16 April, 2012



12 companies getting local right for small businesses

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 09:16 AM PDT

I’ve spent much of the last year talking about how the sites small businesses rely on to advertise and promote themselves — think Yelp and Groupon – are failing them. In fact, helping small businesses at the local level is extremely challenging for technology companies, for the following reasons:

  • Scale. There are millions of small businesses in the country and trying to come up with a product and distribution strategy to reach them can be difficult.
  • Lack of technology adoption. Many businesses still do things on pen and paper. Many don’t have Internet connectivity. Business owners are focused on running their business, not trying out Silicon Valley’s flavor of the week.
  • Balancing value. Most local products need to create value for consumers, merchants, and the company providing the technology. Getting this balance right is very tricky. You can get massive consumer adoption by playing cash-flow games and spending hundreds of millions on marketing. But in order to build a sustainable business, you need to strike a good balance.
These challenges combine to make execution difficult, but a number of companies are making good headway. Not all of these companies will succeed. But I admire them for tackling the tough problems. I’m especially a fan of companies that create operational efficiences for small businesses, create liquidity in markets, and help business owners learn how to market better.

Here are some of my favorite companies in local:

1. Twitter. Most people don’t think of Twitter as a local company, but I think it (along with Facebook) has the most potential to do local right. Although Twitter hasn’t focused on local to date, its new partnership with American Express is a great sign. The massive scale of Twitter and its simplicity mean that small businesses like The Dosa Republic can advertise on the Internet cost effectively. (I’ve been pondering how to conjure dosas with Twitter since 2007.)

2. American Express. Although it’s not a startup, it’s definitely been acting like one. AmEx has had some of the most innovative local products over the last two years. The company has struck important partnerships with Facebook, Twitter and foursquare. Its Small Business Saturday promotion in the fall promotes the idea of shopping locally. Its social media team is on top of Twitter. I’ve met many of AmEx’s top execs, and they understand the future of commerce and online better than many startup execs I meet.

3. Square. Square has successfully credit-card enabled small businesses that were previously cash only. The pricing and product have simplified byzantine credit card rate structures into one easy-to-understand price. Square understands the whole consumer experience like no company other than Apple. Every detail of the experience is nearly perfect, including the packaging they use to ship the Square reader. Square’s Daniel Gatsby is one of the most talented designers I’ve met; I’d work with him on any project, any day.

4-5. Edo Interactive and Swipely. Card-linked offers are the right way to do promotions. Although American Express has made the biggest splash in the space, edo and Swipely are two other companies I like in the space. Edo is approaching the problem by partnering with financial institutions like Ally Bank (more banks are on the way). Swipely is working directly with merchants. Its San Francisco trial is worth checking out.

6. Constant Contact. The email marketing company lets small businesses keep in touch with local businesses. Wayne’s Chicago Red Hots, a Portland bar, had a disastrous experience with Groupon. They are using Constant Contact’s tools to engage with their own list of 1,300 customers. Constant Contact recently introduced a new deals product that is sustainable and makes sense for small businesses.

7-9. Eat24Hours, GrubHub, and Seamless. Ordering takeout and delivery has always been a chore. Menus aren’t readily available. You have to deal with a hurried order-taker who is taking orders in between cooking and serving in-house customers. Eat24Hours, GrubHub, and Seamless provide order-flow services and easy-to-use interfaces for consumers. Seamless’ iPad app is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The big challenge for these companies is keeping consumer acquisition costs below lifetime value. LivingSocial recently launched its own entry into the space.

10. Hotel Tonight. Deals can make a lot of sense when you have perishable inventory like a hotel does. Hotel Tonight’s concept is simple: matching last-minute travelers with that perishable inventory to create a win-win. Hotel Tonight also has a beautiful iPad app. CEO Sam Shank is brilliant.

11. OpenTable. The reservation site has been playing the long game in local. It’s my go-to example for success in a tough space. That it’s been around since 1998 is telling. It solves part of the inefficiency in restaurants and makes it easy for consumers to make and change restaurant reservations. In addition to reducing staffing costs and making operations more efficient, it provides an important distribution function. If a restaurant isn’t on OpenTable in San Francisco, it might as well not exist for me when I’m planning a nice meal.

12. Savored. The restaurant discount site lets you get 30% off your entire check at restaurants and is still profitable for restaurants. Because the discounts can be restricted to off-peak times, it reduces the risk of cannibalizing full-price traffic for discounted traffic. Interests between consumers and merchants are aligned: the more you spend, the more you save and the more the merchant makes. Contrast that with the daily deal model where consumers have an incentive to spend only up to the voucher value.

[Image of Square Register from Square]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Tupac’s rapping hologram at Coachella heralds a new age for posthumous performance

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 08:15 AM PDT

Twitter was abuzz last night with word of a rare performance by the rap legend Tupac, who hasn’t been seen onstage since he died in 1996. But thanks to advancements in holographic technology, the hip-hop legend appeared alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog in a vivid, lifelike cameo.

The Japanese have been making use of holograms to create virtual pop stars for several years now. But the Tupac performance was unique in that it relied on footage of live performances from Tupac’s career to create a striking replica of his onstage look and presence, right down to iconic gestures.

Where will this technology go from here? No doubt Vegas could pack the house for a live performance from a holographic Elvis Presley. I’d certainly pay to see a convincing hologram of Kurt Cobain, Sam Cooke or John Lennon do a live set. All the more so if it was based on footage of an actual performance and captured the singers mannerisms.

Check out the video and tell us what you think.

Filed under: media, offBeat

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Netflix’s Reed Hastings takes a swing at Comcast in the name of net neutrality

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 08:03 AM PDT

Reed Hastings, Comcast

Netflix head honcho Reed Hastings isn’t one to keep quiet when he thinks his company isn’t getting a fair shake against the competition. But unlike most CEOs who use official channels like press releases or company blogs, Hastings doesn’t hesitate to fire off a round of highly critical comments from his personal accounts on social networks.

Case in point, Hastings posted a short rant on Facebook yesterday (his second, in April alone) that accused cable TV and Internet service provide Comcast of no longer following net neutrality principles — the position that there should be no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers' access to the web.

Lots of people have raised an eyebrow over Comcast’s Xfinity TV, which is the streaming on demand video component of the cable giant’s TV service. Comcast recently launched an Xbox 360 app that allows people to gain access to this service through the game console, and one of the big selling points was that all data consumed in this way didn’t count against a subscriber’s monthly data cap of 250GB.

Hastings writes:

Comcast no longer following net neutrality principles.

Comcast should apply caps equally, or not at all.

I spent the weekend enjoying four good internet video apps on my Xbox: Netflix, HBO GO, Xfinity, and Hulu.

When I watch video on my Xbox from three of these four apps, it counts against my Comcast internet cap. When I watch through Comcast's Xfinity app, however, it does not count against my Comcast internet cap.

For example, if I watch last night's SNL episode on my Xbox through the Hulu app, it eats up about one gigabyte of my cap, but if I watch that same episode through the Xfinity Xbox app, it doesn't use up my cap at all.

The same device, the same IP address, the same wifi, the same internet connection, but totally different cap treatment.

In what way is this neutral?

Some people responded to Hastings comments by pointing out that Xfinity TV data is sent over the same network Comcast uses for its digital cable TV service, which has previously been called a private network — not over the public internet. This is true, but the Xbox app marks the first time Comcast has allowed access to its private network through a third-party device. It’s a privilege typically reserved for Comcast’s cable boxes. And because Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go are Xfinity TV competitors that are also available on the Xbox, Comcast has an unfair advantage.

The argument that Comcast’s private network data isn’t the same as internet data goes out the window when you pit the data-cap-less Xfinity TV service against other services. Even Comcast decided to backtrack on the “private network” terminology, after realizing it may end up opening a Pandora’s box of criticisms and possible antitrust suits.

Comcast can easily avoid this by forcing its Xfinity TV Xbox app to run over the internet, the same way people access Xfinity in web browsers and mobile devices. Alternately, it could begin allowing its customers to access competing streaming video services through its leased cable boxes without affecting data caps.  The former option is probably the easiest, but I’m guessing Comcast is going to ignore this situation with the hope that it’ll go away in a few months.

It’s unlikely Hastings and his company will keep quiet about the situation. Netflix recently launched its own political action committee, FlixPAC, to increase its influence in Washington.

Photo via Baahduodu

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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E-commerce investments have popped sharply up in recent years (analysis)

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 08:00 AM PDT

VentureTrends chart showing ecommerce companies receiving fundingThe e-commerce industry has broadened in scope in recent years. Originally confined to transaction activity between large financial institutions, e-commerce then expanded in the 1970s and 1980s to include what was termed “EDI" (Electronic Data Interchange) between large companies who could afford the dedicated computing power and related IT department.

Since the rise of the Internet, the definition of e-commerce it has expanded to include Internet purchasing, mobile, and, more recently, social and peer-to-peer financial activity.

Venture capital-backed e-commerce funding surged higher in 2011 in terms of transaction numbers and dollar amounts, as the proliferation of mobile devices and the growing popularity of social media continued, offering new opportunities for retailers as well as tech companies able to capitalize on these trends. 2011 marked a definitive recovery from the 2008-2009 recession and financial crisis for VC e-commerce funding. Fifty-four deals were completed totaling nearly $400 million, easily surpassing the previous peak in 2007.

Recent History

2008: Wireless stored value payment solutions provider Transaction Wireless raised $2.25 million in a Series A round of financing from Mission Ventures and Okapi Ventures. The company created a platform that enables global retailers to provide customized digital gift cards with integrated marketing messages to engage and build loyalty with existing and prospective customers.

2010:  8th Bridge raised $5 million in Series A funding from Split Rock Partners and another $10 million in Series B funding to expand its operations and extend its social e-commerce solutions, which run inside Facebook as well as on standalone eCommerce sites.

BeachMint brought in $5 million from New Enterprise Associates and Anthem Venture Partners for its rapidly growing portfolio of fashion-oriented, social eCommerce sites. The company’s focus is on bringing together social media and eCommerce across distinct vertical markets within the fashion industry. BeachMint raised $23.5 million in mid-2011 as it launched its StyleMint line of celebrity name apparel, adding on another $35 million in late January, 2012 from a syndicate that included Accel Partners, Goldman Sachs, New World Ventures and Millennium Technology Venture Partners, as well as previous investors.


E-commerce companies continue with efforts to effectively fuse and leverage growth in social media and mobile eCommerce.  Yardsellr, for example, raised $5 million in series A funding to expand its Facebook social eCommerce site.

In June 2011, Square raised $100 million in a third round of financing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Tiger Global Management for its peer-to-peer e-commerce technology, which includes a credit card scanner for the Apple iPhone and Android phones. Square aims to create a whole new class of e-commerce between individuals and small businesses. Other existing players such as Intuit and PayPal are not sitting still and have introduced their own mobile e-commerce solutions. The large credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, and American Express) are also developing and launching mobile initiatives and partnerships.

Own raised $1.2 million in seed financing from VCs including Detroit Venture Partners to continue developing its retail media tablet “register” that aims to provide faster, better order processing within a mobile eCommerce platform at the point-of-sale in retail locations.


The number of e-commerce companies receiving venture capital financing dramatically increased in the 2010-2011 period as multiple trends played out.

E-commerce financing amounts in the aggregate have also tracked the growth in the number of investee companies.

California accounted for the lion’s share (42.1 percent) of e-commerce companies receiving funding, followed by the Mid-Atlantic region at 17.8 percent.

Rapid growth in smartphones, tablets, the growing popularity of social media and the ongoing convergence of digital media and e-commerce platforms and channels has injected new dynamism into an e-commerce industry that had been previously focused mostly on infrastructure development.

Newer, seed-stage companies, such as Own, are taking on opportunities to disrupt traditional retail e-commerce by providing cross-channel and platform solutions that hold the promise of increasing sales, customer engagement and loyalty at the point-of-sale (PoS).

VentureTrends is a research service of VentureDeal, a national venture capital database based in Menlo Park, Calif.

Filed under: deals

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Sprint’s Galaxy Nexus coming April 22 for $199

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 07:44 AM PDT

Galaxy Nexus

Sprint still hasn’t rolled out its LTE 4G network,  but that’s not stopping the company from announcing new LTE phones. Next up for Sprint is the Galaxy Nexus, the latest flagship Google Phone, which will launch on April 22 for $200 with a two-year contract.

Notably, that’s $100 less than Verizon is charging for the Galaxy Nexus (then again, at least Verizon has a LTE network in place). Sprint is also trying to woo customers into using Google Wallet by placing $50 into your Wallet account when you active the phone by May 22. Google already offers $10 of instant credit to new Google Wallet customers, so Sprint is just topping off that amount with another $40.

Back in January, Sprint mistakenly ran ads on popular tech sites revealing the Galaxy Nexus as its first LTE phone. But since then, the carrier has announced the Evo One 4G (coming May 7) and the LG Viper, which launches the same day as the Galaxy Nexus. The Nexus is a fine phone, but at this point I’d recommend holding out for the Evo One and its sexy new camera technology.

It looks like Sprint’s Galaxy Nexus is the same as Verizon’s, with a 1.2 gigahertz dual-core processor, 5 megapixel camera, and 32 gigabytes of on-board storage. And, as is typical for the Nexus line, it runs an untainted version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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New iPad hits South Korea, Venezuela, and 10 other countries this week

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 07:23 AM PDT


Apple will release the new iPad to 12 new countries including South Korea, Malaysia, and Venezuela, the company announced Monday morning.

The new iPad has proven quite popular since its release in March, with more than three million units sold in the first weekend of release in 10 countries, including the U.S. and Australia. The device has been accused of running hot and charging slowly, but for the most part it has been swept up by consumers who like the top-notch screen and powerful graphics chip.

On Friday April 20, the new iPad will launch in Brunei, Croatia, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Malaysia, Panama, St Maarten, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Next up in the release schedule will be 9-country release that starts Friday, April 27. The new iPad will then arrive in Colombia, Estonia, India, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, South Africa, and Thailand.

Let us know in the comments if you are in one of these countries getting the device this month and if you’re thinking about buying the new iPad.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Chartbeat begins rolling out radically new UI with emphasis on social traffic

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 07:02 AM PDT


After being announced about a month ago, analytics startup Chartbeat has finally begun to roll out its radically different user interface that prioritizes social traffic.

The move coincides with Chartbeat’s just-announced new funding round of $9.5 million led by DFJ and Saul Klein of Index Ventures. Chartbeat is raising money to help it hire aggressively and expand the product offering to compete better with Google Analytics.

As a Chartbeat lover who views the site a few times each hour, I’m always in the mood to go deeper with data to find out exactly where traffic is coming from. The site has prioritized social engagement and added new diagrams that help you better analyze traffic trends. On our site this morning, for example, “social” and “internal” traffic were beating out “search.”

“The big goal is to make everyone feel like a data scientist,” Lauryn Bennett, Chartbeat's head of brand, told us. “We want to make sure the people on the front lines of these sites feel like they can … understand, react, and predict how to capitalize on their traffic.”


The user interface now features five tabs in the top-left corner of the screen: Overview, Content, Social, Traffic Sources, and Geo. This is how Chartbeat describes each tab:

• Overview: A “how I'm doing right now” summary view
• Content: Deep-diveable view into how users are engaging with your content
• Social: Collective view of all your mentions, likes, shares, tweets
• Traffic Sources: View where your traffic is coming from and going to
• Geo: See where in the world people are coming from

Overall, we really like what we’re seeing. With more information about the people visiting the site, the better we can take advantage of those patterns and know when to publish stories and which social networks could use work. My fellow VentureBeat writers Devindra Hardawar and Jolie O’Dell were enthusastic about the changes, with O’Dell even calling it “sexy.”

Charts photo: Dusit/Shutterstock

Filed under: media

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The age of flexible electronics is upon us

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Flexible electronics promise some very cool products in the not so distant future. They include smart bandages that monitor the vital signs of a wounded soldier. Sensors that can detect where the weakest part of an airplane. Flexible glass that can display digital imagery. And smart trading cards that can transmit information to a digital display.

Flexible electronics combine graphics arts printing and microelectronics, enabling machines to literally print circuits on top of plastic materials in the same way that an inkjet printer sprays ink on paper.

It has taken decades to reach this point because it requires the invention of new semiconductor manufacturing technologies, which have to be reused in ways that apply to the new kinds of materials. The good thing is that putting a little bit of electronics into flexible or wearable materials can result in a lot of new applications that don’t cost all that much to build. Flexible electronics is still looking for home-run applications, but it’s not as pie-in-the sky as it sounds. The manufacturing has improved to the point where simple memory devices cost just pennies.

“You get much more product flexibility, lower costs, and innovation,” said Malcolm Thompson (pictured), head of the Flex Tech Alliance, in an interview with VentureBeat. “It is an industry that is nascent but will grow rapidly. We’re already starting to see new kinds of applications in plastic memory for toys and sensors for aircraft.”

In 2012, the market for printed electronics and its cousins will hit $9.4 billion in sales, according to ID Tech EX 2012. Those include organic light-emitting displays used in cell phones, solar cells, radio frequency identification tag antennae, glucose test strips, eBook readers, and other cool things like printed memory collectible cards (pictured right) and printed batteries.

The printing part is key to making the flexible electronics easy to manufacture and mass produce. It’s relatively easy to lay circuitry down on a plastic surface, which can be unrolled as if you were printing a newspaper on paper.

“We’re talking about something that is really low-cost that can be repurposed,” Thompson said.

Thompson spoke to me during a tour of the famed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, the Silicon Valley research site that has been doing broader industry research for the past decade. PARC is home to a big program in flexible displays and printed electronics. The Flex Tech Alliance has been around for 15 years and it has conducted 153 projects since 1994. In those projects, government entities such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency provide 40 percent of the funding and the companies that propose the projects provide about 60 percent of the money.

Most of the alliance’s work has gotten under way in the last four years. The alliance has 90 members, including the Army, Corning, Dpix, E Ink, Fujifilm, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, PARC, Philips, Qualcomm, and a bunch of universities and startups. A workshop last week at PARC in Palo Alto, Calif., drew more than 560 people in the research community. The alliance helps companies identify where the gaps in the research are.

The research encompasses a lot of territory. Researchers are looking into non-crystalline materials, nanomaterials and flexible substrates. They are doing work in printing, patterning, plastic molding and other manufacturing work. They are exploring flexible electronic devices such as membranes, sensors, and thin-film transistors.

The products include smart bandages that can deliver the vital signs of a wounded soldier, neuro-prosthetic devices with sensors attached to them, sensor networks, solar cells, and smarter toys. The markets include military and emergency workers, medical, agriculture, civil infrastructure, energy and consumer products.

The device for sensing a soldier’s vital signs is one of the alliance’s funded projects. It could use a foldable plastic strip with an E Ink display (like the one in the Amazon Kindle eBook reader). The credit-card size device may have Bluetooth connectivity, a thin battery, and digital sensors that can detect skin temperature, heart rate, stress level, respiration rate. The strip might cost a dollar.

Nike and Reebok, which have participated in alliance events, are also interested in flexible products that can monitor athletic performance. It’s not so hard to imagine how they might apply flexible electronics.

Corning, Binghamton University and Western Michigan University are working on a project where they will print electronic circuits on flexible glass. If they succeed, it could be used in sensors, energy harvesting and storage, displays, and electronic lighting.

“This is very exciting technology that would be useful both to the military and in commercial markets,” Thompson said.”With this technology, the world will be healthier, safer, simpler and smarter.”

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Chartbeat raises $9.5M round led by DFJ to help clients make the most of their real-time traffic

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 06:59 AM PDT

Penny the pooch watches the Chartbeat team get ripped in real time

Another betaworks baby is growing up. Chartbeat, which helps customers measure the traffic to their websites in real-time, is raising a $9.5 million round led by Josh Stein at DFJ and Saul Klein of Index Ventures, who led the company’s seed round.

The New York startup is looking to move out of betawork’s Chelsea building and find its own digs as it aggressively expands its staff. Along with the funding, Chartbeat is rolling out its totally redesigned product today, which we reported on a while back.

I hate Chartbeat. Mostly because I love Chartbeat. I cannot stop looking at it, even when it’s 3:30 in the afternoon on a sunny Saturday, and I’m in the park trying my best to relax. There is no better high in the day to day life of a web publisher than seeing your traffic spike on Chartbeat. But like all the best drugs, it fades far to fast.

I stopped by the office recently to catch a glimpse of the startup in action. Everyone was wearing identical white t-shirt with the smiling face of Adam Clarkson, Chartbeat’s user experience lead. “It’s his birthday tomorrow, but he wouldn’t let us celebrate that, so we created a day just for him instead,” explained Kate, the office manager, who created the custom tees.

It was just before 10 in the morning and the number of users Chartbeat, measured relative to the size of small nations, ticked above the population of Turkmenistan. The company keeps track of over 5 million users on an average day, watching what they read and what they’re writing on some of the biggest sites on the web: ESPN, Fox News and the NY Times.

The clock struck ten and CEO Tony Haile got down on the floor with a group of staffers and banged out two dozen push-ups. “We do that every hour, keeps the juices flowing,” Haile explained.

Chartbeat still has the feeling of an early stage startup. Haile’s dog, Penny, wanders under desks looking for scraps. The company was bringing in a new hire, a veteran sales executive. But like everyone else on the team, his first challenge was not selling to clients, but learning the product inside and out.

“We’re building him a design challenge, the sort of thing you typically use to hire a developer or UX specialist” explained Haile. “I think fundamentally we believe everyone here should have experience working on the product. I don’t want you out there selling Chartbeat until you’ve got a real sense of how it works and why.”

The business of real-time analytics is booming. In fact, late last year, Google even jumped into the game, adding a real-time service to its widely used Google Analytics. That’s why Haile decided now was a wise time to raise a big round and expand Chartbeat’s services. The company already has the market cornered on premium publishers, but is hoping to expand into real-time analytics for e-commerce and gaming sites.

Chartbeat’s new design, which rolls out today, focuses on surfacing more than just the number of concurrent visitors. “The big goal is to make everyone feel like a data scientist,” said Lauryn Bennet, the company’s head of brand. “We want to make sure the people on the front lines of these sites feel like they can both understand, react and predict how to capitalize on their traffic.”

The emphasis in the new Chartbeat is not on simply measuring concurrent users, which we know from experience is a nasty addiction. You can feel great about watching you page views spike, but the high wears off just as quickly. “The new Chartbeat is focused on letting you know when something out of the ordinary is happening, and helping you to capitalize on that for the future,” says Haile.

While it may not feel that way to reporters and editors who monitor it as closely as their own EKG, Chartbeat is firmly in the Software-as-a-Service category. Haile says a big reason he picked Josh Stein and DFJ as his new lead investor was Stein’s experience with SaaS companies like Box and SugarCRM.

I tell Haile about my insatiable love for his product, and the toll its taking on my mental health and intimate relationships. He smiles. “We’re thinking another valuable source of revenue might be counseling for publishers like yourself.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Foursquare confirms 20M users, 2 billion check-ins, on 4sqDay 2012

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 06:40 AM PDT


Today, the third annual 4sqDay (April 16, four-squared, get it?), check-in king Foursquare confirmed that it has reached new milestones of 20 million users and a whopping 2 billion check-ins.

Anyone who makes a check-in on the service today will receive the 2012 4sqDay badge, as well as the following message:

In 2010, foursquare fans declared April 16 4sqDay (4/4^2 – nerds after our own heart!). Two years and two billion check-ins later, you're still why we get out of bed each day. Thanks to all 20 million of you for making us part of your lives. Happy 4sqDay!

Foursquare surpassed 15 million users back in December, and in March founder Dennis Crowley said it was close to 20 million users. We’ve asked the company for further comment on the milestones and will report when we hear back.

While it’s not growing as fast as uber-popular Instagram, Foursquare’s steady growth shows that there’s still plenty of value left in its check-in model, even if its revenue prospects are cloudy. The company stands strong while its biggest competitors, Gowalla and Facebook’s Places, are now out of the game.

The New York City-based company has raised over $71 million in funding so far. Last June, Foursquare landed a massive $50 million round with a valuation of $600 million.

Illustration: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Galaxy S III nears: Samsung announces May 3 event for “next Galaxy”

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 06:18 AM PDT

samsung galaxy S III event invite

After months of rumors about the Galaxy S III, Samsung has finally sent out press invites for a London event on May 3, asking attendees to “Come and meet the next Galaxy.”

There’s a hint of Apple coyness in the invite, and some are already speculating if Samsung will go with a different naming scheme for the Galaxy S III. But given the power of its flagship Android brand, I don’t think Samsung will pull anything akin to the “new iPad” reveal.

Samsung has its work cut out for it this time around. The company launched the original Galaxy S on the top four carriers in the U.S., which quickly led to it becoming the top Android handset. But now Apple’s iPhone is on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, as well as more carriers internationally, so Samsung is going to have stiffer competition with the next iPhone.

Most recently, we've heard that the Galaxy S III could sport a huge 4.8-inch screen (bigger than Google's flagship Galaxy Nexus) as well as a ceramic case and quad-core processor. The phone could be as thin a 7 millimeters, and is expected to feature updated cameras as well. By this point, it's a given that it'll sport Android 4.0 and LTE connectivity.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Rackspace launches OpenStack-powered next-gen public cloud

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT


Rackspace, the top cloud infrastructure provider after Amazon, has significantly upgraded its core offerings with a new next-generation public cloud powered by OpenStack, the company said Monday.

For quite some time, Amazon has outpaced Rackspace as the top dog for providing cloud infrastructure to companies. But Rackspace, which has a reputation for sterling customer service and leading the curve for cloud technology, wants to be the clear alternative for any business that wants to stay on the cutting edge of cloud.

“This collection of products is our biggest release ever,” Mark Interrante, VP of Products at Rackspace, told VentureBeat. “This launch is accelerating the company. Our goal is to deliver innovate cloud technology for our customers and we’ve been doing that for 10 years.”

The company highlights the following new offerings:

• Cloud Servers, powered by OpenStack – available with limited availability, based on the latest OpenStack compute release, this solution is fast, reliable, scalable and is accessible via the new OpenStack API as well as via an easy-to-use, intuitive control panel. Limited availability sign-ups are open now and Rackspace will begin providing access on May 1.

• Cloud Control Panel – available with limited availability, the new Control Panel was built from the ground up and with the customer in mind. It is simple, fast, intuitive and flexible. The new control panel also features multiple enhancements, including server tagging and multi-region capabilities.

• Cloud Databases, powered by OpenStack – available in early access, gives customers API access to massively scalable, high availability MySQL database that is based on SAN storage for high performance and provides automated management of common database tasks.

• Cloud Monitoring – available in early access, helps customers easily monitor their infrastructure and applications proactively, including OpenStack Clouds.

• Cloud Block Storage, powered by OpenStack – available in preview, this new solution is designed to give customers highly elastic raw storage and a choice between a high performance (leveraging solid state disks) or a standard lower-cost block storage solution.

• Cloud Networks, powered by OpenStack – available in preview, this solution is designed to allow customers to manage logically abstracted network services programmatically. Software-defined virtual networks provide flexibility and agility in addition to enhanced security via network isolation and port filtering.

San Antonio, Tex.-based Rackspace now serves more than 170,000 businesses and counts 60 percent of the Fortune 100 as customers. Rackspace doesn’t reveal too many specifics about the size of its cloud, but Interrante told us that the company now has around 80,000 physical servers.

Photo illustration: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Original photo: basketman23/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud

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RentStuff, a rental site for neglected possessions, nabs $600K (exclusive)

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

RentStuff Demo Screenshot

Given the choice between accumulating dust or money on useful stuff you own, most people would likely go with cash. That’s the driving idea behind RentStuff, a service that lets you rent out useful possessions to people nearby.

RentStuff closed a $600,000 round of funding today, the startup told VentureBeat exclusively. Essentially, RentStuff functions like an Airbnb for items. But instead of spare bedrooms, you’re making money on neglected stuff around the house.

With the exception of weapons, you can list pretty much any physical item for rent on the service, including laptops, camera lenses, moving trucks, bikes, recording equipment, etc. The rental price and availability are both determined by the item’s owner, who also arranges a time and place to drop off/pick up the item from the renter.

The owner can also set a security deposit for each item listed. Both the rental amount and the security deposit are charged to the renters’ credit card only after both parties have met and confirmed the initial exchange, which can be done via email, text message, or directly on the RentStuff website.

“When I’m traveling, it’s easier for me to rent a good bike on RentStuff than it is to take mine on a plane, and haul it around to wherever I’m staying,” RentStuff co-founder Chris Jaeger told VentureBeat. With the explosion of lodging services like Airbnb, he said its only natural that people would want access to some of the other comforts of home. I can also see the advantages in paying a few bucks to rent out a gadget that I’m likely only going to need once or twice per year.

Jaeger said the new funding will be used to hire more engineers, grow the rental platform, and expand into new cities. RentStuff is available in most major cities, with a strong presence in San Francisco, New York City, and Nashville, Tenn., which is where the startup was founded. The money will also be used to relocate the company’s base of operations to Chicago.

In terms of generating revenue, RentStuff takes a cut from every rental transaction. But, Jaeger explained that the startup is more focused on growing the platform and generating interest than it is on profitability. RentStuff faces indirect competition from NYC-based rental service SnapGoods.

The round of funding was led by Nashville-based early-stage investment firm Solidus Company, with participation from Angel Investor Management Group and a small group of angel investors. RentStuff also received funding from startup accelerator JumpStart Foundry in 2011.

Check out a demo video from RentStuff embedded below.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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Path raising $40M round led by Redpoint. No, it will not be the next Instagram.

Posted: 16 Apr 2012 04:00 AM PDT

Rumors about Path’s new round of funding have circulated for some time, but they are now being reported as hard numbers, specifically a $40 million round of funding led by RedPoint Ventures that would value the company at $250 million.

Path launched with a focus on creating a very small, intimate social network, but pivoted to become a personal journaling app, aka, a mobile photo sharing app with some fancy bells and whistles. Since that relaunch the site doubled its user base from one to two million.

Everyone is talking about how Path is a hot acquisition target in the wake of Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of the mobile photo sharing app Instagram. Path certainly has a lot of hype around it, but when you stop to break down the numbers, an acquisition makes a lot less sense.

Path may have 2 million registered users, but how many of them are active? According to AppData, which measures activity on Facebook, and is a strong proxy for measuring user activity, Instagram counts over 12 million monthly active users. Path has less than 500,000. As it stands, Instagram is adding around 1 million users per day. To be fair, Path is doing far better by this calculus than some other Instagram also rans like Hipstamatic and PicPlz.

Instagram also had wide appeal among celebrities and brands, strengths that Facebook’s advertising team will be able to leverage into serious dollars. Path is a niche social network with a renewed focus on photo sharing used mostly by the technorati.

It wouldn’t be inconceivable that if Path manages to double its user base again this year, someone like Google or Twitter would swoop in a buy it a premium. But to buy it now would be a mistake. Once the dust settles from all the hot air around the Instagram purchase, it will be clear that Path is its own animal, and should be valued according to its own growth statistics, not by its superficial similarities to Instagram.

Image from Flickr user Joi

Filed under: deals, mobile

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Are you a WordPress coder who has been to the core and back? Let’s chat.

Posted: 15 Apr 2012 06:00 PM PDT

VentureBeat is looking for an experienced, creative, high-end VP PHP coder to build some of the coolest projects in the media world today.

You should have experience working on WordPress (VIP is a plus), and be familiar with the LAMP stack. You also need to be ambitious: Design skills are a big plus, because this concerns leadership of projects that are core for VentureBeat. You’ll be working on various stand along PHP app and modify CSS and JS interactions.
You should have at least three years of solid experience with PHP and two years with the WP framework. Ideally, we’d like you to be based in San Francisco.

This is a key leadership position for VentureBeat: Competitive salary and stock options are part of the offer.

If you’re interested, please email us here, with “Ninja” in the subject line.

Photo credit: Sinbad9/Flickr

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Unemployed game designer creates mind-blowing solar system explorer app

Posted: 15 Apr 2012 01:48 PM PDT

Updated at 4:37 p.m. PT with more information from Albeluhn.

When people become unemployed, they often fall prey to feelings of helplessness. Not Christopher Albeluhn, an unemployed game designer who recently created an incredibly cool app that allows you to explore the solar system and constellations in 3D.

The Solar System: Explore Your Backyard” was spotlighted on Reddit by his roommate and the project’s first demo video now has more than 70,000 views. It deserves the attention of the tech community because it shows what a single game designer can accomplish if he or she puts his or her mind to it.

Albeluhn explains his story on his Indiegogo page, which is taking donations to help him finish the app:

I have been in the video game industry for just over 7 years, and have worked on some great games with some amazing people, but life always throws the odd curve ball and i found myself unemployed. I needed to update my portfolio, so i began to create planet Earth in a video game engine as a simple test for a shader idea. It started out small, but quickly grew into a fully functioning solar system. I decided early on; If it were ever completed, that i would share it with the public. Every night i began making it bigger, better, and more of what I wanted to see in a space program.

Before i knew it, i had all 8 planets (I am SO sorry Pluto), the sun and the Asteroid belt. They all had correct rotations, orbits, locations and speeds; their moons, information regarding the planets and their facts. All of these were fine, but i wanted something more, so i added in the constellations, all 88 of them.

Albeluhn told us that he intends to add much more to the application, including “dwarf planets, satellites, more detailed models, NASA satellite paths, and a viewing library.” After the PC version of the app is done, he then plans to port it over to iOS and Android. However, he isn’t sure about how long that will take.

As for releasing the app for the PC, Albeluhn said the app is “near completion” but he needs to find a way to distribute the game. He has sent a demo build of the game to Steam to see if the company would be interested in featuring it in the “Simulation” section. Another factor for releasing the game will be how much money is able to raise on Indiegogo. He writes:

The $8,000 is a goal, but not set in stone. Everything received through Indiegogo will be going straight towards the project, this isn’t only for the PC build though. Once everything is cleared by Epic, the project is complete and a distributor is found; I will be putting all remaining money into converting this to a format supported by the iPad and possibly iPhone. This will require more coding, and a lot of time. If the $8,000 isn’t reached, then less money will be available for porting it to iOS.

The app will compete with other solar system explorers like Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe and Eyes on the Solar System, but we hope Albeluhn’s project takes off for his stunning execution and dedication to his work.

Check out a few more screens below:

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Steve Jobs biopic with Ashton Kutcher will weirdly not cover the iPod & iPhone eras

Posted: 15 Apr 2012 12:01 PM PDT

New details have emerged about the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, including confirmation that the film will end in the year 2000 before Jobs introduced the iPod, iPhone, and iPad to the world.

Word landed on April’s Fools Day that Kutcher, star of various movies and TV shows and a surprisingly smart tech investor, would play Jobs. Turns out the announcement wasn’t a joke and since that time, people have wanted to know more the independent feature, which is now tentatively titled “Jobs: Get Inspired.” (We hope they change the name.)

Producer Mark Hulme was interviewed by Neowin and spilled a few new details, including that the film will “primarily” cover Apple from the years 1971 through 2000. Hulme suggests that the time period covered is the reason the team wanted the film to star Kutcher, who looks an awful lot like a young Steve Jobs.

“Since our film covers the early years of Apple, when Jobs was in his 20′s, we needed an actor who could carry not only the youthfulness of Jobs at the time but also the psychological complexity,” Hulme told Neowin. “Because of that, and Ashton’s physical similarities to Jobs, he’s perfect for our film.”

While Jobs helped bring several important devices to the world before his death, the modern computing era was radically changed by the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, all of which were released after 2000. So while the film will see Jobs through the Apple II and Macintosh releases and his exodus and return to the company, it’s unfortunate it will not document some of Jobs’ most successful products.

The Jobs biopic will be directed by Swing Vote helmer Joshua Michael Stern. It begin filming in May and released in the fourth quarter of 2012. The movie will mostly be filmed in Los Angeles.

Sony also has plans to make a biographical film on Jobs’ life, but it will be at least another year before that hits theaters. Sony’s take will be based on Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography of Jobs and will not be an indie flick.

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Pottermore site for Harry Potter fans finally opens registration for all

Posted: 15 Apr 2012 11:13 AM PDT


J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore website that lets Harry Potter fans explore the books’ universe and interact with other fans has finally opened registration for anyone who wants access.

Pottermore was announced last June as a site where Potter fans can read new content about the Potter universe and as an online shop to purchase the books in e-book format. At the end of March, the site finally made it possible to download those e-books, which generated $1.5 million in sales in just a few days. That shows people are still firmly interested in the Potter books, even though the series concluded in book form in July 2007 and in movie form in July 2011.

The Pottermore site has been in limited beta since it launched, but many other Potter fans (including myself) have wanted access to see if the site might shine a light other aspects of the books’ universe and mysteries. I tried registering earlier today but after confirming my e-mail address, the site said, “We'll send you an email to let you know when you can explore Pottermore.” The site chooses a random user name for its users to protect children.

A blog post from Pottermore indicates users will be approved in waves. It notes: “Over the coming days, we’ll be inviting new users onto Pottermore.com. We’re expecting to be really busy to start with and plan to activate new registrations in a steady stream. This means that you may not get access to Pottermore immediately after you sign up but we will get you exploring the site as quickly possible.”

Those who get access will first be sorted in one of the four Hogwarts houses by the Sorting Hat and then be able to explore the mythology of the Potter universe. Rowling has written 18,000 words of new material for the Web site about characters, places, and magical objects. The site also promises social games and the ability for fans to share their own Harry Potter stories.

Take a look at a sneak peek video below for more on Pottermore:

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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FCC closes case on Google Wi-Fi snooping but charges $25K fine for obstruction

Posted: 15 Apr 2012 09:39 AM PDT


The Federal Communications Commission has slapped Google with a $25,000 fine for obstructing the agency’s efforts to find out more about Google’s data collection practices, according to the New York Times.

Google has been in the government’s sights for years when it comes to privacy concerns. Recently, Google attracted scrutiny for making sweeping changes to its privacy policies. But now the FCC is getting a tad more serious by actually making Google pay up. $25,000 is pocket change to Google, which cleared $10.6 billion in revenue this past quarter, but at least it’s a start.

The FCC said in a report (PDF) late on Friday that Google had "deliberately impeded and delayed" the agency’s investigation that started in May 2010 when Google “accidentally” collected personal data using its Street View cars. Essentially, Google’s cars that were sent out to improve Google Maps actually collected data from people’s unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Google has held on to this data since the time that it collected it, but said it was simply waiting for the go-ahead from the government to delete the data.

Instead of doing all it could to help the FCC investigate the claims, the FCC said Google gave the organization the run-around and failed to respond to many inquires. The FCC writes:

“For many months, Google deliberately impeded and delayed the Bureau’s investigation by failing to respond to requests for material information and to provide certifications and verifications of its responses. In the Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), we find that Google apparently willfully and repeatedly violated Commission orders to produce certain information and documents that the Commission required for its investigation.”

The FCC took a sharp tone with Google, suggesting it had the technology and resources to easily comply with requests. "Although a world leader in digital search capability, Google took the position that searching its employees' e-mail 'would be a time-consuming and burdensome task,'" the report said.

Google, not surprisingly, says it did everything that was asked of it in the case.

“We worked in good faith to answer the FCC’s questions throughout the inquiry, and we are pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law,” a Google spokeswoman said in a widely circulated statement.

This will most likely be the end of the case concerning Google’s accidental snooping of Wi-Fi network data, but there’s no doubt the government will continue to examine the incredible depth of Google’s knowledge about its users.

Google photo: Robert Scoble/Flickr

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