18 April, 2012



TourWrist’s 360-degree panoramas add another dimension

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 09:26 AM PDT

TourWrist PanoSpot FeatureRemember virtual reality tours, those 360-degree panoramic photos you could navigate with your mouse? They were hot for a while, popping up on every real estate agent and hotel site, but the low quality and jerky navigation made them feel antiquated and oh-so Web 1.0. TourWrist began reviving the art form last year by taking it mobile and adding a slick user interface.

Now the company is taking the images further with an update to its iPhone and iPad app, new APIs and SDKs, and neat interactivity features, which the company presented today at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

TourWrist gave a sneak peek of two new features due out in May. First are PanoSpots, which link multiple panoramas together Google Street View-style, and give them more depth by linking to photos, videos, brands, audio, websites, and Facebook profiles. The real fun demonstration was of the trippy planar acceleration controls, which will allow you to physically step forward or back while holding up an iOS device to move between panoramas, go through doors, and check out other linked panoramas or information.

Smartphones and tablets have a few key features that are making these types of immersive photos relevant again: GPS, built-in cameras, touch screens, and accelerometers. Using the free iPhone and iPad app, you can view panoramas by categories or location, and navigate by touch or the neat motion-based gryo mode. You can make a panorama of your own surroundings by just moving the device around and capturing the scene with its back-facing camera. The new app update (v2.3.2) adds image preview, editing, and offline shooting options, as well as improved stitching, shooting support for the new iPad, and Retina display support.

TourWrist has a fun social and crowdsourcing side — any one can easily make and share an image, meaning you don’t have to cruise the map of panos long to find some random shirtless dude playing guitar in his apartment. But as you might expect, the nicest-looking tours aren’t shot with iPads or iPhones. They’re the stunning and seamlessly stitched images created by professional photographers, often for hotels, resorts, and other posh locations trying to woo customers. (There’s a helpful link on the site and in the app for business that want to hire a professional panorama-maker.)

The app is well-timed because location-based images are having a moment: Google has added interior shots to its Google Maps street view, and augmented reality, the overlaying of digital information on a real view, is getting a boost from the forthcoming Google Glasses. Microsoft has a similar product called Photosynth, but the UI is clunky and it has seemingly been forgotten by the software giant.

“With Apple, Google and Microsoft bringing panoramic photography to mobile devices, this is a medium primed for mainstream adoption,” said CEO and founder Charles Armstrong. “TourWrist is pioneering in important fields such as motion control algorithms and virtual tour business methods.”

So far, the app has been downloaded 700,000 times since becoming available in early 2011. There are now more than 40,000 panoramic images on the service of everything including resorts, clubs, nature, music festivals, and really messy dorm rooms.

The boot-strapped company was founded in 201o by Charles Armstrong and has had $155,000 in funding. It currently has 13 employees and is based out of the Hatchery co-working space in San Francisco’s SOMA district. Naturally, there’s a 360-degree image of the office on TourWrist’s site.

Here are some of my personal favorite TourWrist images: The Russian Clown Circus, an honest to goodness man cave, and Alcatraz.

TourWrist is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, mobile, social

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THQ reports revenue to be significantly higher than expected

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 09:22 AM PDT

Saints Row: The Third
THQ reported today that it will have higher revenue than previously expected for the fourth fiscal quarter ending March 31. The original expectations for the fourth quarter 2012 revenues was previously $130 million to $150 million. Todays preliminary unaudited report from THQ shows a much higher $160 million to $170 million, an increase of $20 to $30 million.

The company has been written off as a casualty of the disruption in the video business, but it’s not at death’s door yet. Calabasas, Calif.-based THQ attributes its revised financials to stronger than anticipated sale of Saints Row: The Third. That title launched last fall has now shipped more than four million units. THQ also had better-than-expected digital sales, and stronger sales than expected for UFC Undisputed 3.

The company also reported it expects to lose 10 cents to 20 cents a share, lower than a previously expected loss of 35 cents to 50 cents a share. In addition, THQ expects to have a cash balance of $76 million by the end of March 2012, which is three times as much as they predicted, due to better-than expected operating expenses and earlier-than-expected cash receipts. They also report no outstanding new borrowings on their $50 million credit line.

THQ has laid off hundreds of employees in recent months, driven in part by the failure of its uDraw tablet, a hardware device for the consoles. Sales of uDraw were promising on the Wii two holidays ago, but the tablet failed miserably on the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 during the most recent holidays. THQ had to take a huge write-down on hardware inventory as a result. The company also recently converted its Warhammer 40,000 online game — which has already been in development for years — into a single-player game.

THQ will report final results for the fiscal fourth quarter along with its outlook on expected 2013 results on May 15, 2012.


Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Is Microsoft dumb enough to keep the Apollo update from current Windows Phones?

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 09:22 AM PDT

After recovering from a minor PR bomb with the “Smoked by Windows Phone” campaign, and then a data glitch that forced Nokia to offer full refunds on the Lumia 900, Microsoft may once again be in hot water, this time over its Windows Phone upgrade strategy.

Word is that current Windows Phones won’t be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8, a massive update that’s currently being called “Apollo”, reports the Verge. ZDNet’s Microsoft guru Mary Jo Foley has heard similar things from her sources as well.

The Verge’s report came in response to an earlier news item from Microsoft developer evangelist Nuno Silva yesterday. He claimed that all Windows Phones would be upgradeable to Apollo, but now it seems like that’s completely false.

I certainly didn’t expect Windows Phone models from the platform’s launch to be upgradeable to Apollo, as their hardware was lackluster even when they debuted. But it seems crazy for Microsoft to cut newer devices, especially its new flagship the Lumia 900, from the upgrade cycle. The consumers buying these phones now are precious early adopters, and the company needs to make sure it doesn’t piss them off. Such a move also won’t endear Microsoft to the techie crowd.

On the other hand, if Windows Phone 8 is actually a big enough update that current phones can’t handle it, then it may also end up being a huge leap forward for the platform. But even if that were the case, I don’t think it’s worth the ill will Microsoft will see from burned Windows Phone owners.

Photo: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Fribi believes a combo of social and deals will help it beat Craigslist

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 09:20 AM PDT

Fribi marketplace

Craigslist may be on the smartphone already, but Fribi wants to kick the classified-ads space up a notch using the power of Facebook, coupons, and the cameras on our mobile-devices.

“Fribi is like a more personal twist to Craigslist, making the service more personal, relevant, safe and fun,” said chief executive officer and co-founder Morten Isachsen in an email to VentureBeat.

Fribi (pronounced free-bee) is a mobile, local-focused marketplace that allows you to sell and trade your unwanted items. So, yeah, Craigslist. But to set itself apart from the giant elephant in the room, Fribi hopes to offer a speeder listing process, social integration, and offers from businesses right within the app.

To list an item, you take a picture with your smartphone’s camera, assign a title, description, and a few other details, and upload. You can decide who can see the listing (only friends or public) as well as how long the listing will stay live. Like Craigslist, you can search specific neighborhoods and items, though Fribi lets you connect the app to Facebook and see friends who are posting items. If a friend interacts with an item through the social network, Fribi will automatically show the interaction in the app. Isachsen says Twitter integration will be coming soon.

Fribi has an opportunity to monetize as well, allowing local businesses to run deals and offers in the app.

Other services are doing similar things, however. Poshmark allows users to take photos of clothing they no longer want with their phones and upload a listing to the app. These are then sold through “Posh Parties,” or mini-mobile-trunk-shows. TradePal also lets you buy, sell or trade items with people around you, however this is done off the mobile phone and on a regular website. Inevitably, Craigslist will also be a big competitor for Fribi, given how many people already use and (mostly) trust the service.

Not to mention eBay, though it is on a much bigger, less localized scale than Fribi.

The company was founded in 2011 and is headquartered in Oslo, Norway. Isachsen does say the startup will be moving its operations to Palo Alto, Calif. So far Fribi has not taken on any funding.

Fribi is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO

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UppSite offers publishers a ‘one-stop-shop’ for creating mobile apps

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 09:13 AM PDT

UppSite mobile apps service

The number of people consuming web content on mobile devices is growing at a rapid pace. The same can’t be said for the publishers that only offer mobile users a desktop-optimized site, which can make pages load slower and cause content to display incorrectly or not at all.

UppSite, one of the startups presenting at VentureBeat’s 2012 DEMO spring conference on Wednesday, has an easy solution for these sites. Its service will optimize a publisher’s website across multiple mobile platforms by creating native applications for iOS, Windows Phone, Android, and even a standard web app.

“Any web publisher, big or small, that understands the power of the mobile era will find UppSite to be the perfect one stop shop for all their mobile needs,” said founder and CEO Gal Brill. His company’s strategy is basically “taking care of every part of the (mobile development) process, leaving the publisher no need to do any part of it.”

Brill said UppSite is offering the service to a market of over 200 million potential clients. Mind you, I don’t think this is the option that a large web-publisher would choose. But, for hundreds of smaller outlets (specific-genre news sites, local newspapers, etc.) that only want to focus on creating content, this is a great way to ensure readers aren’t put off by the lack of a mobile-friendly site.

The apps are likely to be similar in structure and user experience design, so competing publishers that use UppSite may end up having mobile apps that look about the same (unless they pay up). However, the product bridges a gap between the regular web and mobile that’s pretty crucial for continued traffic growth.

Publishers can choose from three types of payment options: a free conversion that gives all mobile ad revenue to UppSite, a $9.99 per-month option with a 50 percent ad revenue split with UppSite, and a high-end enterprise solution that can be customized with UppSite as a per-demand, per-month option that allows the site owner to fully control the application.

Founded in 2010, the startup has eight employees based in Tel-Aviv, Israel. UppSite has raised a total of $550,000 in funding to date from startup incubator The Time innovation. It faces competition from a handful of competitors, including Appmakr, Duda Mobile, Conduit Mobile.

Check out the company’s demo video embedded below:

UppSite is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Eating right is hard, but the Edamam app makes it more palatable

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 09:07 AM PDT

Edamam food app screenshotsWho hasn’t wandered around a Safeway googling “kale recipe” or “what is a stinging nettle?” on their smartphone? Edamam is a new food-search site and mobile app that hopes to make navigating all that edible data faster, and choosing healthy food easier.

Edamam, a portmanteau of the Slavic and Sanskrit words for “eat,” is launching at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. The site and app offer multiple ways to search and filter recipes, by simply typing what you’re hungry for, by diet (such as vegan, dairy-free, or high-protein), or by calories. The recipes are pulled in from a variety of reliable sources, including the New York Times, Food.com, and Epicurious.

The mobile product includes more than just recipes. The database also has detailed nutritional information, including the amount of fat, carbs, and sodium in a dish. And there are companion shopping lists, and you can check off items on the app as you shop.

“Although it may be a cliché, we see our efforts at Edamam as a way to make a
real difference in the world,” said founder Victor Penev. “We believe that with the power of technology, we can help people make better food choices, eat better and ultimately be happier for it.”

Edamam is entering a crowded field of food-search apps, including Yummly and Foodily. The company wants to set itself apart from the competitors by focusing on health, speed, and surfacing selected high-quality recipes. The search tool is just the first product from a company with the ambitious mission to “organize the world's food knowledge,” and it plans on releasing additional products in the coming year.

The two-year-old company currently has nine full-time employees. The initial funding was thrown in by Penev, who has gone on to raise an additional $800,000 from other individuals.

Edamam is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, mobile, VentureBeat

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XEOPlay’s beautiful iOS game Tilt World strives to make a real-world impact

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 09:01 AM PDT


XEOPlay CEO Nicole Lazzaro has a lofty goal: She wants people to have fun playing a game but also translate that fun into solving real-world problems.

Enter Tilt World, a beautiful iOS game. The app’s main character, Flip, is on a mission to end climate change in the game and in the real world. As players progress, their actions are mirrored in a real world campaign to plant one million trees in Madagascar through XEOPlay partner WeForest.org. It’s the seemingly perfect combo for gamers who want to make a positive impact on the environment.

“XEOPlay’s mission is to improve the quality of our lives through play,” Lazzaro told VentureBeat via e-mail. “We do this through playsourcing, which means using fun as a source of human motivation to help people change themselves and change their world.”

And the gameplay is as unique as the app’s environmental goals. Using the accelerometer on the iPhone or iPod touch, users simply “tilt” the device back and forth to help Flip on his journey.

Tilt World will later include downloadable adventure packs that address topics ranging from clean water to planting trees. After Tilt World, XEOPlay will create other games that focus on a real-life impact. Ideally, these future games will also bridge social connections and encourage others to participate.

“Tilt World is our first contribution in what we hope to be a long series of playsourced games that make the world a better place,” Lazzaro said. “We look forward to continuing our adventure of unlocking human potential through the power of play.”

Oakland, Calif.-based XEOPlay is self-funded and has four employees. “Being a self-financed game developer is challenging, however the limited resources mean that we have to focus like laser beams on finding the fun,” Lazzaro said.

Check out more photos of Tilt World below:

XEOPlay is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, games, VentureBeat

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HTC One X heads to AT&T May 6 for $200

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 08:21 AM PDT


HTC’s new flagship Android smartphone, the One X, finally has a release date in the U.S. AT&T announced this morning that it will offer the One X starting May 6 for $200 with the typical two-year contract.

The phone was first introduced at Mobile World Congress in February, along with the rest of HTC’s One series. AT&T touts the One X as its first Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” device, as well as the first with Beats Audio built-in at the hardware and software level. (T-Mobile is expected to divulge details of its One S entry at a New York City event later tonight.)

[Check out our hands-on impressions of the One X from February.]

The One X sports a huge 4.7-inch screen and a dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5 gigahertz. The European versions of the One X feature a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, but as we learned at Mobile World Congress this year, Nvidia hasn’t been able to fit in an LTE chipset alongside its new chip. Still, the Snapdragon S4 is one of the fastest mobile chips right now, even with only two cores, and the addition of LTE makes it a more tempting phone than its Euro counterpart.

While the One X is fast and gorgeous, the real star of HTC’s new lineup is the improved camera software and hardware, which the company is calling “ImageSense.” The One X features an 8 megapixel camera with 1080p HD video recording capabilities. It has an f/2.0 lens, which means it lets in plenty more light than other smartphones. The phone also sports zero shutter lag, so there’s no delay when you’re trying to take a picture, as well as easy burst shooting capabilities (by holding down the shutter button).

Pre-orders for AT&T’s HTC One X will begin on April 22.

Photo: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Tradesparq brings a social networking approach to sourcing foreign suppliers

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:52 AM PDT

In today’s global economy, even small American businesses are often turning to China and India to manufacture their products. But finding a reliable supplier across the world isn’t easy. Tradesparq, a Shanghai based startup, is trying to simplify the process of locating a trustworthy manufacturing partner by allowing business owners to search a directory of global suppliers and match those results against their social network. Think Alibaba meets Linkedin.

“The Chinese manufacturing market, valued at nearly $1.9 trillion last year and representing almost 20% of the worldwide total, suffers from well-documented problems around supplier quality and reliability,” said Tradesparq founder Brain Hager, who worked for years in China on just these kinds of problems.

“We reduce the time spent on supplier discovery and due diligence,” said Hager. “Traditional Web 1.0 Chinese supplier directories are based on paid ratings, which offer buyers no reliable validation of the quality of their Chinese suppliers. Plus, with no filters, the sheer volume of information and suppliers to verify is too time consuming. Search for kitchen sink to find a manufacturer on Alibaba, and you are likely to get tens of thousands of results. We winnow that down to a dozen top rated firms who you can check for references against your social network.”

Last year Tradesparq had 1.2 million inquiries and says its on pace to do four times that this year. It has backing from a mix of angels and institutions, including Ed Haynes, the CFO of China Omnicom Media and founder of Wangyou.com, an early Chinese social network.

For a great rundown on how the company works, check out this presentation they gave at a recent DEMO Asia event.

Image from Flickr user K.Kendall

Filed under: DEMO, enterprise, social

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NBC Sports to live stream 2,500 hours of the Olympics

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:14 AM PDT

Olympic rings

Sports are best when watched live, so it’s fortunate that NBC’s coverage at the London 2012 Olympics will include live streaming video of all 32 sports online.

The broadcaster, which launched its official Olympics website today, will offer access to the sports in real-time — as in, before the time-delayed coverage that airs on the traditional TV stations in America. The site will also provide users with lots of archived content, stats, and other supplementary material. (Dedicated fans of the Olympics may also want to check out the Olympic Athletes Hub.)

And for those of you who’d prefer to sleep, NBC said the big events should be archived online relatively quickly. The only exception to that would be for coverage of events that NBC wants to prominently feature on TV first.

One thing that NBC isn’t worried about is having the live stream coverage hurt the traditional TV viewership.

“Anytime you have a great event that happens before it shows on the air, it increases ratings and generates buzz,” NBC Sports Digital Media VP Rick Cordella told the New York Times. Those comments mimic what Cordella said earlier this year when the company decided to offer a live stream of the Super Bowl. “Whatever is on schedule that day, if cameras are on it, we’ll stream it,” he said, which accounts for about 2,500 hours of coverage.

NBC Sports is ditching Microsoft’s Silverlight video plugin for this year’s Olympic streaming coverage. Instead, the company is teaming up with YouTube, which has been ramping up all its live streaming efforts. The video streaming themselves, however, will exclusively be available on the NBC Sports Olympic site.

Will you be checking out the late-night Olympic live streams?  Let us know in the comments.

London 2012 Olympics photo via  Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com; Via The Verge

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Square may be seeking new round at whopping $4B valuation (updated)

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:04 AM PDT

10 months after mobile payments startup Square raised $100 million at a valuation of $1 billion, the company is now said to be seeking a new round that could value it at up to $4 billion, reports All Things Digital.

ATD’s Tricia Duryee cites multiple sources for the news, but she also notes that the deal is still in negotiations, which means investors could end up valuing the company for less. Still, even at a valuation of only $3 billion, Square’s growth would be impressive. The company, not surprisingly, hasn’t commented on the news.

Former VentureBeat executive editor Owen Thomas pointed out several days ago that Square CEO Jack Dorsey made a trip to Baltimore, and he later confirmed that Baltimore-based Legg Mason was “looking into Square.”

Square started out by offering a credit card reader that plugs into your phone’s headphone jack, letting individuals and small businesses accept card payments on the fly. More recently, the company launched a virtual wallet (“Pay with Square”) and register app for the iPad.

The company hasn’t yet divulged its financials, but Duryee estimates that it could be earning annual revenue of around $122 million. Square takes a 2.75 percent cut from swiped credit card transactions, and 3.5 percent plus 15 cents from keyed in transactions. The company is likely handing over most of its earnings to credit card companies for processing fees, Duryee notes.

Square has big plans ahead: The company hopes to expand internationally, and it has hired former PayPal exec Alyssa Cutright to lead the effort. It has also brought on Google Wallet co-founder Rob von Behren, a sign that it could be interested in near-field communications (NFC) technology.

San Francisco, Calif.-based Square has raised around $137 million so far from investors including Kleiner Perkins, Tiger Global Management, Sequoia Capital, and Khosla Ventures.

Update: DealBook’s Evelyn Rusli reports that Square may be seeking up to $250 million in this round.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Game marketers strive to stand out among a sea of social noise

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT

The Game Marketing Summit is where marketers go to fill up on inspiration when it comes to marketing video games to the largest audiences possible. This year’s summit was bigger and better than in years past, even though the hardcore part of the industry is in a state of turmoil, with some blockbuster winners celebrating and big losers shutting down studios.

The new vibrancy is because the organizers stepped up their efforts to draw a bigger crowd, said Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft and an organizer. It is also because the marketing of games has gotten a lot more complex and there is a lot of new blood coming into the business from the social, mobile and online game companies. The speakers at the event talked about all of the change afoot and how digital distribution and social media are fundamentally changing game marketing.

The aim of the conference was to figure out the sometimes-shrinking video game industry from the inside out by marketing to the mass market. the David “Shingy” Shing (pictured right), the “digital prophet” at AOL showed off 125 slides that laid out the landscape for having conversations with, rather than talking down to consumers in the age of social media.

“Fifty-seven percent of us would rather talk to someone digitally than in person,” Shing said. “When the hell did that happen?”

He said that the average American engages with 30 brands in a month. The brand’s content is now distributed across all kinds of channels such as YouTube. That creates a huge number of touch points for consumers. Shing said that engagement and attention are the “new currency” for marketers to pay attention to. The rise of user-generated content sometimes means that brands have to take the risky position of embracing content where users make fun of the brand, Shing said. Interest graphs, such as those promoted by Pinterest, are becoming more influential than social graphs, Shing said.

“We’ve moved away from the information age and into the social age,” he said. “It’s not about the number of people you have in your network, it’s about the number of people who are affecting change.”

Shing thinks that game companies need to think about how to get physical goods or physical rewards into the hands of gamers, not just digital rewards.

Kristian Segerstrale (picture at top), executive vice president of digital at Electronic Arts, predicted that digital goods will change the way that developers create and manage their games. Segerstrale, who co-founded the EA-purchased company Playfish social game startup, firmly believes that the game business is moving from retail to online experiences and purchases.

“The game industry isn’t alone in this transformation we are seeing,” he said. “Music and movies have also made the digital switch. We’re clearly going from boxed products to digital services. We’re going from upfront business models to games where the upfront cost is smaller and smaller.”

With the shift, you can reach a much wider audience with free-to-play games. But then you have to pay attention to the “funnel,” Segerstrale said, where you figure out which of your free players are engaged and which of those engaged players will actually pay money. Simply picking up a game is no longer tied to the act of monetization.

He argued that digital is making the market into a much more global market; by 2015, he said, the U.S. will only be 16.8 percent of the market. One interesting data point is that EA’s Fifa World Cup Soccer game was a huge hit on the mobile social network for Gree in Japan.

Segerstrale said that marketing is going “in-game,” where all sorts of promotions are built into the game that enable the player to spend more money. That means that games must have great internal communications systems that allow publishers to target the customers better and allow the players to better express what they want. Now you have to think of the interface inside the game as valuable real estate. The whole company, including developers, has to get involved in this process, he said.

“With this shift, our relationship with the consumer becomes more important than our relationship with the retailers,” Segerstrale said.

Russell Arons, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros. Interactive, said it was tough to lift Batman from the dustbin of lousy video game characters and bring the superhero back with the newest Batman games. The success of Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009 was a surprise that revived the whole series for a broader number of users. With the sequel, Batman: Arkham City, the company had to reach the much broader audience that had embraced games such as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.

That mean that Batman had to look different. Warner Bros. commissioned marketing firm Trailer Park to create an ad campaign that moved away from the invincible superhero and depicted Batman as more human, a weathered, tired, and bloody character who appealed to adults. It worked, as Batman: Arkham City was one of last year’s biggest hits.

The highlight of the event was watching some of the funny game trailers (we’ll provide links to them and upload videos later), such as the Vet and the Noob commercial advertising Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the little “Guitar Baby!” ad where a baby plays Guitar Hero (pictured below), and Sony’s video game ad “Michael.” More somber but incredibly moving was the trailer about the family pursued by zombies in Dead Island.

Activision’s Call of Duty XP event, staged with Ncompass International, won the award for the most effective buzz marketing promotion, as the conversations measured on the web about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 were dramatically higher in the wake of the event.

One of this year’s big winners at the evening dinner — the 2012 PromaxBDA Game Marketing Awards hosted by the stars of Comedy Central’s Workaholics TV show (pictured above) — was Bethesda Softworks, which was lauded for its authentic, true-to-the-game marketing of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which shipped more than 10 million copies in its first month. Skyrim could have been dismissed as a nerdy fantasy role-playing game, but instead its marketing emphasized its movie-like visuals and heroic dragon-fighting combat scenes. That give it a huge mass market bump, and it earned Bethesda the award for the 2012 Game Marketing Team of the Year. AKQA, which worked for Bethesda, was the top agency of the year.

One of the winners was student Aaron Evans (pictured right), who won the student competition by putting together a compelling trailer for Assassin’s Creed III, based on video and audio assets from the game’s creator, Ubisoft.

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

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Dylan’s Desk: When a $100M return on investment looks like a big mistake

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Andreessen Horowitz has got to be bummed it didn't make more from the Instagram deal

Andreessen Horowitz realized a terrific return on its investment in Instagram, turning $500,000 into an estimated $100 million in about two years.

I’ve never made $100 million, let alone had $500,000 to invest, so I decided to turn that into terms that I can understand.

Imagine you went to the local tacqueria and ordered a burrito. Then you put the burrito aside while you went to get a glass of water. When you came back to the table, you discovered that the burrito had turned into a pair of first-class tickets to Hawaii. Now just multiply that by 50,000 burritos, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of how profitable this venture capital business can be.

Nice return on investment. Too bad Andreessen Horowitz missed a shot at more than doubling its payout.

The company made an initial $500,000 investment in 2010 in Burbn, the parent company of Instagram.

But later that year, shortly before Instagram picked up its first institutional funding round, Andreessen Horowitz switched horses and poured $5 million into Instagram competitor PicPlz.

Pic what now? That’s right, it’s an app for adding cute retro filters to your photos and then sharing them, just like Instagram. Only there’s one big difference: Instagram was recently sold to Facebook for $1 billion, while PicPlz is, well, it’s hard to say. The company hasn’t updated its blog in five months, which is not a good sign. Founder Dalton Caldwell isn’t actively involved in PicPlz anymore and is spending his time on App.net, a mobile app promotion service, instead. When I interviewed him at DEMO last year, he didn’t really even want to talk about the photo service he’d created.

You could make a strong argument that by refusing to invest in Instagram’s Series A, Andreessen Horowitz blew a chance at doubling its stake in the company. It also left an opening for competing VC firm Benchmark to move in. Benchmark holds an estimated 18 percent of the billion-dollar company, after leading the $7 million first round and participating in the Sequoia-led $50 million second round just prior to the acquisition.

Of course, there’s more than enough money and pre-IPO Facebook stock to go around in this deal, but the short version is that Andreessen Horowitz could have been sitting on a $280 million return now instead of a $100 million one.

At the time of the PicPlz investment, Marc Andreessen posted a comment on Quora, explaining his firm’s decision as a conflict of interest issue. When Andreessen Horowitz invested in Burbn, it was a location-tracking service that didn’t compete with the firm’s prior investment in PicPlz. But when Burbn pivoted and turned its primary product into a photo-sharing app, that investment became a conflict, so Andreessen Horowitz dialed back its involvement. (The irony is that the conflict of interest went away anyway, since Caldwell’s company is no longer focused on image sharing.)

Of course, if it were truly a conflict of interest, the firm could have dialed back its involvement in Instagram entirely, maybe even divesting itself of its shares (I’m sure Benchmark would have been happy to buy them). Or it could have dumped its shares of PicPlz, which in 2010 was already looking like a pale also-ran compared to red-hot Instagram. Or the firm could have said, screw it, we’re betting on both horses as a way of ensuring that we win no matter what — and really, since when do conflicts of interest present an insurmountable barrier to VC investments?

Maybe I don’t understand VC ethics, but I do know one thing: Even though Andreessen Horowitz scored a swimming pool full of cash out of this deal, its partners are probably just a little bummed that it’s not two and a half swimming pools full of cash.

That’s a steep price to pay for doing the right thing.

Photo: Ian Munnings/Flickr

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Aeria Games gets strategic investment from Sony division

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 06:30 AM PDT

Aeria Games announced today that it has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Sony’s So-net Entertainment subsidiary. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based maker of multiplayer online games will use the money to expand further in the fast-growing free-to-play segment.

Aeria has quietly grown to more than 40 million users, and it continues to add about one million new players a month. It now has more than 300 employees and more than 30 free-to-play titles.

So-net, which is an entertainment-focused Internet service provider with more than 4 million subscribers, is now the second external investor in Aeria (in addition to NHN which invested in 2011). So-net is the largest shareholder of DeNA and the owner of Japanese game publisher Gamepot.

In March, Aeria announced that it planned to expand in the mobile game market with the establishment of its Aeria Mobile division. It has already launched four mobile games.

The company was founded in 2006, and it now has a presence in free-to-play online games in North America, Latin America, and Europe. In contrast to Zynga, which focuses on casual Facebook gamers, Aeria goes after hardcore players who enjoy intricate games in the action, role-playing, shooter, real-time strategy, and racing genres.

"We welcome So-net Entertainment Corporation as a strategic partner as we move forward to expand our relationships with global digital entertainment companies," said Lan Hoang, Chief Executive Officer, Aeria Games. "Our track record and accelerated growth has enabled us to align with companies that will complement our portfolio, so we look forward to working with So-net and its partners to bring more highly sought-after content to our more than 40 million dedicated users."

Aeria is expanding in regions such as Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Russia. The company has major development studios in Berlin and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Rivals include Nexon, GameForge, and Bigpoint.

The company was created by Hoang and Terry Ngo, two former Stanford University students. Hoang worked in Japan and often visited Ngo in the Bay Area. Both were active during the Internet boom and saw how the web was transforming many businesses. They felt hardcore game companies were ignoring Internet opportunities. In response, they started Aeria games using the free-to-play business model where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods.

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Social discovery service Banjo hits 1 million users in just 9 months

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

From zero to one million users in nine months flat

Banjo founder and CEO Damien Patton has held a variety of jobs in his life, but the career experience that he believes is paying off big at his current startup is the time he spent head mechanic on one of NASCAR’s top teams. “Down in the pit, you learn a lot about how to motivate people to work at an extreme speed under intense pressure, and I think I’ve brought that experience to Banjo’s engineering,” Patton told us during an interview yesterday.

The Silicon Valley startup has hit 1 million users in just nine months. It lets users import all their social networks and quickly browse through all that information based on their location. In part, Patton says, the company’s rapid growth was based on mainstream approach. “We launched from day one on iPhone and Android. We made sure it was available in dozens of languages,” said Patton. “We didn’t chase the early adopters out in the valley, we focused on the average user.”

Banjo is part of a cadre of startups focused on surfacing relevant social information for users based on location. Sonar, Highlight and others are all playing in a space we like to call ambient awareness. Highlight recently raised a round of funding and Sonar launched on Android. But while there is a lot of potential in this area, there is also a lot of risk.

Many users still aren’t comfortable sharing their location or being introduced to strangers around them based on an algorithm. The recent controversy over the Girls Near Me app shows how bad things can get.

“We knew from the beginning that building a social discovery app around a location platform would mean having to think seriously about privacy,” said Patton. “Our policy has always been simple. We respect all the settings you have in place on your social networks. We don’t show anything to people who would not already be able to see it. And we never download or store you contact list.”

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MoMinis raises $4.5M to expand its mega portal on Android

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

MoMinis, an Israeli mobile game firm that has a mega portal on Android devices, has raised $4.5 million in a new round of venture funding from BRM Group and Mitsui Ventures.

In December, MoMinis launched PlayScape, a "Mega-Game" with 50 games inside one free Android app. PlayScape offers a uniform cross-game experience and allows you to carry experience points and virtual currency accumulated in one game to another. Users have downloaded more than 15 million games in the past three months.

The cross-game features encourage players to try out more games which helps developers with the critical problem of discovery. In the huge Android Market with hundreds of thousands of titles, it isn't easy to get noticed. So developers could benefit from something like the MoMinis PlayScape Mega-Game. The app and the games are free, but users can pay for virtual goods within them. PlayScape has earned a rating of 4.7 out of 5 from more than 8,000 reviewers. The average session length is 25 minutes (compared to 8 minutes for all mobile games). MoMinis tracks more than 20 million users who play 60 million sessions per month and perform 2.5 billion actions.

Itzik Frid, chief executive of MoMinis, said, "We are happy to see that beyond its success in increasing user retention, distribution, and discoverability, it's embraced by millions of users as an entertaining mobile experience.”

It's akin to the old arcades where users bought tokens. They would play their favorite game, but then they would use the leftover tokens to try out something new. MoMinis previously raised $4.9 million from BRM Capital and Mitsui Ventures. It was founded in 2008 and has 25 employees. Participating publishers include Gameloft and Glu Mobile.

Rivals include Gree, DeNA/Ngmoco, iSwifter, and others making meta game layers. MoMinis also competes with GameSalad, Unity Technologies, and others making game development tools.

Founders include Tzach Hadar, chief technology officer and a former member of an intelligence unit of the Israeli Defense Force. Marketing chief Eyal Rabinovich is a seasoned engineer who previously worked at Hegde-Tech Financial Engineering and Lipman Electronic Engineering. Zvi Rabinovich, co-founder, is vice president of research and development. Aviv Revach is the company's fourth co-founder.

"In a market where 99.99 percent of mobile apps languish and disappear, PlayScape offers a solution for mobile game developers, providing distribution and discoverability," said Eran Barkat, Partner at BRM Group. "With 15 million downloads in three months, MoMinis' platform is poised to become a market leader in this high growth market.”

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AdSafe raises $10M to ensure that ads go on “safe” web pages

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

AdSafe Media has raised $10 million in funding to make sure your company’s ads don’t intentionally wind up in potentially embarrassing places such as porn or pirating sites.

The New York-based company has created automated “ad safety” solutions for advertisers, agencies, and publishers to make sure their ads are seen in the right context. The funding will fuel the company’s expansion and validates the value of the company in the advertising food chain, AdSafe chief executive Scott Knoll told VentureBeat.

“Five percent of all online dollars are exposed where they shouldn’t be,” Knoll said. “From a brand perspective, it’s much more significant. Big brands do not want to be on sub-grade sites. Cruise lines don’t want to be on shipping accident sites.”

AdSafe can guarantee ad safety because it automatically verifies ad placements on web sites. Clients like the approach because it is proactive, rather than reactive, and keeps advertisers out of trouble before they unwittingly get into it. AdSafe does this complex task billions of times a day.

The company also helps advertisers figure out if their ads are seen on the web or on mobile devices, and it will soon announce a product that tells advertisers how long someone viewed the ad.

Investors include Pelion Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, and Coriolis Ventures. AdSafe will now expand its product lines and its overseas presence.

Knoll said that 37 percent of ads in exchanges or networks have no chance of being seen. That represents massive waste. AdSafe’s goal is to give both buyers and sellers control of the situation. AdSafe also works with publishers to improve viewability and ad safety, redesigning sites to fix problems. The company has grown six-fold in the last year, said Knoll.

“Over the last year, AdSafe has emerged as the largest provider of brand protection solutions and is fast becoming the standard in ad safety for both buyers and sellers of media," said Ben Dahl, a partner at Pelion Venture Partners.

Back in 2011, AdSafe exposed a “click fraud” ring where perpetrators were laundering porn site traffic through benign domain names. Click bots perpetuate the click fraud by stuffing impressions into invisible iFrames on web pages. The fraudulent traffic was valued at more than $250,000 per month.

AdSafe was founded in 2009 and has 40 employees. Rivals include DoubleVerify and AdXpose. AdSafe also competes with data companies, brand safety, and viewability metrics companies. The co-founders are Helene Monat, former CEO, and Will Luttrell, chief technology officer.

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The Olympic Village has finally arrived on the web

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 06:00 AM PDT

If you’re an Olympics-loving web fiend, you’d better sit down: The athletes of the Olympics have finally come together to create a sort of Olympic Village on the web.

The Olympic Athletes Hub will bring the best, most intimate views of the Olympic Games to fans around the world. You want candid photos? Got ‘em. Training tips? They’re there. Private videos and real-time status updates from the world’s best swimmers, runners, etc.? You’ll find it all at the Hub.

As the summer games in London begin, you’ll also be able to live-chat with athletes direct from the Olympic Village and see real-time results from the competitions.

All the athletes’ accounts are verified by a couple different agencies, so all the updates, pics, and videos you’ll find at the Hub will be certifiably genuine.

Not only does the hub have information on all the current athletes from the 2012 London games; it’s also got updates from Olympians past, including the likes of Dorothy Hamill and Muhammad Ali.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a social media freakfest without a little gamification. The minds behind the hub tell us, “The more athletes you follow, and content you unlock, the more points you receive, accumulating virtual prizes such as gold, silver and bronze medals from past Olympic Games, as well as real-world prizes which will be awarded as the countdown to the London 2012 Olympic Games continues.”

Technology and the Olympics, surprisingly enough, go together like cream cheese and smoked salmon. Yes, the geeks and jocks are vastly different, but our common ground is inspirational, and it makes sense that we’re constantly finding new ways to use technology to appreciate and participate in the Olympics.

The Olympic games were first broadcast on television in Rome in 1960. The organizers of this year’s games (and the corresponding social media hub) are calling 2012 the first year the games have been truly social.

"The Olympic Athletes' Hub was born out of our desire to connect Olympic athletes and their fans more intimately than ever before," said Alex Huot, social media chief for the International Olympic Committee, in a release.

"With the launch of the Hub, we are creating a paradigm shift in the communication around the Olympic Games, and we are excited to offer this opportunity for greater engagement and interaction between Olympians and their fans."

The IOC does have some fairly strict guidelines about what can and can’t be posted online by Olympic participants during the games. Hopefully, this hub will be a way to aggregate and promote the “good” content for an eager global audience.

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Marketing automation firm Marketo gets social with Crowd Factory acquisition

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 05:00 AM PDT


Marketing automation firm Marketo has made its first acquisition ever with the purchase of social campaign service Crowd Factory, the company announced Wednesday morning.

Marketo and competing marketing automation firms like Eloqua, Pardot, and Silverpop offer software and services focused on improving and managing sales lead generation. But now with its buy of Crowd Factory, Marketo says it will have an edge on its competition by embracing social marketing, much of which is business-to-consumer rather than business-to-business where Marketo mostly plays.

“With Marketo and Crowd Factory on a single platform, marketers will be able to build and manage social campaigns alongside more traditional B-to-B marketing,” Marketo Chief Revenue Officer Paul Albright told VentureBeat.

Crowd Factory’s “social campaign management platform” assists marketers with social and word-of-mouth marketing, growing marketing databases with social data, and attracting new customers. Furthermore, it allows marketers to add social apps and messages quickly on every possible channel, including “Facebook pages, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, landing pages, websites, banner ads, or e-mails.” Crowd Factory then tracks the reach and impact of social sharing to help determine return on investment.

"Crowd Factory pioneered the idea of Social ROI by empowering marketers to push viral campaigns throughout the social web, and then track that valuable social activity back to individual influencers and conversions," said Sanjay Dholakia, CEO of Crowd Factory, in a statement. "This fits perfectly into the vision of marketing automation that Marketo has led: that all marketing activity matters and can be measured against the bottom line. We are excited to join the Marketo team and help companies of any size in any market segment generate more campaigns, more leads and, ultimately, more customers."

San Mateo, Calif.-based Marketo was founded in 2006 and has raised a massive $107 million in total funding to date. Its last funding occurred in November, with a major $50 million round raised from Battery Ventures,= with participation from Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), InterWest Partners, Mayfield Fund, and Storm Ventures.

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Ignored by venture capitalists, Pebble smartwatch has raised over $4M on Kickstarter and counting

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 04:39 AM PDT

VCs always have a war story about the one that got away. Time to add the Pebble smartwatch to the list. The creators of the Pebble had some initial success raising $375,000 in angel funding. But when it come to raise a series A, Pebble was roundly rejected by venture capital firms that didn’t want to risk betting on a hardware firm. So the Pebble team put their project on Kickstarter, where they have now raised $4.2 million and counting without giving away any equity in their company.

In a way, this is the dream of crowdfunding in action. The recent JOBS Act put new structures in place that would allow companies to raise small amounts from a big pool of investors. In that case they would be exchanging stock for funding, whereas Kickstarter allows a project to exchange rewards for donations. With hardware like the Pebble, much of the donations amount to a pre-sale, with backers receiving the watch before it goes on sale to the general public.

While physical projects like Apple accessories and the Pebble smartwatch have been the most successful at this, software too can employ this tactic. Retro PC games have raised over $6.7 million on Kickstarter in 2012 alone. And Light Table, an open source development environment, has banked $38,000 since debuting its project yesterday.

"With VCs, they worry about models and size of market and stuff like that," Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky told Bloomberg . "With consumers, one of the things I love about the videos, we just showed how you're going to use it."

As for hiring in the hyper competitive Silicon Valley scene, Migicovsky has a powerful tactic. He shows potential recruits the Kickstarter page when they arrive. "After we stopped talking," he told Bloomberg, "I told them to refresh."

Filed under: deals, Entrepreneur, mobile, VentureBeat

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10 Yahoo services that should be killed by Scott Thompson’s restructuring plan

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 04:30 AM PDT

Yahoo, Tales from the Crypt

Yahoo has been scrambling in recent years to stay relevant and competitive while Google grows into a dominating search and social company. With the company’s paltry first quarter earnings increase, the once-powerful search engine plans to shut down or combine more than 50 Yahoo properties.

Since Yahoo has yet to release a full list of services that are headed to the graveyard, we took it upon ourselves to play grim reaper. Join us on a journey through the obscure, useless, and all-around awful Yahoo products that should get the axe.

Messenger / Chat

Yahoo Messenger is the company’s instant messaging client that was used slightly more than Windows Live Messenger and slightly less than AOL’s AIM. With the rise of Google Chat and Skype, Yahoo Messenger became even less popular. Like the old-school AOL ISP software, Yahoo offers its users access to hundreds of chat rooms where they can strike up conversations with strangers. Those chat rooms are still extremely active. Unfortunately, most of the activity comes from automated user accounts that ask legitimate users, like myself, questions about if I like having a good time. Of course I do.

The point being? Yahoo needs to kill off its Messenger product. Yahoo’s IM capability should be limited to Yahoo Mail.

Connected TV

Hey cord cutters, did you know Yahoo has its own streaming media platform to bring web content to television sets? Well, it does. It’s actually been around longer than Google TV or Apple’s ambitions to enter into the smart TV market. That might be why the platform has such a generic sounding name –  Yahoo Connected TV. The company initially teamed up with Intel to provide live “widgets” on your TV in 2008, and slowly evolved it into something that resembles smart TV software. Unfortunately, Intel decided to get out of the television chip business in 2011, which has caused Connected TV to get even less attention.

Yahoo needs to take this product off life support so it can die with dignity. I can’t imagine it’s bringing in a significant amount of revenue. Also, people won’t miss it.


With all the innovative and graphical improvements Google has made to its Maps product, I fully admit to forgetting that Yahoo even had its own mapping service. I don’t really have anything negative to say about Yahoo Maps, except that it’s pretty generic and far less popular that most of the other options out there. Yahoo has already cannibalized its search engine business to Microsoft, so cross integration between search and Yahoo Maps can’t  be very important anymore. And since the company doesn’t really have much of a mobile strategy, the logical course of action would be to shut down Yahoo Maps.

Events / Upcoming

When I’m looking for something to do, Yahoo isn’t the first, second or third place I think of. This is even more true of Yahoo Upcoming, which is the company’s database of live events. The site itself doesn’t even get routine maintenance — a conclusion I reached after discovering a message in the left sidebar that states “Upcoming gets a new look! December 15, 2010″ (screenshot). Spoiler Alert: Yahoo lied.

Upcoming is one of the many products that still exists in Yahoo limbo without a real purpose other than to clutter up the brand and waste resources. And although I don’t need further justification for the strong accusation, I should also point out that Yahoo’s next attempt at an events service site, Yahoo Events, is permanently stranded on Fathers day 2011. At least Upcoming’s event listings were current.

Needless to say, Yahoo doesn’t do event services very well. It’s time to kill them both.


IntoNow is a mobile social service that allows people to check in based on whatever TV show they’re watching. IntoNow’s iOS apps can actually identify a TV show down to the exact episode just by listening to the audio for a few seconds. Once checked in, users have access to additional information about the show, as well as other fans and who else recently watched it. If you think this sounds like a cool service, you won’t get any arguments from me. The only problem with IntoNow, is that its way beyond Yahoo’s new scope for consolidating products that actually bring in revenue. IntoNow is a relatively new service that faces competition from a handful of well-established companies, like GetGlue and Miso.

If Yahoo is serious about getting back on track, it’ll fold the product. If it wants to continue dumping money into products with lots of potential (as its done for years now), then it’ll keep IntoNow active.


This tablet app grabs content from online publishers and displays it in bland, unoriginal way. The app focuses on Yahoo branded content and even lets you connect Google Reader. But if you are already using Google Reader to manage RSS feeds, you likely don’t use Yahoo for anything and wouldn’t choose Livestand over other popular apps. In a world where Zite and Flipboard seem to dominate the tablet content-reading experience, Yahoo should back away from Livestand and spend its money else where.


Avatars is one of Yahoo’s most random services. Instead of posting a real picture of yourself in your Yahoo profile, you can create a cartoon avatar, complete with stylish clothes, fancy backgrounds, and seasonal accessories. The service is somewhat relevant now because you can export your avatar to Facebook, where it can be your profile picture. However, Avatars is so random and doesn’t seem to always work as promised, so it’s probably not worth Yahoo’s dollars and time to keep it alive.


Yahoo Answers is apparently where the Internet goes to die. The service started out innocently enough as a place where people could ask questions and get answers from other Yahoo users. It’s become so pervasive that anytime you Google search a question, a Yahoo Answers hit comes up. It be a great little service if it wasn’t fill with so much spam, trolls, and people like this. Seriously Yahoo, shut down the madness.

Message Boards

Like Yahoo Answers, Message Boards is full of spam and trolls. It’s also ugly, messy, and tries to cover too many topics to be a valuable resource of information. There appears to be no moderation, which has caused each message board to get out of control. Yahoo either needs to take control of the boards or shut it down altogether.


4Cast is question and answer service that looks like a grown-up Yahoo Answers. Instead of open-ended questions, you ask multiple choice queries. People then “forecast” the outcome by choosing their answer. As people answer, you get a cute little pie graph. At the very least, the multiple choice responses cut down on trolls and spammy comments, but the service is just as useless as Yahoo Answers.

Could you live without these Yahoo services? Have you heard of all them? Let us know which services Yahoo should take the axe to, or which should be spared, in the comments.

Image by Tom Cheredar

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Coursera raises $16M for free online education for the masses

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 04:00 AM PDT

online education for the massesTwo Stanford University professors and a dream to educate the world, that’s what started Coursera. The service offers university-level courses to anyone with an Internet for free and just raised $16 million from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

“Imagine a future where the top universities are educating thousands of people,” said co-founder Andrew Ng in an interview with VentureBeat.

Ng and co-founder Daphne Koller started Coursera with three classes in fall 2011 from Stanford. For at least one of the classes, Ng tells me, there were 100,00 students enrolled. In typical online course fashion, lectures were video-taped and there was a discussion forum for students to get help or discuss concepts. Koller and Ng were blown away by the forums: Thousands of students were conversing about their course work, with question response times averaging at 22 minutes. Because of the sheer volume of students from around the world, someone was almost always online to help.

Cousera is expanding its offerings now, with more than 30 classes to choose from in a wide range of disciplines. The company has partnered with Stanford, Princeton, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania to bring professor-created classes online.

Aside from offering free courses to the masses, Coursera’s learning management service (LMS) platform can be used internally by universities to revamp their online course programs. The plan is to shake up how most college classes are typically run —  with long, boring lectures. Ng and Koller believe that short online video lectures and interactive assignments, provided with Coursera’s LMS, will open up more time in classrooms for discussions, case studies, and more riveting presentations that will keep students engaged.

If Coursera reminds you of Khan Academy, you’re not far off. The company feels it’s similar to the service, but instead offers online college-level classes designed and taught by professors. Students also sign up for classes on a schedule, so they are all taking the class at the same time and can rely on others to help them understand the material.

The new funding round will be used for the infrastructure of the service. Koller and Ng are the educational brains behind the Coursera, but now they need technical help and will be hiring engineers to build out the website and LMS.

Coursera is based in Palo Alto California and was founded in 2011.

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Eucalyptus grabs $30M from IVP to push the open-source private cloud forward

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 03:00 AM PDT


Open-source cloud software maker Eucalyptus Systems has raised $30 million in its third round of funding, cash that will help the company serve quickly growing demand for private and hybrid clouds.

Eucalyptus gives away its open-source software platform to anyone who wants to use it, but it also finds ways to commercialize the product through partners and customer support. The company’s tech enables 25,000 “cloud starts” each year, and 20 percent of Fortune 100 companies have used Eucalyptus in some form, whether free or paid.

“This is mostly about building a war chest and a cushion for our growth,” Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos told VentureBeat. “We’ve had a major increase in demand in the last six months.”

The company has tons of major partnerships with Amazon Web Services, Dell, HP, Intel, and others. Mickos told us the partnerships also extend to “some of the most innovative cloud companies in the business,” including RightScale, enStratus, Puppet Labs, and Electric Cloud.

Easily the most important of these partnerships is with Amazon, the leading provider worldwide for cloud computing infrastructure. With companies taking advantage of both Amazon cloud infrastructure and Eucalyptus on-premise software for on-premise cloud, companies can create a hybrid cloud model, something that is being heavily hyped this year.

The new $30 million funding round was led by Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), while previous investors Benchmark Capital, BV Capital, and New Enterprise Associates (NEA) also participated. That brings Eucalyptus’ total funding to date to $55.5 million.

Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Eucalyptus was founded in 2007 and has 80 employees. Mickos said the company will continue to quickly hire and expand its team with the new funding.

Photo illustration: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

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Transferwise undercuts the banks with crowdsourced currency exchange

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 02:40 AM PDT

Do you live outside your native country? Need to transfer money home? Most banks will charge you not only for the currency exchange but also for the transfer itself.

TransferWise today announced funding of $1.3m for its scheme to sidestep the banks using cheap, peer-to-peer currency exchange. Among the new investors is Max Levchin, the co-founder of PayPal.

Banks charge 3-6 percent more than the mid-market rates for currency exchange. The mid-market rate is halfway between the "buy" and "sell" rate for a particular currency on the global currency markets. Transferwise cuts out the banks by matching your exchange, e.g. from Euros to British pounds, with others who want to turn pounds into Euros. For example, if I want to send 1000 EUR from Amsterdam to the UK, Transferwise would save me around 40 EUR at the current exchange rates.

Transferwise was founded by Taavet Hinrikus, one of Skype's first employees. Hinrikus is Estonian but lives in London. He says he often needed to transfer money home. An informal market emerged where Estonians would exchange currencies. Transferwise automates this process.

“Banking is broken and that people want simple and cheap solutions,” says Hinrikus. “Banking needs to be democratized in the way that low cost airlines did 20 yrs ago in aviation or Skype did 10 yrs ago in Telecoms.”

Since the company launched in January 2011, Transferwise users have exchanged $13 million (10 million Euros (10 million EUR) and saved more than $654, 000 dollars (500,000 EUR)  in the process. Most users are pensioners, students or professional expats. The average size of transfer is around 1500 GBP.

As a user, you transfer the money you want to exchange to Transferwise's UK or Irish account. Your cash is matched with one or many other parties at the mid-market rate currently available on the currency markets. The cash is converted, for example, from British pounds to Euros and transferred to the designated recipient. Transferwise charges 1 GBP for each transfer. No banks or brokers get a commission on the exchange process.

Currently, you can only exchange British pounds to Euros, and vice versa, but Hinrikus told me that additional European currencies will be added in about a month. The American dollar is one of the most requested currencies.

Transferwise is based in London, has 10 employees and was founded in 2010.  The new investment of $1.3 investment was led by IA Ventures, Index Ventures, Max Levchin (co-founder of PayPal) and a group of strategic angel investors.

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iFixit spins off Dozuki CMS to let anyone make killer technical docs

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 10:00 PM PDT

iFixit's Dozuki platform on an ipad

As someone who used to write technical documentation for a living, I can assure you that nobody likes reading that crap. But iFixit, the company that’s become famous for its repair guides and gadget teardowns, has somehow managed to make technical documentation exciting with its visually rich content platform.

That same platform, which iFixit calls Dozuki, is now commercially available for any organization to use, after launching in private beta testing last summer. The company also announced today that it has spun off Dozuki as a new business division — a sign that it’s ready to double-down on the capabilities and distribution of the platform. Dozuki will make its debut as a standalone company this week at DEMO Spring 2012 in Santa Clara, Calif., an event that VentureBeat co-produces.

The Dozuki platform puts a big emphasis on rich media, including screenshots and video, and it’s accessible across mobile devices, as well as the web. Organizations can use Dozuki to build up a knowledge base of documentation, just as they have in the past. But the kicker with the platform is that it also has collaborative Q&A capabilities, allowing customers and employees to make their own contributions.

"Documentation is important. It can dramatically reduce training time, increase productivity, empower customers, and inspire brand loyalty," Kyle Wiens, co-founder of iFixit and Dozuki, said in a statement today. "Unfortunately, people hate using manuals because they are dull, imprecise, and often incomprehensible. Not anymore … Support is the future of marketing. We're helping companies repurpose their support content as authentic marketing."

Dozuki says Cal Poly, one of its first customers, has managed to reduce machine training time for students by 75 percent. Other Dozuki customers include O’Reilly, Micron, and Lezyne.

The company’s platform consists of Dozuki Guides, its XML-based engine for creating gorgeous documentation, and Dozuki Answers, which lets customers build up a self-service knowledge base that’s tightly integrated with its documentation. Notably, Dozuki also includes e-commerce support from within guides, allowing companies to sell items targeted at customers seeking help. Crucial, for example, lets technicians purchase RAM from its guides.

Dozuki competes with traditional documentation methods (Word, PDF, and internal websites), as well as other services like Documentum and Odesta. But the company is the only one to offer docs that can be read across mobile and desktop devices, as well as a community-driven knowledge base.

Pricing starts at $49 a month for small businesses, which includes support for one author and an iPhone/iPad app, and goes up to $499 per month for the “factory” level.

By modernizing technical docs, Dozuki will help simplify training and troubleshooting for companies and customers alike. And, finally, companies can stop asking customers in vain to read the freaking manual.

Dozuki is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Photo via iFixit

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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Here’s a list of every company presenting at DEMO Spring 2012

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 09:24 PM PDT

Demo Spring 2012 stage Matt MarshallThe DEMO Spring 2012 conference kicked off Tuesday in Santa Clara, Calif. The bi-annual event, co-produced by VentureBeat, gives startups the opportunity to launch their products in front of an audience of innovators, influencers, investors, and journalists.

This spring, the event has drawn 80 companies to the Hyatt for a two-day event. Demonstrations kick off Wednesday morning and continue through the end of Thursday. We’ll be posting on each company, as well as on the various sessions and talks, so stay tuned!

You can find all of VentureBeat’s DEMO posts in one place, at venturebeat.com/demospring2012.

Here’s the full list of presenting companies, with the product name in parentheses if it’s different from the company name:

Arqball (Arqball Spin)
Blade Games World  (Jumala)
Bluega (pieOS)
BodyMedia (BodyMedia Patch)
BryteWerks (Model One)
Bynow Inc. (Restaurant Ecosystem 2.0)
Careerimp, Inc.  (ApplyApp.ly)
Cinsay, Inc. (Cinsay Social Commerce Platform with the Smart Container)
CollateBox Inc. (CollateBox)
CrowdFanatic (CrowdFanatic application on Facebook)
Daemonic Labs (Dabble)
Edamam (Semantic Food Discovery Platform)
Evature  (Eva)
Fantasy Politics (Fantasy Politics)
FiPort, Inc. (FiPort)
Fribi AS  (Fribi)
FriendsLearn  (Your 5 Steps to US Study)
FrienTV (Unshared.TV)
Fusion-io  (Fusion ioMemory)
HD Trade Services
Hoiio Inc. (Hoiio Live)
Iconicast (Iconimetrix)
Intuitive Motion (ZBoard)
Jock Talk
Max My Play, LLC  (It’s My Play)
Network Clean Inc. (Networkclean.com)
Project Footage, LLC  (Projectfootage.com)
RingCentral (RingCentral Office)
rollApp Inc. (OpenOffice for iPad and DropBox)
SCHEDit Technologies  (SCHEDit)
Slikk Inc.
Splitable, Inc.   [Split(able)]
StorNetworks  (LykeBox & LykeManager)
Taptera, Inc.  (Serendipity)
Ticlr, Inc.  (Ticlr.com)
TrustGo Mobile Inc.  (TrustGo Antivirus & Mobile Security)
VisApp, LLC  (ShowOff Home Stager)
Whiteman Technology (Delta DVR)
XEOPlay, Inc.  (Tilt World)
Yogurt AS (Yogurtistan)
zImperium (zDefender)

Alpha pitches


Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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Dabble let’s you keep a “social journal” with geo-tagged photos

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 09:11 PM PDT


With Facebook’s buy of Instagram last week, photo-sharing apps are about to come under a lot of scrutiny. Dabble, which adds photo-sharing and location to create a “social journal,” might well be one of them.

Dabble’s goal is to help iPhone owners create “postcards,” pictures taken on your phone that include geographic data to better document your memories. People use all these postcards to create a location-based journal. All of the memories are accessible via a map and make it easy to see where you were when you jumped off that cliff and nearly killed yourself.

“With smartphones, we've started to share experiences at the point of capture,” Dabble co-founder Santosh Jayaram told VentureBeat via e-mail. “In other words, we've shifted from 'point-and-shoot' behavior to becoming 'point, shoot, and share.’ This makes sense because most, if not all, experiences are tied to a location.”

Dabble will compete with Caterina Fake’s controversial Pinwheel project and Trover, an iPhone app for documenting experiences with pictures and location. Jayaram suggests these competitors don’t stand up next to Dabble. First, he says his company has a head start on Pinwheel, which doesn’t have a mobile app yet. And he says Trover is “more picture centric in the way location-based experiences are presented and consumed,” where “Dabble places equal importance on the context of these experiences.”

“Photo sharing applications are still stuck in the point-and-shoot phase,” Jayaram said. “All of them contextualize pictures by time. In doing so, they miss an important dimension, one that can revolutionize how people share experiences and relate to the world around them.”

Personally, I’m not sure consumers will see the nuances between Dabble and Trover, which look a lot alike. But Dabble at least has pedigree: co-founder and CEO Pete Goettner is a General Partner at Worldview Venture Partners; Jayaram used to be VP of Business Operations at Twitter; and co-founder Antonio Altamirano used to work for Accenture and Sun Microsystems. Those are pretty impressive resumes for a photo-and-location documenting app.

Dabble’s parent company, Daemonic Labs, was founded in 2011 and has attracted $2.2 million in funding to date from Granite Ventures and unnamed angel investors. The company is based in San Francisco and has 11 employees.

You can see photos of the Dabble app below:

Daemonic Labs is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, mobile, social

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Brytewerks creates a simple and low-cost digital projector

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 09:01 PM PDT

As both a filmmaker and a ex-projectionist, Justin Evans knows that movie theater projectors are screwed up. So he co-founded Brytewerks to create the world’s most powerful digital projector that is much simpler to use than existing equipment.

If it goes into high gear, the start-up will enable theater owners to get rid of the spaghetti-wired projection systems that they have today. Home theater fans will also be able to set up their homes with simple digital projection systems that are worthy of the theaters, said Evans, in an interview with VentureBeat. If Brytewerks has its way, everyone will be able to hold high-tech movie nights in their backyards or home theaters.

“Our goal is to put professional media exhibition in the hands of everyone,” he said.

Evans is targeting the Model One at independent musicians, filmmakers, projection mappers, corporate boardrooms, sports bars, churches, and developing-world movie theaters.

Evans is unveiling the Brytewerks Model One digital projector today at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, California. Evans has gathered stats that suggest that 3D projectors haven’t paid off because the average theater owner is $65,000 in debt. The Model One is targeted at an estimated 100,000 cinemas throughout the world that need to simplify the projection of movies in digital formats. Evans figures he can save theaters hundreds of millions of dollars with cheaper projectors.

In homes, the Model One will be an all-in-one device that replaces the television with a wall projection unit. It could replace the cable box, video game console, PC, and media storage. The solution costs $2,999 — less than an 80-inch TV.

Brytewerks is in talks with potential customers like Las Vegas show producers and an ad firm in Copenhagen which is considering using them to replace static underground billboards with video walls. The Model One’s cheaper version has a 700-watt bulb and it can project at 6,000 lumens (a measure of brightness). The bulb can be upgraded to a 11,000 lumens version as well. If theater operators want, they can order replacement bulbs.

The self-funded company was founded in 2011 and has three employees. Co-founders include Angelo Artuso and Brent Daniels. Rivals include some 65 manufacturers of projectors, but many of those lack integration with a computer. Evans said the company has crammed a bunch of features into the box which could be 10 times or more less expensive than other projectors. The founders are working in their homes, but they plan to set up an office in Ashland, Oregon.

Evans created an award-winning feature film, A Lonely Place for Dying. He toured 46 film festivals and found during the circuit that every theater had digital projectors that were misaligned and improperly maintained mainly because they had user-hostile interfaces.

“I spent more time in projection booths than at parties and began compiling notes on how to build a far better projector, how to focus on the features that mattered, and how to design something incredibly affordable that was still a world-class professional projector,” Evans said. “Only twice was my movie well-projected. We realized that projection was one of the most worst bottlenecks in global multimedia exhibition. We felt this was a market begging for disruption.”

He added, “And when you want to project the Super Bowl on a 20 foot screen in the backyard for all your neighbors you can do that, too.”

Evans grew up working in his parents’ video store, and that exposed him to the business owner’s side of the movie industry. He then got a job as a projectionist at Southgate Cinemas in Portland, Oregon. He remembered how simple the old film reel projections were compared to the modern digital cinemas which require a Frankenstein array of boxes and cables.

“You damn near needed a Ph.D. to make them work,” he said.

The Model One is in its final design stage, and it could be in production later this spring.

Brytewerks is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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BodyMedia enables remote monitoring of your food and exercise

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 09:01 PM PDT

The problem with most diets is that nobody is really watching you all the time. But with a monitoring device and new remote software to go with it, BodyMedia has proposed a way for a coach or fitness trainer to keep track of your vital signs, including your calorie burn and food intake.

BodyMedia’s Fit Armband System can be strapped to your arm or legs. It keeps track of your activity and, via the new BodyMedia ProConnect software, can relay your data to a doctor, coach, or fitness trainer. With permission, your coach can log onto your BodyMedia Fit Activity Manager account to monitor your activity and send comments directly to you.

Pittsburgh-based BodyMedia unveiled the ProConnect system today at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. The armband monitors daily calories burned, steps taken, level of physical activity, and sleep patterns. You can also enter your daily food intake into online food logs and see how well you are meeting your goals. Of course, you have to be honest about entering the food intake. But if you are, then your coach can get visibility into your regimen 24 hours a day.

"One of the challenges health and fitness advisors face in driving behavioral change is an inability to know exactly how much clients and patients are eating, exercising, and sleeping on a daily basis,” said Christine Robins, chief executive of BodyMedia. “Our wearable body monitors have been collecting that information for over a decade, and now we have taken it a step further” by allowing advisors to view that data remotely and send messages from the same screen.

The body monitors capture more than 5,000 data points per minute. BodyMedia claims that its system can enhance a user’s weight loss by three times.

Gregory Welk, director of clinical research and community outreach at Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Research Center, said his clients have been using the BodyMedia armbands for years and recently began testing ProConnect.

BodyMedia ProConnect is available now for $49 a year for an individual subscription or $399 a year for a corporate subscription.

BodyMedia was founded in 1999 and has been making wearable body monitors for years. So far, it has collected more than 10 billion minutes of Armband data and has recorded more than 170 billion steps. The company has 58 employees and competes with FitBit, Nike Fuel, Jawbone, Basic Science, Striiv, and others. BodyMedia has raised $2.7 million to date.

The founders — all alumni of Carnegie Mellon University — are Astro Teller, John (Ivo) Stivoric, Chris Pacione, and Chris Kasabach.

BodyMedia is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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Arqball Spin lets you create and edit 360-degree interactive video spins

Posted: 17 Apr 2012 09:01 PM PDT


If you’ve ever wanted an easy way to create a 360-degree interactive video to show off a new product, Arqball Spin has you covered.

Arqball Spin is targeting companies and individuals who want to give the product they are selling a better way to convey the “sense” of an object over the Web.

“We are really surprised at how e-commerce tech has essentially stagnated for that last 10 years,” Arqball co-founder Abhi Shelat told VentureBeat via e-mail. “Product visualizations haven’t moved forward since 1999. We think of that as a major shortcoming and hope our product revitalizes the primary killer app for the internet: selling.”

The company was founded by Shelat and Jason Lawrence, two professors who work in the computer science department at the University of Virginia. Shelat told us that the two first worked on an iPad app/book for photography together. Shelat said the book for the iPad was downloaded “more times than the sum of all of the academic papers that both Jason and I have ever written,” something that encouraged the two to work on another project.

So far the company’s free app has seen “thousands of downloads” and was featured at one time in the “What’s Hot” section of the Photo & Video section of the iOS App Store. While the app is free, the company makes money by selling a spinning stage so that users can capture photos or film of a product from any — or every — angle.

[Update, on stage, Shelat showed how you can create a spin of a set of pens, capture the image, convert it, and show it on an iPad. You can then label various parts of the image, with a bubble pointing an arrow at a precise part of the image. Then you can tweet the image out. The app "democratizes" the art of conveying objects, Shelat said].

Charlottesville, Virgina-based Arqball was founded in 2010 and is self-funded. It has five employees. Check out the Arqball Spin demo video below:

Arqball is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, media, mobile

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