybe we’re being a bit too cynical, as we’ve heard that this was a friendly departure.

Photo credit: Inc.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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Careful when ditching that old Xbox, it’s still got your credit card info

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 01:20 PM PDT

Thinking about getting rid of your old Xbox? Be careful about where it lands next, because somewhere in the device, your credit card details are just waiting to be cracked open by an enterprising hacker.

Information-security researcher Ashley Podhradsky has found that even restoring the Xbox to its original factory settings doesn’t completely wipe the slate clean, either. In an interview with gaming blog Kotaku, the Dakota State PhD and Drexel professor said, “Microsoft does a great job of protecting their proprietary information, but they don’t do a great job of protecting the user’s data.”

Last year, Podhradsky and three fellow researchers bought a used Xbox from a Microsoft-approved retailer. With a little work, they were able to extract certain files and yes, the previous owner’s credit card numbers.

Podhradsky continued to say that an experienced console hacker wouldn’t even take as much time as the researchers did to get the data. “A lot of them already know how to do all this,” she told Kotaku. “Anyone can freely download a lot of this software, essentially pick up a discarded game console, and have someone’s identity.”

If you’re thinking about selling or donating your Xbox, be sure to use some sort of hard-drive sanitation software on it first. The Dakota State research team particularly recommends Darik’s Boot and Nuke, which can be used if you detach your Xbox hard drive and hook it up to your PC.

Image courtesy of Maximino, Shutterstock

Filed under: games, security

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Sega shutting down games, laying off people

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 01:20 PM PDT

Sega said today it will restructure its Western operations as it deals with the transformation from a maker of retail games to digital distribution. The restructuring will result in an unspecified number of job losses and game cancellations.

That’s a sign of times. Old-time game publishers such as THQ are having difficulty adjusting to life in the era of online, social, and mobile games.

In a statement, Sega said, “Due to the challenging economic climate and significant changes within the interactive gaming industry, Sega has made the decision to consolidate its publishing business in order to focus on developing digital content and driving its existing intellectual property such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Total War, Football Manager and the Aliens franchise.”

The company further said, “This realignment of the business around existing and digital IP is a necessity to ensure that SEGA continues to invest and enhance its digital business offering, whilst reducing its reliance on traditional packaged goods.”

As a result, the company will restructure many of its internal functions, resulting in “a number of redundancies.” Asked how many jobs were affected, a Sega representative declined to comment. The company hopes to have a “strong and balanced IP portfolio across both packaged and digital distribution.”

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Leave it to China to come up with a Pinterest clone for social shopping

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 12:55 PM PDT

It’s not all cyber crime and shadowy government dealings over there in China. Apparently, Chinese supercompany Alibaba is testing out social shopping via a Pinterest clone.

Sounds yummy, especially for the ladies. If there’s one thing we know about the ladies, it’s that the only things they love more than shopping and being social are Pinterest and low-fat yogurt.

But we digress. Alibaba’s search engine eTao (a collaboration with Microsoft launched about a year and a half ago) has just rolled out Faxian or Fa Xian, which roughly translates as “discover” (and is also the name of a traveling Chinese Buddhist monk, for you trivia lovers).

Faxian was launched as a beta product after about three months of research and is currently getting around 60,000 uniques per day. Its aim is simple: Let users share their interests, then guide users toward becoming purchasing customers via eTao’s search features. The image-heavy layout and pinning/re-pinning features are a direct nod to (or smash-and-grab from) Pinterest, and the site is targeted at the young female demographic — you know, the same demo that Pinterest seems to have nailed, no pun intended.

Check out this pinboard called “The Temptation of Nude,” which anyone, Chinese or otherwise, who loves stilettos will immediately understand:

eTao itself is a subsidiary of Taobao, an Alibaba Group company that controls around 75 percent of Chinese online retail commerce.

“We have about 10 partners right now,” eTao director Chen Lijuan told Reuters. “At the end of the year, I hope to see if we can achieve 100 partners, because this year China’s social shopping industry is very hot.”

You know what else is hot? Pinterest cloning. We’ve got an exhaustive list of all the niche-oriented Pinterest clones worth checking out, and we’ll be posting it this weekend, so stay tuned.

Image courtesy of zhu difeng, Shutterstock

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Need a secure password? A bishop says to page through the Bible

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 12:41 PM PDT

If you think people of the cloth are out of touch with modern technology, think again. A bishop of the Church of England just gave his congregation some security advice; if you want a hard-to-crack password that you’ll remember, pick a passage in the Bible. A security expert thinks the Church leader might be on to something.

Instead of the lame, unsecure passwords so many of us use (password123, I’m looking at you), Right Reverend James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester in England told his congregation to use phrases from the New Testament, The Register reported.

“The Bible offers a life-long source of new passwords, that can include both upper and lower case letters and numbers to help create memorable, secure passwords,” said Langstaff.

The bishop’s advice for creating such a password involves picking a favorite biblical verse, taking the first letter from each word, and adding the chapter and verse number to the end. For example, Psalms 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” would be ETIWTTVOTSODIWFNE234.

While the bishop’s advice is well-intended, we wanted run the idea by a security expert to see if it’s smart to use Bible verses as passwords.

“I thought the idea [from the bishop] was quite clever, anything you can to make it easier to remember a complex password is good advice, and any time you can throw numbers it makes it more complex,” said David Marcus, direct of threat intelligence at McAfee.

Longer passphrases are always preferable because they are much harder to hack. There is a mathematical formula associated with cracking a password, says Marcus. Longer passwords and passphrases aren’t impossible to crack, but they take much more time that hackers often don’t want to waste.

“I always push people towards passphrases, which can be 250 characters with spaces, almost twice as long as a tweet,” Marcus said. “You can choose a phrase from a song or line from a poem and the passphrase will be darn near impossible to crack.”

So instead of taking the first letter of each word, just use the entire verse, spaces and all. Also include the chapter and verse number to make the passphrase more complex. But beware, if you pick one of your favorite verses, people might clue in to that and uncover your password. Hackers can easily find information about you and if you post several biblical verses on social pages, it might give your password away.

Of course, if the Bible is not your holy book of choice, you could choose a phrase from the Old Testament, the Quran, or another tome. If you fancy yourself agnostic or atheist, you may as well use a holy verse as a password —  no one will expect you to use it.

There is still a heated debate about what makes for a safe password, random words strung together, words with letter replaced by characters and numbers, or phrases of familiar words. You might as well give a biblical verse passphrase a try, just don’t advertise to others which verse is your favorite.

Bible with key image via Shutterstock

Filed under: security

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New Google Drive screenshot shows 5GB free cloud storage per user

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 12:33 PM PDT


Google’s upcoming Drive cloud-storage service will reportedly offer each of its users 5GB of cloud storage for free, according to a screenshot from TalkAndroid.

In early February, we heard that Google would soon launch a cloud storage service similar to Dropbox, Box, Microsoft's SkyDrive, and Amazon CloudDrive. Drive's offerings will most closely resemble Dropbox, which gives users access to cloud-connected storage on smartphones, tablets, Macs, and PCs.

The Drive service will likely launch the first week of April, but Google has been super silent about anything concerning the project. The first leaked screenshot concerning Drive suggested 2GB of free storage like Dropbox offers, but now it looks like the service will give Google users 5GB of free storage, akin to what Box offers. Giving every user 5GB of storage would certainly make a splash with average users and businesses. It might attract users away from other offerings, especially if they already use Google Docs for collaboration and want to stick to one provider.

Drive has a long history with Google even though it never launched. In 2007, now-CEO Larry Page had worked internally with other Googlers on a service called "G Drive," but it was postponed indefinitely. During that same year, Dropbox was founded and has gone on to become one of the most widely used cloud-storage solutions with consumers, mostly because of its availability and ease of use across multiple platforms.

Drive screenshot: Talk Android

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Cybercrime exposed: Once a grad student in China, now an international hacker-spy

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 12:19 PM PDT

A targeted and sustained cyber attack that ended up compromising hundreds of computers belonging to military personnel, aerospace engineers, activists and others, has been traced back to a Chinese hacker.

The cyber criminal in question is Gu Kaiyuan, once a graduate student at a Chinese university that receives government financial support for its computer security program and currently an employee at Chinese portal Tencent. Before Kaiyuan initiated the exploits, collectively called the Luckycat campaign, he was involved in recruiting students for his school’s computer security and defense research — in short, the perfect person to conduct a campaign of this importance.

A report on the campaign from cloud security company Trend Micro shows that the Luckycat perpetrators began around June 2011, targeting military research in India and “sensitive entities” in Japan, as well as heavily focusing on Tibetan activists. The attacked computers were also tracked with unique codes to measure the success of the campaign. All told, 233 computers were hacked.

“The attackers behind this campaign maintain a variety of command-and-control infrastructures and leverage anonymity tools to obfuscate their operations,” wrote the Trend Micro team, which finally reported, “Careful monitoring allowed us to capitalize on some mistakes made by the attackers, and give us a glimpse of their identities and capabilities. We were able to track elements of this campaign to hackers based in China.”

Kaiyuan used a particular email address to register one of the Luckycat command and control servers. Based on that address, Trend Micro was able to deduce more and more about his identity. The email address led them to an IM account number, which in turn led them to the hacker forums where Kaiyuan had posted, the research university where he had studied, even magazine articles he had written about computer security.

Also, Trend Micro was able to find a set of campaign codes used to monitor compromised systems. “The campaign codes often contain dates that indicate when each malware attack was launched. This demonstrates how actively and frequently the attackers launched attacks,” the report reads. “The campaign codes also reveal the attackers' intent, as some of these referenced the intended targets.”

Finally, Trend Micro wrote in the report’s conclusion that the Luckycat campaign, a sophisticated and highly targeted attack on important individuals, is also linked to similar attacks around the world. “The people behind it used or
provided infrastructure for other campaigns that have also been linked to past targeted attacks such as the previously
documented ShadowNet campaign,” the report reads.

To reduce risk of attack — especially in the enterprise, where high-profile targets abound — Trend Micro recommends good intelligence on threats, a set strategy for threat mitigation and attack cleanup, a data-centric security strategy, and educating employees about the danger of socially engineered cyber crime.

Filed under: security, VentureBeat

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Get ready: NFC is nearing its tipping point

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 12:12 PM PDT

The mobile experience is in a renaissance period, from phones to tablets to autos and more. We're seeing multi-core processors come to mobile devices to enable new applications like intense gaming and HD video playback, and we're seeing advanced user interfaces, such as gesture and eye tracking, that could greatly improve the mobile experience. Then there's Near Field Communications (NFC). Many predict NFC will bring one of the most significant improvements to the mobile experience of all.

Imagine optimizing your in-car controls by taping your smartphone to the dash of your car: GPS and Bluetooth capabilities engage, Google navigator launches, and the mirrors, seat controls, and steering wheel adjust to fit your body perfectly.

Throughout the day, a single touch of your mobile device lets you purchase your morning latte, enter the secured parking area, and unlock your office door. Once at your workstation, one touch aligns your computer environment for maximum productivity.

When you're ready to turn in for the night, you touch a discreet tag next to your pillow to automatically set your home alarm, mute your phone, and turn off Wi-Fi to save battery life, plus set the radio to wake you at 7 a.m. the next morning.

This level of ease and control is a reality: These one-touch technologies are all in the pilot stages or already available on the market. Within a few years, NFC has evolved from a promising concept to a fully realized technology.

NFC allows electronic devices to securely communicate across short distances. These communications can take the form of commands, data exchange, authentication protocols, and even financial transactions. Today, NFC capabilities are cropping up in everything from mobile devices to tiny Xperia Smart Tags (from Sony) that you can place anywhere in the physical environment to trigger a customized series of wireless commands.

For consumers, NFC offers a new level of convenience and ease when conducting a wide range of day-to-day activities.

NFC systems reach vertical markets
But NFC does more than enhance consumer technology. Its capabilities are now rolling out across a wide range of industries, including security, commerce, retail, automotive, transportation, and logistics.

For example, NFC is currently being piloted as a way to control an organization's security access, with an NFC chip embedded in each employee's smartphone providing a specific level of access to a facility. This type of wireless security could allow a company to see significant savings over the installation and maintenance of a hard-wired system.

In the retail industry, Google's recent announcement that its replacing its Google Checkout offering with NFC-enabled Google Wallet has many retailers looking more closely at this technology. As well as offering a fast, secure transaction process, NFC systems offer retailers powerful marketing capabilities. Eventually, NFC technology could enable retailers to anticipate shoppers' needs as they enter the store and to push after-purchase support and promotional opportunities to buyers.

The transit industry is also showing increasing interest in contactless payment following the successful rollout of London's Oyster program, where travelers use a plastic smartcard on the Tube, National Rail, tram, and bus instead of paper tickets. The original Oyster system was based on RFID, but it's now being upgraded to support NFC devices. Most recently, Scandinavian Airlines and Japan Airlines began using NFC technology to enable "smart" boarding passes that function as a mobile payment system, wayfinder, and booking system for hotels and transportation.

Massive NFC boost set for 2012
NFC will benefit from global exposure during the London 2012 Olympics. Two of the event's official sponsors, Visa and Lloyds TSB, will be offering a special NFC-enabled "Olympics phone" that will allow attendees to make one-tap payments throughout the site. Technology experts will be watching closely to gauge the success of the world's first "touchless Olympics."

In addition to this high-profile boost, big brands such as Barclaycard and McDonald's are launching awareness campaigns in 2012 to educate consumers about the benefits of the technology.

And in addition to the impact of Google Wallet on the consumer population, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon will be launching Isis, an NFC-based virtual wallet and payment system, later in 2012.

Exponential growth predicted
A lack of NFC-enabled handsets on the market has held NFC adoption back in recent years, but analysts say this trend is about to reverse.

Deloitte predicts the number of devices with embedded NFC will reach 200 million by the end of 2012 and that by 2013, 300 million NFC smartphones, tablets, and e-readers will be in consumers' hands. Gartner estimates that by 2015 a full 50 percent of smartphones will be NFC-enabled and NFC semiconductor revenue will reach more than $1 billion.

Enhancing your vertical offerings with NFC
If your organization is beginning to explore NFC's potential for the products and services you deliver to consumer or B2B markets, it's important to understand the possibilities and limitations of the technology.

Here's a set of best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Keep the wide variety of execution environments in mind. NFC involves a variety of execution environments, with components residing in the back end, on the handset software, and on the secure element. This kind of sophisticated technology requires a development team with a suitable breadth of knowledge and experience and a holistic understanding of all execution environments.
  2. Take contiguous technologies into consideration. NFC deployments must be designed with a clear understanding of the payment instruments, business models, and value chains they're built on, along with an understanding of the complex relationships between these elements.
  3. Find the right balance between safety and ease of use. NFC must be designed with a strategic balance between security and usability in mind. Veer too far into locked-down security, and the user experience becomes cumbersome. At the same time, users won't embrace functions unless they know their data, privacy, and financial assets are protected.
  4. Aim for "invisible elegance". Above all, NFC functions must be designed to be unobtrusive. The best NFC deployments will be virtually unnoticeable, weaving themselves undetectably into the functionality of the device, reducing user interaction into a single "magic touch".

Andrew Till is SVP and head of smartphone and consumer electronics for Symphony Teleca.

Filed under: mobile

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Zuck’s docs get fast-tracked by the FTC in pre-IPO rush

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 11:40 AM PDT

The Federal Trade Commission has just given the green light to an expedited filing for some of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pre-IPO paperwork.

As most analysts are predicting Facebook will price its shares sometime between May and August, the window for mandatory paperwork is quickly closing. Today’s rush job involves waiving a 30-day waiting period for a notice on Zuckerberg's exercising around $5 billion worth of stock options in the initial public offering, according to anonymous sources for the New York Times.

Those sources also estimate a tax bill for Zuckerberg amounting to around $2 billion. Say what you will about life in the middle class, but at least we don’t get $2 billion tax bills.

Not many CEOs would have to file such documents pre-IPO; however, Zuckerberg controls a larger-than-usual amount of Facebook stock — and he will likely continue to maintain control of the board via voting rights due to some clever contractual manipulations, as well.

Today at noon, the company is said to be permanently halting all private trading of Facebook shares on secondary markets such as SharesPost and SecondMarket.

Also, sources familiar with the matter say Facebook is preparing to start its big roadshow next week and could be aiming for an initial public offering as early as late April. "Our sources are very reliable," private-company financial firm PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh told VentureBeat a couple days ago. "We also know that the IPO is to begin trading [the] last week of April."

Overall, Dunn & Bradstreet analyst Lee Simmons told Venturebeat, “There is a lot of investor enthusiasm” about the offering.

“Facebook is being compared most often to Google," he said. "Analysts see a lot of similarities between both companies. Their revenue growth is very similar… [but] the Facebook IPO will most likely dwarf Google's."

Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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Disney and DeNa to collaborate on mobile social games

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 11:38 AM PDT

Disney and Japan’s DeNA have agreed to collaborate on mobile social games to be launched on a worldwide basis. The deal is part of a larger entertainment collaboration.

Under the deal, both companies will collaborate to produce games for DeNA’s Mobage mobile social gaming platform.

The companies launched their first jointly developed social game, Disney Party, two days ago on the Mobage network in Japan, where DeNA has 35 million users who spend so much money on mobile entertainment that they generated $1.4 billion in revenues in the past year. A second title, Disney Fantasy quest, will debut on April 2. A third title based on Disney’s Marvel Comics characters will debut this summer in Japan. Disney Party is a free-to-play social party simulation game for mobile phones. Players can opt to buy virtual goods with real money. Players can decorate their rooms with objects that will draw visits from Disney characters. The players can then pose (or, rather, have their avatars pose) for pictures with the Disney characters.

Local versions of thse games are scheduled to be launched as smartphone apps after July on the Mobage networks outside of Japan. Those titles are the first jointly developed games that DeNA has released outside of Japan and more are in the works. The focus will be on mobile games, but the collaboration will extend beyond that as well to Disney movies, Disney TV programs, and Disney smartphone apps.

"Disney's characters and stories have cross-border and cross-generational appeal," said Isao Moriyasu, president of DeNA, in a statement. "DeNA has enormous reach around the world with its proven cross-device platform for mobile social games. Together, we can delight millions of players with games featuring Disney's and Marvel's beloved characters."

Disney Fantasy Quest is a social card-collection game, while the Marvel game will be a free-to-play social card battle game.

Filed under: games, mobile, social

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Path snatches Spotify’s head of special projects for international growth

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 10:59 AM PDT

Private social network Path has publicly crossed international waters with its newest recruit, Shakil Khan, the former head of special projects at Spotify.

Khan, known affectionately in tech circles as “Shak,” has landed at Path with the same job title, head of special projects. He will be based in London and focus on international and growth matters, as first reported by AllThingsD.

Path is a small, San Francisco-based startup, started by early Facebooker Dave Morin, focused on a more intimate form of social networking. The company’s first iteration of its application, released in November 2010, centered around photo-sharing and failed to attract considerable adoption. Path was reborn late last year as more of a mobile story-telling app, à la Facebook Timeline, and has since surpassed two million members. Now, word on the street is that the startup has closed a $20 million round of funding.

But Path isn’t even close to being in the same league as Spotify, which has seen remarkable growth since its U.S. launch and integration with Facebook’s Open Graph. So why might Khan ditch the streaming stud for a one-time social networking dud?

“I loved the days when people used to say, 'What is that, how do you spell it?,'” Khan told AllThingsD about his time at Spotify. “I need those kind of butterflies, and Path is just that kind of amazing product with huge global potential.”

Khan spent more than three years at Spotify. He is investor in the breakout music streaming startup, and will remain an advisor to the company’s CEO and co-founder Daniel Ek.

Photo credit: Shak/Twitter

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Snatchly, the Pinterest for porn, signs up 15K users in less than 2 months

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 10:00 AM PDT


Social media darling Pinterest is dominated by female users. Men, for the most part, haven’t yet been attracted to the concept of “pinning” pictures they like and sharing them. But Snatchly, a recently launched Pinterest imitator, might have found a way to get guys to keep coming back: porn.

“Our intentions for Snatchly were pretty simple: a Pinterest that men would use,” Snatchly co-founder Neil Notts told VentureBeat via e-mail. (Notts isn’t his real name.)

While a few other Pinterest-like sites including Manteresting and Gentlemint are catering to men, both sites are devoid of sexual content. Regardless of whether or not we want to admit it, the internet is chock-full of pornography. Online porn is so popular, Egypt felt the need to ban it this week. (Good luck with that, Egypt.) So what’s a fellow to do who wants to use a Pinterest-y site where explicit content is allowed? Get a load of Snatchly.

“We didn't think masculine colors and manly categories like ‘cars,’ ‘gadgets,’ and ‘cigars’ would be enough, so we went with pastel colors and porn,” Notts said.

Snatchly was launched on February 13 by two men who work for Los Angeles-based startups. The two have requested anonymity because they work full-time jobs at other companies and would rather not be associated with this project unless it becomes a smash. A screen grab of the site tells you why they might want to remain under-the-rader for now:


Notts and his partner’s idea seems to be catching on with online users. The site has so far registered more than 15,000 users and attracted more than 100,000 unique visitors. However, even with the users and eyeballs coming to the site, it will need to find a way to make money. Notts says he and his partner have some ideas, but want to make sure that the site remains “clean and unintrusive.”

“There are existing adult affiliate instruments that we could plug into similar to Pinterest via Skimlinks,” Notts said. “We’re also exploring the idea of sponsored snatches, boards, or even sections.”

Another “Pinterest for porn” site called Pornterest exists, but it’s relatively flaccid when it comes to features. Snatchly steps up that general idea and makes it even more perversely brilliant. It works almost exactly like Pinterest, but the most popular content on the site alternates between hard-core and soft-core porn, with pictures and GIFs oozing all over the page. There’s even a new “lightbox” feature borrowed from Facebook and Google+ that lets you cycle through larger photos quickly.

Next up for Snatchly will be adding video “snatches” (its version of “pins”) from a variety of sites. Notts said that next week Snatchly users will be able to see embeddeded Flash and HTML5 videos from sites like “PornHub, YouTube, XVideos, YouPorn, RedTube, Tube8, Beeg, XHamster, Spankwire, BigStar, and many more.”

Sexy woman photo: cardiae/Shutterstock

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Violin Memory raises $50M round at $800M-plus valuation

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 09:51 AM PDT

Violin Memory
has raised $50 million in a fourth round of funding at a market value of more than $800 million, the company said today.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Violin Memory makes flash memory arrays like the one pictured above. Those are used as primary storage for servers in enterprise data centers. The arrays replace slower disk drives.

Investors include long-time partners Toshiba and Juniper Networks, and new investors SAP Ventures and Highland Capital. Other participants in the funding don’t allow their names to be used.

“At the intersection of big data, virtualization, and business critical applications, Violin’s flash-based primary storage puts us in a unique position to capitalize on they hyper-growth of flash in the enterprise data center,” said Don Basile, chief executive of Violin Memory, in a statement “This is a multibillion-dollar market opportunity and the latest funding enables us to accelerate our aggressive go-to market strategy and enhance our data management software portfolio to bring the benefits of Violin’s technology to customers worldwide.”

The main storage for data in servers has traditionally been the hard-disk drive. Flash memory devices — which are solid-state semiconductor chips — have been much faster than the spinning magnetic disks. But the reliability and the storage density used to be too low for flash memory. Improvements on that front have enabled flash to be used as primary data storage. Violin says it can improve the performance of Oracle databases by ten times. The addressable market of hard drive arrays is $20 billion, as measured by Gartner. That market is vulnerable to replacement by smaller servers with incredible amounts of input-output performance, Basile said in an interview with VentureBeat.

Customers include AOL, Revlon, Tagged.com, Juniper and Hewlett-Packard. Violin has now raised $152 million since a recapitalization in 2009. The company was founded in 2005 and launched its first memory arrays in 2009 and has since deployed multiple product generations using RAID protection for reliability. In June 2010, Violin acquired Gear6.

Fusion-io does server caching, but direct rivals include makers of arrays of hard disks. Those direct rivals include EMC, Network Appliance, IBM, Hitachi and Dell. There are perhaps dozens of startups trying to do flash arrays, Basile said. The company has grown from 100 employees a year ago to more than 320 now.

“We see 2012 as a key adoption year,” he said. “We tripled our employment in the past year. We continue to grow sales and fairly aggressively on the engineering side.”

The new round is a mezzanine round that will enable the company to continue its rapid growth, Basile said.

Filed under: deals, enterprise

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