27 April, 2012



Why one company is making all its employees learn how to code

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 09:07 AM PDT

The most successful companies are ones that are never satisfied with the status quo. They are too busy looking for ways to improve their products, personnel, and experience for their customers.

There are many approaches a company can take to improve itself. For us, it meant trying something revolutionary that would arm our employees with a new skill set, bring our technical and non-technical teams closer together, and provide the entire company with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what we do.

To accomplish this, we set an ambitious goal of having all of our employees learn how to write code in 2012.

Three months ago, we announced to our 60-person company that each employee was going to learn how to code in 2012. We named the initiative the "Codinization Project". After the initial moments of surprise in the room faded, I explained to our employees the reasons why we were undertaking this initiative.

As leading technology companies have shown time and time again, being smarter than the competition and building superior technology is the only way a company can succeed over the long term. We felt that this Codinization Project was the challenging yet necessary step we needed to build a deeper understanding across the company of the intricacies of our technology platforms and products. If we could equip our employees with a solid foundation of knowing why our products do what they do, the more intelligent they would become in every element of our business, from product planning to client communications, implementations, and customer support.

We were also inspired by witnessing firsthand an example of similar dedication. Rakuten, our Japanese parent company, has been tremendously successful in pursuing its "Englishnization Initiative" in which Hiroshi Mikitani, Rakuten founder and CEO, is having the entire 12,000-person workforce learn English.

Rakuten's dedication and their success with this initiative showed our team that with the right training and effort, we too could push ourselves to new heights that before had seemed impossible.

Last, we were confident that the project would encourage additional communication and collaboration between our technical and non-technical departments. Our engineers would serve as mentors, giving lessons, providing training and tutoring, and answering programming questions.

With the plan and motivations laid out for the company, we began our Codinization Project.

Knowing we could not embark on a project of this scale and complexity alone, we researched available programming training resources. After careful consideration we chose to partner with the web programming tutorial company Codecademy. The Codecademy training courses are free, formatted in a user-friendly approach, and offer custom creation tools which enable our engineers to develop specific coursework relevant to our products.

In the end, it made the choice for which training resource to choose a no-brainer. I called Codecademy co-founder Zach Sims and explained what we were trying to accomplish. He was instantly intrigued by our commitment and enthusiasm. We were the first company he was aware of that was having its entire workforce learn how to code. Zach graciously agreed to come to our Boston headquarters to help officially launch this project to all of our employees, including walking through a tutorial in the Codecademy platform.

Shortly after our official rollout to the company, our chief technology officer reviewed the programming lessons provided by Codecademy and established a project schedule which takes our employees through the JavaScript language. We made sure that the training was spread out enough (just four or five hours of coursework each month) so as in not to become a burden on our employees' already busy schedules.

To promote collaboration, we also grouped our employees into teams of four or five, with an engineer serving as mentor for each group. This ensures that no employee feels alone while working their way through the project. Employees have colleagues they can go to with questions as well as a mentor who helps provide the additional assistance and training they may need. For our engineers, it provided them with an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience, teaching their colleagues.

To keep things fun, we've also hosted several "coding lunches" where the entire company spends an hour or so working in their groups completing the assigned coursework for that week. The employees enjoy the break, and it provides an opportunity to work through the lessons together, having their questions answered and being able to learn from each other.

We are also in the midst of rolling out additional monthly training sessions facilitated by our engineering team for any employee who wishes to receive more training on the subject matter being covered that month.

While we're only three months into the Codinization Project, I am already noticing the impact the project is making. The dialogue and questions I am hearing from both the “learning” and “mentoring” sides has been inspiring to me. Technical and non-technical employees are enjoying working together to help raise the company's collective product knowledge and understanding.

It's also brought together teams that otherwise might not have had the opportunity work together. The Codecademy platform has met our initiative's needs, providing non-technical employees with engaging, appropriate training lessons to introduce them to the JavaScript language.

I have faith in our team that we will succeed, and I am excited to watch our progression through our Codinization Project. With that in mind, I better go… I’m late completing my Codecademy homework.

Michael Jaconi is CEO of FreeCause, a loyalty and rewards platform for brands and consumers. He also serves as an executive officer at Rakuten, FreeCause’s parent company and one of the world’s largest Internet service companies in the world. While Jaconi possesses an extensive background in business, politics, and media, the Codinization Project represents his first foray into computer programming.

Top image courtesy of olly, Shutterstock

Filed under: dev, Entrepreneur

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Google’s millions at work: the YouTube founders are going on a hiring/acquiring spree

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 09:02 AM PDT

Chad Hurley and Steve Chen (pictured), founders of YouTube, have just received a cash infusion for their new company, AVOS.

The funding is the duo’s first institutional round, and it was led by (no surprise) Google Ventures and NEA, with participation from Madrone Capital and Chinaese incubator Innovation Works. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but we do know that AVOS will be using the money for flashy hires and strategic acquisitions.

Given that tidbit along with the team’s all-star provenance, we can say with confidence this wasn’t some small-potatoes “pity round,” but a robust injection of cash for some of the best minds in Silicon Valley.

Alex Kinnier at NEA and Gideon Yu, former YouTube CFO, Facebook CFO, and current San Francisco 49ers president, will both be joining the AVOS board. Stay tuned for more news from AVOS on the acquisitions and hirings front.

The latesst product put forth by the startup is Zeen. Still a relatively stealthy project, Zeen will take consumers into the glossy, high-design world of digital magazine creation, publication, and discovery.

The AVOS team has also been working on a new version of Delicious, the beleaguered bookmarking service. The startup recently launched a Chinese version of the site, called Mei.fm.

"As their success at YouTube has clearly demonstrated, Chad and Steve have an amazing gift for connecting people to the content that matters to them," said Google Ventures partner David Krane in a statement released this morning.

"We're delighted to be working with the AVOS team again, and look forward to helping grow AVOS and its technology properties."

Filed under: deals

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Intuit to buy SMB marketing software player Demandforce for $423.5M

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 08:04 AM PDT


Business software giant Intuit has agreed to acquire small-business marketing software firm Demandforce for $423.5 million in cash, the companies announced today.

Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks, TurboTax, and Quicken, will add Demandforce’s Software-as-a-Service offerings to their line up to make a more complete package for small- and medium-sized businesses who need a better online presence. Demandforce offers e-mail, mobile, and social tools that help SMBs better connect with customers and drive higher retention rates.

One remarkable fact is that Benchmark Capital, the largest investor in Demandforce, decided not to even announce the firm’s investment in the company, which is a first, according to Bill Gurley, the Benchmark partner who led the deal and who is on the company’s board. Demandforce, based in San Francisco and founded back in 2003, decided to lay low and focus on customer building rather than marketing, he wrote. This is another win for Benchmark, considering it comes on the heels of the $1 billion acquisition of Instagram, where Benchmark was also the largest investor. It’s not clear how much capital Demandforce actually raised though, so it’s hard to know exactly how big of a return this was.

"Demandforce sits at the sweet spot of Intuit's SMB customer base and is consistent with our goal to help our customers save time and make money," said Kiran Patel, executive vice president and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Group, in a statement. "With a compelling customer value proposition, SaaS model and high growth profile, Demandforce will provide opportunities to grow Intuit's customer base and revenue per customer over time."

You can see a video outlining Demandforce’s latest offering below:

Photo credit: Demandforce

Filed under: deals

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The DeanBeat: Follow the people. Follow the money. Into casino games.

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 08:00 AM PDT

When you’re tracking a hot trend or market, it’s always good to keep track of where the smart betting is happening. Follow the money. Follow the people.

I attempted to do that this week at the crowded Global iGaming Summit & Expo in San Francisco, and I stumbled deeper into the latest game market craze: online casino games. At the event, old-fashioned land-based casino owners mixed with offshore online gambling companies and the new players on the block: social game companies on Facebook that make games such as Double Down Casino.

Thanks to a change in the Justice Department’s stance on the legality of online gambling in December, these parties are all looking at the same large market, with billions of dollars changing hands.

The decision triggered a lot of excitement about the possibility of online gambling returning to the U.S. Right now, only Nevada has legalized online gambling, but other states are sure to follow. Maybe broad U.S. legalization will happen next year or in 2014, various speakers said.

Zynga Poker is the largest and most famous casino game on Facebook, but Double Down Casino was the fourth most-popular title on the social network last year. And that, along with the Justice Department ruling, prompted slot machine maker IGT to acquire the game’s maker, Double Down Interactive, a firm with just 70 employees, in January for $500 million. To me, this was like falling down the rabbit hole into the wonderland of another gaming bubble. It was like mobile gaming in 2011 and social games in 2008.

Legalization in the populous states will open the floodgates of competition. The multiple casino game companies are on parallel paths until that happens, but there could be collisions once those paths converge, said Melissa Blau (pictured right), director of iGaming Capital and a longtime consultant in online gambling.

“Disruption is happening,” she said in an interview at the Facebook reception during the summit this week. “It has raised the visibility of this industry.”

And that disruption was why the conference drew twice as many attendees as last year.

Many of the new people coming in are looking for money. But Blau has been in the business for decades and remembers all of its ups and downs. The Unlawful Gambling Act shut down online gambling in the U.S. in 2006, and that threw the whole market into a collapse. It has taken years to recover, with perhaps 50 or so people attending the iGaming summit back in 2009.Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker were shut down and hit with criminal charges a year ago after the the Justice Department alleged money laundering, bank fraud and illegal gambling charges.

But after the new Justice Department ruling in December, euphoria set in, she said. This year’s summit had 700 attendees. And PokerStars is said to be in talks to acquire Full Tilt Poker — possibly for $750 million. The goal of that deal is to end the two companies’ legal battles with the Justice Department and pave the way for a return to the U.S. market.

The new ruling could tear down huge barriers and lead to lots of deal making. If online gambling is broadly legalized, a new kind of integrated company could emerge that combines the mass market free-to-play audiences on Facebook with online gambling and even land-based casino gambling. All of it could happen under one roof.

A company such as Caesars Entertainment Casino Group, which bought social game maker Playtika last year for $90 million, could draw new players into the fold by recruiting players for its free-to-play games on Facebook. Most of those will never spend a dime in the casino games. But a small percentage will spend real money on virtual casino chips. If online gambling becomes legal in the U.S., a smaller percentage still might convert to real-money gambling, where they spend real money in games and withdraw winnings in real cash. And some of those folks might visit a Caesars casino at some point. That’s what Brock Pierce, managing director at the Clearstone Global Gaming Fund, referred to as a big funnel, and social games are at the top of it. For Blau, that idea is as close to gambling nirvana as you can get.

Any one of the parties — the land-based casinos, the online gambling companies, and the social game companies — could create that integrated company. Each of the players needs the others but could also make a move that cuts the others out. It won’t be easy to move from one market to the other, like from virtual gaming to regulated real-money betting games.

In social gaming, many of the genres such as farm games are winding down while social casino games are rising, thanks to higher lifetime values for users, said Jeff Tseng, chief executive of analytics and monetization firm Kontagent.

“There’s an interesting dance going on,” said Hal Bringman, chairman of the social media portion of the iGaming Summit and founder of NVPR. “And there’s so much money at stake already.”

The people involved are getting more interesting too, as the talent pursues the opportunity. Jez San, a former console video game developer, is the founder and president of PKR (their site is pictured at top). I used to talk to him about making AAA video games, but now he’s making online poker. Louis Castle, a former Electronic Arts and Zynga veteran, is now the chief strategy officer at Shuffle Master. Eric Hartness, another former EA veteran, is at Churchill Downs.

Plenty of real-world gambling veterans are also moving into social games, including Manu Gambhir,who recently started social casino game firm Ryzing Bingo. Gambhir has a sweepstakes reward that brings people into his online Bingo game on Facebook. He hopes he can make that business work, with the current laws or in a future with legalized online gambling. If real-money betting is legalized in these games, he’s prepared to turn that functionality on within two hours.

Smart people are noticing that the walls between the various casino game markets are falling, and they’re getting ready for the money to start flowing through. I have no idea if this bubble will pop. But I can attest that the winners will be the ones who are positioned properly, whether legalization happens in the U.S. or not. Follow the people. Follow the money.

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, gbunfiltered

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Casino games surpass farm games as the darlings of social networks

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 08:00 AM PDT

FarmVille took Facebook by storm in 2009 and gave rise to a sea of rival farm simulations. But those games have begun to decline, and they are giving way to social casino games according to research collected by analytics firm Kontagent.

In 2012, social casino game players now account for 13 percent of all of the players on Facebook, compared to just 8 percent in 2011 and 6 percent in 2010. Many of those play Zynga Poker, which launched in 2007 and is still the second most-popular game on Facebook. But that title has been joined by a more diverse group of casino games such as Double Down Casino, which launched in 2010 and was the No. 4 game on Facebook in 2011.

Social casino games are a highly attractive genre right now due to fast growth and higher-than-average revenue per user, which is estimated as at least 40 percent higher than a typical social game, according to Jeff Tseng, chief executive of Kontagent, speaking at the Global iGaming Summit & Expo in San Francisco. Among the 780 million social game participants, 98 million are active players for social casino games.

As we reported this week, land-based and online casino operators are rushing into Zynga’s territory on Facebook. Of the top ten grossing iPhone apps in the U.S., three are currently casino games: Slotomania, Poker by Zynga, and Texas Poker. In the last six months, social casino gaming has exploded and has become a significant percentage of Kontagent’s analytics business. Customers include Blitzoo (Slotspot), Buzz All Stars, Playtika, Mytopia (Bingo Island and Governor of Poker), Pacific Interactive (House of Fun), Peak Games (101 Okey, Okey, and Okey Plus), Plumbee, PopCap, and Viaden. Kontagent tracks more than 1,000 apps, 150 million monthly active users, and 50 billion events a month.

David Gutierrez, an expert on casino games at Kontagent, said that the image below shows the relative change in the growth rates of farm games (in green) and casino games (in red). The farm game growth in monthly active users is visibly slowing. He said that social casino games generate seven times higher revenues than the casual game category.

The farm apps measured by Kontangent include Farmtown, Farmville, Farmandia, CountryLife, Cityville, and Fishville. The casino games represented below are Zynga Poker (Texas Hold’em), Okey Plus, Grand Poker, Slotomania, Slotspot, Casino City, and Lucky Casino.

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, gbunfiltered

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Samsung topples Nokia as top phone-maker, shipped 93M handsets in Q1

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 06:33 AM PDT


On top of hitting record quarterly profit in Q1, research firm Strategy Analytics says South Korea-based Samsung has also ended Finland-based Nokia’s 14-year run as the world’s top handset maker.

Strategy Analytics told Bloomberg that it estimates Samsung shipped 93.5 million handsets versus Nokia’s 82.7 million units. Nokia’s status has fallen greatly in the past few year’s, as it lost the smartphone crown to Apple and Samsung first, and now it has fallen off with feature phones. Nokia has now bet its future on Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform.

Samsung has become the unequivocal champion when it comes to Android phones, but the majority of the handsets it sells are still “dumb phones.” While the conversation in tech mostly revolves around smartphones, it’s important to remember that emerging markets still gobble up feature phones because smartphones are way too expensive.

"Last year Samsung became No. 1 in Europe while Nokia retained the No. 1 position in most emerging markets," Tom Kang, a Seoul-based research analyst at Strategy Analytics, told Bloomberg. "In the first quarter, we expect Samsung took a lot of market share from Nokia in Asia. China and India were the two biggest markets where Samsung gained."

However, when it comes to smartphones, there’s disagreement among research firms over which phone maker, Apple or Samsung, ended on top for Q1. Apple sold 35.1 million iPhones in the past quarter, but the estimates for Samsung smartphones sales differ. Strategy Analytics says Samsung sold 44.5 million smartphones, but IHS iSuppli says Samsung sold just 32 million smartphone units.

Photo credit: Samsung/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

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Viddy, the Instagram for video, raising $30M at a $300M+ valuation

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 05:44 AM PDT

"Viddy well, little brother. Viddy well." - Clockwork Orange - 1971

If Instagram is worth an eye-popping one billion dollars, who’s to say the fast growing Viddy, which lets users easily record videos, apply filters and share with friends, isn’t on the same rocket ship trajectory.

The company, founded in April 2011, has added nearly 10 million users in the last two months and brought on a boatload of celebrities as advisors and investors. Now reports are flying fast and furious that Viddy is raising a series B of $30 million at a valuation between $300-370 million.

Viddy is one of many apps that have recently seen a huge growth surge thanks to smart integration with the Facebook timeline. The company was coasting along at around five million monthly active users through Facebook until they relaunched their app. With the timeline integration, they more than doubled that number in the last two weeks.

It’s not clear that Viddy is a direct competitor to Facebook in the way that Instagram was. Photo sharing is Facebook’s big feature and mobile was the area it was most concerned about leading into its IPO.

User generated video, on the other hand, is a market that has never really produced a profit. Youtube, despite its enormous size, is increasingly focused on producing professional content in the hopes of turning a profit.

Filed under: deals, media, mobile

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Nexon to publish A Bit Lucky’s Lucky Space in South Korea (exclusive)

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Nexon, the online gaming giant that went public in December, plans to publish A Bit Lucky‘s Lucky Space social game in Korea.

The move is a boost for A Bit Lucky, a game startup in San Mateo, Calif., and it shows that American games can migrate eastward. Tokyo-based Nexon was formerly based in Seoul and it has a huge reach in the Korean market. The Lucky Space game is a sci-fi styled social network game that debuted originally on Facebook. Now it will be available on Nexon’s Korean portal.

"This is an incredible opportunity for Lucky Space to reach a new audience," said Frederic Descamps, chief executive of A Bit Lucky.  "It is a vibrant, engaging, and high-end game that we believe will be incredibly successful in Korea.  We are thrilled to be partner with a veteran of the online games business like Nexon."

Nexon invested $5 million in A Bit Lucky a year ago as part of an expansion into the West and into social gaming.

A Bit Lucky, formed by some hardcore industry game veterans including Descamps and Jordan Maynard, started relatively late in November, 2009. Descamps and Maynard worked together on hardcore online games at Trion Worlds. They struck out on their own, raised money in February 2010 and launched their first game, Lucky Train, in June 2010. Then they launched Lucky Space last September. In the game, you build a space colony on an alien planet and manage your resources.

"We are very excited to partner with A Bit Lucky to bring this popular title to Korean audiences," said Junam Kim, director of the portal division at Nexon Korea.  "This partnership leverages the strength of the Nexon platform, enables us to further diversify our game portfolio, and furthers our proven strategy of partnering with globally successful IP developers.  We look forward to working with A Bit Lucky to provide players with an even richer gaming experience."

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, gbunfiltered, social, VentureBeat

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iPhone app dowloads plummeted in March while marketing costs held steady

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 05:00 AM PDT

The number of iPhone app downloads crashed in March, but the cost of marketing those apps held steady according to the latest Fiksu index report.

Mobile app downloads fell by 30 percent, or 2 million downloads, in March and returned to pre-iPhone 4S-launch levels. The cost of acquiring a loyal user (one who opens an app three times) fell slightly from $1.31 per user in February to $1.30 per user in March. That is a surprise since Japan’s new market entrant Gree supposedly spent heavily (a force that could driving marketing costs up) during March when it revealed its first U.S.-made apps.

The Fiksu App Store Competitive Index (which measures the average aggregate daily download volume of the top 200 free U.S. iPhone apps) dropped from 6.35 million downloads in February to 4.45 million in February. That’s a little alarming since Apple is a leader in the app market.

"With the novelty factor of the iPhone 4S launch and the holidays well behind us, and no other events in March to spark discovery, March's download dip was expected," said Micah Adler, chief executive of Fiksu. "An unexpected contributing factor could be the decline in the use of robotic install tactics by app marketers responding to Apple's new policy.”

Apple announced in February that it would enforce an existing guideline that prohibited the use of bots to market apps and would frown upon other forms of chart manipulation.

Adler said that the “decline in competition and steady costs definitely presented app marketers with a ranking opportunity in March, driven largely through the cost-effective conversion of organic users into loyal users.”

Fiksu, based on Boston, sourced its data from more than 21 billion mobile app actions.

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: dev, games, gbunfiltered, mobile

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Two Angry Birds leaders leave the nest to start Boomlagoon (exclusive)

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Angry Birds has become a worldwide phenomenon with more than 700 million downloads. So it’s no small event that two of the leaders who created the mobile game are leaving the nest at Rovio to form their own game studio.

Antti Stén (pictured left), the lead server architect for the original Angry Birds, and Tuomas Erikoinen (pictured right), lead artist, have left Rovio to create a new game studio called Boomlagoon. The move isn’t surprising, since you can expect successful creators to strike out on their own and try to do some original work while Rovio continues to exploit the Angry Birds franchise.

“We know a thing or two about successful games and high volumes and we’ll use this knowledge to spawn something very cool and new,” Stén said.

Stén is chief executive while Erikoinen is chief creative officer. Both men played important parts in the creation of Angry Birds. Stén was responsible for building the server infrastructure to support millions of mobile users. And Erikoinen was the lead artist for Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio, and he supervised the production of Angry Birds Space. During the time when they worked on the project, Rovio grew from 12 people to more than 300.

They’ve dreamed about running their own company for a long time. The idea started during a poker game and then once again over a drink. So far, the team consists of just the pair of founders. But they plan to hire more people. Stén refers to himself as Mr. Plan and to Erikoinen as Mr. Action. They want to create “convivial and intriguing” games.

“Through our experience of seeing multiple startups, we've gained the necessary skill set for founding and running a company with high values on all departments of the company,” Stén said. “Our core skills are in game development but we've also had the opportunity to study fields such as PR, branding, recruitment, business negotiations, leading teams, HR, and networking.”

The goal will be to create games for just about any device, both for the web and mobile platforms. They will start with HTML5, the new lingua franca for the web. Their studio will be in Helsinki and they have not raised any money yet. They are looking for potential investors.

“If we play our cards right we just might end up with the next Angry Birds,” Stén said.

[Photo credit: Boomlagoon]

Filed under: dev, games, gbunfiltered, mobile, social

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Can computer analytics help reduce rugby injuries?

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 04:00 AM PDT

Rugby is a rough sport but it requires very little protective gear. That’s why one in four players can expect to be injured during a season.

So IBM is helping teams such as the Leicester Tigers in the United Kingdom to use predictive analytics to understand and reduce the injury rate for rugby players. As more and more money is at stake in pro sports, analytics is proving its worth. It’s a lot like how general manager Billy Beane introduced the Oakland A’s to analytics in Moneyball, and analytics is spreading to many different industries.

Losing a player for an extended period can hurt a team on the field and reduce ticket sales. The Leicester Tigers have held the championship title nine times and twice for all of Europe. They use the analytics to grow and retain talent, measure performance, optimize tactics, and detect risk. To do that, they use Big Blue’s software to figure out the risk of injury to players and create personalized training programs for players at risk.

Unlike spreadsheet-based statistical solutions, IBM’s predictive analytics software is designed to enable Leicester Tigers to broaden and deepen the analysis of both objective and subjective raw data, such as fatigue levels and game intensity levels for all 45 players in the squad.

The software can predict injuries for individuals and when a player is likely to cross a threshold. If a player’s fatigue level is high and the intensity of the training is as well, the player is more likely to get hurt. Altering the training just in time is important.

"Our team has always been proud of challenging at the top of national and European rugby competitions, but it gets more competitive every year and our focus must be on helping our players stay injury free for longer," said Andrew Shelton, head of sports science for the Tigers. "There is a tremendous value to be gained by retaining experienced players within the squad and we are confident that, by adopting IBM predictive analytics, our team will be able to leverage data about the physical condition of players for the first time and considerably enhance our performance."

The analytics also pore through psychological player data. Away games cause higher stress levels than home games, and social or environmental stress can hurt a player’s performance.

"Sport is no longer just a game, it's becoming more and more a scientific undertaking which is driven by data and numbers," said Jeremy Shaw, IBM's business analytics lead for media and entertainment. "Gone are the days of relying on raw talent and gut instinct to succeed. We are delighted that Leicester Tigers has chosen IBM analytics to not only help protect the health of its players but also improve the team's performance and stay ahead of the competition."

IBM’s analytics business has 9,000 consultants and 400 researchers.

Filed under: enterprise, VentureBeat

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Nintendo CEO Iwata: No Wii U pricing at E3; digital downloads coming to 3DS and Wii U

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 10:35 PM PDT

Nintendo eShop

During a financial results briefing today, Nintendo chief executive Satoru Iwata announced that the company will not be revealing pricing for its upcoming Wii U console at next month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, although it will “showcase the final format, and discuss the details and the software lineup for this year,” according to a transcript obtained from Nintendo’s investor relations site.

Iwata went into more detail on the future of the 3DS handheld system. He said that starting this August with the release of New Super Mario Bros. 2, Nintendo will offer digital download versions of certain titles alongside their retail releases. Customers will store downloaded titles on SD cards, but games will only be playable on the hardware that downloaded them.

Nintendo will also be reaching out to retailers to help carry out its digital plans.

“It seems that, in general, digital distribution of the software available today is mainly aiming at no involvement from retailers,” Iwata said. “On the contrary, Nintendo has decided to choose an approach in which we will ask our retailers to be proactively involved.”

While all digitally distributed software will be available in the 3DS eShop, customers will also be able to buy download codes from a store to “lower their psychological barrier to making online purchases.”

Retailers will decide for themselves how much they will charge for these download codes; Nintendo will not be involved in these decisions, nor will it cover the billing and settlement costs like it has been for software purchased directly from the eShop. This is essentially the traditional wholesale-retail model, except that it involves way more 16-digit codes.

Wii U titles will also be available in both digital and physical versions when the console launches this fall.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Samsung reports $4.4B record quarterly profit, up a staggering 82%

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 07:51 PM PDT


This Samsung kid really can sing. South Korean technology giant Samsung reported a record 5.05 trillion won ($4.45 billion) quarterly net profit for the first quarter, the company announced today.

If you’ve been paying attention, the record profit may not be a surprise. Samsung has been on a tear as of late, with a strong lineup of Android headsets, cameras, home appliances, and other electronics. The Android headset business has been especially rewarding, while other Android manufacturers like HTC, LG, and Motorola look weak. Samsung also successfully spun off its unprofitable LCD display business.

Digging down into specifics, the company earned 45.27 trillion won (about $40 billion) in revenue, a 22 percent increase year-over-year. It turned in a record 5.85 trillion won ($5.1 billion) in operating profit, a 98 percent increase year-over-year. The company’s 5.05 trillion won net profit was up 82 percent against the year-ago quarter.

"Despite difficult business environments, including seasonal low demand for major products such as PCs and TVs amid a global economic slowdown, we achieved record quarterly results based on our differentiated products and technology leadership,” said Robert Yi, senior vice president and head of investor relations, in a statement. “We cautiously expect our earnings momentum to continue going forward, as competitiveness in our major businesses is enhanced."

Momentum for Samsung products will likely stay strong into the next quarter, especially in smartphones. The Galaxy S III, which will debut soon, could easily take over the Android headset crown, with its brand-new Exynos 4 Quad chip. Besides that, the device will likely sport a huge 4.8-inch screen, feature updated cameras, run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and include 4G LTE connectivity.

Photo credit: Samsung/Flickr

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Draw Something now on the Kindle Fire

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 05:30 PM PDT

Good news, Kindle Fire owners. Draw Something is now available on the Amazon Marketplace, meaning you can finally jump into all the Pictionary-mania your friends with iOS and Android devices have enjoyed for a while now.

Just like in the previous versions of Draw Something, Kindle players will have a choice between the free, ad-supported app and a $1.99 ad-free edition. Regardless of what you pay for up front, additional bombs (to remove words that you don’t want to draw or to remove letters to make it easier to guess the clue) and color sets for your drawings will be available for purchase in the game.

Developer OMGPOP also revealed a list of the most and least popular words in the game. Unsurprisingly, “latrine” is one of the least used. That’s probably because many players might not realize that’s just a fancy word for toilet (well, sort of fancy, when applied in the military sense).

Most Popular Words: Starfish, pregnant, hangman, six pack, boom box

Best-Guessed Words: Rainbow, catfish, sun, fish, house, god, tornado

Least-Guessed Words: Oar, Metroid, Warhol, pounce, polaroid, meathead, Autobots

Oh come on now, I bet everyone can guess what this is:

(It’s a Polaroid of a Metroid!)

Filed under: games

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Amazon’s Wish List gets more aggressive against Walmart.com, others (exclusive)

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 05:15 PM PDT

Amazon wish list iconAmazon has quietly made its “Universal Wish List” feature even more powerful and aggressive, VentureBeat has learned from developers. But some people are saying it’s too aggressive.

Now, if you say, find a toy that you like on Walmart’s website, Amazon’s feature allows you to see the same product in an overlay window — including a price discount — that lets you buy the product on Amazon.com, sometimes for the same price or cheaper.

(Click on image at left to expand, to see how it works).

Amazon gets more aggressive with Wish List

Amazon is using the feature to target an increasing number of products on the websites of giants such as Walmart, Sears, BestBuy, and others. It’s just the latest sign that Amazon is ratcheting up pressure on competitors that have had higher costs because they run relatively expensive “brick and mortar” stores. Amazon has already pissed off big retailers with its mobile “Price Check” app.

Amazon's Universal Wish ListAmazon introduced the Universal Wish List feature about four years ago, but the feature started out relatively benign — without the price discount information. But a few months ago, Amazon quietly started adding the price and discount information, essentially making the feature more predatory because it seeks to lure the user into buying the item at Amazon.com. See the “Before” image at right (click to expand), which depicts how the feature worked until relatively recently, i.e, with a relatively light touch.

The Wish List feature, at its base, is a browser add-on that you download from the Amazon site. Once it is added, you just click on the Wish List button on the top of your browser whenever you come across an item you like. It then transfers to your Wish list the pricing and other spec information of the product you were looking at.

To be sure Amazon, isn’t matching all products with discounts. Many times, its own products are more expensive.

However, one lawyer, Parker Bagley, an attorney at Goodwin Proctor who specializes in copyright law, says that if code on the existing site is being impacted, and Amazon is lifting images and showing discounts, this could develop into an “unfair competition” type claim. Bagley, who helped defend the New York Times from a site that sued the Times for linking to its pages (in a famous case three years ago that showed how little legal precedent there is in this area), says regarding Amazon’s action: “It’s arguably an unfair taking of something from your web site by a competitor.”

One company Digital Folio, which offers a competing product to Amazon’s feature, says its lawyers warned the feature could be copyright infringement. Patrick Carter, chief executive of the company, says Amazon may have overstepped its bounds by more directly tinkering with the code of the sites it is targeting. His site was toying with doing the same thing, but his lawyers recommended against it, saying it was in dangerous legal territory on copyright. Instead, his company decided to not overlay retail sites, but created a sidebar that sits to the left of the sites.

Rony Sagy, another San Francisco-based lawyer specialized in intellectual property, is more careful. She says Amazon is playing hardball, but is not doing anything illegal. After all, users are choosing to download the Wish List feature to their browser, and she says copyright claims in this case are somewhat farfetched. Use of the images could be considered “fair use,” she says.

More disturbing, however, is that Amazon is quietly grabbing lots of data about a user’s surfing and buying habits, she says, as well as covertly tracking pricing strategies of its competitors, all the while not clearly disclosing exactly what it is doing with that data.

The Amazon feature may infringe on Walmart’s Terms of Use. Walmart’s terms state that third parties are not allowed to “modify” its site or any of its content. They continue: “The Contents and software on this Site may be used only as a shopping resource. Any other use, including the reproduction, modification, distribution, transmission, republication, display, or performance, of the Contents on this Site is strictly prohibited.”

When I asked Walmart for comment, spokeswoman Amy Lester said the company is fine with the Amazon Universal Wish List because it does “not impact our code or a customer's privacy on our site in any way.” She did not address the apparent violation of Walmart’s terms of use. Sears and Best Buy declined comment.

Amazon Wish List code

HTML before

Amazon Wish List code

HTML after

Digital Folio’s Carter says Walmart  takes a strict interpretation when it says there’s no code impact, because there really is a form of intrusion happening (see screenshots of the code, and note the difference between the “HTML after” code and the “HTML before”.)

Carter continues: “It seems that Walmart may be saying it's fine for Amazon to deliver any content they want now and in the future at Walmart.com, which seems to be a very risky position….What if later the Amazon's pop-up grows in size to cover up nearly all of Walmart.com, delivers a discount to undercut the Walmart price, or delivers text, ads, or other content the site owner does not agree with — yet it is all conduct on top of and within the browsing window for Walmart.com?

Carter suggests that targeted retailers such as Walmart may not have expressed outrage because they may be developing or planning script-injection features themselves.

Carter’s Amazon-like product, Digital Folio, does not interfere with the site that you’re on. Moreover, it is independent from Amazon or other sites, and so aims to be an honest broker in pulling the best price and product specs for you (see a video of how the Digital Folio product works below). Digital Folio also shows pricing history, something that Amazon doesn’t do. Digital Folio does this by showing the prices that all of its users are seeing on specific items around the Web. This crowd-sourcing model also helps avoid the criticism that Amazon gets for keeping its own price gathering activities private.

Finally, note the video at bottom which shows how Amazon appears to even interfere with the site of a company called Tesco, causing the product in question to even disappear momentarily at times from Tesco’s site.

My own bet is that Amazon won’t get called out on this in the courts just yet, unless it goes a lot further.  In the meantime, look for other sites to get more aggressive.

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House passes CISPA despite veto threats and a sea of angry Internet protesters

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 04:55 PM PDT

Laws, legislation, vote

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a hotly protested cyber security bill, CISPA, with a vote of 248 to 168 this afternoon.

CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, seeks to give American companies more legal breathing room when collecting and sharing consumer/user data in the scope of Internet security threats. Essentially, the bill's goal is to encourage companies to share information with the government that may help it fight and prevent cyber security attacks. Currently, most businesses are hesitant to share such precious information with third parties for fear of violating antitrust laws.

House Republicans brought the bill to a vote despite the threat of a veto recommendation by President Barack Obama’s advisers if certain amendments were not made prior to it passing. Some of those amendments did make it into the bill before going to vote, including more stringent privacy protection measures and additional restriction for how a person’s private data can be used. However, I highly doubt CISPA is now completely devoid of vague language and over-broad descriptions for determining what is a security threat.

CISPA’s main co-sponsor Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) seemed put off by the White House’s veto threat, which could have prompted the bill going to the floor for a vote. “We’ve been working with [the White House] for one year. I don’t like to get a phone call half an hour before we go to Rules yesterday that this is coming,” he told industry group  Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) at an event today.

While CISPA only intends to thwart security threats, many believe it could end up paving the way for large companies (as well as the government) to begin policing the internet. Critics also point out that companies may begin creating extensive user databases, intercepting or modifying communications under the guise of security, and blindly complying with government requests for private  user information.

In response to the successful House vote, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) reaffirmed its opposition to CISPA by outlining exactly why its a bad cyber security bill.

“The bill has three critical civil liberties problems, and we have worked with Members of Congress, Internet users, advocacy groups, and industry to address them,” the organization wrote in a statement today. “The first is that CISPA permits unfettered sharing of private communication with the government; second, it permits that sharing to go to any agency including the super-secret NSA; and third, it permits the government to use this information for purposes wholly unrelated to cybersecurity.”

The bill has public support from several big tech and communications companies, including Facebook, AT&T, Microsoft, Verizon, IBM, Intel, and over 25 others. It still faces a vote in the senate, and another congressional vote to overturn a veto, should the president decide to follow his advisor’s recommendation.

Image via Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock

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Twitter for iPhone, Android updated with better search and discovery features

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 04:44 PM PDT

larry the twitter bird

Hey Twitter fanatics, your favorite social network for short bursts of information has released updates to its iPhone and Android applications so that you can feed the beast and find out what’s happening even faster.

Twitter for iPhone and Twitter for Android now feature a few fun goodies, including more discovery tools, better search, and additional notification options specifically aimed at the power users among us (the rest of you won’t notice the subtle upgrades).

In-app searchers, especially those looking for specific tweeps, will be delighted by the fact that search better distinguishes between people (accounts) and tweets (content) in both the Connect and Discover tabs. Search now also suggests related terms and different spellings. The improvements should make for a simpler, less frustrating search experience on mobile — because as any iTwitterer knows, search was definitely lacking on mobile.

With the update, Twitter has made over the Discover tab with an even stronger emphasis on hot stories. App users can tap a featured story to view related tweets. Below stories and above trends, Twitter has sandwiched in a section called “Activity” that displays the follows, retweets, and favorites happening among those in your information network. Activity is not new to the Twitter experience. The feature, first introduced in the New-New Twitter rollout, is exactly the same as what you’ll find in the Discover section on the web.

Finally, Twitter for iPhone and Android have been updated to allow for more push notifications. So when your next tweet is favorited or retweeted, or someone new follows you, you can be instantly alerted to the activity on your device.

The new versions of Twitter for iPhone and Android are out now, available on the App Store and Google Play respectively.

twitter for iphone, android

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Dropbox adds automated photo uploading from PCs and Macs, new Photos page

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 04:18 PM PDT


While the week has been dominated by cloud storage news in the wake of Google Drive’s launch, Dropbox has dropped in with its second new feature of the week: automated photo uploading from its PC and Mac clients and a new Photos page.

Tying to its February announcement of automated photo and video uploading from Android, the Dropbox team has extended that ability to just about any camera or SD card you can plug into a computer. Just plug in your device while the Dropbox app is running on Mac or Windows, and it will automatically detect and walk you through uploading.

“Getting pictures off your camera has always been a huge pain,” Dropbox Software Engineer wrote in a blog post. “So we put our heads down and worked worked worked to ensure that automatic upload would play nicely with anything that might have a photo or video on it. With the newest version for Mac or Windows, you can just plug your camera, phone, or SD card into your computer, and with a few clicks of the mouse all your photos and videos are in your Dropbox.”

Photos are copied from your camera to Dropbox in full quality and original size to your private “Camera Uploads” folder. Although, be careful, as that can eat away at your storage pretty quick.

The company also has a new Photos page on-site for easier browsing. There you’ll see larger thumbnails and photos now grouped by month. If you hover over a photo, you can see the date it was uploaded. Or you can click to see the photo in full-size and download it.

Earlier this week, Dropbox introduced an awesome new way to share content in the form of simple links, even if that content is stored in Private folders. Little did the company know that right after its announcement, Microsoft, Google, and Box would all follow its news with their own updates.

San Francisco-based Dropbox has raised around $257 million in funding to date, with the majority of that coming from its massive $250 million round last October. Investors include Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Benchmark Capital, Goldman Sachs, Greylock Partners, Institutional Venture Partners, RIT Capital Partners, Valiant Capital Partners, and Hadi and Ali Partovi. It also counts Bono and The Edge from U2 as investors.

You can check out the new Dropbox Photos page below:


Art credit: Dropbox

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Funding daily: Get customer support while shopping for expensive gifts

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 03:43 PM PDT


At VentureBeat, we come across a lot of funding news every day. In order to bring you the most information possible, we're rounding up the quick-and-dirty details about the funding deals of the day and serving them up here in our "Funding daily" column.

Freshdesk raises $5M

Online customer support software provider Freshdesk grabbed a $5 million in funding, the company reported Thursday. Freshdesk uses social media to connect with customers that need assistance. The new funding, led by Tiger Global with Accel Partners participating, will be used to build the engineering team and add new product features.

Ahalife nabs funding for unique, luxury online shopping

Online shop for curated one-of-a-kind, luxury wares Ahalife has raised $10.1 million in a second round of funding. The site sells luxury products, such as clothing, jewelry, and electronics, picked by experts and celebrities. Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten led the round, with participation from existing investors DCM and FirstMark Capital. The company has raised a total of $19.1 million.

MetaMarkets gets big money for big data

Big data analytics company MetaMarkets has raised $15 million in a new funding round, the company announced today. The company offers big data analytics for social and e-commerce companies that need to crunch a lot of numbers. Its data science-as-a-service helps analytics teams notice trends and forecast how future events will affect their data. Khosla Ventures led the round, and existing investors IA Ventures and True Ventures also participated.

Hulu co-owner Providence Equity sells its stake for $200M

Providence Equity Partners has sold its 10 percent stake in Hulu for $200 million. The investment firm is the only one of Hulu's four owners that isn't a media company. Providence's initial investment in Hulu was $100 million back in 2007, meaning the firm received a nice ROI. Some have estimated that Hulu's total worth is in the range of $2 to $4 billion.

SendHub raises $2M for group text messaging

SendHub snagged a $2 million investment to deliver SMS to businesses and organizations. The Y Combinator graduate developed a service that schools, coaches, community leaders, and others can use to communicate with a large group. Howard Lindzon's Social Leverage fund, 500 Startups, Bronze Investments, Menlo Ventures, and angels including Eric Ries, Paul Buchheit, and Jawed Karim all participated in the round.

TAPTAP Networks secures $4.5 million

Spanish mobile ad network TAPTAP Network has raised $4.5 million in funding. The company puts together mobile video ads for companies and manages ad campaigns. Nauta Capital led the round.

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Vimeo’s Festival + Awards reveals how it is intensely embracing past and future

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 03:33 PM PDT


Popular video-sharing site Vimeo is entering a new era. Already this year, a new CEO has taken the reins, the company has drastically redesigned its main site, and it has launched a wide array of mobile apps to bring more mobile users into the fold.

It’s only appropriate then that the site’s upcoming Vimeo Festival + Awards event, taking place June 7-9 in New York, has been given the theme “The End of the Beginning.” This distinctive event will help Vimeo celebrate its roots and embrace the digital future at the same time. It’s also about defining Vimeo as the home for original web video content and as one of the biggest supporters of grassroots filmmaking on the web.

“We want to celebrate original video in a way that no one else is,” Vimeo Festival Director Jeremy Boxer told VentureBeat. “There has been an evolution in the art of filmmaking and the barriers to entry are lower than ever to make an incredible film.”

This is the second Vimeo Festival + Awards, but the stakes are higher this time around. On one hand, the festival shows how much the company cares about maintaining its image as a YouTube-like entity that cares about and connects with its users. It has relayed this image since it launched as a side project in 2006, and if the company can continue to own this niche, it will keep hold of its identity as the “coolest” video site.

But the event is also embracing the future of media, which is quickly moving online, with professional and original content streaming side by side. The barriers to entry are incredibly low now, so anyone with strong willpower can make their movie and get instant distribution via the web.

“With fundraising through sites like Kickstarter and distribution through sites like Vimeo, it’s never been easier to put out a movie that doesn’t compromise your artistic style,” Boxer said.

Boxer agreed with me that writer and director Lena Dunham of the indie movie Tiny Furniture and the new HBO TV series Girls is a great example of a young filmmaker who shot to stardom without many resources. Technology has made it possible to shoot an entire feature on a DSLR or a smartphone, and you can upload your work straight to the web for the world to see. Boxer said the Festival has embraced these attitudes.

Boxer noted that video submissions for the first Festival + Awards totaled 6,500 videos. This time, the event attracted 14,500 submissions, with the overall quality jumping as well. That not only indicates stronger interest about the event, but it also shows how general interest in Vimeo has grown.

Also bigger than last time is the roster of judges. Big names include comedian Aziz Ansari, actor James Franco, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright, Radiohead member Colin Greenwood, and many others. Some winners from the first Festival will also judge this year.

Check out a few of the selections for the Vimeo Festival + Awards below (and vote here for your favorites):

Fleet Foxes – The Shrine / An Argument (Music Video)

For Skateboarding and the City (Action Sports)

The Hive (Narrative)

Robots of Brixton (Animation)

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Google’s Project Glass snaps a photo of Charlie Rose mid-interview

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 03:22 PM PDT

The above picture shows us exactly what it’s like to be grilled by famed interviewer Charlie Rose. It was taken with Google’s Project Glass headset by Sebastian Thrun, the man spearheading Google’s next-gen innovations at Google X, during his interview with Rose on Wednesday.

The picture isn’t framed that well, and it’s not the best quality, but it shows us how Project Glass can instantly help us share experiences with friends. As you can see early in the interview, Thrun doesn’t even break conversation to take the picture: he simply taps a button on the headset, focuses on Rose, and shares it with his Google+ circles using a few simple head gestures. That’s certainly more fluid than whipping out your phone, unlocking it, loading a camera app, snapping a picture, and then sharing it to your friends (which may involve using several apps).

“The hope [with Project Glass] is to get things out of your life, not into your life,” Thrun told Rose.

But while it may be nice for taking pictures, Google apparently is still figuring out the best uses for the futuristic glasses. Thrun mentioned that he hasn’t really seen a compelling augmented reality use-case for Project Glass, and he went on to say that sharing is currently the most useful feature.

Unfortunately, Thrun didn’t divulge much else about Project Glass in the interview, but he did cover some of his other projects, like Google’s self-driving cars, and his education startup Udacity. If anything, it’s clear from the Rose interview that Thrun is a busy man, as every one of his projects is trying to disrupt established industries.

Via The Verge; Photo Sebastian Thrun/Google+

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Zynga earnings call: three key wins in mobile, social and diversification

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 02:50 PM PDT

Zynga said in its earnings call with analysts today that it had “three key wins” in the first quarter: expansion into new social game genres, strong mobile growth, and diversification to its Zynga.com and Zynga partners platforms.

The social gaming giant managed to grow its business in the first quarter thanks to the launch of Hidden Chronicles, which is now the largest hidden object game on Facebook, with 7 million daily active users, and the launch of Zynga Slingo, an arcade-like game with 4 million daily active users.

Mark Pincus, chief executive of San Francisco-based Zynga, said in a conference call with analysts that the company gained 11 million daily active users with the $183 million acquisition of OMGPOP and its Draw Something game. But that deal happened late in the quarter and did not affect overall growth much. Not counting the impact of Draw Something, Zynga has 22 million DAU on mobile, compared with 12 million DAU in the previous quarter.

“We have been able to dramatically increase the size of our mobile network,” Pincus said.  ”It’s very early days on mobile. We are focused on getting the product experience right, building out network, distribution, and bringing hits to market in a repeatable way.”

He said he hopes that mobile ads will become much more engaging and monetization and engagement will follow. Zynga raised its guidance for the year because of the acquisition of OMGPOP.

Zynga.com represents Zynga’s attempt to appeal to its hardcore users and diversify beyond Facebook. The beta version of the site now has more than 350,000 daily active users. Later this quarter, Zynga plans to turn up its marketing cross-promotions, Pincus said. The reception to Zynga.com has been very strong, and Zynga has six companies that want to publish their own tiltes, including Konami and Rebellion.

John Schappert, president and chief operating officer, said that Zynga is expanding advertising in games. It tested the use of ads in FarmVille, where it gives virtual currency to users who view ads. That will roll out to more games, helping Zynga improve the monetization of its existing Facebook games. Zynga added new advertisers such as Match.com and Scott Miracle Grow in the quarter. First quarter ad partnership revenues doubled to $28 million, compared to a year ago.

Games such as Zynga Poker and CastleVille saw record bookings in the quarter. Zynga said that 1.9 percent of users converted to paid play, while 98.1 percent play games for free. That ratio was stable. The company said quarterly bookings grew for the third straight quarter.

Schappert said FarmVille is nearing its third year and that, “we expect good things from FarmVille for the remainder of the year.”

Zynga has $1.5 billion in cash, down from $1.9 billion in the previous quarter. The amount was lower because of the $183 million acquisition of OMGPOP and $234 million for the company’s new headquarters expansion.

Zynga now has 2,916 employees, up 2 percent from a year ago. Pincus declined to comment on whether Zynga is working on FarmVille 2.

“I don’t want to steal the thunder from our upcoming Zynga Unleashed” event, he said.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, mobile, social

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FCC ponies up $300M to bring broadband to rural America

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 02:07 PM PDT

Internet access might not be a human right, but having a connection to the web can help people get more access to their rights, to new opportunities, to better information — to the world. And with a $300 million subsidy, the U.S. government is hoping to bring that access to more people in remote areas of the country.

The US. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Wednesday this huge sum would be coming into the Connect America Fund, a program intended to bring broadband Internet connections into nearly half a million rural homes and businesses that currently have no Internet access at all.

The service will come via U.S. telecommunications companies, which have a three-month period to decide whether or not to participate in the new CAF initiative.

The $300 million subsidy comes with some handcuffs; telecoms will have to commit to robust plans to build out their networks. These companies will also likely be bringing investment dollars of their own to the project.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the cash infusion represented a “once-in-a-generation reform” of the country’s universal service goals as mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The chairman also stated, “All Americans will benefit while our nation's global competitiveness is strengthened.”

The United Nations last year went so far as to call Internet access a human right, stating in a report, "Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states.”

via The Hill

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Amazon’s revenue climbs to $13.18B in Q1, but net income down 35%

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 02:03 PM PDT

amazon hq

E-commerce juggernaut Amazon reported net sales of $13.18 billion for the first quarter of 2012, up 34 percent from the same quarter last year. But the company also revealed it made $130 million in net income, or $0.28 per diluted share, for the quarter, which is down 35 percent year-over-year.

Altogether, Q1 earnings were a plus for Amazon following a disappointing fourth quarter, and they ultimately beat Wall Street’s expectations of a first-quarter profit of seven cents a share on revenue of $12.9 billion.

Amazon closed out the first quarter with $192 million in operating income, down from $322 million in the first quarter of 2011.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire remains the company’s bestselling, most gifted, and most wished for product since launch, the company said in its Q1 2012 earnings report. Once again, though, Amazon did not reveal specific sales numbers for its Kindle product lineup.

In the second quarter of the year, Amazon expects to earn between $11.9 billion and $13.3 billion in revenue, or up to 34 percent year-over-year growth, the company said Thursday in an earnings call with investors and analysts.

Amazon’s stock price has climbed 14 percent in after-hours trading at the time of this report.

Photo credit: Robert Scoble/Flickr

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Luxury shopping site Ahalife gets $10.1M in its shopping cart

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 02:03 PM PDT

ahalife luxury snake braceletAhalife, an online shop for curated one-of-a-kind, luxury wares, has raised $10.1 million in a second round of funding.

It must be hard to be rich. You’ve already bought everything new from Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, and Saks, so where else can you shop for something more unique than the latest $5,000 Hermes handbag? You take to the Internet to buy the most exclusive, luxury gifts — like a $10,000 bag made from crocodile skin.

Ahalife’s founder and chief executive Shauna Mei has an impressive fashion background; prior to Ahalife, she started a business with former Marc Jacobs chief executive Jeffrey Aronsson, Donna Karan, and Oscar de la Renta. Wanting to offer the most unique luxury goods out there, she created Ahalife to sell hand-selected products.

Ahalife reveals one new product every day from one of its celebrity curators — people like designer Donna Karan, fashion consultant Tim Gunn, and makeup artist Carmindy. Each product has a thoughtfully written story about where it came from, how it was made, and why it’s worth its price tag. The site’s inventory is made up of clothing, food, beauty products, accessories, home decor, and tech products, along with travel experiences.

Services such as Of a Kind, Gilt, and Fab, offer similar shopping experiences to Ahalife. Of a Kind offers small-batch items for sale, so you know you’re one of only 20 people who own a specific designer handbag. Gilt and Fab are more focused on finding you a good deal while still shopping for higher-end, hand-picked products.

The funding will be used to grow the company. Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten led the round, with participation from existing investors DCM and FirstMark Capital. The company has raised a total of $19.1 million.

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People of Walmart.com, now you can pay in cash

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 01:46 PM PDT

Walmart.com is now letting customers shop on the web and pay in cash. It’s all the convenience of online shopping without the on-the-grid hassle of using a credit card!

How the heck does that work? you may ask, with visions of confused consumers feeding dollar bills into CD drives.

It’s simple, actually. You complete the online transaction by marching yourself into a nearby Walmart, paying the required amount in cash, then waiting for the desired item to arrive in the mail.

It sounds backward, but before you pass judgement, Mister Big City Latte Fancy Pants, consider the many millions of consumers who are different from you. As Walmart.com CEO Joel Anderson told All Things D, a relatively small percentage of Walmart’s physical store customers use credit and debit cards. This could mean that a large portion of Walmart.com’s audience is also unwilling or unable or simply doesn’t prefer to use plastic.

And why deny those dollars just because they’re green and non-magnetically striped? "The fact that only 15 percent of our transactions are done in the form of credit at our stores means there's a large percentage of Walmart customers who are dependent on cash to transact online. We definitely think it is a big opportunity," he said.

Since not all Walmart stores carry all Walmart inventory, the new option could make a lot of sense and open up new floodgates of sales for the tech-forward retailer. Time will tell. For now, we say kudos to Anderson et al. for thinking outside the (big) box.

Image courtesy of Feng Yu, Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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If you use other people’s photos on your blog, you need to check this out

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 01:29 PM PDT

Bloggers know what I’m talkin’ about: It’s that sticky legal and moral quagmire you encounter when you need an image for a post or page.

You could use Google Images and just grab something from anywhere on the web, sans permission. But if you do that enough, it will eventually bite you in the butt. You could try using Creative Commons-licensed content on Flickr, but the image quality might not be the best. You could also shell out the bucks for stock photography, but unless your blog is your business, it’s unlikely you’ll make that choice.

Here’s a new option: It’s from creative talent network The Creative Finder, and it lets you find great images and use them with the creators’ permission, free of charge. The result looks like this:

The creators win because the images get used as embeds rather than copied files that then get uploaded to someone else’s server without attribution or links. The bloggers and site owners win because they get high-quality, interesting images free of charge.

The system isn’t without its downsides. The pool of available content is still rather small at around 100,000 pieces of art, photography, and graphic design, so you might not be able to find the same range of tagged, commercial content you would on a stock photography site. Still, The Creative Finder is an interesting (and legal and free) alternative to a nagging problem of every blog owner’s online life.

The Creative Finder, launched last month to help creatives find work; the embed feature is new as of today. Creatives who upload their work can enable or disable sharing permissions for their images at any time. Images can also be protected with watermarks, and every image will appear with the creator’s name and a link back to his or her portfolio.

On the website owners’ side, you can customize the image’s size (up to 550 pixels wide), then copy the embed code and use as you please. There’s also a one-click option for posting to Tumblr blogs. The Creative Finder discourages commercial use of images.

Top image courtesy of Korionov, Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Got ideas? New incubator will match you with enterprises that need your brain

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 01:15 PM PDT

A crowd of people listen to enteprises present at 2020.vc on what problems they need to solve

Are you bursting with big-think ideas that could change the world? Can you take those ideas and actually, you know, build something tangible? If so, there's a new matchmaker in Silicon Valley that wants to fund you, mentor you, and set you on a path to solve the specific challenges of enterprise partners.

That's the premise of 2020, a new seed fund started by Gaye Beceren and Shani Shoham. Last week I attended 2020's kickoff in downtown Palo Alto, where more than 250 entrepreneurs heard presenters from Cisco Systems, Nice Systems, Faurecia, and Nokia Siemens Networks talk about the challenges they hope to solve.

If this sounds like other incubators, there is a twist: 2020 isn't looking for startups that already have a product or technology. Instead, Beceren and Shoham figure everything will fall into place once they've identified the right people.

"We don't take existing startups," Shoham told me before the event. "We are more focused on finding talented entrepreneurs, even before they have ideas."

The fund announced today that it has started accepting applications from interested entrepreneurs.

Here's how it works: 2020 will spend four days screening each applicant, assessing their personalities and their skills, and then testing them in a hackathon. After that, Beceren and Shoham will put together teams, give them seed funding over two rounds, and provide six months of mentoring.

"We will narrow it down to 12 teams for our entrepreneur-in-residence program, and from there it's six months of mentoring as each team works on a specific need," Beceren told me. "We can have multiple teams working on a specific need."

In general, 2020 expects to invest $50,000 in each team, in two stages. New teams will receive $25,000 in the "ideation" phase, for which 2020 will receive a 10 percent stake in the startup. Teams will get the second round after they develop a preliminary prototype, for which 2020 gets an additional 5 percent stake.

"What's unique with us is we qualify the teams," said Beceren.  "So we lower the financial risk for the enterprises and lower the market risk for the enterprises."

And what problems are their enterprise partners looking to solve? At Cisco, the new mantra is “focus.” Instead of the 30 adjacencies (read: anything that drives demand for networking gear) that CEO John Chambers has talked about for years, the networking giant has narrowed its focus to five priorities: its core networking businesses, collaboration, data center technologies (including virtualization and cloud computing), video, and smart communities.

"What we care about right now is new business models," said Chris Thompson, senior director of business incubation and emerging technologies at Cisco. "When you think about technologies, think about those five areas."

Nice Systems wants to make it easier for call center customers to monitor and interact with customers over both traditional and social channels.  (A message we've been hearing for a while from Salesforce.com, among other CRM vendors.) As a result, Nice wants entrepreneurs who understand the issues of big data, cloud-based infrastructures, predictive analytics, and reducing call-center costs, said Paul Melmon, vice president of engineering.

Chances are, you've never heard of Faurecia, among of the world's biggest automotive parts suppliers. "We are like the Intel of the automotive industry, minus the branding," Faurecia's enterprise-in-residence Steffen Bartschat told the audience.

Faurecia's goal: To find innovations in other industries that enable cars that are smaller, lighter, more efficient — yet forge an emotional connection with their owners.

At Nokia Siemens Networks, the challenge is the cloud, said Tuuli Ahava, head of Nokia's Silicon Valley Innovation Center.

Entrepreneurs will learn more about each partner's specific challenge during the vetting process, sad Beceren. The fund will begin accepting applications in the new few days.

Beceren and Shoham are still acquiring investors, but expect to start with a $10 million fund, eventually growing to $40 million.

Filed under: enterprise, Entrepreneur

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Zynga beats Q1 earnings estimates

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 01:15 PM PDT

Zynga reported first quarter earnings of 6 cents a share, beating analyst estimates for the social game company’s second-ever earnings announcement.

The publisher of social games such as FarmVille reported non-GAAP net income of $47 million on revenues of $321 million, compared with net income of $75 million on revenues of $242 million a year earlier. The company foresees 2012 earnings per share of 23 cents to 29 cents a share.

Zynga’s stock price has been falling in recent days in advance of the company’s first quarter earnings report today. Analysts expected the company to report earnings of 5 cents a share on revenue of $316.8 million for the first quarter ended March 31. On AppData, Zynga has 281.6 million monthly active users and all five of the top five games.

Bookings for the quarter were $329 million, up 15 percent from a year ago and up 7 percent from the previous quarter. On a GAAP basis, Zynga reported a net loss of $85 million, compared with net income of $16.7 million a year ago. The loss was due to stock-based expenses.

In after-hours trading, Zynga’s stock is flat at $9.42 a share. Earlier in the day, the stock rose 3.4 percent.

During the quarter, Zynga grew both daily active and monthly active users. It has eight of the top 10 games on Facebook and leads in two new genres, hidden object games and arcade games, with Hidden Chronicles and Slingo, respectively. Mobile games grew due to strength in Zynga Poker, Draw Something, and Scramble with Friends.

Monthly active users were 292 million users, up 24 percent from 236 million a year ago. Daily active users were 65 million, up from 62 million a year ago. Monthly unique users were 182 million, up from 146 million a year ago. Daily average bookings per average DAU were 5.5 cents in the first quarter, compared with 5.1 cents a year ago. Unique monthly payers were 3.5 million, up from 2.9 million in the previous quarter.

Zynga launched six games in the quarter: Hidden Chronicles, Zynga Slingo, Scramble With Friends on mobile, Dream PetHouse on mobile, Dream Heights on mobile, and Draw Something (acquired along with OMGPOP for$180 million-plus). Zynga raised $1 billion in a December initial public offering and has lessened its dependence on Facebook with the launch of Zynga.com.

Zynga projected that 2012 bookings will be $1.425 billion to $1.5 billion, with growth weighted to the second half of the year. Adjusted earnings before income, tax, and depreciation expense is expected to be $400 million to $450 million. Stock-based expense is expected to be $420 million to $445 million. Capital expenses are expected to be $390 million to $410 million, including the purchase in April of the company’s corporate headquarters. Non-GAAP earnings per share are expected to be 23 cents to 29 cents.

Here’s what some of the analysts who follow Zynga closely had expected before the announcement:

Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Baird Equity Research, said in a note that he expects results to be in line or slightly below estimates of a profit of 6 cents a share for the quarter.

He noted recently that Facebook said Zynga accounted for 11 percent of its revenues in the first quarter, down from 12 percent in the fourth quarter. Zynga pays about 30 percent of revenues to Facebook as a fee for Facebook Credits transactions, not counting advertising. That suggests Zynga’s net bookings were around $230 million in the quarter. The company also probably generated $65 million in ad bookings. He noted that Zynga games continue to dominate the charts on Facebook, accounting for eight of the top 10 games in daily average users. On iOS, Zynga has six of the top 100 grossing apps and eight of the top 100 on Android.

“While Zynga continues to dominate Facebook games and is making solid progress on mobile platforms, we believe that slower growth on Facebook limits upside to estimates near term,” Sebastian said.

Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities, also said he expects results to be in-line with expectations. Pachter increased estimates for the fiscal year to reflect the acquisition of OMGPOP, which has a hit game in Draw Something on iOS. For the full year, he expects bookings of $1.35 billion to $1.45 billion and non-GAAP earnings per share of 24 cents to 28 cents.

He expects Zynga shares to hit $17 in the coming year.

Atul Bagga, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, said in a note that he expects a profit of 4 cents per share on revenue of $315.6 million. He thinks Zynga has had a strong reception for its Hidden Chronicles and Slingo games and improved the monetization of CastleVille. Mafia Wars may be underperforming as a franchise, while Zynga Poker, CityVille, and FarmVille are stable.

He expects guidance for the full year to be raised from the $1.35 – $1.45 billion range to something higher. Bagga believes the stock has been falling based on fears that Zynga will make more (seemingly unwise) acquisitions, but he thinks those fears are overblown. His long-term target for the stock is $16 a share.

In the previous fourth quarter, Zynga reported non-GAAP earnings per share of five cents, or $37.1 million, for the quarter. The company reported fourth-quarter bookings of $306.5 million, up 26 percent from a year ago and 7 percent from the third quarter. Full-year bookings were $1.16 billion, up 38 percent from a year ago. Full-year revenue was $1.14 billion, up 91 percent.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Revealed: How Twitter’s secret offer for Instagram made Facebook pay $1B

Posted: 26 Apr 2012 12:44 PM PDT

kevin systrom

The secret details of the $1 billion deal between Facebook and Instagram are more convoluted than anyone thought. VentureBeat has learned that Instagram chief executive and co-founder Kevin Systrom first got an offer and a term sheet from Twitter, then shrewdly doubled the value of his young company by striking a deal with Facebook.

On Monday, April 9, Facebook announced that it was buying photo-sharing sensation Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock. The unexpected, mammoth deal was a shock to the Internet community, and to many of Instagram’s own investors — including new investors in a $50 million round of funding that closed prior to the buyout (Instagram has yet to confirm the round).

Additional reports have since woven together aspects of the dealings between Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram’s Systrom. Those reports detailed that the two CEOs moved expeditiously and hammered out a weekend agreement between Friday, April 6 and Sunday, April 8.

But what has yet to come to light is the behind-the-scenes, three-way chess match between Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, orchestrated and played masterfully by Systrom, that helped Instagram double its worth in just a few days and end up at its preferred destination.

A previous report suggested that Twitter was interested in buying Instagram, but talks were far more serious, according to multiple people knowledgeable with the deal. Systrom, while negotiating with Sequoia and Greylock on a round of funding, used that pending deal to pressure Twitter to make an offer, according to information shared by a reliable source. Twitter had expressed interest in buying the service but was moving slowly up to that point.

Twitter did make an offer during the financing process, prior to the round closing. The company, interested in doing more in the media space, felt that Instagram’s service was nicely aligned with Twitter’s business.

Twitter made a very real offer in the hundreds of millions of dollars range, according to two sources with knowledge of the deal. Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey, an early Instagram investor and a one-time avid photo-sharer, was said to be involved in all aspects of the deal. But Instagram shrewdly did not sign the term sheet, which would have bound it to a no-shop clause, and went ahead and closed its financing round.

This put Systrom in an odd — but useful — situation in which he had both the new funding and the Twitter offer still on the table. According to one source, Systrom went to Zuckerberg for a better deal and Zuckerberg bid just to block the Twitter deal.

But the negotiation process was far more nuanced than Systrom simply playing Twitter against Facebook to get a better deal, and Instagram’s choice to go with Facebook had more to do with product and vision alignment than price, a person familiar with the negotiations said.

Facebook had no comment on the deal.

How Instagram ended up at Facebook and not Twitter may not have involved any duplicitous or conniving acts on Systrom’s part, but the Twitter offer clearly gave him the confidence and strength of position to negotiate with the upper hand.

And while VentureBeat previously had it on good word that Facebook’s purchase of Instagram was directly tied to boosting the company’s position in photo-sharing and mobile realms prior to its IPO, we’ve heard that the primary reason Facebook bought Instagram originated from a much darker place: paranoia.

The buy, driven entirely by Zuckerberg, was made because Facebook’s CEO was petrified of Instagram becoming a Twitter-owned property.

Zuckerberg, we’re told, lives in perpetual anxiety, preoccupied by the fear of Facebook losing its place, terrified that youngsters will get their social networking fix from other services. That fear served as the catalyst behind his decision to buy Instagram and keep it out of the hands of a cross-town competitor.

This type of paranoia is relatively normal at Silicon Valley’s largest technology companies. “These huge West Coast companies, peopled mostly by kids who cannot believe their good luck, commonly turn paranoid and think everyone is out to get them,” veteran columnist and broadcaster John Dvorak told VentureBeat. “Microsoft was the worst but not the first. Apple acts this way with Android, and Google has been paranoid for a few years.”

Indeed. Paranoia is a way of life in Silicon Valley that dates back to the earliest days of Intel, as former Intel CEO Andy Grove detailed in his 1996 book Only the Paranoid Survive.

Photo credit: leweb/Flickr

Filed under: deals, social

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