07 April, 2012



Randi Zuckerberg justifies Bravo’s new Silicon Valley reality show

Posted: 07 Apr 2012 09:11 AM PDT

Randi Zuckerberg is one of the biggest names connected to Silicon Valley, a Bravo reality show centering around the world of technology startups in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

And last night, Ms. Zuckerberg took to the web to defend her involvement in the series and explain why she thinks the show is a good idea.

The concept and the stars of the show have been roundly criticized in recent days by many members of the tech community, from bloggers to ego-driven entrepreneurs — and a lot of that criticism smacks of jealousy or just plain snobbery, with tech insiders giving Bravo, Zuckerberg, et al. the “how dare they” treatment for “selling out” or not including big enough names.

“I completely understand that there will be skepticism and detractors,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post Friday evening. “But I think this show comes at an important time.”

Zuckerberg herself was deeply involved in some of Facebook’s most formative years, particularly as it moved from a youth-dominated social network to its current position as one of the most powerful tech companies on the planet. Due to her familial connection to the company (Randi is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s sister), she says she has “[struggled] to have people view my successes as my own.”

As a result, she wrote, “I respect that the people cast in this show are all trying to make something of themselves. Some are newcomers to Silicon Valley. Some were anonymous cogs within bigger companies who chose to leave and create their own path. While you may not know them yet and while they may not be involved with Pinterest, AirBnB, Dropbox, Square or one of the other hot companies of the moment, it certainly doesn’t make their journey any less authentic or worth following.”

So much for criticisms about the star caliber of the series’ main characters, including The Next Web video guru Hermione Way, former Googler David Murray, and a handful of startup founders.

Zuckerberg also addresses the “sellout” criticism, writing, “Given the current economic climate, I think it’s really positive that mainstream media is celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit and portraying people who pursue innovation and startups as being aspirational for the general public.”

Zuckerberg is acting as executive producer for Silicon Valley, and she describes her position as an advisory role.

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YouTube founders’ new project will help you publish your own digital magazine

Posted: 07 Apr 2012 08:55 AM PDT

Zeen, the newest project from YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, aims to help normal people make and discover digital magazines.

With our industry’s laser-like focus on gorgeous, magazine-like design, we can see this idea being a huge hit. User interfaces these days — particularly for mobile devices and touchscreens — are all about the glossy print aesthetic. Take a look at Windows 8. Take a look at Flipboard. Take a look at any app with full-screen images and gorgeous typography, and you’ll know what inspired it.

The clean, minimalist, grid-based look and feel of today’s interfaces all hark back to print’s glory days and the biggest of big-budget magazines. So bringing a refreshed, easy-to-DIY version of the digital magazine to consumers is a smart and (more important) a very timely idea.

For now, though, we have relatively few details about how Zeen will work and what Zeen-spawed ‘zines will look like. You can go to the app’s landing page now to reserve a username and connect the account to an email address, Facebook identity, or Twitter account.

Zeen is a product of Avos, Hurley and Chen’s San Mateo, Calif.-based web shop. The company is hiring a small group of visual/UI designers as well as engineers for the project.

hat tip: Fusible

Image courtesy of Sheftsoff, Shutterstock

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Instagram, Windows Phone, and the JOBS Act — here’s the week’s video recap

Posted: 07 Apr 2012 08:31 AM PDT

This week’s recap of tech news is brought to you without commercial interruption and features appearances from those titans of the VentureBeat editorial staff, Devindra Hardawar and Sean Ludwig.

Our New York writers and editors rarely get the chance to come play at VentureBeat HQ in San Francisco, so we thought we’d make them feel special by forcing them to participate in our most humiliating ritual: the weekly video show.

Here are the stories we covered this week:

That’s all for now, folks. We wish you a lovely weekend, particularly to the celebrants of this week’s holy days in a couple major religions. For the rest of you, just don’t run with scissors and try to stay out of trouble.

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Everything you need to know about getting into digital comic books

Posted: 07 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT


I have about 16 long boxes filled with comic books that are trapped with in plastic covered sleeves that haven’t been touched in well over five years now. Every time I move, I contemplate selling them off or donating them to an organization that wouldn’t just throw them away. I no longer even use the custom comic book boxes, nor do I protect them in shiny plastic with cardboard backings. I do, however, enjoy reading comics, which is why I’ve never been able to give them up. So, the thought of getting my comic books digitally was very appealing to me.

After talking to countless people who are unsure where to start, I’ve created a guide of sorts to help navigate through the new world of digital comics.


Devices you can read digital comics on


If you have a computer with a web browser and a working Internet connection, you can read digital comics. However, it’s not the best experience since you’re facing the screen rather than looking down like you would with a traditional printed comic.

There are plenty of options available on smartphones running iOS and Android, but be warned that you’ll likely be reading panel-by-panel due to the smaller screen size.

The best tool for enjoying a digital comic is a tablet. The larger 10-inch tablets, like the iPad (starting at $399) and Motorola Xoom ($499), offer the best possible experience because their screens are comparable with the dimensions of a regular comic book (see side-by-side comparison photo above). This option is also the most costly, but if you’re serious about trading in dozens of heavy comic boxes for a single device, it’s a good investment.

A second tablet option is the 7-inch Android-based tablet, which is less than half the cost in most cases. The two that stand out the most are Amazon’s Kindle Fire ($199) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet ($199). The downside is that you’ll have to do far more pinching and zooming to read the text within the word balloons.

Where to buy digital comics


It is a good idea to try all of the possible platforms out before unloading a lot of cash, because if you decide to switch to a new service, you typically won’t be able to take all your purchases with you.

Direct from the publisher
The most visible choice for buying digital comics is by going through the publishers, which have their own set of online stores via official websites or mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Unlike music and movies, when you buy a comic in this way, you’re often times only buying access to that media. It exists in the cloud.

To go this route, you’ll need to sign up for an account for each publisher, then pay for the product. In most cases, you’ll have access to all your purchases from a particular publisher in all of their official platforms/apps. For instance, if you buy Spider-Man issue #489 in the iPhone, you should be able to read it on the iPad later, provided you sign in with the same account.

If you want to collect all the digital comic book purchases you’ve made from multiple publishers (DC, Dark Horse, etc.) into a single location, your options are quite limited.

Comixology and other Comic Book specific platforms
DC Comics ComixologyOne option for reading all your comics in a single place is Comixology, which has the widest selection of titles from the majority of the industry’s big publishers. It’s also the only place that offers both DC and Marvel comics in the same store. If you’re serious about making the transition to consuming comics digitally, you definitely need to check out Comixology before anything else, if only for the sheer variety of content available.

You can purchase comics from Comixology through its web store as well as its official applications for iOS and Android. Like with the official publishers apps, the books can’t be transferred off the device and will primarily exist only in officially supported Comixology platforms.

If you’ve only ever casually browsed digital comic book apps over the past year or so, chances are good that you’ve used Comixology’s store. The company is responsible for powering many of the most popular comic book publishers’ iOS digital storefronts, including DC Comics, Marvel, Top Shelf, Image Comics, Boom! Studios, Zenescope, and Dynamite Entertainment. Its technology is also used to power a handful of popular comic book “branded” apps, such as Scott Pilgrim, The Walking Dead, Bone, and the Green Hornet.

If you buy a comic through one of these specially branded app stores, or one of the Comixology-powered publisher apps, it’ll show up within the main Comixology app, and vice versa. But, not all publishers use Comixology to help sync up purchases. For instance, Dark Horse, publisher of Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, makes many of its book available through Comixology, yet maintains its own independent application. If you make a purchase using Dark Horse’s digital store, you have to read it within the official Dark Horse apps. The same is true about syncing in other online third-party digital comic shops such as Panelfly and iVerse.

Apple’s iBooks
Previously, the selection of graphic fiction on Apple’s iBooks store (which works on all iOS devices but not Macs) was limited to a handful of titles that you couldn't easily find due to the lack of a proper category. However, since Marvel's introduction that seems to have changed. There is a now an official category featuring over 1,500 graphic novels that you can sort via a featured home screen or release date. Pricing is lower than traditional retail stores and comparable to discounted physical graphic novels on Amazon. To view the graphic novels you'll need iBooks 1.2 and iOS 4.2 or later on your mobile device.

Amazon’s Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store
Both Amazon’s Kindle store and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store have a wide variety of books from the major publishers. It’s also worth noting that you aren’t limited to reading your comics on either a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet.  If you decided to buy an iPad, you can access both of these stores via their respective iOS apps to read whatever you’ve bought.

DUltimate Comics Spider-Maniamond Distributors, iVerse, and not giving up your physical comic books
The new player in the digital comics platform front is iVerse’s new digital comic app store, which is partnering with the industry’s biggest distributor of physical comic books, Diamond. The iVerse apps for iOS and Android will work in conjunction with Diamond’s initiative to empower retailers to sell digital comics both in-store and online. Customers will be able to shop through thousands of digital comics any time of day on retailer websites, or to purchase digital codes along with their print comics when they visit their local comic shop.

Marvel is ramping up a similar physical/digital offer. When you buy one of the printed comics, you’ll received a code you can enter at Marvel’s website to obtain the digital version for free. I tested this out with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s new Avengers Assemble series, and was able to view the digital version on Marvel’s official apps as well as Comixology.

Pricing and release schedule

Most publishers are finally coming around to the idea of releasing digital copies of comic books on the same day they hit retail shelves. However, if you’re looking for a deal, you may not necessarily find it. While Marvel is giving away free versions of its digital comics to those who buy the print version, it also offers those same digital copies for sale at the same exact price. DC’s digital/print combo usually costs about a dollar more, but the company does discount its digital copies a month after the book is released. Other smaller publishers vary in terms of price, but I’ve found that most offer the digital version for a bit less.

It’s also worth noting that most of the digital comic shops/apps offer generous one-day sales that slash prices to 99-cents on select books.

Converting your existing comic collection

Comic Zeal for iPad

If you’re considering converting your existing collection of printed comics into digital form, please note that this will require lots of time, effort, and energy with mixed results. For the sake of this article, I attempted to convert one of my own comics by carefully tearing out each page and then scanning them onto my computer. I found that sometimes the other side of the page would bleed through to show the other side, which was frustrating. Also, once I got the 22-page book uploaded, I had to convert it into a suitable size and format so that it could be used across all my devices.

If you’re reading on a desktop computer, you can leave the file as a PDF (I chose to use universal image app Xee for Mac OS X). If you plan to upload your comic to a tablet or smartphone, you’ll need to do a few things.

First, you’ll need to convert the digitally scanned version of the comic into a .CBR or .CBI file. Not only will this reduce the overall file size without sacrificing the image quality, but it’ll also make it compatible with most independent comic book viewer apps. And second, you’ll need a comic viewing app.

Depending on your device, there are a couple of different apps I would recommend. For iOS, I’d suggest using Comic Zeal ($4.99), which has a ton of customizable options and a companion app for your desktop that allows you to wirelessly upload files to your device. For devices running Android, I’d try Perfect Viewer (free) and anyone with a TouchPad should check out Comic Shelf HD ($1.99).

Final word

As print prices continue to rise, more and more publishers will start looking for refuge in digital publishing. The digital comic book industry is booming like never before, bringing in $25 million in sales for 2011, which is triple the amount from 2010. There are likely a few reasons for this upward trend, the biggest being the rise of the tablet computer, the desire by many long-time comic book fans to cure boredom, or the repulsiveness to enter into a modern brick-and-mortar comic shop after watching Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men reality TV show on AMC.

Whatever the reason may be, more people are getting their comics digitally. It’s nice that the comic book industry is starting now rather than waiting until prices are so unbelievably high that people disregard their moral compass (a.k.a. pirating comics illegally). I think eventually, everyone who produces comic books via a cloud service (which is pretty much every notable publisher at this point) will need to settle on open standards that allows comic fans to take their collections with them regardless of service.

Since this has yet to happen, the best solution for now is to purchase comics through publishers’ Comixology-powered digital stores. A company like Marvel or DC isn’t going to allow the record of everything you’ve purchased to suddenly disappear, because such a move would most definitely justify acts of piracy and unadulterated rage from angry fanboys and fangirls.

The system isn’t perfect yet, but the outlook for digital comic books is bright and will only get better going forward.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Instagram for Android gets tablet support (but only slightly better than iPad)

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 06:43 PM PDT

Android tablet users can now get their hands on the hot photo sharing app Instagram, though the experience appears to be only slightly better than what iPad users currently have. This app comes just a few days after Instagram launched its Android phone app.

On tablets, the updated Instagram Android app runs an upscaled version of the Android phone interface, reports the Verge, which tested the app on an Asus Transformer Prime. Instagram runs at the tablet’s native resolution, which means the picture quality is better than on the iPad, which simply doubles the resolution of the iPhone Instagram app.

While all versions of the iPad can run iPhone apps, the upscaling process was notoriously ugly on the iPad 1 and 2 . On the new iPad, upscaled iPhone apps look much smoother, although they’re still no replacement for apps built specifically for the tablet.

The Instagram Android update also adds support for WiFi-only devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Play.

Now that Instagram has broad coverage on Android, I suspect the company is going to focus its efforts on a real iPad app. Given the iPad’s larger screen and the latest model’s crazy high resolution, a tricked out Instagram iPad app could be killer.

San Francisco-based Instagram has raised $7 million in funding so far and has just passed 30 million users. It’s now rumored to be working on a $50 million round at a $500 million valuation.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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AT&T to unlock your contract-less iPhones this Sunday

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 05:30 PM PDT


AT&T confirmed today that it will unlock iPhones beginning April 8 for customers whose contracts have ended and who are in “good standing.”

Unlocking an iPhone means that the customer is cut from its ties with their carrier and can use a sim card from another carrier if they like. Until this point, AT&T kept its iPhones locked, even if the contract had expired, binding those users to its service. The move is long overdue.

An unlocked AT&T phone, however, will not be compatible with Verizon’s service. iPhones built for these two carriers differ in hardware that cannot be overridden with the software unlock.

Prior to this, people had to jailbreak their phones in order to run separately from AT&T. This process is dangerous for the phone, as it nulls the warranty and makes the phone more susceptible to malware.

AT&T will begin unlocking phones on this coming Sunday, April 8. Accounts must be in good standing, have no unpaid balances, and must not be connected to a long-term plan with AT&T.

hat tip New York Times

Filed under: mobile

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Former Intel employee pleads guilty to $1B theft charges

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 05:27 PM PDT

computer theftFriday, ex-Intel employee Biswamohan Pani pleaded guilty to wire fraud and theft charges after it was alleged he stole $1 billion worth of trade secrets from Intel, Reuters reports.

Pani worked at a Hudson, Mass. Intel facility several years ago before leaving for a job at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Intel’s main rival. There were several days of overlap between both jobs, where Pani had access to Intel data while working for AMD. It was during this time that Federal prosecutors allege he stole valuable information about the manufacturing and design of Intel’s Itanium microprocessor. Federal agents found the stolen documents in Pani’s home.

Pani pled guilty to the charges in court on Friday. He could face up to 20 years in prison per fraud count when he is sentenced August 8.

Originally, the value of what Pani stole was estimated at $1 billion at least. However, prosecutors now say Intel has valued the secrets to be worth between $200 million and $400 million.

AMD apparently never used the data Pani obtained, which investigators say was uncovered before Pani could use it. AMD spokesperson Drew Prairie told Reuters that “the FBI has stated that there is no evidence that AMD had any involvement in or awareness of Mr. Pani’s alleged actions.”

Computer criminal image via Shutterstock

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Xfinity customers are finally getting HBO Go on the Xbox

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 04:54 PM PDT

Game of thrones

Earlier this week, Comcast was rumored to be in discussions about letting its subscribers finally access HBO Go on the Xbox. Friday, the company made it official, saying that “early next week” Comcast subscribers can watch their favorite HBO shows through the official HBO Go Xbox Live app.

Game of Thrones-watching-Comcast subscribers can now check out their favorite episodes on the HBO Go app as well as the Xfinity TV Xbox app for Comcast’s streaming on-demand service. To access the content in either app, you’ll just need the username and password you’d use for Xfinity TV.

The move will likely make a lot of Comcast customers happy, most of whom would rather go straight to the HBO Go app to watch their expensive shows and take advantage of the extra content not available on Xfinity TV (making-of extras, outtakes, interviews, etc.).

HBO Go recently made its way to the Xbox, following the iPad, smartphones, and set-top boxes. The app has gained a lot of popularity among cable subscribers, but Comcast customers couldn’t use it until now.

Game of Thrones image via HBO

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PAX East 2012: Storytime with 20-year game veteran Jordan Mechner

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 04:25 PM PDT

Jordan MechnerAfter more than 20 years, Jordan Mechner is still excited about making video games.

The Prince of Persia creator addressed a packed theater on Friday during the PAX East 2012 keynote and told stories about his early days as a budding game developer. Dragging an Apple II to college, he said he would try to make games in between classes. “My grade point average sank to miserably low levels” he joked.

After failing to find a publisher for his first project, Mechner found inspiration in the 1982 arcade game Choplifter. In Choplifter, players took on the role of a helicopter pilot rescuing hostages from an evil empire. Unlike other '80s titles, it had a definite ending and wasn't, as Mechner put it, "an endless quest for points." Playing it made him realize games could tell stories. "If I accidentally flew too close and squished one of [the hostages], I felt bad. I formed an emotional attachment to those little 8-bit characters," he said.

His experience playing Choplifter made Mechner put aside that first project to work on Karateka, a fighting game set in feudal Japan. The storyline was simple – win back your girlfriend from an evil warlord – but Mechner says he was able to use film techniques learned in college, such as rotoscoping, cross-cutting, and tracking shots, to create a more cinematic experience that was easy to play. He says Karateka was the game that made the dream come true for him. "Games went from a hobby to a thing I was doing. I became a published game author."

After Karateka, Mechner would go on to create what is probably his most recognizable game, Prince of Persia. The 2D platformer was a commercial and critical success that has been ported to various platforms over the years. But following its release, Mechner says he felt he had nothing left to say and didn't want to make another game. “When Prince of Persia shipped, rather than do another game, I went to New York, learned how to shoot and edit. I went to Spain and learned Spanish. I went to France and learned French. Basically, I was being a bum.”

Eventually, though, Mechner would return to the world of gaming with the 1997 adventure game The Last Express. He, along with developer Smoking Car Productions, painstakingly recreated the Orient Express as the setting for the game. They found its last two remaining train cars and spent a day photographing and measuring them so they could be rebuilt digitally. Mechner says he wanted it as close to the original train as possible. "That passion we put into it made it better,” he said.

Mechner poured about a million dollars into The Last Express. He never got that money back. Although he says he doesn't regret working on the project, he once again left the gaming industry following its failure to become a screenwriter. Three years later, he says Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot contacted him. The publisher wanted to revive the Prince of Persia franchise. Developers showed him a simple animation test of a character running up a wall, but it was enough to have him hooked. “It got me excited about games again,” he said. Mechner eventually moved his family to Montreal and threw himself fully into the project that would become Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in," Mechner quoted with a smile.

Sands of Time became one of the biggest hits of 2003. It swept the Interactive Achievement Awards (DICE) with 12 nominations and 8 awards and has spawned numerous sequels.

Looking back, Mechner told the crowd at PAX that he's learned to work on whatever he's most passionate about, to follow his heart without regret. And his heart seems to lead him, more often than not, back to video games. After another stint in Hollywood, he is returning once again with a modern-day remake of Karateka, which is set to launch on the Sony Entertainment Network and Xbox Live Arcade sometime in 2012.

[Image courtesy: mygaming.co.za]

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Palo Alto Networks wants its firewall to be worth $175M, files to go public

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 03:35 PM PDT

ss firewall

Firewall and computer security company Palo Alto Networks plans to raise $175 million in a public offering, according to papers published today by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Palo Alto Networks has become popular because it allows chief information officers to block only parts of online applications — such as social networks — and take more control over what employees are using. “Bring your own device” is a growing trend that makes this even more crucial, although right now only minority of employees are bringing in their own tools to work. But when it comes to web applications, such as Dropbox, Facebook, and Twitter, a lot of companies are outright blocking the programs in order to encourage “productivity.” What CIOs don’t realize is that much business is being transferred from the golf course to the social network, while employees are finding their own tools for getting work done. Blocking these avenues for nontraditional productivity is actually detrimental.

This is where Palo Alto Networks comes in. The company’s technology has a way to block only parts of an application, as opposed to completely cutting it off. That is to say, a company might let its employees use Facebook for status updates and content sharing, but block the chat function. The PAN firewall can also block actions, such as attaching files, so confidential information isn’t leaked outside company servers.

In total, the company would like to raise $175 million, it has not listed how many shares will be available. Palo Alto took in $118.6 million in revenue for 2011, which was 143 percent higher than that of 2010. Sixty-two percent of its business comes from customers in North America, followed by Europe.

The company hasn’t stated exactly how many shares it is offering, or what the valuation of the company will be. However, the filing indicates that about 46,138,202 shares will be outstanding after the offering.

hat tip TechCrunch; Firewall via Shutterstock

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Next-gen console rumor roundup: Next Xbox may have 16-core CPU

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 03:27 PM PDT

The next-generation console rumors are heating up, and this week brought a lot of new detailed gossip on that front.

Microsoft’s next-generation machine is rumored to be code-named Durango. That name was partially verified on Feb. 28, when a senior technical artist at Crytek tweeted that he was “enjoying the Durango developers summit in London. So far, great swag and interesting talks.” He then deleted the tweet and his account. In meetings, Microsoft reportedly showed details of the new console hardware.

Now Xbox World magazine is reporting that development kits for the new console were shipped to developers in March. Those kits include an IBM PowerPC central processing unit (CPU) with 16 cores, compared to just three cores on the Xbox 360′s CPU. The graphics chip is equivalent to an Advanced Micro Devices Radeon HD 7000-series graphics card, and the machine has a Blu-ray optical drive. The report mentioned that Kinect 2 (the sequel to Microsoft’s motion-sensing system) will chew up as many as four cores tracking multiple players.

If Microsoft is shipping the dev kits now, then it is likely on schedule for a launch in 2013. The developers need a year or more to make launch titles for the increasingly complex console hardware.

Nintendo got dinged by unnamed developers who said that the Wii U’s performance isn’t as good as either the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3. It’s a little hard to believe that a brand new Nintendo console debuting in the fall of 2012 won’t be faster than the consoles that debuted in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Nintendo will make the leap to high-definition TVs with the graphics on its new machine, and it has never put a priority on processing power in the first place.

“We do not focus on technology specs,” said a spokesperson for Nintendo of America. “We understand that people like to dissect graphics and processing power, but the experience of playing will always be more important than raw numbers.”

Nintendo isn’t confirming that the report is untrue, but it isn’t denying it either. Do such rumors matter? Based on the news, Macquarie Equities Research analyst Ben Schacter downgraded his stock rating on Nintendo.

Sony’s PlayStation 4, code-named Orbis, got outed by Kotaku last week. The Orbis reportedly has an AMD 64-bit CPU and an AMD Southern Islands GPU (graphics processing unit). The GPU will be capable of displaying games at a resolution of 4096 x 2160. And it will play games in stereoscopic 3D at 1080p high-definition resolution. It will not be compatible with PS 3 games and will not play used games.

VG247 said that the next PlayStation will be released prior to the Durango machine from Microsoft.

We’re checking with the companies to see if they want to comment further, but don’t hold your breath.

[Image credits: Sillegamer, Kotaku and Nintendo]

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The case for Windows 8

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 01:18 PM PDT

While the rest of the world was waiting with bated breath for the release of the new iPad, my company was focusing our efforts a very different direction: building a version of our app for Windows 8's Consumer Preview.

We were cautious about this, as we'd built for the Windows 7 Phone, and initial adoption was undoubtedly disappointing. However, it looks like Microsoft is finally gaining ground in the mobile platform wars, as recently noted by VentureBeat's own Dylan Tweney.

One thing is clear: This is a war that has yet to be won, and Microsoft may still have a fighting chance. Some are skeptical, but developing for Windows 8 has already proved to be the right decision for us. Here's why.

Reason #1: The interface

We dedicate a lot of our time to working on our interface to create a better user experience that centers on our core offering (content). Microsoft's designers had the same principles in mind.

Metro is clean, elegant, and appealingly spartan. It gets rid of all the 'chrome' that usually hangs around the edges of each screen, and it hides everything but the most important control, which occupies the center of your attention.

For developers, search, sharing, and settings management are built into the platform and work across any app. At the base level, that frees your team up to focus more energy on the core value of your app, instead of having to reinvent the wheel yet again.

Of course, saving time wouldn't be worth it if the platform didn't offer a good user experience, but the share and search widgets are actually quite intuitive. Live tiles make notifications and pushing content easy and useful, and are absurdly simple to develop.

All of these provide a consistent and expected UI. So, for example, anywhere you are, you can share what you're looking at by swiping from the right edge of the screen and using the share charm. After a while you stop thinking about it, and the action becomes second nature , which leads to more people actually using these functions.

Additionally, all Metro navigation is accomplished with text links and simple square boxes, and developing the app within those constricting parameters gave us clarity about the best way to present data. Now we're planning on using something similar across all of our tablet experiences to present large lists of stories to the user.

Reason #2: Cross-platform unification

As Tweney wrote last week, this could be the thing that gives Microsoft the edge in the marketplace: It's one platform that can be shared by phones, tablets, PCs and television. It makes for a better user experience and a truly unique one.

This was a draw for us. We knew that at the very least, we'd have tremendous reach thanks to all the PCs that would be automatically upgraded to Windows 8.

As one example of the cross-platform OS in action, PC users, mobile users, and Xbox gamers will be able to play games together using different hardware as long as they have the same app. From a developer's perspective, that means one codebase gives you access to multiple audiences.

Microsoft still has to unify the Windows Phone Marketplace, Windows Store and Xbox Live into a single ecosystem, but once they do, it'll be an immensely powerful thing. The other platforms are also obviously moving in the same direction, but the huge penetration that Microsoft has in the PC and Xbox markets can give them a real edge in the "developer war."

Reason #3: The audience

It goes without saying that when you design for a new platform, you have to take a leap of faith. To launch the Windows Store, Microsoft recruited hundreds of developers to build apps for the Consumer Preview. To get devs on board, Microsoft made the pitch that developing for Windows 8 would be different, and the potential audience reach would be larger than with any other platform.

Win8, once it launches, will most likely grow to be largest operating system. All the new PCs will have it preinstalled, and large numbers of existing PCs will be updated to it. Even without the new tablet devices, it will still ship by the hundreds of millions.

The fact that the Consumer Preview build was downloaded more than a million times in 24 hours after it came out is a good indicator of the kind of volume developers can expect out of the platform.

Reason #4: The Microsoft team

As a BizSpark One startup, we first met the Windows 8 team at the at the BUILD conference in September 2011, where Microsoft gave all of the participating developers a no-frills Samsung tablet (complete with a loud fan on the back) to start experimenting with.

Over the course of a four-week development cycle, the Windows 8 team participated in weekly design and product reviews with us. We'd spend one or two hours on the phone with designers on their team every week, going through the features and making sure we were adhering to guidelines and learning about the best tools. Their team understood the nuances of their platform and helped us to create something that was useful and beautiful rather than simply converting our existing app.

Reason #5: It's fun

We've created apps for pretty much all the platforms out there, and Windows 8 was one of the most fun projects we've done. The developer tools are amazing, the documentation is good, and the frameworks are elegant and well designed, which means we could move very quickly with the implementation and have a running prototype with much of the required functionality just one week after first downloading the SDK.

We could actually spend our time experimenting with the interface and making sure the app was awesome instead of battling obscure bugs (looking at you, Blackberry WebWorks) or wasting time dealing with hardware fragmentation (you know who you are). All in all, it was a very positive experience for the team and we're quite happy with the product that we ended up with.

Roman Karachinsky is the CEO and co-founder of News360, a leading personalized news app that aggregates and ranks online news content and sources. Roman believes strongly that personalization, coupled with aggregation and semantic analysis, is the best way to deliver a multi-faced news reading experience that reflects every viewpoint. At News360, Roman is responsible for guiding overall product strategy, business development, and partnerships.

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Flurry releases new analytics features to improve monetization

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 12:42 PM PDT

Flurry launched new analytics features today that allows customers to take better control of how they measure and access the metrics for their apps. The features will help app developers make more money from their apps.

Customers can now create funnels that measure their most important conversions of free users to paid users. The analytics will now send out metrics trend notifications, and users will be able to create custom dashboards.

Flurry is providing pre-made templates for ad-supported apps, free-to-play apps, premium apps, engagement, and user acquisition and retention. Customers can always be clued in when metrics for an app change.

Since launching analytics in 2008, Flurry has more than 65,000 companies using its service across more than 170,000 apps. Flurry tracks app activity across more than 500 million Android and Apple iOS smartphones and tablets each month. It tracks more than 300 billion transactions per month and 1 billion user sessions per day. Flurry issues 25,000 session reports per second. Since December, Flurry has added 10,000 companies and 35,000 apps.

Sessions tracked per day rose from 760 million in December to 1.2 billion in March, up 50 percent in three months. Rivals include other analytics firms such as Kontagent, which released its own analytics tools update this week too.

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Facebook, Dropbox app security holes are shocking in their stupidity (updated)

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 12:25 PM PDT

A security hole recently discovered in Facebook’s iOS and Android apps has now been found in Dropbox’s iOS app as well. The flaw allows anyone with physical access to your phone to copy your login credentials — because, get this, both companies store your login information in unencrypted text files.

Yes, folks, it’s 2012 and some major developers are still overlooking simple logon security. The news shocks me even more than apps like Path stealing address book data, because it shows that even big companies — which we trust increasing amounts of our personal data to — can still have trouble with security basics.

The hole was first discovered by security researcher Gareth Wright, which led to a quick response from Facebook that claimed the flaw only affects jailbroken (or purposefully hacked) devices. But The Next Web discovered this morning through its own testing that non-jailbroken devices are also affected and that the flaw could be exploited when plugging your device into a public computer.

“The long and short of it is that regular, non-jailbroken devices are vulnerable to this because it is a flaw in the way that Facebook stores that .plist file containing your information,” The Next Web’s Matthew Panzarino writes. The site also reports that Dropbox’s iOS app (but not its Android app) has a similar security flaw.

As Wright says, it’s anyone’s guess why Facebook isn’t using the iOS keychain or other encryption methods to properly manage its login credentials. Both Facebook and Dropbox are aware of the issue and are updating their apps.

"It’s hard to speculate, but we do know that fully securing application data on a device that is physically exposed to an attacker is extremely challenging to do,” Tim Wyatt, Principal Engineer at Lookout Mobile Security told VentureBeat in an e-mail. “Best practice is to make use of APIs such as Android’s AccountManager or the iPhone Keychain to ensure that sensitive data such as access tokens or other user credentials are stored centrally in the most secure manner possible."

Update: The Next Web has updated its initial post to confirm that the security risk doesn’t exist if you’ve password-protected your iPhone.

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100 days at a startup

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 12:25 PM PDT

You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of shore.

- Admiral Rickover

As I was gearing up to graduate from business school, one of my professors, Joel Peterson, challenged us to think differently by flashing the quote above in one of our last lectures.

Embracing this concept, I turned down an offer to go back to my previous employer and spent the next four months after school, unemployed, on an unfamiliar ocean. I spent the summer months analyzing my skills, my passions, and what I wanted out of my career. All winds pushed me towards joining a startup that I was passionate about – somewhere I could make an impact. So like a cougar chasing down fresh meat at the Rosewood on Thursday night, I was all over it.

I was able to lose sight of the shore and along the way, I've learned invaluable lessons at a startup. This is what I learned in my first 100 days:

1. Embrace Ambiguity
I love this quote from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg:

I always tell people if you try to connect the dots of your career, if you mess it up you're going to wind up on a very limited path. If I decided what I was going to do in college — when there was no Internet, no Google, no Facebook . . . I don't want to make that mistake. The reason I don't have a plan is because if I have a plan I'm limited to today's options.

Inevitably, the landscape, the players, and the movers, of startups change. Ten years ago, the entire market cap of the social media sector was less than $100m. Today, Facebook is valued at 100x that. Working at a startup, not only do you have to embrace ambiguity, you have to count on it. Building out the right team, the right skills to take advantage of these waves will be instrumental to not only your company but also your career.

Being at a startup means that you have to solve ambiguous problems – if someone had already figured this out, your startup wouldn't exist. The nature of a startup means that you never have the perfect answer but you have the right framework to make the best decisions possible. Ambiguity is the name of the game, and you gotta be able to roll with it.

2. Build a Network – It's Important
Startups are built on servers, engineering code, lofty ideas, VC money, etc., but the end of the day it's a people business. Understanding the pain points of people and understanding how to work with people – that's it. Whether you’re investing in startups or building a team at a startup, it's all about people.

Building your own network is important. Startups move quickly and you'll never know where you may need help. It may be the engineer that you randomly met at a dinner or the community manager you met partying at SXSW – having contacts and building your ecosystem can help you navigate through the valley.

How many times have you done the "LinkedIn lookup" — after meeting someone you immediately look them up on LinkedIn? My friends use this to prescreen meetings, source opportunities, and even diligence for dates.

Each community has its own closed networks and it takes time, hustle, and serendipity to break into these networks. The sooner you realize this and start building up your own, the better off you will be. Roles at firms may be short, but careers are long – make sure you build your network and maintain a great reputation.

3. Be a Direct Communicator
Your word is your bond, especially in tech. Oftentimes, things move so fast in deals you don't have time to do paperwork and have to rely on "bro NDA". Being upfront, direct, and open with partners, colleagues, and investors is always the best policy. Building this social currency will make your life a lot easier as time goes on. Time is money in startups, and no one likes to be BS'ed around.

Being a direct communicator is a skill learned over time. To be able to understand others’  intentions, take complex issues and articulate them in a simple manner, and being direct with confidence when needed is important in an ambiguous world. Even internally, trust is gained by being able to communicate and articulate issues to coworkers. Startups are so small that you know everyone's business at work – beat this to the punch by being open with your thoughts.

4. Be Part of The Culture
Life it too short to do something you don't like. When I was unemployed, I kept on referring back to Steve Jobs’ philosophy:

If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

If you weigh the likelihood of startup success against the average compensation (cash + equity for an employee), you'll see that most employees won't be partying on a boat with Diddy anytime soon. Founders, hired guns, and super early employees are the ones who are more likely to have the opportunity to make it big. The goal is to get yourself to be in one of those positions.

In the interim, and hopefully later on in your career, you gotta love what you do. The culture of the startup you work for will heavily dictate this. I remember studying about culture in business school and thought it was just a bunch of BS. But in real practice, this is what keeps the drum beating. People bust their asses because they love their job. The goal is to align this culture with the startup’s goals – if you do, you've really hit the jackpot.

The one other thing is that you have to be part of that culture. You have to live and breathe it (OK, drink the Kool-Aid), otherwise that extra hour you spend in the office, you're going to be regretting it. If you don't like something, try to change it. If you can't change it, leave, because you're wasting your youthful energy.

5. Look For Quick Wins
Coming into a startup, you have to prove yourself. You have to demonstrate to the team, the founders, and the investors why they gave up a percentage of the company for you to join. This is always not easy to do – especially if you come from a "non-tech" background.

You have to really assess your skills and use your past experience to look for quick wins for yourself and the company. I spent nearly eight years in finance (i-banking and PE), and coming to a startup, it wasn't clear to me what my quick win was. As the company grew bigger, we started to analyze a lot of things that fell into my wheelhouse (business model changes, M&A, financial analysis, strategy, etc.). I used my previous skill sets to help where I could. I was able to help with analyzing, doing the due diligence, modeling out, and structuring the strategy around our first acquisition.

Finding wins that you can really help deliver puts wind behind your sails.

I'm sure there are hundred's of other lessons to be learned, but these were the ones that have helped me thus far. Finding out your passion and following it religiously is the only way to be happy, as it serves as your compass out on an unfamiliar ocean.

[This story appeared on Don Hoang's personal blog and is published here with permission.]

Don Hoang is Director of Business Development for Klout, which measures influence across the social web, analyzes social network user data, and identifies influential individuals based on the impact of their opinions, links, recommendations and other online content. He holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is active in the Stanford and startup community. He currently blogs at http://dghoang.com and you can follow him on Twitter @dghoang.

[Top image credit:  LSaloni/Shutterstock]

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Special deal for startups looking to come to DEMO

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 11:51 AM PDT

If you work for a startup and are looking for a little inspiration, networking, or if you just want to come out and see the the coolest new technology from around the world in one place, then here’s your chance to get into DEMO on the cheap.

For a limited time only, we’re offering VentureBeat readers who work at startups with fewer than 25 employees the chance to get DEMO tickets for $99 (full price is $995, so this is an incredible deal).  To get that rate, click here and register by next Wednesday, April 11.

For those that aren’t familiar with DEMO, it’s the conference where companies like Netscape, Salesforce, TiVo, and E-Trade got their start.  We’ve also had some massive recent successes like Fusion-io (went public last summer and has a current market cap of $2.4 billion) and SuccessFactors (acquired for $1.9 billion in February).

At this upcoming DEMO, which will be in Santa Clara on April 17-19, we’ll have 70 companies showing off the best and brightest technology of the future.  Some will be companies you’ve heard of, others will be startups, but all of the tech will be new and disruptive.

So pick up your tickets today, and we’ll see you at DEMO in a couple of weeks!

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GamesBeat Weekly Roundup

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 11:08 AM PDT

Xenoblade Chronicles

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:

Anomaly: Warzone Earth successfully reverses tower defense (review)

Game of Thrones painstakingly recreated in Minecraft (video)

Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter surpasses $400k goal—Mac version coming, too

Borderlands 2: Four potential problems (and what the developers are doing about them)

Kingdom Hearts boosts 3DS in Japan while PS Vita lags

Multiplayer beta details for Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Stung by fans, EA/BioWare will create new content to clarify ending of Mass Effect 3

Seasoned developer MunkyFun launches Bounty Bots on iOS (exclusive)

Pokemon Conquest gets a Summer release in US (gallery)

Game publisher Electronic Arts is voted the "Worst Company in America"

League for Gamers takes stand against warning-labels on games (exclusive)

Porn network Brazzers will sponsor a pro fighting-game team

Kinect Star Wars fails to live up to its potential (review)

Wii U reportedly launching on November 18 in North America

A sick April Fools message from Batman: Arkham City's Calendar Man

Xenoblade Chronicles redeems the Xeno name (review)

Rovio to launch Angry Birds cartoon series this fall

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

The DeanBeat: How developers can avoid a bloodbath in fighting for new users

Retro revival: PC games raise $6.7M and counting in Kickstarter campaigns

Major tech and gaming companies unite to purge sex offenders from online games

Kontagent launches its kSuite DataMine analytics tool for monetizing mobile games

Final Fantasy characters showcase Prada's 2012 collection

Activision embraces freemium monetization strategies with Skylanders Cloud Patrol for iOS

TwitchTV launches iPad and Android apps to stream game tournaments

Draw Something hits mobile game record as it passes 50M downloads

Ghost Recon Commander will be a "gamer's game" on Facebook

BigDoor raises $5M for gamification platform

The Tap Lab raises $550K to fund location-based mobile games

Israel's Dragonplay raises $14M for free-to-play mobile social games

Can we panic now? — Core gaming has a problem

OMGPOP CEO tweets that only employee not to transition to Zynga was the "weakest" one (UPDATED)

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

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

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Etsy reaches out to the ladies with new Hacker Grant summer program

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 10:15 AM PDT

Etsy’s community is famously female-driven, so it makes sense that the company would look to women in hosting a developer initiative, as well.

The company is an online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods, and it boasts a huge audience of women — lady crafters, lady artists, lady online retailers, lady shoppers. Bringing lady developers into the conversation isn’t just an affirmative action move to get more women involved in tech; it’s an acknowledgement that Etsy is, to a huge extent, a marketplace populated by women, and Etsy wants to give more women “behind the curtain” access on the tech side, as well.

Etsy’s newly announced Hacker Grant will bring a class of developers to the startup’s Brooklyn headquarters for the summer, where they will hone and perfect their coding skills. For women who need financial support to participate in the summerlong program, ten grants of $5,000 each will be awarded to ten lucky hackers.

The program is being conducted in partnership with Hacker School a full-time summer school in New York. Hacker School is open to any participants, male or female. The organizers are hoping to bring in 40 participants this year, and they’re aiming for a 50/50 gender split. The Etsy grants are simply an extra incentive for women to join the summer school.

The idea for the grants was spearheaded by Etsy engineering VP Marc Hedlund. The Hacker School team said female and male applicants will be held to the same programming standards (a.k.a., no “girls’ handicap”).

“I’ve spent the last several years in heavily male-dominated environments,” writes Hacker School co-founder Nick Bergson-Shilcock on the program’s blog. “I think about them whenever I’m in a room of programmers and there’s only one woman. No matter how welcoming and friendly the environment, you burn at least a few cycles being cognizant of the fact you’re different from most of the people around you.”

The Etsy/Hacker School program is free for anyone who wants to attend, and it begins on June 4, 2012. Applications are open now for the summer batch, and interested women programmers can apply now for an Etsy Hacker Grant.

Top image courtesy of StockLite, Shutterstock

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Make a difference, then a profit: building startups that do social good

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 10:00 AM PDT

A cursory glance through the top apps in the Apple App Store or Android Market reveal solutions to a variety of first world problems – from shopping dilemmas and cooking catastrophes to simply too much free time. But with so much technology out there to make our lives easier and more entertaining, what about some that address real problems, like a solution for world hunger, an app for purifying water, or a tool that gives a voice to those who have been silenced?

With 1.7 billion people around the globe living in absolute poverty, 2 billion living under censorship and 6 million children dying of hunger every year, we have some real demands to meet. The numbers are grave, the challenges immense, and yet many of the most capable minds in Silicon Valley are focused not on solving real problems, but on … games; not on impacting those who desperately need aid, but on being number one in the App Store; and not on making a difference, but on turning a profit.

It's time we took a cue from innovators such as the duo behind MobiCrops, an app aimed at eradicating world hunger. New Jersey Institute of Technology graduate students Daniel Boston and Manoop Talasila developed the app as a tool to enable farmers around the world to communicate better, therefore improving their efficiency for planning and growing crops for those most in need.

"Our first goal is usually to solve the problem, not make money," the students said.

It's this mentality that should serve as our guide as we launch start-ups and build business plans. The world doesn't need another mind-numbing game. It needs solutions like the ones the NJIT students devised. Once you identify a true problem and develop a means for addressing it, the money will come.

One of my heroes is Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank which provides microcredit loans to the poor. What started as a $27 loan from his own pocket to help 42 impoverished, Bangladeshi women turned into a viable business model that inspired similar efforts across the world. As they say, "do well by doing good."

My childhood friend and I decided to follow that mantra when we created a tool called Hotspot Shield to help people stay safe and private online and, more importantly, gain access to blocked content in areas of the world where information is either scarce or heavily censored. From where we stood, freedom of speech and access to uncensored information is a basic human right, one we often take for granted here in the U.S. Over the years, the tool took on a life of its own, most recently helping a million Egyptians communicate, rally behind a common cause and ultimately overthrow a corrupt dictator. First came the idea, and then the profits.

The opportunities for business that do social good are endless, and we're seeing a new breed of entrepreneur emerge to bring these ideas to life.

Just take a look at Better World Books, which has donated millions to global literacy initiatives since launching in 2002. Based in Indiana, the company is a reminder that innovation is springing up outside the typical tech zones. A shining embodiment of the "triple bottom line" – positive impact on environment, community involvement and engagement and sustainable, responsible business practices – Better World's impact has skyrocketed almost as quickly as its revenues. The company took in $55 million in 2011 and donated close to 5 million books.

Then there's angel investor-backed Academic Earth. Founded by Richard Ludlow, a Yale grad who married his entrepreneurial spirit with a desire to do good, the company launched in 2008 with a mission to provide free access to high quality education. Sustained by ad sales and affiliate marketing, the company delivers a precious commodity so far out of reach for much of the world's population.

Switching gears from education to one of San Francisco's favorite topics – food – we turn to CleanFish, an eco-friendly, Bay Area-based company that recognized the need for sustainable seafood in mainstream supermarkets and restaurants, and jumped on it. Since launching in 2004, company founders Tim O'Shea and Dale Sims have connected dozens of small suppliers lovingly referred to as "the CleanFish Alliance" with larger markets for their sustainably harvested catches. Within just a few years of launching, the company hit the $20 million mark.

And who can overlook the darling of the socially responsible startup world, TOMS shoes. Dreamed up by serial entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie on a trip to Argentina, TOMS pioneered the "One for One" model: for every pair sold, TOMS donates a pair to a child in need. Not only has the shoemaker donated more than a million pairs of shoes to impoverished kids around the world, it's become a wardrobe staple across the country at the same time.

It's time for more innovators to shift their focus to creating tools to effect fundamental social change in the world, a new way of thinking that can engender a fairer world revolving around equality, innovation and freedom. All too often, the idea of doing good and making an impact is an afterthought, when it can be the main driver behind a sustainable, profitable business.

So what's missing and why haven't we seen a greater swing toward entrepreneurship around social good? It seems that the shift in thinking isn't fully complete. As Yunus said, "My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us." Those with the desire to effect social change around the globe are still looking at it as a form of charity rather than an exchange of goods and services. And many entrepreneurs looking to create the next big app, service, tool, etc. to turn a profit aren't tuning in to some of the most obvious markets out there.

Smart entrepreneurs with a desire to do good will recognize this massive yet often-ignored marketplace and create solutions that will reshape the tech landscape. We put so much effort into launching these great companies; we might as well do something that has a real impact.

David Gorodyansky is CEO of AnchorFree, which makes Hotspot Shield, a privacy shield for internet users around the world. He co-founded the company when he was 23, with a belief that all users should be in control on the Web. He was named among the top CEOs under 30 years old by Inc. Magazine, CEOUnder30.com, FastCompany, Red Herring and other publications. He also runs a blog on Forbes.com, where he shares his passions about technology and innovation, and served on the Technology Advisory Council to Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco. 

[Top image credit: arindambanerjee/Shutterstock]

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500 Startups raising new $50M fund, adds new partners

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 09:54 AM PDT

500 startups

Tech investment firm/startup accelerator 500 Startups is raising a new $50 million fund, according to a SEC regulator filing.

500 Startups is an early-stage seed fund and incubator program that’s become a brand name over the last few years. The group invests between $25,000 to $250,000 in primarily consumer & small-to-medium-size internet startups, as well as startups related web infrastructure services.

The group’s first fund was $15 million and included 257 companies, a handful of which were later acquired by major tech companies, including BackType, Versly, CardMunch, Rapportive, and others.

In an interview with VentureBeat, 500 startups founding partner Dave McClure said the new fund will seek out more startups in international markets, and could account for a fourth of all investments.

“I think the mentality of some Silicon Valley venture firms is to expect everything to come to them. We actually don’t. We get off our asses and go across the country and around the world,” McClure said, noting that he expects about half of all the groups investments to still come from the San Francisco area due to its obvious benefits.

The group also recently promoted Paul Singh and Christen O'Brien to partners and added two new venture partners: Bedy Yang, who will oversee investments in Brazil & Latin America and George Kellerman, who will oversee investments in Japan. Overall the new additions should help with the groups push to find more worthy startups in international markets.

500 Startups commissioned a new infographic covering its last 18 months of activity, which we’ve embedded below. (Click image to enlarge)

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Like Google Glass? Then you’ll LOVE these Google Glass clones

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 09:41 AM PDT

Google Glass, the tech giant’s foray into augmented reality and the new wave of mobile computing, is reportedly already stirring up competing products from its rivals.

Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White revealed this morning to Boy Genius Report that during supply chain meetings in Asia, he learned about how Google’s competitors are already developing products to give Google Glass a run for its money.

"Our meetings today indicate that Google glasses (a.k.a., Project Glass) already has competitors working on similar initiatives to improve consumer's mobility around Internet access," White wrote. "We expect to hear more about projects such as this and others in the coming years. This could drive a new wave of innovation across the mobility space."

It might be a stretch to call these competing products “clones” — after all, we don’t really know when development on Glass or any Glass-like products from rivals may have begun, and we don’t know how much future releases from companies like Apple, Samsung, or other manufacturers may emulate Glass’s look and features.

It’s moreover important to note that, far from being a mass market-ready gadget already on production lines, Glass is still very much in its conceptual stages. “We took a few design photos to show what this technology could look like and created a video to demonstrate what it might enable you to do," wrote Googlers Babak Parviz, Steve Lee, and Sebastian Thrun of the collateral that set the geek world abuzz earlier this week.

Still, Google Glass and anything like it share strong ties to science fiction, the progenitor to so many current marvels of science and technology. Check out the top image on this story — that’s Star Trek: The Next Generation character Wesley Crusher playing a game using augmented reality headgear that overlays a casual game interface on the wearer’s field of vision.

These goofy, geeky AR toys we’re starting to build today were dreamt up long ago by technologists and creatives, and it’s not too surprising that (especially given recent advances in location and other mobile technology) multiple companies and manufacturers are getting the same ideas for similar products at around the same time.

I, for one, welcome our new augmented-reality-headgear-wearing overlords.

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Amazon S3 posts stunning growth, now storing 905B objects

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 09:26 AM PDT


Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) has posted incredible gains for the first quarter of 2012, with the company now storing 905 billion objects, it announced today on its AWS blog.

The S3 service is used by tons of developers and engineers for scalable and relatively cheap cloud-based infrastructure. Amazon previously announced that the service had a 192 percent increase in objects stored year-over-year from 2010 to 2011. Now with the news that S3 jumped from 762 billion objects stored in Q4 2011 to 905 objects stored in Q1 2012, it looks like 2012 will also be a banner year for Amazon’s public cloud.

“The S3 object count continued to grow at a rapid clip even after we added object expiration and multi-object deletion at the end of the year,” Jeff Barr, Amazon Senior Manager of Cloud Computing Solutions, wrote. “Every day, well over a billion objects are added via the S3 APIs, AWS Import/Export, the AWS Storage Gateway, all sorts of backup tools, and through Direct Connect pipes.”

Barr also noted that the company often handles 650,000 requests per second for these objects with occasional peaks.

Take a look at the chart below to see how quickly the S3 has grown in the past few years:

Clouds photo: Alejandro Erickson/Flickr

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The U.S. military wants YOU… to build a humanoid robot

Posted: 06 Apr 2012 09:07 AM PDT

DARPA, the U.S. military’s research arm, is getting ready to issue a call to arms — specifically, humanoid arms on a new kind of robot.

DARPA’s Grand Challenge, a prize competition for technological innovation that could be useful in military applications, began in 2004 as the military’s way of crowdsourcing new designs for driverless cars. Now, DARPA is preparing to proclaim a new Grand Challenge.

This time around, the military is looking for a better humanoid robot: a bipedal machine for use in all kinds of terrain and environments, up to and including industrial disasters.

DARPA program manager Dr. Gill Pratt announced the new objective at the Defense Threat Reduction Agengy’s Industry Day. According to sources present at that event, Pratt, whose specialty is in robotics and human/machine collaboration, said DAPRA plans to grant funding to six hardware teams and twelve software teams in the Grand Challenge.

In addition to the robots themselves, DARPA is looking to fund environmental simulations and will be working with unpaid hardware and software teams, as well.

DTRA Industry Day attendees report that DARPA is looking for a robot that can do the following:

  • Navigate itself into a open-frame utility vehicle, hop into the driver’s seat, and drive the vehicle to a specified location.
  • Exit the vehicle, unlock a door, and go through the door.
  • Safely travel down a 100 meter-long hallyway littered with debris.
  • Climb a ladder
  • Fix a gas-leaking pipe
  • Replace a broken pump

The U.S. military has been showing off new robotics projects in a big way lately. Just last month, the Navy held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a state-of-the-art new robotics lab, complete with a range of realistic testing environments (rainforest, desert, wave pool, etc.) and a few humanoid bots, as well.

More details on the DARPA Grand Challenge should be coming soon, so stay tuned to the DARPA newsroom for upcoming information.

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