11 April, 2012



How West and East Coast dynamics help startups succeed

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 09:18 AM PDT

Silicon Valley has been a hotbed for entrepreneurship and innovation for the last four decades. It's packed with big thinkers, highly talented engineers, and VCs who swing for the fences. Combined, this Silicon Valley beehive of entrepreneurs, developers, and investors has been brilliant at identifying, funding, and starting the next big idea. While most of the headlines paint dismal pictures of the economy, this venture market is alive and thriving once again.

In 2011 alone, Silicon Valley companies received $11.6 billion in investments. However, that figure only represents a third of all U.S.-based venture investment. In 2011, more than $30 billion of capital was deployed, a record since 2001. This clearly indicates that Silicon Valley was not the only place where entrepreneurs received funding to start and grow their businesses.

In fact, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are stealthily becoming destinations for startups and early growth-stage companies to raise funds. It is a region that is being sought out by entrepreneurs (both West Coast and East Coast) for its unique commercialization environment — a great compliment to the big-idea environment in Silicon Valley.

The pros and cons of location are often bandied about in arguments of East Coast versus West Coast. But choosing a location doesn't need to be an either/or proposition. By creating a bi-coastal strategy, a company can have the best of both worlds and encode its DNA with the West Coast's big ideas and the East Coast's focus on commercialization.

The Northeast corridor is to commercialization what Silicon Valley is to engineers. If you're going to sell something to a business, you're likely going to travel to the Northeast. Within a 300-mile radius exist some of the most important industries of the 21st century, which represent target customers for aspiring business-oriented startups:

  • Media and Communications: Headquartered in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia are Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, as well as numerous other agencies, publishing companies, and marketing firms. These firms represent a gold mine for advertising technology companies.
  • Financial Services: This industry calls Manhattan home. It's tough to have an enterprise application without having one of the large financial institutions from NYC on your customer list. Software giants for the financial industry — SunGard, Bloomberg, and ADP — are headquartered here. And don't forget the credit card and payment companies — Visa, Master Card, and American Express.
  • Government: The single largest organization in the world, the U.S. Government, also has the largest budget in the world for technology and lies within this corridor. Any company that's serious about the enterprise must have a dedicated federal government presence.
  • Healthcare: Payers, such as CIGNA, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Aetna, and pharmaceutical companies, such as Merck and Pfizer, line the New Jersey and Pennsylvania corridor. In addition, healthcare also concentrates much of its spending on the East Coast. The business of medicine is fast becoming personalized and data intensive—demanding consumerized mobile technologies, big data architectures, and privacy-sensitive cloud architectures.
  • Manufacturing and Industrial: The roots of the Northeast were in heavy manufacturing, but today the industrial firms on the East Coast are a next-generation fleet-of-foot industrial and logistics companies — like GE, DuPont, Lockheed Martin, and UPS — building the next generation of power, transportation, logistics, and materials.

Venture firms in the Northeast corridor have a deep Rolodex of customers, as well as access to engineers that have had to harden and scale technologies in line with some of the most challenging vertical scenarios our next generation of entrepreneurs faces. However, because of the need to face these commercialization realities every day, East Coast venture firms have tended to be more conservative than their West Coast brethren.

East Coast firms were known for focusing more on B and C Rounds, established customer bases, income statements, balance sheets, and cash flows. As a result, many early-stage companies felt they were disqualified from the start and that this “established” culture was stacked against them.

But over the past few years, as the cost of starting companies has dropped and innovation has sprung up from every direction — especially in the commercialization corridor, a vibrant community of seed- and early-stage companies — investors have sprung up to support these ideas on the East Coast in the form of organized angel groups, incubators, venture funds, and strategic “innovation/venture” groups (i.e. Comcast Venture, Moody’s Ventures, SAP Ventures, etc.).

Simply put, funding for all stages is now available on both the East Coast and West Coast. Smart entrepreneurs recognize this and are seeking the best of both coasts by actively selecting firms on opposite coasts from their existing investors. Even the new tech establishment firms are adopting a bi-coastal strategy – Facebook, Twitter, and Skype, to name a few, have opened offices in New York City.

It's clearly no longer a question of, "Should I raise capital from an East Coast firm or a West Coast firm?" It's more a question of how an entrepreneur can benefit from the culture, resources, and contacts of both. Mixing big ideas, talent, customers, and funding has always been a recipe for success. The technology opportunity has never been greater for entrepreneurs and now the funding opportunities are there to match. East Coast or West Coast, it's a great time to be an entrepreneur!

Philip D. Moyer is Vice President and Managing Director, Safeguard Scientifics. With more than 25 years of experience as a serial entrepreneur, Phil brings significant operational and deal experience, and is responsible for sourcing opportunities in financial technology and Enterprise 3.0. He blogs at the Safeguard company blog.

Photo via Chris Isherwood/Flickr

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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An alternative to incubators: the co-working space

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 09:15 AM PDT

If you're a startup, you’ve probably considered joining an incubator. But residency can be competitive and the requirements stiff. TechStars and Y-Combinator are well-known incubators that offer funding, mentorship, and access to a community of venture capitalists and anointed digerati — but only for a select few. Applicants also have to provide detailed business plans and disclose development, operational, marketing, and sales activities to get into the club.

There's another alternative that might actually be a better fit for the majority of startups: co-working spaces.

Co-working spaces offer more freedom and flexibility than traditional business incubators. For many startups — those that don't want need the full range of incubator services, or that want more control of their company and don't want to be apprenticed to someone else's vision — co-working offers the perfect alternative. Co-working may actually be a better environment for startups because it gives them what they really need.

Gangplank in Arizona started out as an incubator in the traditional sense: "We put together a C Fund and held a process similar to what Y Combinator or TechStars do today. We funded businesses, and we ran those businesses inside of Gangplank, as well," said co-founder Derek Neighbors. But then they realized that the mix of companies working in a shared space was creating unexpected synergies.

"What we started to see was the formula of small companies working together actually helping put together the environment necessary for all of them to succeed," Derek says. They realized the real missing ingredient — having a supportive community. "What’s missing for struggling startups is not capital funding, and it’s not lack of talent, right away. What’s missing is putting the people who are doing things in the community together to basically ignite the community to be even stronger."

Consider these other benefits of working in the same shared office with other like-minded entrepreneurs:

Grow at your own pace. While many incubators provide a structured environment that demand startups meet benchmarks as a resident, co-working spaces let you grow at your own pace. Memberships are flexible, offering space by the hour, day, or month. Jason Richelson, a former member of Hive at 55, agrees that co-working makes it easy to save money, especially for the entrepreneur just starting and trying to reach a sustainable operational level. "You don't want to commit to a lease in the initial stages of a new company, so going month-to-month is the only way for startups."

Learn from others. Rivaling the best incubators, co-working spaces organize an array of events and programs ranging from brown bag lunches and networking nights with different experts and sponsors, to workshops on topics like "VC pitching" and "Ruby on Rails." Cospace in Austin teams up with GeekAustin, which provides regular development classes. TechShop offers a variety of free DIY classes, on topics such as laser cutters, silk screening, AVR micro-controller programming, and AutoDesk modeling — ideal for the startup testing product prototypes. Co-working spaces are best for self-directed learners who prefer to choose the classes and programs they attend.

Partner up or share ideas. At a co-working space, where collaboration is not only encouraged but also cultivated, you get the opportunity to harness your coworkers' collective brainpower for the benefit of your startup. Sometimes, good things happen from a serendipitous seating arrangement. Doug Naegele, who runs healthcare software company Infield Health, and is a member of Affinity Lab, recalls how a simple conversation with a neighbor led to a new, exciting venture. "The person I sit next to recently won a Ford Foundation grant to help alleviate food deserts in Washington D.C. We came up with the idea of supporting the vendors and patrons of the Pop-up Farmers Market through text messaging. Two months later, we're actively trying new ideas around health, food deserts, and mobile technology," says Doug.

Get exposure and support. The expansion of Greg Wilder's Orpheus Media Research, a music search and discovery platform, which closed a Series A round and opened headquarters in New York City, owes much to its co-working community at Indy Hall: "Every key person involved in the company today can be connected in some way to co-working networks or co-working connections."

If you still don't think that co-working spaces are rigorous enough, consider that many do partner with accelerators and incubators. CoCo teams up with Project Skyway, a tech accelerator that provides software companies early stage seed money, mentoring, and networking. Dogpatch Labs focus on helping launch startups using its connections with Polaris Ventures. Its most famous alums include Instagram and Task Rabbit.

Co-working shifts the startup mentality away from the tunnel-vision focus on getting funding, and onto the "first-things-first" task of growing a company culture, developing ideas, and most importantly, nurturing support networks.

Genevieve DeGuzman is the co-author of Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking (Night Owls Press), a collection of stories from over 33 startups, small businesses, and nonprofits, as well as 19 co-working space founders across the country, all working and thriving in shared and collaborative workspaces.

Gangplank co-working space photo via .dh/Flickr

Filed under: Entrepreneur

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Why a remote workforce is bad for startups

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 09:06 AM PDT

Startups need an office spaceIt seems like every company, every article, and every startup CEO today proclaims that the workforce is changing, and the need to be in the same physical space no longer exists. Sure, we’d all like to think it is. Heck, I spent years building software and finding tools to help me work remotely, saying, “We don’t need an office space.” I was wrong.

When starting a company, you just can’t replace what happens when people are in the same room. Creating a company is all about vision and pushing that vision forward, day in and day out. These things don’t translate as well over email, chat clients, or even phone calls. While it’s easy to “work remotely,” it’s much more difficult to keep everyone on the same page and believing in the same vision. These elements are critical in the early stages of a startup, when things are constantly in flux and companies just can’t afford to wait.

The remote workforce may work at later stages of operation. But after being part of three startups, it’s more clear to me than ever that the office, and the collaboration and the establishment of company culture that goes with it, defines how the vision manifests.

Here are seven reasons why early-stage companies should start up in the same physical office space:

1. Decisions happen on the fly. In the early days, many company decisions are based on intuition and made at the last minute. The time it takes to set up a meeting, receive an email response, or even convey the correct message is insurmountable when in a hurry. These decisions require the right people in the right conversations, and that’s much easier when they are sitting right next to you.

2. Hallway conversations are priceless. You can’t create true serendipity over instant message. It’s crazy to think that one discussion can make, break or change the path of a company, but sometimes, those “accidental conversations” do turn into some magical idea, approach or direction. The early collaborations can determine what the company becomes, and the more interactions that can be had within your company, the better. It also makes everyone feel like they’re part of the process and the company altogether.

3. Passion in person is contagious. I’d argue that it’s almost impossible to convey passion accurately to someone at a remote location. If you think back to times when you’ve been convinced to do something, it usually results from face-to-face interaction. It’s harder to influence and create change through the digital highway. Also, in-person passion helps to create a social pressure that makes people work better. If the person next to you is working late, it’s much easier to ignore if you can’t physically see staying in the office longer.

4. Keeping people in the loop becomes extra “work.” The squeaky wheel is harder to hear over the telephone. The person who is out of the office may have an amazing perspective, but it is difficult to get that voice transmitted via phone or IM. On top of that, it’s hard to keep the people who aren’t at the nexus feeling like they make an impact. Ultimately, the feelings of control and empowerment can easily be lost.

5. Company culture is key. Culture binds a company early on, so maintaining that culture in multiple locations requires extra effort and even a separate “culture team” — members of management who ensure that the culture is universal across the company. Everyone talks about how important it is to set it, embrace it and make sure every single employee believes in it, but it’s hard to live and breathe something if you aren’t actually breathing the same air.

6. “Whiteboards” work in real time and space. Company whiteboards are where the brainstorming magic happens. I haven’t once seen a collaboration session for a critical decision happen successfully from sending files back and forth. The time wasted, the communication breakdowns, and the lost creativity can all be rectified by meeting in one room with one whiteboard.

7. Miscommunication causes too many problems. Miscommunication causes product problems, PR nightmares, culture issues and, ultimately, is the reason many problems aren’t discovered until it’s too late. Clear communication is more difficult with remote workforces over in-person teams due to the response lag time and unavailable immediacy. And no video chat software can capture the unspoken messages of body language.

When considering remote operations for your company, it comes down to where you are in development. If you are truly looking to create a great company, attract the best talent, and in the end build something that will change the world, I’d suggest getting everyone together and getting things done in the same space. Amazing companies are built by amazing teams, composed of amazing people.

People in the same room, that is. Get an office.

Shane Mac is the Director of Product at Zaarly. He's the founder of Hello There and previously spearheaded marketing for Seattle-based Gist, which sold to BlackBerry. Shane is also an author, a professional musician voted best wedding band in 2009 and is obsessed with creating technology that can connect people and change the world for the better.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.

Office image via Shutterstock

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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Spaceport.io raises investment from YouWeb and BBC Worldwide

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 09:00 AM PDT

Spaceport.io has been trying for years to create a solid cross-platform mobile game development technology that enables a game to be written once and run on the web, iOS, Android, and Smart TVs. Now it is getting a lot more support for that task via an investment from business incubator YouWeb and BBC Worldwide.

Burlingame, California-based Spaceport.io, formerly known as Sibblingz, has raised a strategic round of funding to accelerate the development of its cross-platform Spaceport technology which uses a blend of Javascript, OpenGL, and HTML5 to deliver fast games that are compatible with Flash and perform like native apps. The companies involved did not disclose the amount of the investment.

Peter Relan, chairman of Spaceport.io as well as YouWeb, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the investment is another step toward Spaceport.io becoming the standard for cross-platform development.

“We have been focused on moving the Flash-based web game ecosystem to the mobile platforms,” Relan said.”This partner is important because it has a lot of Flash games and a variety of entertainment apps beyond games.”

This is the second round of investment for Spaceport.io, which seeks to reduce developer headaches and the time it takes to port an app from one platform to many. YouWeb had previously funded Spaceport.io and incubated the company as well. BBC Worldwide itself aims to use Spaceport.io to deliver its apps at lower costs in a variety of emerging markets that include Smart TVs, HTML5 platforms, and social mobile games. The BBC will launch its first Spaceport app in the summer. In the past two years, the BBC has released 40 titles and has had more than 6 million downloads of games such as Top Gear: Stunt School and Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time.

Robert Nashak, BBC Worldwide executive for digital entertainment and games, said, "Spaceport is the leading HTML5 game development platform for creating high-performance game applications. This partnership signals our continued support of innovative new businesses like Spaceport.io and will allow fans of BBC Worldwide brands to access to our latest games on a wide variety of platforms and operating systems."

The Spaceport team has taken a long time to get its platform off the ground. But Relan compared the task of making Spaceport to Adobe’s attempt to get Flash to run on mobile devices. Beyond making use of Air, Adobe gave up on that porting effort. So it’s a lot of work to make a cross-platform technology function, Relan said.

“We’re doing this with a team that is a lot smaller than the Adobe team of 100 people,” Relan said. “It takes time to do this serious technology.”

Relan expects to have more news at the HTML5 developer conference on May 21 in San Francisco.

Relan said it has five developers using it now, including YouWeb’s own CrowdStar social and mobile game company. But he said that he believes that all of the kinks are being addressed and that feedback is good now. Rivals include Ludei, Game Closure, and Zipline Games. More than 3,000 developers have signed up to receive info on Spaceport.

Spaceport has 15 employees and was founded in 2007.

Filed under: deals, games, media, mobile, social

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Tech Hub Envy, or why you should stop trying to be Silicon Valley

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 08:50 AM PDT

Is Silicon Valley still the one tech hub to rule them all? And will it remain so in the future? Techcrunch just posted some intruiging new research from the Startup Genome project on the world’s top tech hubs and their defining characteristics. A post of this kind is bound to lead to an argument over whose tech hub is best, but let’s start with the statistics.

In terms of total number of startups, capital raised and startup success rate (defined as companies at the “scale” stage) Silicon Valley still rules. Silicon Valley has 3 times as many startups as New York, 4.5 times as many as London  and 12.5-times the number in Berlin. The average startup in the Valley also raised 2-3 times as much capital  as its global equivalents in the early stage of its development and had the most helpful mentors.

Let’s look at the profile of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur versus those in London. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are more inclined to address new markets, build infrastructure, games and social networks. In contrast, entrepreneurs in London are twice as likely as their Silicon Valley equivalents to build project management software and 50 percent more likely build e-commerce products. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are 4.4 times more likely to define lead generation as their primary business model and 3.6 more likely to choose virtual goods. Silicon Valley startups also 38 percent more jobs than London startups, while the London has twice as company company founders as in Silicon Valley looking to quickly flip their company. The message appears to be that Londoners like to address proven markets with better products and get more investment at the scale rather than the early stages while the Americans like to make bigger and more speculative bets in the hyped social and gaming fields.

So far, so cliched. European entrepreneurs are often accused of being more risk-averse and less ambitious than their U.S. equivalents but this is maybe to miss the point. Startup culture is a subset of the wider culture. It’s hard not to despair when one government after another announces plans to build a new Silicon Valley, overlooking the fact that you could not create Silicon Valley in Silicon Valley if you started now. There is no longer any silicon for a start.

Why not learn from the Valley but create hubs which play to the unique cultural strengths of your own city and people? The Berlin startup ecosystem, for example, did not evolve because the residents are particularly entrepreneurial (most startup founders in Berlin, even the German ones, come from outside the city) but because the city was cheap and culturally exciting.

Some of my own favorite startups, particularly in the cleantech space, come from Scandinavia, which does not even make it into Startup Genome’s list of the world’s top 25 tech hubs. Fast Company published a fascinating article recently on how the Scandinavian tech innovations, which includes things like Linux and Skype, tend to further the greater good. This is no coincidence, but was driven by the values of Nordic societies which favour “egalitarianism, collectivism, homogeneity, and conformity as values to be protected and practiced by citizens”, a very different world view to that of most Americans.

In fact, does Startup Genome use the best or only metrics to measure startup success? Why do we measure a startup’s funding or valuation but not whether it makes the lives of its users better? VentureBeat published an interview with Umair Haque some time ago where he lamented Silicon Valley’s “thin value” problem. He defines "thick value" as tangibly improving people's physical, mental or social well-being or improving their lives economically in an enduring way. Instagram, anyone?

All startups, and startup hubs, should reflect the values of their founders. Trying to replicate Silicon Valley is like dressing up as a drag queen to fit in on a girl’s night out; it takes a lot of effort and it doesn’t actually turn you into a woman. Instead, as Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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DOJ officially files antitrust suit against Apple, book publishers

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 08:34 AM PDT


ibooks, ebooks

The U.S. Department of Justice has officially filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and a handful of major book publishers, including Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Penguin.

The DOJ is charging the companies for anti-competitive practices regarding the pricing and sales of e-books, as VentureBeat previously reported. Last year Apple switched its prices structure with publishers to an “agency model,” which allowed those publishers to set their own prices on e-books while giving Apple a standard cut of the revenue.

The portion of the deal in question states that e-books sold through the iTunes store cannot be sold at a lower price anywhere else on the Internet. That’s pretty good move for Apple, because it means that e-books listed in iTunes cannot be undersold. However, it also creates higher prices for consumers and stifles competition.

The DOJ is said to have reached an accord with Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins to settle allegations that they conspired with Apple Inc. to set prices of digital books, according to a Bloomberg report that cites unnamed people familiar with the matter.

The Justice Department has been investigating the matter since last year, and last month, even warned all the companies involved that a antitrust suit would happen if things didn’t change.

The outcome of the DOJ lawsuit could mean cheaper prices on e-books for consumers from the publishers involved. It could also mean lower revenues for publishers as well as book authors.

Filed under: media

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Nokia’s Lumia 610 is the first NFC Windows Phone — gets Visa, MasterCard support

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 08:11 AM PDT

Today wasn’t the best day for Nokia to announce a new device, given the company’s lowered Q1 expectations, but maybe the new Lumia 610 will help distract press from the company’s dire financial situation.

After being rumored for some time, Nokia officially announced the Lumia 610 — the first Windows Phone to include support for near-field communications (NFC) — at the WIMA NFC event in Monaco. The phone will launch on the UK carrier Orange in the third quarter, and it will include support for NFC mobile payments from Visa and MasterCard.

Nokia says it added an NFC software stack on top of the Windows Phone OS to enable the functionality, as Microsoft’s platform doesn’t support NFC natively yet (that’ll come in the Apollo update later this year). The technology will let you make mobile payments and interact with devices, such as Nokia’s NFC Bluetooth headset, simply by tapping the phone. The Lumia 610 is Nokia’s 8th NFC-enabled phone within the past two years.

The phone isn’t a direct competitor to the Lumia 800 and 900 models, as it sports just a mere 256 megabytes of RAM and likely a slow processor. Instead, Nokia says it’s targeting a “younger, broader audience” with the Lumia 610. I suspect by next year, we’ll see NFC in all of Nokia’s flagship devices.

Nokia’s Andrea Bacioccola dives into the tech behind the phone in the video below:

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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To save LightSquared from ruin, senators ask FCC to allocate new spectrum

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 07:24 AM PDT

Two U.S. senators are asking federal regulators to reconsider their decision to forbid of troubled startup LightSquared from launching its high-speed wireless network.

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. In February, however, 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, several high-profile clients — such as Leap Wireless, FreedomPop, and Sprint-Nextel –  terminated their service agreements with LightSquared. The startup and its investors stand to lose billions if a solution to the interference problem isn’t found that is satisfactory to the FCC.

In response to LightSquared’s turmoil, Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to allocate a different portion of spectrum to LightSquared, which would solve the GPS interference problems.

“In the short-term, we urge you to work with industry and the relevant federal agencies to find consensus on alternate spectrum for LightSquared’s proposed network,” the senators wrote in a letter obtained by The Hill. “Advancing LightSquared’s network in a consensus manner would increase competition in the wireless broadband market and promote the public interest.”

More recently, LightSquared investors are contemplating filing for voluntary bankruptcy, which could be the only option the startup has if a solution to the interference problem isn’t found soon.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Google+ redesigned with new navigation bar, bigger photos, Hangouts page

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 07:15 AM PDT


Google has started rolling out a fresh new redesign of its Google+ social network ,with enhancements like better navigation and larger photos, the company announced in a blog post today.

“We’ve just begun the worldwide rollout of a more functional and flexible version of Google+,” wrote Google Senior VP Vic Gundotra on his Google+ page. “We think you'll find it easier to use and nicer to look at, but most importantly, it accelerates our efforts to create a simpler, more beautiful Google.”

Google has bet the entire company on social, for better or worse — with Google+ tying in to other services like YouTube and Docs. In a recent company update, CEO Larry Page said Google+ had more than 100 million active users, a sign the strategy is working. Of course, one caveat is how the company defines “active.” If a person accidentally finds themselves on Google+ once a month (which is easy to do), is he or she an active user?

Tough questions aside, the redesign appears to give those who use Google+ on purpose some handy new features and better visuals. First off, you’ll notice on the left side that there is a new customizable navigation bar that lets you drag apps up or down to create the best order for accessing content. You can even hide apps by moving them in and out of the "More" panel.

Next up, the redesign gives users bigger photos and videos so you can see content in more detail without putting in “lightbox” mode. Also new to the stream is an “activity drawer” that highlights the members of the community you might like and topics that are “trending,” like on Twitter.

For those that use Google+ mostly for the awesome Hangouts video chat feature, there’s news for you too. Google has now added a dedicated Hangouts page that shows Hangouts that are happening in your circles. You also get easy access to public hangouts, if you ever feel like being that creepy guy who drops in on someone else’s conversation.

Finally, there’s a new Explore page that you can access from the left-hand navigation bar. This page will make it easier to find fresh content when your friends and connections aren’t putting it up. You know, for the days when it feels like ghost town.

The roll out appears to be moving slowly as many folks on Google+, including myself, are still waiting for the redesign to go live. Google expects all users to get the new digs in “the next few days.”

Watch the promo video for the redesigned Google+ below:

And here’s a video for the new navigation ribbon:

Filed under: social

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Pirates are now the third most popular political party in Germany

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 07:10 AM PDT

The Pirate Party began in Sweden back in 2006 as an offshoot of the bittorrent site The Pirate Bay, with a focus on issues of copyright and technology. It has now become a serious force in German politics, pulling ahead of the Green party in recent polls to become the third most popular political faction.

The rising strength of the Pirate party in Europe’s strongest economy is a sign of new concerns among young, highly educated voters who are unhappy with the countries two major parties – the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD) — who have dominated the political scene there much as the Republican and Democrats do in the United States.

The Green Party has long pushed a pacifist, anti-nuclear platform. “For many young people, the Greens have become an old party. The anti-nuclear theme just doesn’t lure voters like it used to," said Manfred Guellner, director of Forsa, which conducted this latest poll.

The Pirate Party has been focused on hot button issues like ACTA, the SOPA of Europe. Copyright reform and internet freedom, especially as it relates to government censorship, have become major talking points for the Pirates. This has helped them capture the vote of many in the “informatics sector”, the German equivalent of our tech industry.

Image from Flickr user Sdknex

Filed under: dev, offBeat

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Health insurer Aetna to give away Mindbloom Life Game

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Insurance firm Aetna plans to give away the premium version of the Mindbloom Life Game to employees and healthcare customers for free.

The gesture is aimed at driving healthy habits through the “gamification of health.” Seattle-based Mindbloom has created a game that helps us remember the important parts of life: having a healthy mind, body, and soul. In the game, you get reminders known as “blooms” that offer inspiration. They could include photos, videos, messages, music, and your own voice.

The giveaway is a big deal for Mindbloom, since Aetna has more than 36 million healthcare members.

Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna is like any other insurance company, promoting wellness so that people live longer and it won’t have to pay out so much money for catastrophic health treatments. It promotes wellness, but many people perceive such promotions as boring. Mindbloom “gamifies” health, or makes it more fun by making it game-like via rewards, achievements, and sharing. You grow a virtual “life tree” and help friends and family maintain their own trees.

The Mindbloom Life Game blends the principles of behavioral science with social gaming to offer a fun way for people to live healthy, productive, and balanced lives. The premium Mindbloom title includes all the benefits of the Life Game plus access to music, an expanded gallery of images, and unlimited personal media storage.

"A significant amount of total health care costs stem from lifestyle choices such as lack of exercise, failing to eat properly, and smoking," said Dan Brostek, head of member and consumer engagement at Aetna. "Mindbloom cannot only help users manage specific physical conditions but can also help them monitor areas often correlated to health outcomes but considered 'unmentionables' in the current health care system, such as stress related to jobs or caregiving, relationship conflicts, unhealthy sex life, or financial issues."

Aetna users also will have access to Mindbloom's mobile app, called Bloom*, which has had more than 250,000 downloads since its launch in November on the iTunes App Store. The app helps remind people of what’s important while they’re on the go. It reminds them to make healthy choices, stay connected with others, manage stress, save money, advance their career, and enhance creativity.

Marvina Hirni, 47, stands by it. She suffers from Fibromyalgia and recently turned to Mindbloom to help manage the chronic disease. While in pain, she often finds simple tasks are challenging. With Mindbloom, she can record her daily progress, which she then shares with her doctor.

"Fibromyalgia sometimes prevents me from stepping outside or even making a phone call to a friend. But after using Mindbloom, I've learned to appreciate the smallest accomplishments in life, record them, and find strength to deal with my symptoms," said Hirni. "It sounds simple because it is, but Mindbloom has been an incredibly powerful, yet enjoyable experience when having to manage this disease."

The web game launched in September and has grown to more than 50,000 registered users who have followed through on more than 1.5 million commitments to improve their quality of life. Users visit the site an average of four times per week, with an average engagement time of 14 minutes per visit.

Chris Hewett co-founded the company in 2008 with a team that spent a decade developing titles such as the nightmarish shooting game F.E.A.R. But he says he found a more important purpose for his craft: “engaging people in the quality of their lives in ways that are highly dynamic, extremely effective, and very fun.”

Mindbloom has raised $1.8 million from Seattle-area angel investors.

Filed under: games, mobile

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Springpad’s latest update looks like Evernote and Pinterest had a digital notebook baby

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Wednesday, Springpad launched the latest version of its digital notebook service, which includes a web, iOS, and Android app that help you save snippets of information from the Internet. The new version is a major overhaul of the service and includes some Pinterest-inspired design elements.

We all tend to save a lot of digital information these days; it’s one of the reasons Pinterest has become so popular. But before Pinterest’s time, Evernote and Springpad were competing to be the best digital notebook to save snapshots of webpages, notes, to-do lists, and anything else you want to remember later. Springpad has become outdated in recent years, with a almost cartoony-like interface. Evernote on the other hand, has established itself among more seriously users who love its offline support and straightforward, powerful interface.

“Our focus is to creative the best version of the digital notebook possible,” said Springpad chief executive Jeff Chow in an interview with VentureBeat.

Trying to solidify its place between Evernote and Pinterest, Springpad’s latest release takes some features from both, plus some collaborative features from Google Docs. The result is an app that looks like the offspring all all three popular service.

Completely different look

Perhaps the most striking difference between the Spring 3.0 and its older versions is how it looks. The first versions of Springpad were cute, but look dated compared to Pinterest’s clean lines. The company appears to have taken cues from the digital pinboard for its latest look. Everything from the notebook backgrounds, to the way photos are displayed feels more grown up.

The comparison to Pinterest becomes apparent when you look at a notebook in the gallery view. Photos, if included in a note, are displayed prominently as tiles. However, unlike Pinterest, each the image must be large enough to fit the space or the quality is compromised, which can make some notebooks look a bit ugly.

Improved search

Like its predecessor, version 3.0 still lets you save everything you could ever want to remember, including movies, wine, books, and recipes. Unlike previous versions, Springpad 3.0 plays up the ability to search for something to add it to a notebook.

If you’ve used the service before, you know there are two major ways to save information to Springpad: the clipper bookmarklet and the search bar. In the past, the search bar worked about 70 percent of the time, crawling the Internet for the product, book, or movie you were looking for. But it often struggled to find the right match.

Its this exact feature that Springpad revamped in its latest version. The new “smartbar” uses semantic search to find a product or place that you can add to a notebook. The semantic search allows you to start typing a few words and Springpad will start to guess what you are looking for. In addition, you can start typing a note in the smart bar, and Springpad will give you options to set an alarm, create a note, or make a reminder.

While trying out the smartbar, I found it still struggled to find some local businesses and certain products, but it seems to be improving with time.

Smarter, collaborative notes

Springpad has also added more features to make the information you save more valuable. If you save — or “spring” as Springpad calls it — a product, Springpad will grab the product’s url and price. If you clip a restaurant, Foursquare, Yelp, and OpenTable information will be included in the note, as well as a map, phone number, and business hours.

This new version weighs heavily on collaboration. Underneath each note you save, there is a comment section and log of the changes made, similarly to features found in Google Docs. This is meant to encourage shared notebooks, where multiple people can curate the content and work collaboratively. Notebooks can be kept private, restricted to invited people, or can be made public.

Going along with collaboration, the new version of Springpad is aimed at people who like to curate content to share with others.

“We’ve found we are going after a new audience type, people who love to share their knowledge. We’re creating micro-communities,” said Chow.

Much like you can follow a Pinterest board, users can follow each other’s notebooks and stay updated with the latest great recipes or movies. Springpad found that people who consider themselves the best recipe finder or their family’s go-to person for book recommendations wanted a place to collect their knowledge and share it with others. The company responded and created “Explore” and “Following” tabs, where you can find other people’s public boards and follow the stuff they clip.

Current Springpad users will have their accounts updated with the new look starting early Wednesday morning. Springpad’s iOS and Android apps will also be updated to reflect the changes.

The new look and features of Springpad 3.0 are definitely an improvement over previous versions. The company hopes its found a niche between Pinterest and Evernote, where people can find exactly what they are looking for and save in a visually pleasing way.

Do you use Springpad? What do you think of the new look? Sound off in the comments below.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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53M Americans visited tax sites in February

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT

More than 53 million Americans, or roughly one in four active web users, visited tax-related websites in February for help with their returns.

Altogether, Americans raked up 1.4 billion pageviews in February across the top tax sites, according to analytics firm Nielsen. More Americans visited tax websites in February, historically the peak month for online tax activity, than in prior years.

IRS.gov was the most visited tax site with more than 28 million unique U.S. visitors. TurboTax, from Intuit, came in close second with 25 million unique visitors, and H&R Block rounded out the top three with 19.5 million unique visitors. The latter noticed a 58 percent bump in year-over-year visits.

Web denizens, however, were especially interested in exploring their online tax options this year, as a majority flittered about the web and flirted with multiple sites. Nearly half of all visitors to IRS.gov later visited TurboTax in the same month, and 39 percent also jumped to H&R Block. And college-educated ladies were most likely to turn to the web for help with their taxes, according to Nielsen.

Photo credit: Dave Dugdale/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Instagram for Android updated with bug fixes, support for HTC One X

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 06:46 AM PDT

instagram android

Instagram’s still-new Android app, which has already attracted more than 5 million downloads, has been updated with some key bug fixes and support for the HTC One X smartphone.

It’s been an incredible past few weeks for Instagram. Facebook acquired the company for $1 billion cash and stock on Monday, just days after it launched the Android app. Facebook, spurred by a high level of mobile risk, likely sees Instagram as another way it can put its stamp on iOS, Android, and potentially other platforms.

The Android app had a few noticeable bugs when it launched, including some photos not appearing in the device’s gallery as well as location not being updated. It also didn’t work on Tegra-3-equipped devices like the HTC One X, even though that phone was featured in some of its marketing materials.

Here’s a full list of what’s been changed in the Android app:

• Bug fixes for tablet users
• Location for photo geotag is updated more often
• Fixed Instagram photos not appearing in gallery
• Better support for Nvidia Tegra 3 handsets/tablets
• Increased device support for Instagram built-in camera and filters (including the HTC One X)

Filed under: mobile, social

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Nokia warns of slow Q1 financials, even with 2M Lumias sold

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 06:44 AM PDT

Nokia Lumia 800

Nokia warned investors this morning that its first quarter performance was lower than expected, ahead of its earnings report next Thursday. The company also doesn’t expect things to shape up for the second quarter, which means this will be a difficult year for the company overall.

But on the bright side, Nokia revealed it sold 2 million Lumia devices in the quarter at an average price of 220 euros. The company says it has seen sequential growth in Lumia activations since the devices launched in November, making it clear the new smartphone line is off to a strong start.

Nokia said that the operating margin for its Devices and Services division was negative 3 percent for the quarter, when it previously expect to break even. For the second quarter, the company expects performance to be “similar or below” what it saw this quarter.

Not surprisingly, Nokia cited “competitive sales dynamics” that hurt its feature phone and smartphone business. The company said that competition was especially tough in India, the Middle East, and China

“Our disappointing Devices & Services first quarter 2012 financial results and outlook for the second quarter 2012 illustrates that our Devices & Services business continues to be in the midst of transition,” Stephen Elop, president and CEO of Nokia, said in a statement today. “Within our Smart Devices business unit, we have established early momentum with Lumia, and we are increasing our investments in Lumia to achieve market success. Our operator and distributor partners are providing solid support for Windows Phone as a third ecosystem, as evidenced most recently by the launch of the Lumia 900 by AT&T in the United States.”

The company estimates that net sales in its Devices and Services division were 4.2 billion euros for the quarter. Feature phone sales were estimated at 2.3 billion euros (or 71 million units sold), while smartphone sales were 1.7 billion euros (or 12 million units sold). Nokia expects its Devices and Services gross margin to be around 25 percent. The company says it will have around 4.9 billion euros in net cash and other liquid assets by the end of the quarter.

On a call with investors this morning, Elop said the rate of  low-end Android devices entering the market, along with their dirt cheap prices, were a big problem for Nokia. He also said competitors had “particular products at particular price points” where Nokia isn’t even a competitor, like high-end touchscreen feature phones.

Via The Verge

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Pipe dreams: ABB invests in water monitoring startup TaKaDu

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 06:34 AM PDT

What would happen to your city if all the taps ran dry? We can’t survive without water, but water shortages will effect many of us in the future due to population growth, climate change and crumbling water networks. Electricity infrastructure provider ABB, often described as one of the “Four horsemen of the power grid“, just boosted its water business by leading a $6 million investment in water infrastucture monitoring startup TaKaDu. “Water is a key focus area for ABB and this investment will further strengthen our power and automation offering for the sector," said Franz-Josef Mengede, head of ABB's Power Generation business.

Lux Research published a report last year which estimated the size of the water infrastructure repair (drinking and waste water) market at $17 billion a year worldwide. Cities lose large amounts of water through leaks and inefficiencies. Water companies call this  "non-revenue water", since they treat the water but cannot charge for it since it does not reach the user.

“A city such as London loses 30 percent of its water; over 600 million cubic meters, ” said  TaKaDu’s VP of Marketing Guy Horowitz. “A cubic meter can cost anywhere from a $0.20 to a few dollars, so we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, per day. Indirect losses such as road and property damage, traffic interruptions, paying detection crews and repair crews, and in many cases regulatory fines, amount to hundreds of millions per year in large cities. ” The situation is much worst in the developing world where water which could supply 200 million people is lost every year.

TaKaDu offers water infrastructure monitoring as a service. The company's software links to existing sensors in the water network like flow meters, quality sensors and pressure meters. Geographical information system (GIS) data, maintenance records, access control records and seasonal fluctuation data is also used. All this data is crunched to detect problems like leaks,  inefficiencies and faults in the water network.  Thames Water, which runs London’s water system, detects leaks up to 9 days earlier with TaKaDu to than with its previous system.

TaKaDu uses various data mining techniques to identify problems. One example algorithm is cross-site correlation which matches up neighbourhoods which display common water consumption behavior over time.  ”Assume your neighborhood’s consumption goes up by 10 percent while the ‘similar’ neighborhood does not, ” explains Horowitz. “That may indicate a problem, while if both increase it may indicate a warm day, or some other benign explanation.”

In general, the water management business makes minimal usage of IT and is grappling with outdated and decaying infrastructure. Leaks were often only detected manually or by comparing current system behavior to historical behavior, such as last year's pipe pressure compared to this year. Having an operator inspect a pipe manually inch by inch is still a common practice to track down a local leak, as is replacing an entire pipe. Even small water companies have hundreds of miles of piping. A town of 50,000 typically has more than 200 miles of wastewater pipe alone.

TaKaDu was founded in 2009, has 25 employees and  is based in Yahud, Israel. The new $6 million investment was led by ABB Technology Ventures, ABB's venture capital arm and also included existing TaKaDu investors Emerald Technology Ventures, Gemini Israel Funds and Giza Venture Capital. TaKaDu raised $3.5 million in 2009.

Filed under: deals, green, VentureBeat

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Spotify’s new Play button brings millions of tracks beyond Facebook to the open web

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 04:47 AM PDT

Spotify continues to push the boundaries of streaming music. This morning it released the “Play” button, a widget that lets people embed songs from Spotify on any website. You need at least a free Spotify account to listen, which will no doubt help to grow the company’s user base. For millions of tracks, it also means there is now a simple, legal way to bring music to any site.

For Spotify, Facebook has been the key to its recent U.S. launch and growth, helping it to add 3 million new users since it launched last year. The “Play” button moves them outside that walled garden. Tumblr is putting the new Play button front and center on its main dashboard this morning.

The service isn’t seamless. In an ideal world, anyone would just click the play button, sit back and listen. In real life, because of the way the music labels do business, you need to click the play button, then either sign up or login in to the Spotify client. If you’re already logged in, the the music starts playing pretty seamlessly. If not, there are few steps before your aural gratification.

Rdio, a streaming music competitor, has offered a true music embed tool since 2010, one that doesn’t force users to open an external client to listen to music on the web.

The RIAA recently released a report showing that streaming music services were a boost to the music industries bottom line. Another recent report indicated that Spotify’s premium service wasn’t paying off as intended, although it was pretty vague about the details. With a big fund raising round on the table, this is a bold move for Spotify that show they have made the music labels comfortable pushing the boundaries of where there music can been seen and heard.

Filed under: dev, media

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CloudPassage lands $14M to boost cloud security for Foursquare, StrongMail, others

Posted: 11 Apr 2012 04:00 AM PDT


Cloud security startup CloudPassage has raised $14 million in second-round funding, with an aim of helping businesses like Foursquare, StrongMail, and others secure their data in the cloud, the company announced Wednesday.

Security is one of the most important factors for companies who want to store data and operate using the cloud. Companies using Amazon for cloud computing, for example, get very basic security from Amazon but must go to other vendors if they want more advanced protections. That’s where CloudPassage comes in, offering companies things like server security configuration, host-based firewalls, intrusion detection, server account auditing, and event reporting and alerting.

“Security in the cloud has to be elastic and has to be able to scale,” Carson Sweet, co-founder and CEO of CloudPassage, told VentureBeat. “Our platform gives companies the ability to deploy much better security for their servers.”

Forrester Research predicts that the cloud security market will grow to at least $1.5 billion by 2015, suggesting that CloudPassage is an area ripe for growth. It has already attracted subscriber growth of more than 70 percent during the first two months of 2012, compared with the same period last year. The company will use the new financing to up their marketing and penetration of its HALO platform on which all of its services are built.

In terms of competition, the company faces Tripwire and Dome9, both of which offer some of the same services. Sweet also said there were other some other startups in stealth mode that are looking to offer a “complete solution” like CloudPassage.

The new round of funding was led by Tenaya Capital, with participation from previous investors Benchmark Capital and Musea Ventures. Brian Melton, Managing Director at Tenaya Capital, will join CloudPassage’s board of directors.

San Francisco-based CloudPassage has raised a total of $20.5 million to date. Other current customers include Exois, Avatar New York, and Izoox.

Photo credit: Pincasso/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, deals

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Wavii wants to turn the whole world into a Facebook news feed

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 09:00 PM PDT

News aggregator Wavii wants to build you a Facebook news feed that covers any topic you’re interested in.

“With Wavii, we are building feed items for everything on the planet, not just your friends,” Wavii’s chief executive Adrian Aoun told VentureBeat.

Facebook’s news feed is great, Aoun said, because it’s full of small, easy-to-digest, bits of information. Instead of reading a lengthy email from a friend about her trip overseas, you can see her status updates, check-ins, and photos of the hot guy she met in Rome. You can also hide certain types of updates from your feed, because really, who cares that your friend found a cow in Farmville?

But, as Aoun pointed out, the world is not so simple. We get our news from Twitter, RSS feeds, emails, and websites, but we still read all the chatter and are inundated with more information than we can handle. It’s also not easy to find all the information about a person or topic in any given day.

Wavii’s service connects with your Facebook account, naturally, and learns what you are interested in based on what you’ve “liked” on Facebook. Once you sign up, you can choose which people and topics you want to stay informed about, and they will be added your Wavii feed.

The technology behind the service is unique. The crawler used to find the news uses natural language processing to understand what’s been written and figure out its meaning. The crawler has been programmed to understand context and patterns in written English, so if someone uses flowery language to describe a corporate merger, it can still understand that company A bought company B.

So if you tell Wavii you like Apple and you want to follow news about the company, Wavii will pull obvious results, such as a new iPad or iPhone launch, but will also pull in the news that Ashton Kutcher is playing Steve Jobs in a movie.

wavii news feed

Wavii crawls the latest news on your preferred topics to make up your feed. In order to make sure you don’t get duplicates or blatantly false information, Wavii uses several metrics to find legitimate content.

“Our crawler looks at the traffic of a source, spread of the source, how quickly the new is  being talked about, and reputation of source on the topic,” said Aoun, “Wavii is not a truth engine; we won’t tell you what’s true, we’ll tell you what’s being reported as true.”

Wavii looks like a mashup between Twitter and Facebook. The service has social aspects, but it also encourages you to share the news you find on your favorite social network. It is similar to Zite in that it provides personalized news results based on topics. Zite however, relies on tags used in online articles to find news about a topic.

Wavii faces competition from Google News, which displays the news about any search term if available and offers email alerts for any keyword.

The service launches Tuesday evening and will soon include the ability to sign up with Twitter, for those who don’t really use Facebook. Wavii is based in Seattle, Washington.

Globe with pictures image via Shutterstock

Filed under: media

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Yup, Google’s Motorola purchase still doesn’t make sense

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 08:49 PM PDT

You’d think that by now, Google’s $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility (its largest acquisition ever) would be shaping into some sort of brilliant strategy. But you’d be wrong.

We’ve heard little about Google’s plans since it announced the acquisition in August, other than vague commentary on how the purchase will strengthen Google’s patent portfolio. The company was even more tight-lipped when the Department of Justice approved the acquisition in February.

The Wall Street Journal’s Dennis Berman spent the past few weeks trying to piece together the Moto acquisition puzzle and figuring out if Google really wants to be a hardware company. His findings aren’t exactly heartening.

“The disquieting answer is that there appears to be no sense that a choice is even required,” Berman wrote, referring to Google’s (in)decision about its hardware future.  “There’s only a cocky belief that Google really can be all things at once: a hardware company with software margins, and a neutral Android arms dealer that just happens to be building its own Motorola army on the side.”

That cockiness seems evident throughout Google, as the company also wants to be a major social network, the centerpiece of your home entertainment center, and more, while also finding time to turn science fiction into reality with projects like its self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses. I applaud Google’s ambition, but I can’t help thinking the company today is spreading itself too thin while not truly excelling at anything. Even the once pure Google search experience isn’t safe, as it’s quickly beginning to resemble a horrifically crowded Facebook profile.

Berman reports that Google will be making a “substantial investment” in Motorola, citing people close to Google. The company is apparently aiming to make “truly innovative devices,” the sources say. But unless Google is going to help Motorola make Android devices that far surpass the likes of Samsung, it’s unclear how such a plan will help the company. As Berman wisely puts it, “Making devices — however cool they may be — is at best a barely profitable undertaking for companies not named Apple.”

Google has already said that Android will remain open and that it won’t play favorites among Android manufacturers (including Motorola). But Google will likely have a hard time justifying its hefty acquisition without breaking that promise a bit.

Photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes enters open beta

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 08:41 PM PDT

Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes

The open beta for Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, a free-to-play game from BioWare Mythic, is now available for download.

The new player-vs-player title allows opponents to engage in a variety of fast-paced matches between three teams of six. The experience is inspired by Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, BioWare Mythic’s 2008 massively-multiplayer online game.

However, instead of creating and leveling new characters through traditional MMO means (like questing and raiding), gamers can buy new heroes with real money or in-game currency earned while playing, similar to other free-to-play titles like League of Legends. Some heroes start unlocked, so you can play the game without spending anything.

You can download the beta at the Wrath of Heroes website.

Filed under: games

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DOJ could serve Apple with e-book pricing antitrust lawsuit tomorrow

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 06:40 PM PDT


In an effort to protect consumers from heightened e-book prices, the Department of Justice could sue Apple Wednesday morning.

The DOJ is concerned with a deal between Apple and five other publishers — Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group, Macmillan, and HarperCollins. The deal states that e-books sold through the iTunes store cannot be sold at a lower price anywhere else on the Internet, according to the Wall Street Journal. The deal is a good one for Apple, in that e-books listed in iTunes cannot be undersold. However, it also creates higher prices for consumers and stifles competition.

The Department of Justice launched an investigation into the e-book pricing last year, and eventually threatened the group of six with a lawsuit in March. Reuters is now reporting that, while three of the group agreed to settle the issue, the remaining three — including Apple — could face a lawsuit. The three publishers in favor of a settlement are Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hachette Book Group, according to another report by the Wall Street Journal.

Apple, which hit a market cap of $600 billion today, can certainly afford the legal fees, but it might not be worth the antitrust battle. Whether Penguin and Macmillan will be involved in the suit remains to be seen.

via Reuters

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Nokia giving away Lumia 900 for free until April 21 due to data bug

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 06:39 PM PDT

A software glitch on the Nokia Lumia 900 that prevented people from access the Internet has Nokia offering a $100 credit to anyone who buys the phone before the updated ones hit AT&T stores. Essentially, the $100 phone would be free.

On Monday, news broke that Lumia 900 owners couldn’t get a data connection, making their smartphones pretty dumb. Now, Nokia has acknowledged the issue and, as a measure of good faith, it is offering a $100 credit to anyone who has already purchased the device, or anyone thinking about getting one.

Given that the phone is retailing at AT&T for $99, the phone is now free with a two-year contract, except for taxes and other charges that go along with getting a new phone. You have until midnight PT on April 21 to get the credit, but Nokia is also giving out rain checks if the phone isn’t in stock when you try to buy it.

Nokia is calling the problem a “memory management” issue and says it has to do with the software and nothing else. New Lumia 900s, which have been updated to fix the bug, will be sent out to stores during the next few days. If you already purchased one, you can exchange it for a new, software-updated model or wait until the update gets pushed out next Monday, April 19th.

The cell phone company has a lot riding on this Windows Phone, which it hopes will solidify Microsoft’s place in the mobile market along with the iPhone and Android devices. It’s no wonder Nokia is going to these lengths to keep people happy.

The Nokia Lumia 900 got high marks from VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar when he reviewed the device. He called it the best $100 smartphone yet.

Are you planning on grabbing a Lumia 900?

Filed under: mobile

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Adobe Reader mobile app lets you e-sign PDFs for free

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 05:57 PM PDT


The Adobe Reader app for iOS and Android now includes the incredibly helpful ability to e-sign PDF documents with your finger. And get this: It’s free.

One thing I absolutely hate is being sent a document that I have to print, sign, scan, and e-mail. I would have downloaded an app for e-signing earlier, but I don’t do it frequently enough to warrant a cost. But now there’s a free Adobe Reader app, I can sign PDFs on my iPad instead of dealing with all that other junk.

In addition to being able to draw you signature with you finger, the app lets you ”connect to Adobe EchoSign to get others to sign documents electronically, letting you track and manage the status of documents online,” Kevin Lynch, SVP for Acrobat and Document Services at Adobe, wrote in a blog post today. “And, because the signed contracts are archived in the cloud, you can easily retrieve documents from anywhere, at any time, via a web browser.”

Check out the latest Adobe Reader demo video below:

Adobe Reader photo: Adobe

Filed under: enterprise, mobile

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Intel launches Studybook, a tablet just for students

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 05:47 PM PDT

Intel Studybook

Intel announced Studybook today, a design for a cheap tablet intended to target students worldwide.

Intel wants device vendors around the world to brand and market the devices, tailoring their software to the local market. That is, each tablet should run in that country’s language and have the local nuances that would make students feel at home using the technology. The device is made of rugged plastic, is water and dust proof, and has sports shock absorbers around the screen’s corners.

Intel Studybook wetVendors that do add the tablet to their lineup will be able to price it based on how expensive the software is, as well as any hardware add-ons they include. A vendor might add a piece of hardware that turns the tablet’s camera into a microscope, for example, according to the Wall Street Journal. Intel does hope, however, that the tablet will retain a starting price of below $200 so that it remains affordable to schools.

In October, India’s government partnered with Canadian developer DataWind to create an extremely cheap Android tablet that, while not exclusively aimed at students, could have a huge impact on tech in the Indian classroom. The tablet, which VentureBeat got a first look at, only costs $35. It is subsidized by the government, and would otherwise cost $60, still very cheap when compared with its Android brethren. While the DataWind tablet is certainly not as fast or smooth as consumer tablets are, it is still powerful and can be tailored with apps to fit a number of needs. Check out a video of that device here.

Apple also has an obvious stake in the educational tablet market. The company recently announced iBooks 2, a set of interactive textbooks that compete with companies like Chegg, Inkling, and Know.

hat tip Wall Street Journal

Filed under: mobile

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Chrome Beta update lets you view all open tabs on multiple devices

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 04:56 PM PDT

If you’re a Chrome Beta user, you’re in for a treat. Google’s beta version of its proprietary web browser just got an update that lets you view all your open tabs in Chrome across multiple devices. 

chrome other devices tabs

Let’s say you’ve got Chrome Beta installed on your Macbook at home, a PC desktop at work, and your Android 4.0 smartphone. Now, if you open a tab on your Macbook, you’ll be able to view it on your work PC and smartphone. A new menu aptly named “Other devices” lets you view all the tabs open on all your different installs of the browser.

The update will roll out over the next few weeks. You must have the beta version of Chrome to use the feature; it’s not yet available for the stable build. Google uses Chrome Beta to test out new features like this before they go live. It’s free to download but is not always bug-free.

Likewise, to view tabs on your phone you must be running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is slowly rolling out to existing Android phones. If you’re running Ice Cream Sandwich, you can download Chrome Mobile Beta from the Google Play store.

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Funding daily: app crash reporting, social media, and green buildings

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 04:39 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 "Funding daily" column.

Crashlytics nabs $5M

Mobile app crash reporting system Crashlytics raised $5 million in its first institutional round of funding from an undisclosed investor. The company works with apps from Yammer, Highlight, Path, and others to track app crashes and send bug reports to the app builder. Crashlytics’ total funding to date is $6 million.

SocialKaty grabs funding

Social media marketing company SocialKaty raised an undisclosed round of funding from Lightbank. SocialKaty helps companies manage Facebook and Twitter pages and offers other social media services.

Olacabs.com gets cash to dispatch cabs

An aggregator of car rentals and point-to-point cab services from India, Olacabs.com raised an undisclosed amount in its first round of funding Tuesday. The company dispatches several transportation options, including cars and taxis for people in India. New York based Tiger Global Management led the round.

Outrigger Media raises first funding round

Outrigger Media announced an undisclosed amount of first-round funding Tuesday. The company provides online video advertising services. Spring Mountain Capital led the round.

Sefaira nets $10.8 million

Sefaira just landed a $10.8 investment to harness cloud computing to crunch large amounts of building design data. Beanstalk led the round.

SAP acquires Syclo

Customer relationship and business management software company SAP has acquired mobile business service provider Syclo, the company announced Tuesday. Details, including purchase price, were not disclosed.

JPMorgan Chase may buy stake in Conduit for $100M

Yozma Venture Capital is looking to sell its remaining shares in Israeli-based Conduit and may have found a buyer. JPMorgan Chase is apparently in talks with the firm to buy its remaining seven percent stake in Conduit for $100 million. The deal would value Conduit at $1.3 billion.

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Filed under: deals

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The Facebook effect: Instagram now the top free app on Apple’s App Store

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 04:38 PM PDT

Instagram’s iPhone application has taken over the number one spot on Apple’s top free apps list, for the first time ever, just one day after the company announced that it was being acquired by Facebook for $1 billion.

The Facebook-owned company, still basking in the glow of a billion dollar buyout, celebrated the milestone with a congratulatory tweet Tuesday afternoon.

Monday, the world’s largest social network snatched Instagram up in a deal that shook the web to its core. The sale, we know, was driven in part by Facebook’s need to reclaim the hippest-photo-sharing-property throne prior to its pending IPO. It was also potentially due to Instagram’s debut on Android, which has now been downloaded more than 5 million times.

Consistently a top performer in the App Store, Instragram for iPhone attracted 30 million users on iOS alone. Until today, however, the app had never hit the number one spot.

Instagram’s monumental App Store accolade demonstrates the power of Facebook and proves that it has plenty of punch left, even amidst angry cries from users disgruntled at the sale.

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Dylan’s Desk: Why Instagram is worth $1 billion, and your startup isn’t

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 04:30 PM PDT

An instagram photo of money might be the best way to explain why Instagram is worth $1 billion.

A lot of people were scratching their heads yesterday at the news that Facebook is acquiring photo-sharing site Instagram for $1 billion.

The allure of retro-styled photo filters is pretty weak justification for a price tag that high. But of course it’s not about the photo filters, it’s about the fact that Instagram engages your reptilian brain in just the right way. It’s simple, superficial, self-indulgent, and it feels so good.

The truth is, Instagram’s founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger did everything right. Their app took off like wildfire, racking up 30 million users on Apple’s iOS — and they’ve added another 5 million Android users since launching on that platform less than a week ago.

Let’s take a look at why Instagram rocketed into orbit so quickly, while other, similar startups are still trying to light their engines.

First, compare Instagram to another photo-sharing startup, Path. There are many similarities.

  • Both companies were founded in 2010.
  • Both companies raised a first round of investment in early 2011: $8.65 million for Path, led by Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Index Ventures, and $7 million for Instagram, led by Benchmark Capital.
  • Both were rumored to be angling for a major second round in March, 2012. Path was supposed to be going for a $20 million raise (a rumor the company denied), while Instagram may have actually closed a $50 million round led by Sequoia Capital.
  • Path created an iPhone (and later Android) app that let people take photos, apply creative filters to them, and share them. Instagram created an iPhone app (eventually, much later, an Android app too) that let people take photos, apply filters, and share them.
  • They’re also both extremely small companies, with just 13 employees at Instagram and 25 at Path. Back in May, 2011, when Instagram already had 4 million users, it only had 4 employees.

But Instagram has over 30 million users of its apps, while Path has only 2 million, which is a big reason why Instagram is worth a billion dollars in cash and pre-IPO Facebook stock, while Path’s second round is puttering along at a reported $250 million valuation, just a quarter of its competitor’s.

So what helped Instagram take off so much faster than Path? Partly it’s that Instagram provided an easy-to-understand, extremely simply proposition: We’ll help you take photos, make them look cool, and share them with your friends.

By contrast, Path launched with a strangely inverted proposition, touting the fact that you’d be limited to just 50 friends on the service. Photo-sharing was part of Path, but it is just a part of a larger, complicated lifeblogging idea, in which you capture moments that are important to you and share them to a select circle of friends. Explaining that to consumers was and is difficult.

Path improved its odds considerably with a second version that was much easier to understand. It also wisely downplayed the limits on the number of friends you can connect to, increasing it to 150. Still, it’s hard to escape this fact: Instagram has a visceral appeal that Path lacks.

I spent some time chatting with former Java evangelist and current vice president or product at Kii, Miko Matsumura, at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit last week. Kii helps companies make and market their apps.

He told me that the most successful apps trigger a reaction in your limbic system: the primitive, reptilian part of your brain. For the limbic system, Matsumura told me, only three questions pertain to anything in front of you: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it?

I think it’s fair to say that Instagram has a strong limbic-system trigger, appealing to the part of our brains that crave recognition and validation, and fear nonexistence and irrelevance. Path, by contrast, has a more cerebral premise.

There are other reasons Facebook bought Instagram and not Path.

  • Instagram has a deeply useful set of data about where its users are in the physical world, as many of its photos are tagged with geolocation information. In fact, Instagram is one of the largest, if not the largest, user of the FourSquare API. As someone who has never understood the appeal of “checking in” to locations with FourSquare, I appreciate that Instagram has found a way to check me in to places without troubling me at all, simply by tagging my photos with their location.
  • Path didn’t quite nail it with its first version and had to reset with a significantly overhauled 2.0 version, which hurt momentum. Meanwhile, Instagram has trucked along with barely a hiccup.
  • Path ran afoul of a privacy controversy when it emerged that the company was uploading and storing people’s address books without making it clear that’s what it was doing. The company apologized, and it later turned out that many other companies’ apps, including Instagram’s, also upload your address book. Path had the misfortune of being the first one fingered, so it took the brunt of the PR hit.
  • Another reason Instagram is attractive to Facebook is that it represents a captive network that can easily be integrated into Facebook’s social graph with few problems. While Instagram utilizes other social networks, such as Twitter and Tumblr, to help expand its viral reach, you can’t actually follow Instagram users through those networks. There’s not even a way to follow them on the web — you have to use the Instagram app. In other words, there’s no competitive friction for Facebook. The company could integrate Instagram into its own network without any loss of utility for its users, and without providing any material benefit to its competitors.
  • Finally, Path, founded by former Facebook-er Dave Morin, is sort of an anti-Facebook. With its limited circle of friends, it’s aiming to make itself deeper and more meaningful. Instagram, by contrast, worms its way deep into your brain by being as superficial as possible — just like Facebook does.

Instagram succeeded for many good reasons, including its design, its viral qualities, its simplicity, and the fact that its engineers focused so obsessively on making sure that it works all the time. Part of its success, no doubt, is the fact that it was just in the right place, at the right time, with the right, crowd-pleasing mix of features.

In this, as in all things, fortune favors the prepared, and Instagram’s founders were very well prepared. More power to them.

Instagrammed money photo by Meghan Kelly/VentureBeat

Filed under: Entrepreneur

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Tumblr updates Android app with a radical new look

Posted: 10 Apr 2012 04:01 PM PDT

Hot blog-baker Tumblr has cooked up a zany and colorful update to its Android application.

Five-year-old, New York-based Tumblr is the go-to blogging platform for the young and hip. The company now powers more than 51 million blog sites and reaches well over 120 million people each month.

The Android release, out now, includes a radical new design and interface, loads faster, spits out notifications for multiple blogs in one place, prettifies the photo-browsing experience, and supports animated gifs. The update also comes with Tumblr Radar, the curation engine that spotlights top posts on the network.

Tumblr’s new do is getting rave reviews from Android users who appreciate the app’s unique sense of style. A few commenters, however, have called out some outstanding flaws.

“There are several things it is now missing, such as seeing the replies to posts, ability to see the last time someone posted when looking at people you follow, among other things. Not to mention the fact that it randomly logs the user out,” one Google Play store customer wrote.

With the update, Tumblr for Android now looks drastically different from the startup’s iPhone application, but a company spokesperson told VentureBeat that the iPhone app is also in the process of being reimagined.

Filed under: mobile, social

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