05 April, 2012



EA/BioWare will create new content with additional ending for Mass Effect 3

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 09:04 AM PDT

Struck by fan backlash over Mass Effect 3′s controversial ending, Electronic Arts’ BioWare division said today it will provide free downloadable content an additional ending cinematics for the blockbuster video game.

BioWare is weathering a huge protest from fans who felt betrayed by the ending of the game as well as its policy of offering day one paid DLC that many gamers felt should have been included in the game for free. That furor over the ending has been unprecedented and may have even played a role in EA being voted the “worst company in America” in a survey by the Consumerist.

The new free DLC will be called Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, and it will have new cinematics and epilogue cutscenes that clarify the ending of the trilogy that has become a fan favorite since the first game debuted in 2006.

Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare, said, “We are all incredibly proud of Mass Effect 3 and the work done by (executive producer) Casey Hudson and team. Since launch, we have had time to listen to the feedback from our most passionate fans and we are responding. With the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut we think we have struck a good balance in delivering the answers players are looking for while maintaining the team’s artistic vision for the end of this story arc in the Mass Effect universe.”

Hudson said in a statement, “We have reprioritized our post-launch development efforts to provide the fans who want more closure with even more context and clarity to the ending of the game, in a way that will feel more personalized for each player.”

That probably means that previously planned DLC will come at a later date since the studio now has to address fan anger.

Filed under: games

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Ultraviolet targets Facebook’s all-male board

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 08:54 AM PDT

Ultraviolet, a new women’s rights group, today launched a campaign demanding that Facebook appoint at least one woman to its board before the company goes public.

While Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most prominent “faces” of the company, Facebook’s seven-man board of directors remains resolutely male. “The fact that a company as large as Facebook with a massive global reach does not have a single woman on their board is nothing short of shameful, ” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of Ultraviolet. ”Facebook owes it success and makes a ton of money off of its women users.”

Facebook’s users are predominantly female (58 percent) and women drive the majority of sharing and fan activity on the site. Facebook’s revenue last year totaled $3.711 billion, according to the company’s IPO filing. Facebook’s board members currently include Silicon Valley superstars like investors Peter Thiel and Marc Andreesen and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

Bloomberg reported last month on the conspicuously all-white, all-male makeup of Facebook’s board. According to Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit that researches women and business issues, just 11.3 percent of the Fortune 500 had male-only boards last year and 16.3 percent of all board members in the U.S. are female, making Facebook the exception rather than the rule.

Globally, Scandinavian countries boast the highest levels of board seats held by women. Norweigan law mandates gender equity on company boards leading to a 40.1 percent of board seats there being held by women. The Fast Company reported that two years after the introduction of the Norwegian law, board members reported that company boards were measurably improved by the addition of women.

So is Facebook’s board a billionaire’s boys club or simply the best board talent available? If you think it’s the former, you can sign Ultraviolet’s petition here.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Who is to blame for the Groupon fiasco? Everyone

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 08:42 AM PDT

We’ve heard quite a few opinions about who’s to blame for Groupon’s IPO fiasco ever since the company announced a restatement of its earnings last Friday and indicated that it had material weakness in its internal controls. Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times blames greedy tech companies. Sarah Lacy of Pando Daily blames greedy Wall Street bankers. They’re both right — and they’re both wrong. The blame for this fiasco can be spread far and wide.

I blame the incentives that created bad behavior among many actors, including the company, venture capitalists, Wall Street, the media, and individual investors. I also blame me.


I’m a strong believer in the fact that incentives rule our world. Most people act over the long term in response to the incentives that are set up for them. Bad things happen not necessarily because people are bad or evil or stupid, but because their incentives are structured in a way that rewards bad behavior.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote:

Daily deal providers are the moral equivalent of predatory lenders selling subprime liars loans to people they knew couldn't afford it.

That's pretty close to evil.

In response, Tim O’Shaughnessy, CEO of LivingSocial, wrote on Facebook that I was calling him evil. (O’Shaughnessy and I worked together at Aol, though not closely.) Because that was in a Facebook conversation not published to the public, I won’t quote exactly what he said, but here’s what I wrote in response:

I think the model is evil, not the people, Tim. Incentives can lead to bad things.

This is what happened in the subprime mortgage crisis. Homebuyers lied about their income, appraisers lied about how much houses were worth, mortgage bankers lied about credit quality, ratings agencies backed up those lies and so on.


The bulk of the blame for the Groupon fiasco sits squarely on the shoulders of the company’s management. They created the model, and they executed on the plans.

If I were to scientifically engineer a company with the specific intent of defrauding investors, it would look very much like Groupon. We’d have massive revenue growth, an aw-shucks CEO with an unlikely background, widespread consumer appeal, a business model that hadn’t been tried before, and little attention to risk management and fraud. The only thing that’s part of the Groupon story that is less than ideal for this scientifically engineered company is co-founder and chairman Eric Lefkosky’s checkered past. That kind of tips your hand and would be a big red flag to potential investors.

Just to be crystal clear: I’m not accusing Groupon executives of fraud. It’s very possible that Groupon stumbled into this situation by accident and really had no idea it was building a house of cards. Then the bad incentives took over. (Groupon has never allowed me to speak with CEO Andrew Mason, so I can’t offer an opinion from personal interaction.)

A simple example of incentives in action with Groupon is the lack of caps on the number of Groupons sold. One way that Groupons frequently turn into disasters is that they sell more Groupons than a business can reasonably handle. It’s bad for the business (they’re overwhelmed), for the consumer (they have a bad experience due to long waits), and for Groupon in the long term (it hurts the brand and results in refund expenses).

But in the short-term, all of the incentives are to run deals uncapped. Groupon salespeople are paid in part based on the total profit from a deal. The more deals that are sold, the more money they make. The more money they make, the greater their chances of moving on to a bigger market where they can make even more money.

A former Groupon salesperson I spoke to said they never brought up caps with a customer. If the customer brought it up, he said, salespeople would regularly lowball estimated deal sales to try to get the customer to run the deal without a cap. For example, if a salesperson thought a deal would sell 1,000 Groupons, he would estimate 200.

Because Groupon (like most new companies) was being valued based on revenue growth, management had an incentive to look the other way on such tactics because the bigger deals meant more revenue. This is especially true because unlike most companies that issue gift cards, Groupon books the revenue immediately instead of waiting for the Groupon to be redeemed. The costs associated with refunds hit later. That’s exactly what we saw with the restatement on Friday.

If I were to try to create a more stable, longer-lived Groupon, one of the biggest changes I would make is to require that salespeople insist each customer set a cap on their deal and insist on setting one. I would also verify this at every stage of the process and make the disclosure that deals can be capped in big, bold letters on the contract. This would also have the side benefit of avoiding some of the media horror stories like the baker who had to hire additional staff and take a big loss because she sold 102,000 cupcakes. Doing this would create a more sustainable business, but it would reduce revenue in the short term.

WordPress tells me that this post has almost reached 1,000 words. As a frequent writer, I know that people hate long articles. So my incentive is to stop now and continue this in another post.

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

[Top image credit:  tkemot/Shutterstock]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Tablets taking over the living room: 88% of owners use them while watching TV

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 08:08 AM PDT

New research from analytics firm Nielsen confirms what most have suspected about the symbiotic relationship between tablets and television, and offers some hope for a growing crop of startups looking to capitalize on the second screen experience.

In a 2011 fourth quarter survey of connected device owners, Nielsen found that 88 percent of tablet owners in the U.S. use their device while watching TV at least once a month, 45 percent do so on a daily basis, and more than a quarter (26 percent) go into multitask boob-tube mode several times a day.

click to enlarge

The trend of tablets taking over the living room crosses borders too. Eighty percent of U.K. device owners indicated that they touched their way to entertainment heaven while watching TV at least once in a month.

Tablet usage in conjunction with television-watching trumps that of smartphone usage, according to Nielsen’s data, though not by much. In the U.S., 86 percent of smartphone owners said they used their device while watching TV at least once during a 30-day period. In the U.K, 78 percent of the smartphone-owning population said they were simultaneous consumers.

Multitaskers are, by and large, checking email (how boring), but Nielsen found one other popular activity that has important implications for apps such as GetGlue, Miso, and IntoNow focused on enhancing this extended, second screen experience.

“Device owners also seem to engage with content related to the TV as well, either by looking up information related to the show or looking for deals and general information on products advertised on TV,” Nielsen said in its report.

That last nugget could point to a movement in the making where mobile users embrace social television applications, a class heretofore relegated to the edges of social media land, for extra content. The findings also suggest that when consumers have a smartphone or tablet handy, they’re interested in learning more from advertisers, a clear opportunity for marketers and Shazam as it pushes ahead with its ad-tagging initiatives.

Photo credit: Mr.Thomas/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

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Graphicly shutters iOS & Android comic book apps to focus on self-publishing service

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT


Graphicly, a startup best known for its digital comic book platform, is making some big changes to its overall business strategy.

How big? Well for starters, the company is shutting down its digital comic book marketplace apps today,  yanking its iPad, iPhone, and Android applications. That announcement might make it seem like Graphicly is destined for the deadpool (not to be confused with Marvel’s merc with a mouth, Deadpool), but in reality, it’s actually a good thing, CEO Micah Baldwin told me in an interview for VentureBeat.

Shuttering the marketplace apps will allow Graphicly to focus all its resources on growing its distribution and self-publisher services, which have been growing by 300 percent month-over-month, Baldwin said.

Graphicly’s distribution and self-publisher toolset first debut in January. Initially, the startup targeted self-published comic creators that wanted to make their work available for purchase across multiple digital stores. For a fee, the Graphicly team would take a PDF version of a creator’s book and convert it to the technical requirements of each digital store. The creator could also gather analytical data about the their work within all of those stores.

And although the company still welcomes indie comic creators, its self-publishing and distribution services can now cater to a much broader variety of visually driven works, including (but not limited to) children’s books, cooking & recipe books, picture books, textbooks, and more. In fact, about 40 percent of all works submitted to Graphicly can classified as non-comic books, Baldwin said.

For a fixed “conversion” fee of $150 per unit (unit = single book), creators can have their work available via the Apple’s iBooksstore, Amazon’s Kindle Store, Sony’s Kobo Store, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store.  Eventually, Baldwin tells me the company wants to expand the number of digital book stores it can distribute a creator’s book on. The company has reached out to over 200 digital book shops, including a handful of international platforms.

“We didn’t want to pursue our own marketplace because creators get a much better impact and higher sales when they don’t have to search for something, download an app, and then search again,” Baldwin said. Also, people are much more likely to check a tablet device’s native media store than they are a third-party store. “In our early testing, (selling from a device’s native digital store) has created a positive effect for publishers and creators, with books in the iBookstore outselling (those in an) iPad app by 5:1 –  and in some cases outpacing their print equivalent.”

But self-publishing aside, Baldwin said the company will always keep its comic book roots in mind (even if its no longer the primary focus). And considering that Graphicly owns geeky comic book news site / podcast network iFanboy, I’d imagine that will hold true.

As for anyone who previously purchased comics through Graphicly’s marketplace, rest assure that they’ll still remain accessible through both Facebook as well as the company’s main website.

The Boulder, Colorado-based startup closed a $3 million funding round in January 2011 led by DFJ Mercury, with participation from 500 Startups, Dundee VC, Ludlow Ventures, and individual angel investors. The company was incubated by TechStars and previously raised $1.2 million from DFJ Mercury and others. It has 20 employees and has raised a total $4.2 million to date.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Smart thermostat Nest gets smarter with AirWave, robust Energy History, simpler setup

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

The Nest Learning Thermostat was plenty smart when it was first released five months ago, but even genius products sometimes need a bit of tutoring.

Today Nest users will receive the first major update for the thermostat, which will offer a more detailed Energy History, as well as a new feature called AirWave that can more intelligently cool homes. New Nest owners will also  have an easier time installing the device starting today as well, thanks to an improved backplate.

The Energy History upgrades will allow Nest users to learn more about how the system works, and ultimately use that information to save energy, Nest marketing lead Maxime Veron told VentureBeat in an interview.

Nest users have been able to see a simplified version of their usage for the past 7 days on the device, but now they’ll also be able to see a more detailed Energy History report that covers the past 10 days on the Nest iOS and Android apps, as well as on the web. The report will let you know how long your heating system was cooling or heating your home, and breaks down the activity with even more granularity if you click on a specific day.

For example, if you noticed that your air conditioning kicked in while you were away at work, you could tweak the system to avoid that. Veron tells me that a one degree change could mean up to 5 percent in energy savings.

AirWave, a completely new feature that can save users up to 30 percent in cooling costs, shows that Nest Labs isn’t slowing down innovation. With AirWave, Nest can cool your home to a target temperature without running air conditioning as much as traditional systems. The system can intelligently turn off cooling, but continue to run fans that push out cool air remaining in your vents and in the air conditioner’s coils.

Veron tells me that AirWave will work for half of its customers across the U.S. (some don’t have AC at all, and some live in climates that are too humid to effectively use the feature). He says that existing home cooling systems can also continue to run fans to spread out cooling, but they’re not nearly as smart as Nest, since they can only turn off the AC after your home reaches a target temperature.

As for the hardware changes, Veron says the company wanted to make the Nest’s already simple installation even easier. The new Nest back plate sports larger press connectors, so even fat-fingered novices can connect the thermostat. The company is also including new custom screws that can be installed onto a variety of surfaces without wall anchors.

The Nest mobile apps will also see some updates this morning. Both the iPhone and Android apps will allow users to remotely change away temperatures and will also sport new at a glance screens. Notably, Nest says that its Android has finally reached feature parity with the iPhone app.

Since I’m stuck in an apartment, I haven’t had the chance to try out the Nest for myself, but this latest round of updates is making me even more jealous of Nest users. Co-founded by some of the brains behind the iPod, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, Nest has seemingly done the impossible by making gadget hounds lust after a mere thermostat as much as an iPhone. But consumers aren’t the only ones paying attention, the company is currently facing a lawsuit from Honeywell, which claims that the smart thermostat violates its patents.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Through Google’s project Glass, darkly: the dangers of augmented reality glasses

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 05:40 AM PDT

Google drew a massive response, both positive and negative, when it debuted its new Project Glass augmented reality glasses yesterday. This being the internet, it took less than 24 hours for some clever sod to cook up a parody video. Enjoy!

Filed under: mobile, offBeat

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Activision dives into freemium mobile games with Skylanders Cloud Patrol for the iPhone

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 05:30 AM PDT

Activision Blizzard is diving into freemium iOS games in a big way with the worldwide launch of Skylanders Cloud Patrol today.

The new app signals a major departure for the company, which has always focused on selling paid games rather than giving them away for free. It shows that the world’s largest video game publisher is embracing change when it comes to new business models in the era of mobile games. It is now taking the No. 1 new kids game of 2011 and moving it onto a platform where it can be given away for free and succeed.

“It is Activision’s first ever freemium, microtransaction game,” said Greg Canessa, vice president of mobile at Activision Publishing. “It is a part of a larger strategy and a significant move. You’ll see more of this to come. Activision as a company is looking at this space very carefully.”

The game costs 99 cents, with no free version, but it features the ability to purchase additional goods during the course of gameplay. Other free-to-play vendors usually make a free version to entice players to buy the full version. So for now, this is free-to-play without the free part.

The arcade-like shooting game is based on the Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure franchise that Activision Publishing launched with great success in the fall, with more than 25 million toys sold. In console or computer games, the Skylanders series has integrated a line of action toys with interactive entertainment. Kids can plug a Skylanders portal into a game console then set their toy character on top of the portal, and it would magically appear inside the video game. After finishing playing, the child can take the figure off the portal and take a save file and character with them wherever they go.

The great promise of the family-oriented Skylanders is that you can take the same toy and game across a bunch of different platforms. That now includes the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices, too. More than 30 characters from Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure will work in the Skylanders Cloud Patrol game. If you bought one of the toy characters, you can enter the serial number of the action figure and unlock that character in the new game. Otherwise, you will have to use some of your virtual currency, gems, to unlock the character. And these cost real money. You also can earn coins in the game, and those can be used for power-ups.

While iOS may not generate as much revenue as the console or PC game, this is an important move that will enable players to become familiar with the brand for a much lower price.

The developer designed the game itself to be a brand new experience, Canessa said. It is set in a new region of Skylands, known as Kaos, that the evil minions of Portal Master have overrun. You take command of a sky-ship and use your favorite Skylander character to fight the bad guys. You control the game with touch gestures, such as tap-and-shoot or swipe.

“It’s a very casual game and conducive to the iOS audience,” Canessa said. “You’re either touching or swiping as you try to defeat the trolls.”

Activision created incentives for you to swap out Skylanders and use them all in the course of the game. There’s a daily challenge where you can use a certain Skylander to get double experience points. The idea is to get users to re-engage with the game frequently.

Cloud Patrol has social features, such as Game Center leaderboards and achievements, as well as a 3D character view that allows players to browse through their entire collection of avatars. The game has randomized levels for virtually endless play.

Vicarious Visions, a 20-year-old Activision studio based in Menands, N.Y., developed the game. More improvements will come in the future, including ways to make the interaction between toy and mobile devices more “magical,” Canessa said. The team supporting Cloud Patrol is doing so as a live operation, meaning they will continuously update the app over time. The game is instrumented with metrics so that Activision can learn how to improve it.

While the company is entering a crowded mobile market with more than 500,000 active apps in the App Store, it is banking on getting noticed because of the well-known brand, its own marketing around the Skylanders property, the innovative integration with toys, and the investment in gameplay, Canessa said.

Activision has had other iOS games before such as its Call of Duty Zombies and World at War Zombies games. But those were paid apps, which are rapidly becoming a rare commodity on the App Store as free-to-play takes over.

“We are pretty excited about this,” Canessa said. “We are students of the very rapidly evolving mobile space.”

Filed under: games, mobile

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Exclusive: a sneak peek at the new tablet taxi Verifone is bringing to New York City

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 05:17 AM PDT

One thing Sam hates about being a Manhattan cabbie is picking up tourists hoping to see a Broadway show. “They are always yelling at me, drive faster, we’ve still got to buy our tickets.”

So Sam, who asked we not use his last name, was first on line to try out Verifone’s new taxi tablets, which are being piloted in about 100 Big Apple cabs in place of the traditional TV unit. One of the features being tested is the ability for riders to purchase tickets for movies or Broadway shows during the ride, and get their ticket printed out along with their receipt.

Riders hoping to hop in a cab, check their email and play a quick game of angry birds are in for a letdown. “We’ve tested it, and believe, playing angry birds in a moving vehicle is not as fun as it sounds,” said Jason Gross, Verifone’s director of strategy and marketing, who came along for the test ride. Half the time we’re in a taxi it doesn’t seem to moving much at all, but let’s not quibble.

Some of the cool things Gross and his team are testing out: social media integration that displays tweets and facebook updates geo-tagged to your current location as you’re travelling. A lottery service that lets riders buy their tickets at the same time as they are paying the fare, and credits the winnings directly to their account if they use a debit card.And if riders decide to swipe their cards at the beginning of the ride, so that they can pay quickly at the end, Gross says Verifone is testing out ways to personalize the TV and news experience based on past preferences. “We just want to be careful to protect people’s privacy, because this is based off a payment,” Gross emphasized.

The new tablet taxis are being tested in part because Square, the red-hot Silicon Valley payment startup, convinced the city to allow it to test out its own tablet taxi that would use an iPad and a Square credit card reader. “We welcome the competition, but I don’t think Square really knows what it takes to support a fleet of cabs,” said Chris Polos, Verifone’s vice-president of sales. “This is a mission critical unit, its illegal for cabbies to drive without them. If it breaks, we can get it repaired and running again 24/7. I’m not sure Square can say the same.”

Instead of an iPad, Polos says Verifone is using an tablet they built themselves with open source hardware and running Windows XP. “We’re all about bringing more competition and finding ways to drive down the costs for drivers and riders,” Polos said. What about the fact that Square would offer lower fees than traditional credit card readers, we asked. “You get what you pay for. They aren’t going to have streaming TV bringing news to riders. What they offering sounds like a stripped down experience, basically just a tablet with a map.”

Them’s fighting words, but we’ll be bringing you all the details of Square’s efforts in the near future, when we take a ride along in one of their pilot taxi cabs.

Filed under: mobile

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TwitchTV launches iPad and Android apps to stream game tournaments

Posted: 05 Apr 2012 05:00 AM PDT

TwitchTV is launching its Android and iPad apps today as it expands the reach of its video game tournament streams.

Debuting at the PAX East show in Boston, the new apps are aimed at giving users access to live online broadcasts while they’re on the go. The iOS app is a universal version that works for across all compatible Apple devices.

"The community really wanted this," said Emmett Shear, chief executive of TwitchTV, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Now we are optimized for this experience.”

The mobile apps have been the most-requested feature since the company launched the ability to watch live tournaments on the web in so-called eSports, where gamers fight each other in online brawls for prizes. Shear said it was hard to get the apps to work properly with smooth video experiences.

The iOS app lets users view all of TwitchTV’s streaming content in high-definition in landscape mode. You can browse by game or featured offerings. Users can follow their favorite channels directly from the video stream. Users can talk with friends via an in-app chat system.

On average, users spend about 47 minutes per session with TwitchTV. Since launching in June 2011, users have watched 2.3 billion minutes of shows. TwitchTV has accumulated 16 million monthly active users. The company also enables game-related video partners to launch shows on their own channels within TwitchTV. Game commentator djWHEAT is one of the people who makes a living as an eSports celebrity via TwitchTV. TwitchTV will have a lot of its own live programming at the PAX East show.

Filed under: games

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Lights out for LightSquared? Startup considers filing for bankruptcy

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 08:01 PM PDT


After months of devastating setbacks, wireless network startup LightSquared is considering filing for bankruptcy, according to founder and hedge fund manager Philip Falcone on Wednesday.

Falcone, who’s Harbinger Capital Partners is majority owner of the wireless startup, said bankruptcy could help salvage LightSquared by providing more time to deal with its many problems, reports Reuters.

LightSquared’s business strategy involved building out a high-speed wireless network that would generate revenue by selling network access to outside companies, such as Walmart, Best Buy, and others.

Back in February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected LightSquared's plans to launch its LTE network due to concerns that it would interfere with both commercial and military GPS technology. Because of this development, Leap Wireless has decided to buy future LTE connectivity for its Cricket prepaid service from Clearwire, another troubled wireless company (of which Sprint is the largest stakeholder). Earlier this year, LightSquared client FreedomPop also decided to go with Clearwire.

But by far the biggest setback for LightSquared came in March after its $9 billion 15-year agreement with Sprint-Nextel to build and host its LTE network fell through.

The startup reported a $427 million net loss in the first three quarters of 2011, which intensified due to missed deadlines of its network build out. LightSquared’s creditors are currently debating whether to default on a $1.6 billion loan, according to the report.

Filing for bankruptcy, Falcone said, wouldn’t necessarily wipe out the startup’s equity holders, who could leverage its highly valuable portion of wireless spectrum.

At this point, it seems overwhelmingly obvious that the dream of LightSquared is dead. All of the startup’s major clients have terminated their agreements. Its network is essentially worthless due to GPS interference as well as a vote of no confidence from federal regulators. And now, Falcone and the other LightSquared owners are theorizing about ways to recuperate a portion of the massive losses –  not how to resurrect the company.

Broken lightbulb photo via Realinemedia/Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, mobile

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Apple making changes to its online store for educators

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 06:12 PM PDT

Apple education

Apple may be making improvements to its online store, but only for its education customers.

The company recently posted a notice on its K-12 educators website explaining that a new e-commerce store is in the works, according to a report from Apple Insider. The notice, which is stamped with a blue “coming soon” sign, states that the online store will allow teachers to create & view proposals and access order statuses. Also, the overall interface of the store will be getting an uplift.

Apple says it will be sending education customers “more information about the store’s features, benefits, and launch date” soon.

While these changes are sectioned off for educators, it could be a sign of things to come for the broader Apple store. Theoretically, the company could be trying out this new user interface on a subset of customers first before rolling it out to the public.

This isn’t the first effort Apple has made to help the education industry, which sees a growing number of teachers introducing iPads and other Apple products into the classroom. Recently, the company announced its iBooks 2 initiative, which takes physical textbooks and translates them into digital content for the iPad.  iBooks Author, announced at the same time, allows people to create these interactive textbooks using drag and drop templates, hopefully making it a more attractive solution to the traditional printed paper versions.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Samsung creating mobile ad network to challenge Apple’s iAd, others

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 06:08 PM PDT

galaxy note 1

Korean electronics giant Samsung is launching its own mobile ad network to challenge Apple, Google, and Millennial Media, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Apple’s  iAd hasn’t been particularly successful (so much so that Apple revised its terms in February and again earlier this week), Millennial Media has stuck it out as an independent mobile ad company that successfully IPO-ed last week. And of course, there’s Google, which is known for its prowess in online ads.

Now here comes Samsung, which will be teaming up OpenX Technologies to create space on applications that can be sold to advertisers through an ad exchange.

“This is the first time any device manufacturer has entered the ad tech space in this way,” OpenX CEO Tim Cadogan told the Journal. “It is becoming very clear to the principals in the mobile space that advertising is going to be a very important part of the revenue mix.”

Because Samsung offers all manner of smartphones and tablets, it makes sense for the company to find ways to monetize open space inside applications. Advertisers will be able to buy ad space in an auction system that’ll exist through both app developers and Samsung.

The ad network should launch some time in the second half of 2012, with pricing yet to be detailed.

Samsung Galaxy Note photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: media, mobile

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Funding daily: energy use tracking and integrated circuits

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 05:45 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.

Open-source CRM service SugarCRM

Salesforce competitor SugarCRM has raised a sweet $33 million in funding. The eight-year-old company provides customer relationship management (CRM) software-as-a-service for companies to manage their sales leads.

Navetas grabs $7 million for smart grid tech

British-based energy management company Navetas  raised £5 million ($7 million US dollars). The company makes energy-tracking products that help people see how much energy they use at home or in a commercial setting. U.S.-based smart meter company Sensus led the round.

Link A Media Devices filed a form D

From the, Securities and Exchange Commission, Link A Media filed a form D Wednesday. The company appears to have raised $13.2 million of a $30 million funding round. Link A Media makes system-on-chip circuits for hard-disk and solid-state drives.

GEO Semiconductor raises funding

GEO Semiconductor Inc. secured $1 million in new funding Wednesday from undisclosed investors. The company makes geometric processor IC technology for cell phones, video communication devices, and surveillance cameras.

AvaLAN raises money for wireless Internet technology

AvaLAN announced $700,000 in second-round funding today from Huntsville Angel Network. AvaLAN builds industrial long-range wireless Internet routers and bridges.

Bramasol files $1 million form D

A Securities and Exchange Commission form D was filed Wednesday for SAP cloud service provider Bramasol. It appears the company has raised $1 million in equity from Loewenthal Capital Management.

If you've got any funding news to send out way, email tips@venturebeat.com. 

Filed under: deals

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Over 2.6 million U.S. subscribers have cut out cable since 2008

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 04:51 PM PDT


As much as cable companies don’t want to admit that their users are getting rid of traditional TV and using services like Netflix and Hulu to fill their watching needs, new research shows North Americans dropping cable at a fast clip.

A new report titled, “The Battle for the American Couch Potato: Online and Traditional TV, and Movie Distribution” from Toronto-based Convergence Consulting says 2.65 million Americans cut the cord between 2008 and 2011, with more than a million leaving cable in 2011. By the end of 2012, that number is forecasted to reach 3.58 million cord-cutters.

Between 2000 and 2009, cable companies in North America added an average of about 2 million subscribers a year, but lately, growth has been slowing sharply. Subscriber growth for cable considerably slowed from 2010 to 2011, with 112,00 subscribers added in 2011 from 272,000 added in 2012. But on a mixed note, the report forecasts 185,000 additions will happen in 2012, some of which could be people returning to cable after trying the cord-cutting lifestyle. (It should also be noted that Leichtman Research Group has counter research that says major U.S. cable companies added 380,000 subscriptions in 2011.)

Although the stagnation of cable subscribers might seem like good news for Netflix and other video-streaming services, the report also had bad news for them. The research suggests the audience for free full-episode sites like regular Hulu “has started to plateau.” It also suggests paid services such as Netflix are screwed because of the high cost of programming. The only way Netflix can overcome new cost barriers will be to “achieve sufficient subscriber/revenue growth.”

As a cord cutter myself, I identify greatly with this data. I miss my cable subscription and access to live entertainment and sports events. I’ve adjusted to using free and paid streaming services, but I’ve seen the quality of Netflix’s content decline over time, especially with its loss of Starz as a partner. Thankfully, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings might be looking at alternatives to find a coexistence between the cable and streaming. I for one, would welcome such a truce.

Cord cutting photo: GoodLIfe_Studio/Shutterstock

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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In response to Yahoo layoffs, Third Point expresses more disappointment

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 04:47 PM PDT

Not one to sit quietly on the sidelines as Yahoo crumbles, the company’s largest outside shareholder Third Point has responded to Wednesday’s layoffs with a sharply worded critique that questions CEO Scott Thompson’s decision-making process.

“While this action was unfortunately necessary and widely expected, Third Point … is disappointed that this round of cuts occurred before CEO Scott Thompson has articulated his strategic plan for the Company,” the activist shareholder said in a press release posted to is valueyahoo.com website.

Investment advertiser Third Point, which owns 5.8 percent of Yahoo shares worth more than $1 billion, has been aggressively lobbying for four shareholder appointments to the board. The firm has had no qualms about airing grievances or criticisms about the company’s current leadership team. The saga continued Wednesday after Yahoo doled out 2,000 pink slips.

Third Point expressed no discontent at the layoffs, but did use its press release as an opportunity to berate both Yahoo’s newly appointed CEO as well as the company’s board of directors.

“As he approaches his 100th day as CEO, shareholders and remaining employees have heard few such specifics,” the firm said in reference Thompson’s previous statements on a strategic review. “Many of Yahoo!'s senior-level employees and investors have apparently seen enough and heard too little, and have independently staged an exodus, weighing on the company's share price,” the group added.

While Thompson has yet to share his grand vision for Yahoo with Third Point or company shareholders, he did send a letter to staff Wednesday with some guidance on the company’s restructuring efforts. Thomspon said Yahoo would focus on its Core Media and Communications, Platforms, and Data businesses moving forward.

Third Point’s press release is embedded below.

Photo credit: Third Point

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Sprint to offer higher quality calls through HD voice late 2012

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 04:41 PM PDT


The HTC Evo One LTE 4G wasn’t the only major announcement Sprint had in up its sleeve today. The carrier also revealed that it will start rolling out HD voice service at the end of the year.

Basically the new HD voice service will deliver better call quality for Sprint subscribers.

The Evo One will be the first phone to work with the HD voice service, but since it’s launching in the middle of the year, it’ll be a while before Evo One owner get to use HD voice. Also, both participants in a call need to have HD voice compatible phones to take advantage of the higher quality — which severely limits the usefulness of the service.

Sprint said it will offer HD Voice in places where its 3G network is upgraded to the 1X Advanced standard. AT&T and Verizon, on the other hand, are waiting to deploy voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service for high-quality calls on their 4G networks. Verizon and MetroPCS plan to launch their VoLTE services this year as well.

Honestly, it’s about time we see a significant bump in cellular voice quality. Smartphones have enabled all sorts of great mobile computing possibilities, but the basic ability to make phone calls hasn’t seen much improvement.

Via The Verge

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Reed Hastings & Comcast’s 22M subscribers may gain access to Xbox HBO Go app

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 04:03 PM PDT

Game of Thrones

Comcast is finalizing a deal to make the HBO Go Xbox app available to its 22.3 million customers, reports the New York Times.

That means Comcast customers will be able to watch new episodes of Game of Thrones anytime they want, provided that they own an Xbox 360 and pay the additional fee for HBO on their monthly cable bill.

HBO Go gives cable TV customers the ability to stream HBO’s large library of movies, documentaries, specials, and original TV shows on a variety of platforms with internet connectivity. The service is available on iOS and Android devices, set-top boxes, smart TVs, and most recently the Xbox. Several large cable TV services (Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Uverse) permit their customers to take advantage of those apps, but Comcast isn’t one of them.

Comcast wants its customers to use its Xfinity TV streaming service for all premium content, not HBO’s standalone apps. The cable company’s decision has irritated many subscribers, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

"I'm paying you a lot of money for HBO," Hastings wrote in a Facebook update last week. "So please let me watch HBO Go on my TV."

Personally, I always pegged Hastings as a supporter of the cordcutting movement. But with Netflix trying to more directly compete with HBO, Showtime, and Starz, it makes sense that he’s still a cable subscriber. Last month, Hastings even attempted to open a discussion with Comcast about bundling Netflix’s streaming service with cable TV subscriptions.

If Comcast does finalize a deal with HBO, it could give its customers access to the HBO Go Xbox App within a week, according to the NYT report. But given the company’s previous behavior, it’s unlikely the deal will extend to other platforms with HBO Go integration.

Game of Thrones image via HBO

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Grantoo lets college students earn tuition by playing games (exclusive)

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 04:02 PM PDT

Grantoo is rolling out a tournament game business that allows college students to earn their tuition by playing online social games.

On April 8, Grantoo and sponsor WePay are staging an online trivia tournament for students at 40 colleges around the country. The winners will get grants that can be used toward tuition, books, and other educational needs. At a time when college costs are rising, the tournaments are a novel way to help students out. The first tournament prize is $2,000 and more events will follow on a regular basis.

Dimitri Sillam, chief executive and co-founder, said in an interview with VentureBeat that he dreamed up the idea five years ago while he was in college.

“It was completely crazy five years ago because social games were just beginning,” he said. “We saw students playing all the time, and I wondered if we could create a branded game that gives money to pay a student’s tuition.”

The colleges participating include Yale, Duke, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and USC. Some of the proceeds are shared with charities, while much of it goes to college students who win the tournaments. Prizes can range from $50 to large amounts such as $10,000 or more. WePay, a payments provider, is providing $5,000 in prizes in the form of grants to 12 winners.

San Francisco-based Grantoo requires the winners to pledge 10 percent of their winnings to charity to get them in the spirit of giving. It also requires that they have an email account with a participating university, and it deposits winnings directly into the university accounts for the students, much the way that scholarships are awarded. “That way, the students have to spend the money on school-related fees,” Sillam said.

Participating charities include Pencils of Promise, GlobeMed, The Hunger Project, Millennium Campus Network, Partners in Health, MAMA, Hope, and Engineers without Borders.

“Brands will like it because they can be associated with good causes, and students can have fun playing engaging poker, trivia, or Scrabble-like games,” Sillam said.

Grantoo recently hosted a beta tournament sponsored by Kred. The winner, Kody Ross, won $2,000 toward his education at the University of Vermont.

"Today, 60 percent of college students drop out of school due to rising tuition costs," said Sillam. "We are looking to partner with brands that are charitable and want to give students a helping hand because there is a real problem of students needing help paying for their education."

Grantoo was founded by Sillam and Mikhael Naayem in September, 2011, and it has seven employees. WeTopia is a rival that lets players donate to charity, but it does not have an option where they can win money for tuition.

The company will create Android and iPhone versions by the fall. Grantoo has raised $1.2 million in funding from angel investors and venture fund Angyal, led by Olivier Lazar.

The games include Grantoo Hold ‘Em, Wordy Bird, and Quiz Night.

Grantoo is both a for-profit and not-for-profit company. Grantoo created the Grantoo Foundation to which tournament sponsors write their check. So 100 percent of the foundation’s money goes to winning students and charities. Because of this foundation structure, companies’ donations are tax deductible.

For companies that want to sponsor regular games (no tuition prizes) and advertising, the money goes to Grantoo, the for-profit company. Grantoo plans to host regular games all the time with tournaments as special events for students.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Video apps seeing strong growth with Facebook Timeline

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 03:02 PM PDT

First, it was the lifestyle apps. Then, it was the media apps. Now, video apps are reporting huge growth numbers from launching Timeline-friendly features for Facebook.

Today, Facebook issued some interesting stats from a slew of video companies, including heavy hitters such as Vevo and Viddy.

These apps are using Actions, a new way for apps to show up on your Timeline. Actions turn structured data into a visually interesting and engaging experience for normal users, and these numbers show how well they work for video sites in particular.

Viddy first launched its Timeline app in February. Viddy makes one of the most popular apps in the Apple App Store, and since rolling out Facebook Actions, it has doubled the number of average daily signups and has grown from 60,000 monthly active users (MAUs) to more than 920,000 monthly active users.

Vevo only started integrating with Facebook recently, but it’s already seeing a 200 percent uptick in daily registrations. Also, Vevo stated that the majority of its traffic — 60 percent — comes via Timeline posts on Facebook.

Izlesene is a Turkey-based video site. Facebook reported this company has seen its MAUs skyrocket from 250,000 to a whopping 6.5 million since last September. Finally, French startup Dailymotion reported 9 million new users for the Dailymotion Timeline app over the past two months, bringing in a total of 6 million site visitors each day.

These kinds of growth numbers are pretty typical for most of the larger apps we’ve seen that have reported post-Timeline-app growth stats. For example, back in February, Pinterest, Fab, and a slew of other lifestyle apps said their numbers were skyrocketing directly due to Actions’ implementation on users’ Timelines. During the same month, we heard similar stories from media outlets such as MTV News and the Daily Show.

We even had some one-on-one time with Goodreads founder Otis Chandler to talk about “the Facebook bump” — for Goodreads, this meant nearly 6.5 million actions published to Facebook over a two-month period. "We hoped for it, but we didn't know it would be to this extent," said Chandler, echoing the similar sentiments of many founders in his position.

However, we should note that this kind of engagement is typical only for apps using Actions to publish stories to users’ Timelines. Brands that have enabled Timeline for their own Pages have not seen significant increases in engagement, as several third-party researchers have stated and as Facebook confirmed via email to VentureBeat this afternoon.

For Timeline apps, however, bringing social context to social products is key. “The social context should continue throughout the user’s experience,” Facebooker Alex Himel wrote on the Facebook developer blog today. “For example, VEVO shows a facepile on the left side of the website that the user sees from the start and surfaces social features with each video.”

Top image courtesy of Dmitry Kalimovsky, Shutterstock

Filed under: social

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Sprint and HTC announce the Evo One 4G LTE — the kickstand lives on

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 02:47 PM PDT

The original HTC Evo 4G was notorious for its massive (at the time) 4.3-inch screen, which needed a kickstand for additional support. So it’s no surprise that the kickstand makes a return with the HTC Evo One 4G LTE on Sprint, which sports an even bigger 4.7-inch display. As for fitting in your pocket…

The HTC Evo was the fastest selling device when it was released, so the new model has a lot to live up to. Past Evo iterations brought 4G and 3D display capabilities to Sprint customers before other carriers. The HTC Evo One goes up for presale on May 7th at $199.

“It’s the premier Sprint franchise,” said CEO Dan Hesse. The Evo One’s screen has a 720p resolution and runs Android 4.0.3 and HTC’s Sense 4.0 interface. It sports a rear 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 lens, and a front-facing 1.3MP shooter. It comes equipped with Beats audio, which is becoming a powerful brand among gadget heads in its own right.

“It’s not just all about the specs,” said HTC president Jason MacKenzie. “It’s about the experience. We’re doubling down on design to make sure the phones feel great in customers hands.”

The phone will run on Sprint’s upcoming LTE 4G network, which is scheduled to launch in the middle of the year in six markets.

Jonah Becker, the lead designer from HTC, says the aluminum space frame is blasted, chemically etched, then machine beveled to reveal the natural color, which makes phone super light, solid, and futuristic. He talked about how the large screen evokes a plasma TV, which makes the Evo One better-suited to watching movies and TV shows than phones with smaller displays.

You can hold down the camera button on this puppy and take 4 shots per second for 90 seconds, then easily pick the best one and delete the rest. (Leave that SLR at home baller.) You can do video and photos simultaneously, just tap the shutter button while you’re shooting or playing back video and you get a still shot.

If you’re still making old-fashioned voice calls, this thing has “HD Voice”, which uses multiple microphones and special software to cut out background noise. Kiefer Sutherland did the demo and man he sounds good over all the restaurant chatter.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Atmel unveils sensor film that could revolutionize touchscreens

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 02:34 PM PDT

Atmel unveiled new flexible film-based sensors that it said could revolutionize touchscreens.

The new XSense sensors could enable flexible touchscreens, screens with curved surfaces, and much larger touchscreens as well, said Steve Laub, chief executive of the San Jose, Calif.-based chip maker in an interview with VentureBeat.

“This is a completely new type of technology to build the mesh for a touchscreen,” Laub said. “It is very flexible, and for the first time you can have curved screens where the screen wraps around the edge.”It will change the designs of smartphones and tablets.”

Most touchscreens today use capacitive touch technology, which uses a brittle material under a layer to sense where a finger touches a display. The XSense sensors use a new flexible film from a company called Conductive Inkjet Technology. Atmel plans to print metal layers on the film, creating the electrical circuitry for the touchscreen. Atmel will do that work at a new factory in Colorado Springs. Colo.

Touch-enabled products based on the new technology will arrive in the third quarter of 2012. They will include thinner, lighter, edgeless, and curved touchscreens for smartphones and tablets. Eventually, they will also include larger touchscreens.

Laub (pictured) said the company has samples of the technology now and the first products will be three inches to 11 inches in size.

The XSense sensors can be manufactured as a roll-to-roll film, which is easy to apply to display surfaces.

"The combined touchscreen sensor and controller IC industry is over $10 billion dollars currently and is still growing rapidly. There is significant demand in the industry for larger, thinner and lighter touch sensors," said Jennifer Colegrove, an analyst at NPD DisplaySearch. "ITO-alternative material, such as Atmel's new touch sensor technology XSense, is penetrating into the touch sensor market to offer designers new thin, lightweight, flexible and durable designs."

Atmel already makes controllers that make touchscreens more accurate. Laub said that the XSense products will be cost-effective at large sizes, such as flat-panel televisions. Atmel has an exclusive license on the technology.

“You’ll be able to do the big touchscreens like in Minority Report,” he said, referring to a futuristic Tom Cruise film.

Laub said the cost of the new sensors is much lower than current sensor technology. Atmel has 5,000 employees. Fujifilm is one of the competitors in the market.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Groupon’s restatement doesn’t add up

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 01:50 PM PDT

Chicago-based investment research firm Morningstar can’t make the numbers in Groupon’s restatement add up. In a research note it sent to clients, who are institutional investors, it wrote:

While several of the financial revisions seem inconsistent, we were surprised by the ratio of revenues to gross billings in our review of the restatement. As it stands, revenues were revised down by $14 million, primarily due to allowances for refund reserves. Gross billings, which represent the amounts invoiced to end customers, were revised down by $17 million. Although the revision amount is reasonably small, this revision implies a take rate of approximately 84% for Groupon for these specific transactions, while the overall take rate for the company is closer to 40%. We acknowledge there may be other items in this revision, but management has yet to address other changes.

If anything, I would expect the take rates for many of these transactions to be lower (in the 20% to 30% range) and certainly not higher. That is because merchants with higher transaction amounts and national merchants have the leverage to negotiate a better deal.

Morningstar would also like Groupon to break out some of its financials:

Given the restatement, we believe management has been given a great opportunity to explain the differences in Groupon's product lines. Clearly, the company has moved beyond its original promise of local advertising by offering national deals, travel, and goods at deep discounts. We would expect marketing strategy and economics of these deals to differ substantially from the more traditional local deals business, and aggregated financial results provide more confusion than clarity for investors.

That’s an important point and one that I’ve been making frequently. The various categories of deals perform differently. Although analysts (including me) frequently refer to a 50/50 split with small businesses on Groupon revenues, Groupon’s share can vary dramatically when it comes to national deals or liquidation inventory like Groupon Goods.

As Groupon found, more expensive deals like travel can also have higher refund costs. By lumping all of these together, it’s hard for outsiders to assess the state of the business. Groupon also lumps together revenue from Asia and Europe, which are very different markets. Expansion in Asia, while necessary, means much smaller revenue shares for Groupon.

As Groupon’s core daily deals business in the U.S. has stagnated, Groupon has told investors that products like travel and goods are the growth engines for the company. It makes sense that they should break them out.

Groupon closed down at $14.54, a new all-time low in trading on NASDAQ. Groupon spokeswoman Julie Mossler declined to comment on the Morningstar report.

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

[Top image credit: Kurhan/Shutterstock]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Royal Canadian Mint offers $50,000 in gold for the digital currency of the future

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 01:48 PM PDT

It’s always hard for us to tell if Canadians are being ironic, but we’re pretty sure the Royal Canadian Mint knew what they were doing when they offered $50,000 in gold coins to the software developer who could design the the most innovative digital payment solution using their custom MintChip technology.

The idea is to create a form of virtual currency that can be securely and anonymously stored on phones, computers — even in the cloud. The competition is being judged by bigwigs like Google payments VP Osama Bedier but will eventually be decided by a public vote.

The project has drawn a lot of scorn from the Bitcoin community, which over the last two years has been hard at work trying to do essentially the same thing (create a secure, anonymous digital currency) but without any pesky governments or central banks attached. As one irate Bitcoin fan pointed out on Hacker News, “This is a big step backwards from the security of Bitcoin. All someone has to do is break open the hardware and extract its key (or take its key with a side-channel attack) and they can double-spend money.” The commenter also noted that because ever MintChip has a unique ID and every transaction gets logged by the sending and receiving devices, transaction records are all linked to each MintChip and aren’t as anonymous as they perhaps should be.

As big companies like Google and Paypal battle it out in the digital wallet market alongside the credit card companies, it’s interesting to see a government trying to get into the fray. If a secure, smartphone-based wallet could replace credit cards in Canada, consumers and merchants might end up saving a lot of money on fees. Or they might end up with a virtual bureaucrat between them and their hard-earned cash.

Filed under: cloud, dev, security

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Who is the new business programmer?

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 01:13 PM PDT

The original dot-com bubble was an empty canvas that quickly filled up with overnight, more-talk-than-substance sensations.

Corporate websites littered with hijacked stock photography made you seem big even though you were small. Programming teams were precariously assembled. Get them in a room together, rough out the specs, deploy some code to a set of clunky servers, and start selling scented toys for pet chihuahuas.

Back then, a team of programmers was typically relegated away from the front lines of clients and customers. Let the men and women in sharp suits with the grab-bag of buzzwords sell your product while the tech group toils away, carving out each line of code.

Programmers were also specialists. You put out casting calls for a Java developer, a PHP programmer, or an Oracle DBA. Their merit was simply defined by how well they could program.

Today, small web shops — I mean really small web shops — are building apps that reach well beyond the underground cult of web geeks. And it’s often the programming team running the show.

Take Threadless, an online T-shirt-design-competition-turned-$30-million-a-year business. Or 37signals, makers of web-based productivity apps that are used by your mom-and-pop shop as much as by a company like Adidas or Kellogg’s. Or Campaign Monitor, an email marketing software company that now boasts more than 100,000 customers.

These are the golden children of the web industry today: Web-based, programmer-driven businesses running on well fewer than 100 people. Their meteoric rise began, not with VC-funded, empty promises of business grandeur, but rather with a core group of developers building something real out of a few simple ideas. Peldi Guilizzoni left Adobe’s development team to launch Balsamiq as a one-man software company building mockup tools. Now, he runs a multi-million-dollar-a-year company, and it all started with the programmer at the helm.

Today, there are countless other small, hugely successful web shops running with fewer than a few dozen people on staff. And when you’re part of a company that small, your programmers are also your marketers, your business development people, and your customer support team. The new business programmer has to be capable of much more than simply programming.

Speak, write, support

For my company’s flagship product, DoneDone, a web-based issue tracking tool used by thousands of people in more than 60 countries, we make it clear that our developers are the customer service team. Our mugs are right there on the support page. There’s no 1-800 number, and we don’t reduce customer service to a printed manual. When a customer sends us a bug, it goes directly to one of the four of us. We try to fix problems fastidiously or offer sound short-term workarounds. It’s a very human process.

That is one of the advantages a small shop can claim over a larger one. We can afford to be personal and utterly transparent. This means that the new small business programmer has to communicate well.

Diversification over specialization

In just 15 years, we went from 56k modem connections to T1s to Wi-Fi. We went from desktops to laptops to tablets to mobile devices. We’ve gone from 800 x 600 standard resolutions to mobile screens and 1600-pixel-plus displays. We’ve evolved from static sites to Flash apps to jQuery and HTML5. Page-by-page development to MVC frameworks. Dedicated servers to spinning up servers in the Cloud.

If the first 15 years is any sign of what the next 15 will bring, the new business programmer has to maintain as much breadth as depth of expertise. When we hire new developers at my company, We Are Mammoth, we seek generalists over specialists. While we build our applications on a Microsoft technology stack, more than half of our developers came from other backgrounds (Flash/Flex, PHP, Ruby, and Python to name a few). Our front-end devs, primarily self-trained in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, are also learning how to code in C#.

What matters now isn’t which languages you’re comfortable in, but your ability to adapt to different ones. Regardless of which development stack you started on, the underlying best practices of programming are the same. The goals of a successful web app will always be fixed. Speed, features, and an intuitive UI are concepts that won’t be fading anytime soon.

<h2The programming-business bridge

The new tech buzzword of the day isn’t “cloud”, it’s “DevOps.” While the name might end up sharing space with “Information Superhighway” in our modern-day vernacular trash bin, the idea behind the DevOps movement has more staying power.

The DevOps engineer is a new breed of technical thinker, specially geared toward impacting a small-in-size business with big ideas. This kind of engineer possesses a technical mind that can look at technology in two broad vectors.

First, she’s technology agnostic. A DevOps engineer is multi-disciplinary, as comfortable with hardware infrastructure, as with database tuning, or application testing. Everything “tech” is just part of a toolset to get a solid web app off the ground.

A DevOps engineer also understands business goals. No longer are we relegating programmers to one room and the business team to the other. Today, a programmer can be equally concerned about why he’s building something as he is with what he’s building. Moving from a dedicated server environment into the cloud? Today’s programmer should be able to gather technical feasibility alongside monetary impact and business benefits. In today’s small web businesses, the hard gap between programmer mind and the business mind is quickly eroding.

So, who is the new business programmer? For starters, it’s someone whose reach goes well beyond just writing code.

Ka Wai Cheung is a programmer, designer, author, and partner at We Are Mammoth in Chicago, makers of the DoneDone issue tracker. His new book on the modern-day programmer, The Developer’s Code, is available in eBook and print.

Top image courtesy of Diego Cervo, Shutterstock

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Bravo green lights “Silicon Valley” reality show produced by Randi Zuckerberg

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 12:32 PM PDT

The cable network known for its hair-pulling, table-turning, housewife-humiliating reality lineup is zooming its lens on Silicon Valley with a reality series co-produced by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s sister.

Randi Zuckerberg, Zuck’s older sister and former Facebooker, is an executive producer on “Silicon Valley” (working title), a show chronicling the adventures of Valley entrepreneurs and groupies as they seek Facebook-style fame and fortune.

“Teaming up with internet entrepreneur Randi Zuckerberg, Bravo captures the intertwining lives of young professionals on the path to becoming Silicon Valley's next great success stories,” the network said in a statement about its new programming.

The series has been in the works for several months now, and we fully expect it to be leaps-and-bounds more scintillating than startup life actually is (think hyperbole on the level of The Social Network). Last October, Bravo started trolling Craigslist for confident, 20-somethings with TV-sized personalities, and even pitched tech celebrity and Digg founder Kevin Rose on the concept (he tweeted his disgust).

Also proving that the Internet in its entirety has jumped the shark, Bravo will further glamorize meme-mavens with the series “Huh?,” the (true?) story of Ben Huh and his crew of I Can Has Cheezburger fame.

Here’s Bravo’s description of the show: “Ever wonder who is behind those hilarious cat memes? Bravo goes inside the office of Ben Huh and his eclectic staff at icanhascheezburger.com, one of the largest humor publishers on the Internet known for their popular LOLs and FAILs.”

Maybe these new series aren’t must-see TV, but they are “can’t not watch” TV — at least the premiere episodes, that is. Forgive us if we hope for a Mark Zuckerberg cameo or two.

Filed under: media, social

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Trolls should go to jail, says Arizona, and I agree

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 12:31 PM PDT

Arizona is considering a new law that would criminalize Internet trolling, and I fully support the idea.

First, let’s take a look at the hard news. Arizona House Bill 2549, which has already passed both the Arizona House of Representatives and Senate, would make it unlawful to “to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person” with the specific intention of scaring, annoying, or offending the person on the other end of such activity. (You can see the full text of the bill as passed by the legislature below.)

The bill is waiting for the signature of the governor, and it would make trolling and cyber-bullying a Class 1 misdemeanor, the maximum consequence of which would include a six-month jail stint. Stalking someone using an electronic device would become a Class 3 felony with wide-ranging sentencing options that include multiple years behind bars.

The bill seems drastic, but as someone whose job includes being on the receiving end of online harassment, name-calling, and threats, drastic sounds good to me.

Say it hampers free speech*, as many media commentators already have. Call it “the I’m butthurt law,” as we read on the Daily Kos. But the fact of the matter is that online harassment isn’t all in good fun, as the troll camp would have you believe. It’s just as real and just as traumatic as real-world harassment, and it should be just as illegal. If you ran up to me in the street, shaking your fist and screaming obscenities, that would be assault, even if you said later it was just supposed to be a joke. If you called me up on the phone and started saying obscene and lascivious things, that would be a class 1 misdemeanor. Why should the law be any different if you start slinging obscenities at me on Twitter or Facebook?

In fact, in a few recent and notable cases, trolling has cost people their lives. Remember 2010′s rash of gay teen suicides? Online bullying played a large role in those. With a hacked webcam and a string of tweets, one young man’s life was blown up to the extent that he thought he couldn’t put it back together again. Four days after the harassment started, that young man jumped off a bridge and died.

Tyler Clementi’s bully was charged with and convicted of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, among other things, for a simple act of trolling that ended rather badly. However, Clementi’s privacy still would have been invaded and he would have been intimidated even if he hadn’t ended his life. Unfortunately, Clementi’s suicide is really the only reason his tormentor faced any charges at all.

A more recent example is Rafael Morelos, a teen who hanged himself after being bullied on Facebook about his sexual orientation. Or Amanda Cummings, a teen who threw herself in front of a bus after receiving harassing Facebook posts and emails.

Not every “go kill yourself” post on 4chan ends in a death, and not every mean-spirited troll is a criminal in the legal sense of the word, but a lot of online harassment goes unacknowledged and unpunished until someone ends up physically hurt or worse.

It’s a grossly unjust state of affairs, but it’s not for lack of legislation. Currently, only sixteen U.S. states have not passed anti-cyberbullying laws (only three states have no laws on the books regarding cyber-bullying in schools), and just twelve states have omitted the issue of online harassment from legislation. But generally speaking, only the most extreme cases of online bullying and harassment are ever prosecuted, and they end up falling under existing laws covering stalking, defamation, etc.

Currently, Arizona’s definition of harassment (punishable-by-law-type harassment that counts as a Class 1 misdemeanor) includes anyone who “anonymously or otherwise contacts, communicates, or causes a communication with another person by verbal, electronic, mechanical, telegraphic, telephonic or written means in a manner that harasses.”

Also, the entire bill being proposed in Arizona isn’t even new legislation; it’s just a simple edit to law already on the books that changes the words “a telephone” to “any electronic or digital device.”

So if Arizona (and just about every other state) already counts cyberbullying and cyberharassment as a misdemeanor (or a felony, depending on the target), why is everyone making such a big deal about this new bill? What’s it got that older laws ain’t got?

Arizona wants to make it just as illegal to harass and intimidate people online as it already is over the phone or in person. The state wants to make it illegal to use laptops and GPS and any other devices we dream up in the future to hurt people. Actually harmful trolling is, according to any reading of Arizona and other states’ law, already illegal; legislators are just making sure the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted so the laws currently on the books don’t become obsolete or misunderstood.

There’s something about our culture that doesn’t want online speech to be in the same class as other kinds of speech. Trolls want to have carte blanche to say things online that they’d be too cowardly to say over the phone or in person. Current laws with current language can, to an extent, add to the illusion that this behavior is permissible.

But it’s not. That’s why I’m glad Arizona, for all its other legislative foibles in recent years, is making that clear.

*Let’s have a little media law lesson about free speech, while we’re at it. You’re pretty much allowed to post whatever you like on your own website(s), for the most part and especially if you host it yourself on your own server. But if you’re posting something on someone else’s site, the laws of free speech no longer apply. The person who maintains the website controls the speech on that site, and you’re (literally) in his or her domain. So you can’t complain about your lack of “free speech rights” on Celine Dion’s Facebook wall or a blog’s comments section. Likewise, you don’t technically have “free speech rights” on social networks or blogging platforms that you, yourself, don’t own and host. If you want to exercise your true rights to free speech, you need to do so in a non-commercial forum that you control pretty much down to the bare metal. Believe it or not, repression of speech is totally constitutional, as long as it’s not Congress that’s doing the repression.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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iPhone crybabies need to shut up about Instagram on Android

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 12:29 PM PDT

crying babyTuesday, Instagram announced the news many Android users were waiting for; the retro photo-sharing app hit the Google Play store for Android phones. It took the app just 24 hours to reach one million downloads and has since become the bane of many iPhone owners.

While Android users rejoiced at the app, many iPhone users took to Twitter and Instagram to voice their apparent hatred of the news.

“ugh #instagram is on the android? the app went from a gated community to section 8 housing in 24hours…” @IWasJustinYou said on Twitter, while @BeLikeKeys tweeted, “Android users are going to abuse and ruin Instagram for everyone.”

Likewise, Instagram users left comments on popular photos in the app that warned Android Instagram users to not bother following them, using the hashtag #teamiphone to show solidarity. This simple little app has sparked class warfare between iPhone and Android owners, with seemingly more shots being fired from some of the 30 million iPhone users. Android users responded with a general sentiment of “Woo-hoo, I have Instagram” and “Hey iPhone users, get over it and move on.”

One Instagram user (who has since made her account private) went so far as to say, “Android is ruining my life.” That’s frankly a bit dramatic for a phone operating system that she likely has never even used.

A war between Android and iPhone owners has waged for some time now, but people on opposite sides usually don’t sneer so openly at each other. Instagram, given its immense popularity, seems to be a tipping point in bringing out the quietly building rage from iPhone users, who gave off an air of “I’m better than anyone who uses an Android phone, ew” when Instagram hit the Google Play store.

Instagram is an app and nothing more. Sure, there are millions of users taking photos, posting them for the world to see, and interacting with other’s faux-artistic pictures, but it’s only an app, people. No matter which phone you have, Instagram won’t make you a better photographer. If your life revolves around an app that lets you put filters on crappy photos, then maybe you have bigger problems to deal with. So let’s put our energy toward worrying about more important things, shall we?

Crying baby image via Flickr user storyvillegirl

Filed under: mobile

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Everyone’s getting the iPhone but T-Mobile

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 12:00 PM PDT


The incredibly popular iPhone 4S will land on several small U.S. regional carriers later this month, a move that must make T-Mobile feel like a neglected stepchild.

With AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint all offering the iPhone 4S, T-Mobile (the country’s fourth-place carrier in terms of customers) already looked bad. The iPhone is now outselling all other smartphones combined on AT&T and Sprint and is selling in volumes roughly equal to all Android smartphone sales at Verizon. The iPhone has particularly been a boon to Sprint, which sold 1.8 million iPhones last quarter.

But now, at least five other regional carriers will also be getting the iPhone 4S on April 20, Apple has confirmed. This list so far includes Virgina’s nTelos Wireless, Alaska Communications, Kentucky’s Appalachian Wireless, and Wisconsin’s Cellcom. nTelos is interesting because it says it will sell the cheapest iPhone 4S for $150 on contract while most carriers offer it for $200 on contract.

So what’s keeping T-Mobile from getting the iPhone while these regional carriers can get it? It mostly comes to down the mobile frequencies that device supports. The latest iPhone is compatible with AT&T’s 3G HSPA network and Verizon and Sprint’s 3G CDMA networks, as well as the regional carriers’ various HSPA and CDMA networks. But T-Mobile uses HSPA 3G bands that are different from the rest, so the iPhone can only work on the network’s 2.5G EDGE offering, which is considerably slower.

Next up, Apple will likely release a 4G LTE-compatible iPhone later this year, and that device will be supported by AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint’s LTE networks. But T-Mobile doesn’t have that either, so yet again, it will be left out.

Couple with iPhone 4S photo: Apple

Filed under: mobile

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