28 April, 2012



Woz gushes about his Lumia Windows Phone: It’s like “a friend, not a tool”

Posted: 28 Apr 2012 08:50 AM PDT


Whenever Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak speaks, the geek world pays attention. And his most recent comments favoring a Nokia Lumia Windows Phone over the Droid Razr and iPhone 4S may just set off (another) firestorm among the Apple faithful.

Woz just can’t get enough of Windows Phone’s elegant interface, which he says is less cumbersome than Android, and a “no contest” better experience than iOS. The comments came in a recent interview with Gina Smith (co-author of the Wozniak biography “iWoz”) and Dan Patterson.

It’s never specifically mentioned which Lumia phone Woz is referring to, but it’s most likely the new flagship device, the Lumia 900. In my review, I called the Lumia 900 the best $100 smartphone yet, so it’s not a huge surprise to see Woz going ga-ga over it. He also admitted that the lack of great third-party apps is a problem for Windows Phone.

While Woz still considers the iPhone his overall favorite smartphone, his comments are worth noting. Windows Phone is at a point where it’s winning over fanatical techies — if Microsoft can keep up the momentum throughout the year, it could end up being a much stronger competitor come the release of Windows Phone 8 (AKA “Apollo”) later this year.

Via The Verge; Photo: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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15 months after launch, Apple’s Mac App Store hits 10K app milestone

Posted: 28 Apr 2012 05:00 AM PDT


More than 15 months after Apple launched its Mac App Store, the software hub has 10,000 paid and free apps.

The Mac App Store brought the concept of Apple’s iOS App Store to the company’s OS X operating system, but it has attracted far fewer developers than its mobile-focused store. When Mac App Store launched in Jan. 2011, it contained about 1,600 apps and has grown slowly to 10,000. At least the store has attracted nice download numbers: Apple said in December that the store had seen more than 100 million downloads since launch. No doubt that number is significantly higher now.

Comparatively, Apple’s iOS App Store now has more than 600,000 apps and has become the gold standard for mobile software distribution. In second place, Google’s Play store (formerly Android Market) now has more than 400,000 apps for the Android OS.

On a personal note, I’ve only opened the Mac App Store a few times since purchasing a Macbook Air last October. Almost all of the apps I’ve downloaded come from the Web, where developers don’t have to worry about giving Apple a 30 percent cut of the sale.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve used the Mac App Store much and what your favorite current Mac apps are.

via MacGeneration

Filed under: VentureBeat

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You can help startups raise capital at Microventures

Posted: 28 Apr 2012 02:00 AM PDT

MicroVenturesThis sponsored post is produced by MicroVentures.

The new Crowdfunding laws are about to open up angel investing to almost everyone. Gone are the days where you have to risk $50,000 or more, receive a personal invitation to invest from a friend, or only see a limited number of deals from the few available in your area. The new crowdfunding laws will go into effect sometime in 2013, but what can you do to take advantage of crowdfunding right now?

MicroVentures, a securities broker dealer, has been raising money for startups online for over a year and has helped raise millions of dollars for over 15 companies by bridging the gap between startups and potential investors. They use a model similar to crowdfunding which allows you to invest smaller sums alongside others and to invest in deals stretching from Boston to Silicon Valley.

MicroVenture helps investors learn about companies they may have never heard of, and to invest smaller sums, which is virtually unheard of with traditional investing.

The service matches companies seeking capital with investors looking to invest anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000 or more. MicroVentures helps investors with the initial due diligence process by filtering startups and then providing documents to help investors conduct their own due diligence prior to making a final investment decision.

The key to becoming a successful angel investor, of course, is to invest in the right startups. To get there, you need:

1) Good deal flow, allowing you to spot potential winners from many potential options.
2) The ability to invest in multiple deals so you gain experience.
3) A knack for spotting potentially successful companies, and more importantly, management teams and entrepreneurs that will succeed.

Getting good deal flow is often the stumbling block for the average person looking to get started in angel investing. It's also one of the reasons Bill Clark launched MicroVentures; he wanted to begin investing, but didn't have access to good deals.

Like others thinking about becoming angels, Clark wanted to invest smaller sums in more companies, allowing him to spread his risk and also increase his chances of picking a winner. And he wanted access to great companies outside ofAustin, his hometown.

If you'd like to join the more than 2,000 angel investors getting in on new deals via the MicroVentures platform, be sure to put "VentureBeat" in the referral code when you sign up and we will send you a $100 gift card after you make your first investment.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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More iTV rumors: Apple could strike major streaming deal with Epix

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 06:02 PM PDT


Apple may be in talks with movie channel EPIX about the ever-rumored Apple television, which co-founder Steve Jobs alluded to prior to his death.

According to Reuters’ sources, Apple started meeting with EPIX earlier in the year to discuss a new streaming deal, which would be featured on the company’s television. EPIX is backed by three major studios — Lionsgate, MGM, and Paramount Pictures — and could give Apple some great content right out of the gate.

The streaming deal would start playing over Apple TV, a device that allows you to stream content supplied by the likes of Netflix and iTunes to your television. But it would also be available to any future streaming devices made by Apple, as well as the iPhone and iPad, according to one of Reuters’ sources.

Netflix currently has an exclusive deal with EPIX to be the sole streamer of its content. The deal was struck in 2010 and expires this September, leaving Apple room to swoop in. In March it was said that Apple was being shut out by content providers after holding meetings for a potential streaming service of its own. Whether this deal with EPIX will be successful remains to be seen.

The TV is rumored to be called “iTV” and have features in it such as Siri-based remote control, various content deals, streaming from the iPhone/iPad to the big screen, and more. Early last month, Apple was rumored to be launching the iTV this summer, according to analyst Peter Misek. Misek found parts that would be found in the rumored television being sent to Apple Asia. His original prediction was a target launch of May/June, but as summer creeps closer, that deadline seems less likely.

via Reuters, Apple iTV mockup image by Guilherme Schasiepen

Filed under: media

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Tap it out: Foursquare for BlackBerry updated with NFC support

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 04:27 PM PDT

Check-in service Foursquare is helping its BlackBerry fans bridge the cross-platform communication gap. It enables users to exchange tips, lists, venues, and profiles with friends thanks to near field communication support in the newest version of its BlackBerry app.

Friday, the New York-based company has released an update to Foursquare for BlackBerry that makes the app speedier, more accurate in the GPS department, and now able to support smart-tagging on NFC-enabled devices. The company has also moved app activity notifications to the BlackBerry inbox.

“You can share places and tips among other BlackBerry and Android devices (or even check in at places with NFC stickers), with a simple tap of your phone,” Foursquare explained in a blog post on the update.

Foursquare added NFC capabilities to its Android application in February (but only for devices running Android 4.0). So while a limited pool are able to take advantage of the nifty new tech — the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and the BlackBerry Curve 9370 devices come equipped with NFC technology — the update at least keeps Foursquare’s BlackBerry users on par with their Android pals, and lets them tap to exchange information with each other. How touching (pun intended).

The startup has actually been experimenting with the intersection of NFC and its service for more than a year now. Foursquare was testing a tap-in system at its New York headquarters in March of last year, but ran its first consumer implementation in partnership with Google at last year’s Google I/O.

Unfortunately, covetous, would-be early adopters on iPhone and those toting around unsupported Androids and BlackBerries will just have to exchange Foursquare tips and check in the old-fashioned way.

Foursquare, which has raised more than $71 million in funding, recently surpassed 20 million users and 2 billion total check-ins.

Photo credit: Dennis Crowley/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social

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Yahoo points finger at Facebook, claims new patents are “tainted”

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 04:00 PM PDT

yahoo points finger at facebook

Today, social networking giant Facebook found itself once again on the defensive. Litigious cross-town rival Yahoo has filed new claims against the soon-to-IPO company, asserting that Facebook’s patents are “tainted.”

“Today Yahoo! filed additional claims against Facebook in U.S. District Court in San Jose related to two additional patents on which Facebook infringes,” the company said in a statement emailed to VentureBeat. “Today's filing underscores the breadth of Facebook's violation of Yahoo!’s intellectual property. As we have stated previously, Yahoo!'s technologies are the foundation of our business that engages over 700 million monthly unique visitors and represent the spirit of innovation upon which Yahoo! is built. We intend to vigorously protect these technologies for our customers and shareholders.”

In the counter to Facebook’s counter, Yahoo asserts that Facebook’s patent claims are invalid, denies any acts of wrongdoing as set forth in the social network’s counterclaim. Yahoo also added two new claims of patent infringement to its suit.

The legal drama, as you surely know, all started when Yahoo filed suit against Facebook for 10 claims of patent infringement. Facebook fired back with its own counterclaims, all the while shopping around town to shore up its patent portfolio. Now, Yahoo is taking issue with how Facebook came about its newly acquired patents and is using the origin of those patents as an affirmative defense against Facebook’s claims of infringement.

“[Facebook's patents] are invalid, unenforceable, and/or void due to the failure to meet the requirements of the Unites States patent laws,” the media company’s legal counsel said in the new suit, which has the long-winded (and awesomely convoluted) title, “Plaintiff Yahoo! Inc.'s reply and counter counterclaims to defendant Facebook, Inc.'s answer; counterclaim against Facebook, Inc for declaratory judgment of non-infringement.”

“On information and belief, many, if not all, of these patents were acquired by Facebook for purposes of retaliation against Yahoo! in this case,” Yahoo also stated in the court document. “Facebook purchased and asserted patents tainted by inequitable conduct.”

Facebook, for its part, is non-plussed by Friday’s developments. “We remain perplexed by Yahoo’s erratic actions,” a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We disagree with these latest claims and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously.”

We’ve embedded the full claim below for your perusal, but if you’d rather skip the legalese, here’s what Yahoo is asking for: that the court throws out Facebook’s counterclaims, finds Facebook to be infringing on Yahoo’s patents, and awards damages to Yahoo.

“This is an escalation to Facebook’s escalation. Nothing more, nothing less,” Moor Insights and Strategy president and principal analyst Patrick Moorhead told VentureBeat. “Yahoo’s lawyers see an exploit or weakness in the counterclaim and are throwing another log onto the legal fire. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook retaliate with something in the next week.”

Your move, Facebook.

[via AllThingsD]

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Filed under: social

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DreamIt Ventures’ NYC accelerator announces new class, moves into Fab’s old office

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 01:51 PM PDT

A big part of the tech boom in New York has been the arrival of several accelerators and incubators which are minting new classes of top tier startups. Today, in a presentation at Google Ventures in Manhattan, DreamIt Ventures announced its newest class of 15 companies for its New York Accelerator.

DreamIt Ventures is also moving into the old office of Fab.com, following in the footsteps of TechStars, who took Foursquare’s former office in search of some magic startup mojo.

Five of the companies selected are part of the DreamIt Access program, a dedicated effort to launch 15 minority-led startups over the next 12 months. Comcast Ventures, the venture capital affiliate of Comcast Corporation, is an investor in the DreamIt Access program.

Additionally, five of the companies participating in DreamIt NYC are part of the inaugural class of DreamIt Israel, the first Israel-US accelerator.  DreamIt Israel helps Israeli startups expand into U.S. and Global Markets. The DreamIt Israel program is already underway in Tel Aviv, and the Israeli startups will be in New York City working alongside the companies in DreamIt NYC beginning May 14th.

The companies are:

Bazaart, Haifa, Israel: personalized fashion catalogs for tablets

CallTrackingFox, New York, NY: data-driven inbound marketing platform

CampGurus, New York, NY: clearinghouse for kids programs

Cubiez, Tel Aviv, Israel: platform delivering desktop apps with a mobile user experience

FirstCrush, Boston, MA: personalized wine subscription service

Giver, Tel Aviv, Israel: turning employees to community through gamified solutions

Indiewalls, New York, NY: online marketplace connecting local artists and venues

JustUs, Tel Aviv, Israel: Weesh app helps romantic couples share mutual experiences

Saborstudio, Alajuela, Costa Rica: location-aware mobile games

Tripl, Stockholm, Sweden and New York, NY: connecting people through travel

Urban Cargo, New York, NY: personalized grooming product recommendations for men

Vantageous Video, Ithaca NY: apps for multi-angle video creation

Winston, Boulder, CO: a personalized social newscast

Filed under: deals, dev, Entrepreneur

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Apple kills Android app discovery tool in Chomp

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 01:12 PM PDT


Apple has killed off recently acquired social application discovery tool Chomp’s Android feature. The tool, which helps people discover new apps, was previously directing people to interesting Android apps in Google Play.

Chomp was acquired by Apple in February this year, and has thus far continued operations as normal. The company, which exists as its own mobile app, as well as a web app, allows people to search for apps by keyword, category, device type (now just iPhone or iPad), and price. It also showcases trending apps, new apps, and apps on sale.

The Chomp purchase was an obvious attempt on Apple’s part to better surface applications and encourage more downloads. Apple’s App Store has been frequently criticized for being too difficult to wade through. Developers are also frustrated by how hard it is to be found in the marketplace. Many complain that unless you’re in the top 100 or so apps listed by Apple, you get lost in the soup.

I’m surprised it took Apple this long to chomp off its newly acquired property’s link to Android, arguably Apple’s biggest app competitor.

Apple is expected to continue to make acquisitions of this sort. At the time of purchase, the Wall Street Journal believed Apple spent $50 million on Chomp — a drop in Apple’s hundred-billion dollar war chest.

Chomp image via Shutterstock, via Apple Insider

Filed under: mobile

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HP ‘Slate 8′ tablet with Windows 8 leaks to the web

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 01:03 PM PDT


An upcoming Hewlett-Packard tablet called the “Slate 8″ that runs Windows 8 and is thinner than the newest iPad has leaked to the web — one of many leaks we’re sure to see as Windows 8′s launch gets closer.

Windows 8 is due out later this year and is part of Microsoft's strategy to find a middle group between tablets and PCs — much in the same way Apple has done with its OS X and iOS. A near-complete Windows 8 build will be released in early June, but as of yet the company has not announced an official launch date. We’ve heard the late third quarter is the most likely launch time because the operating system would then be able to take advantage of holiday sales.

Tech news site Neowin was sent an image from a “trusted source” that shows a rough-looking image of a tablet with some specs. Besides running the Windows 8 OS, the tablet will be 9.2mm thin, weigh .68 kilograms, feature a 10.1-inch display, and have battery life between 8 and 10 hours.

Unlike the iPad, which targets consumers and businesses alike, the “Slate 8″ appears to be pushing hard for businesses. It will offer security features like HP ProtectTools software, support for Computrace, enterprise-level docking, and digital pen input.

HP Slate 8 tablet image: Neowin

Filed under: mobile

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GamesBeat Weekly Roundup

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 12:44 PM PDT

If you follow VentureBeat but don't regularly check our GamesBeat site, here's a list of the best games stories we ran over the last seven days that you may have missed.

This week in news: Digital downloads for full retail games coming to 3Ds and Wii U, Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami working on a new survival horror game codenamed “Zwei”, Valve reveals inventive Defense of the Ancients 2 pricing, and Nintendo posts its first fiscal year loss.

You’ll also find a review for Bloodforge and previews for PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale, Dishonored, and Crysis 3.

Other GamesBeat stories included:

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

Leaked Rayman Legends trailer shows NFC tech in action on Wii U (gallery)

PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale: Really, though? (preview)

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

Draw Something now on the Kindle Fire

Star Wars: The Old Republic launches in 38 additional countries

World's tiniest Star Wars arcade cabinet is fully operational

How Dishonored's artists created an oppressive, Victorian, steampunk world from scratch

Bethesda's Arkane shoots for an original action game with Dishonored (preview)

Breaking down Conquest Domination in Battlefield 3: Close Quarters' Donya Fortress (preview)

How gaming's biggest blockbusters affect monthly sales (infographic)

Cryptic Studios hacked in December 2010; attack only "just" discovered

Resident Evil creator working on new survival-horror game codenamed "Zwei"

X-rays of game controllers reveal ghostly circuitry

Xbox 360-quality graphics could come to mobile devices by 2014

Bloodforge brings a good, gory romp to Xbox Live Arcade (review)

Crysis 3 first look: Bullets, bows, and the Big Apple (preview)

Free-to-play games on Xbox 360? It could happen sooner than you think

The four lessons other developers can learn from the Valve employee handbook

Max Payne 3′s massive 35GB install vs. other big games

Supposed list of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 multiplayer details leaked

Ben Sawyer on how Games for Health will lead to "human joysticks" (interview)

The Fez soundtrack's hidden images and how they got there

Stories that also appeared on VentureBeat:

Google Zerg rush attacks your search results with this fun Starcraft-inspired easter egg

Non-gamers, here's why you should care about games

Big Fish Games CEO hands reins back to founder Paul Thelen

Casino games surpass farm games as the darlings of social networks

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

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

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

Zynga beats Q1 earnings estimates

EA stock spikes on rumor that Nexon will buy it (not likely)

Smith & Tinker revives Nanovor with mobile app (exclusive)

Nintendo posts fiscal year loss and expects to return to profitability

Arrggh: KingsIsle Entertainment unveils Pirate101 online game

YouWeb and StartEngine incubators to hold Double Demo Day for 20 startups

Japan's DeNA signs up Kabam and Nimblebit

PixyKids launches 3D-animated characters for kids social network

Report: Amazon pulling ahead of iTunes in average revenue per user

Real online gambling and social network casino games are on a collision course

Valve's new pricing will charge players based on how much of a jerk they are

AMD takes a swing at Intel and Nvidia with new mobile graphics chips

Gamers: Get the most out of your Android device

Filed under: games

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Dine and dash: TGI Friday’s lets customers pay their tabs on iPhone and Android

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 12:01 PM PDT

Giving new meaning to the phrase “dine and dash,” feel-good restaurant chain TGI Friday’s has released an application for iPhone and Android that lets diners pay their tab right from their mobile device.

The application, called “Friday’s,” lets customers start a tab, keep track of their bill, and checkout with a click of a button at roughly 350 of the establishment’s 600 U.S. locations.

The app, released this week on the top two mobile platforms, is meant to supplement TGI Friday’s refreshed brand strategy around creating a better dining experience and is said to be the first of its kind from a casual dining chain.

Here’s how it works: Customers who click to open a tab in the app are presented with a five-digit code to show to their server. The server matches the code on the restaurant’s point-of-sale system to tie the tabs together. The app user then orders with the server as usual, but can follow her tab on her phone and choose to pay at her leisure. Transactions are processed using credit card info saved inside the application.

TGI Friday’s mobile payment functionality is powered by Austin-based startup Tabbedout, a company with consumer-facing mobile applications of its own that allow users to locate participating restaurants and take care of their checks from their phones. The startup makes a solution that currently integrates with seven different types of POS systems, including MICROS used by Friday’s, for an encrypted exchange of credit card information.

“Between Tabbedout and MICROS, we were able to deliver some technology for TGI Friday’s that complements their brand strategy,” Tabbedout’s vice president of sales Kevin McKeand said in an interview with VentureBeat. “The mobile app and the mobile payment functionality is a core part of their new marketing strategy.”

TGI Friday’s, McKeand said, is intent on improving the customer’s dining experience “within the four walls.” The company, which owns many of its stores but also has franchise owners, is looking to grab guests with great service and believes that the mobile applications will free up servers and bartenders to communicate and engage with diners more.

Founded in 2009, Tabbedout has raised roughly $6.5 million in funding and has an especially strong presence in Portland, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Phoenix, Denver, and Washington D.C. are the startup’s next three target markets, McKeand said. With the addition of Friday’s, Tabbedout mobile payments are accepted at more than 800 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Friday’s, the app, is available on the App Store and Google Play. Next week, Tabbedout application users can pay using that app at TGI Friday’s locations as well.

Photo credit: soeperbaby/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

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Sharp reports largest-ever loss of $4.67 billion

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 11:53 AM PDT

Citing low sales from its flat-panel TV business, Sharp announced a loss of $4.7 billion during the 2011 fiscal year – the largest net loss in the company’s history.

Sharp expects things will get worse before they get better, and predicts a further 18.7 percent drop of its TV business in the current year. However, the company expects to see growth and larger profits from its mobile-display business and is trying to focus its efforts on small screen sizes for mobile devices instead of large screens for HDTVs.

"In the second half, we think that we can become profitable again mainly through expected improved results in our displays for mobile devices," Executive Managing Officer Tetsuo Onishi told reports at the Wall Street Journal.

In order to stay flush with cash, just last month Sharp jumped into bed with Hon Hai which bought a 46.5 percent of Sharp's display business and 50 percent of LCD production at Sharp's Sakai, Osako-based plant, for around $800 million.

Sharp is not the only Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer that has been struggling with profitability; Sony and Panasonic have both alluded to posting similar record annual losses when their reports come out next month. South Korean giants Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics dominate the market.

Image via Danijel Šivinjski/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Twitter releases eight case studies for developers to digest

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 11:50 AM PDT

The handy devs down at Twitter have just released some case studies into the wild. These eight case studies delve into the best practices of companies and products using the Twitter APIs.

Zappos, Etsy, Pocket Gems, Reuters, ESPN, Esri, Tiny Prints, and Feeding America were highlighted in the case studies. “In the future, we aim to add more examples that show interesting and high impact uses of Twitter’s platform,” writes Twitter platform marketing guy Seth Bindernagel on the company’s developer blog.

The case studies being released today include clever integrations of Twitter buttons, mobile features, curation via Mass Relevance, and more. The studies presented are light on technical details but do give some good general pointers and partnership suggestions.

For example, Reuters used Twitter to turn World Economic Forums attendees in Davos into citizen journalists. The news organization built a “Media Wall that Reuters could use at conferences, political conventions, sporting events, and more,” the Reuters case study reads. “They debuted the wall at Davos, capturing all the photos and videos being tweeted, allowing users to see full resolution versions of the photo or watch videos in-line.”

Feeding America, on the other hand, used some analytics features to more than double its site traffic. “Working with Performics and using BrightEdge technology, Feeding America combined information on Tweet volumes for specific topics with search engine rankings and web analytics data to determine what to tweet about,” reads the organization’s case study. “They then matched that with their most relevant web site content to reference in outbound tweets. By consistently tweeting about trending topics where they already had great content, Feeding America achieved great results.”

Some of the case studies contain links to more data and fuller explanations of best practices, as well. We’re looking forward to seeing more of these soon.

Filed under: dev

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TicketLeap becomes first ticketing startup with reserved seating options

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 11:40 AM PDT


Ticking startup TicketLeap has become the first ticketing startup to add a reserved seating feature and the ability to create custom seating charts, the company announced today.

While Ticketmaster has offered the ability to do this for event organizers and ticket buyers for quite some time, the feature has surprisingly been missing from the startup ticketing scene where Eventbrite, Ticketfly, and TicketLeap have been battling it out. Basically, the new service will make it a lot easier to use a non-Ticketmaster solution to create ticketed seating at events.

The new service can do the following for the ambitious event planner:

• Create a visual representation of their venue: Including seating charts and rows of seats that can be color-coded based on section and ranked by desirability on a 1-10 scale.
• Offer handicapped seating: For any wheelchair accessible or closed caption support seating needs.
• Save venue creation for future use: Once a venue is created, it will be saved on the TicketLeap platform as an option for all future events.

"Our goal is to continue refining and simplifying the ticketing process for event organizers, and we're stoked to be the first company to bring the self-service, reserved seating functionality to market," said Chris Stanchak, founder and CEO of TicketLeap, in a statement. "We're all about catering the ticketing experience to the needs of all our customers, and this new feature allows us to further the personalization and customization process of creating events and selling tickets."

Philadelphia-based TicketLeap was founded in 2003 and has raised about $8 million to date from MentorTech Ventures, NextStage Capital, Seneca Advisors, Gabriel Investors, and Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

Check out a few more photos below of TicketLeap’s seating interface:

Seating photo: Karen Roe/Flickr

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Check out the world’s longest invoice: $8.5M and counting

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 11:32 AM PDT

Freelancing has its upsides: flexible hours, working from wherever, calling the shots, and generally doing it for yourself. But there’s one major downside that almost no freelancer has escaped: the deadbeat client who refuses to pay an invoice.

That abhorrent phenomenon is the driver behind the World’s Longest Invoice, a running tally from stiffed freelancers to non-paying clients. The effort was organized by the Freelancers Union, and the bill currently sits at $8.48 million as of this writing.

What’s on the invoice? Michel B. was stiffed out of $21,000 worth of software development; Cullen M. lost $60 in PHP work; Kate C. did $450 worth of web design that she never got paid for. On the invoice, you’ll see the occasional complaint about unpaid-for T-shirt design or wedding invitations, but by and large, the legions of unpaid are complaining about a lot of “pro bono” web work.

“In 2010 alone, more than 40 percent were stiffed,” the union’s Jaclyn Kessel said in a conversation with VentureBeat today. “77 percent of freelancers are stiffed at some point in their career.”

Deadbeat clients are possibly the single biggest pain of freelancers’ work. In spite of contractual obligations and even legal threats, these kinds of clients will steadfastly refuse to honor previous agreements or even acknowledge your repeated requests for payment. They might string you along for months with promises to pay, only to leave you hanging.

Sure, you could take them to small claims court, but even after the hours of bureaucracy involved in that process, you still might end up empty-handed.

“Right now, freelancers have to sue, or walk away,” said Kessel. “They don’t have the same Department of Labor Protections that traditional employees enjoy — that’s why we sponsored first of its kind legislation in New York State giving freelancers equal protection from deadbeat companies.”

So, the World’s Longest Invoice is a campaign to bring awareness to the issue. Basically, it’s an online counter where freelancers can add the amount they are still owed by deadbeat clients.

Strangely enough, these clients aren’t all no-name mom-and-pop shops or shady SMBs. “We’ve seen blue chip companies like Time demand a 5 percent ‘on-time’ fee, and we’ve seen small boutique firms close shop and open under different names just to avoid paying freelancers what they’re owed,” said Kessel.

The Freelancers Union, in addition to providing its members with healthcare options and other benefits, also advocates for legislation to make it harder for non-paying clients to get away with their unbelievably rude and actually criminal behavior. The union estimates that last year, freelancers lost around $4,600 each due to non-paying clients.

“We want to demonstrate the scope and the toll of the problem on new workers and our economy, so we can build a new set protections that makes sense for 21st century workers,” Kessel said. “In New York, we sponsored first-of-its-kind legislation giving freelancers equal Department of Labor protection from deadbeats — we hope it’ll serve as a national model.”

Filed under: dev

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Cinemagram, an app for creating and sharing animated GIFs, adds 1 million users in six weeks

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 10:49 AM PDT

The animated GIF is one of the few native art forms on the web, a delightful micro-movie which has spawned countless memes. Cinemagram combines the stylish filters and simple sharing of Instagram with a app that allows users to turn short three-second videos into animated GIFs. In the six weeks since it was released as a free app on iOS, it has added more than one million users.

“We released it as a paid app back in February and tried to keep the community small while we worked out the kinks,” said co-founder and CEO Temo Chalasani. “We built a strong group of creative minds, figured out to flag inappropriate content, and since launching the free version in March, have just seen incredible growth.”

Chalasani is in Silicon Valley right now raising money — we hear a round in the million dollar range. Cinemagram was created by Factyle, an app studio where Chalasani and his co-founder work. Previously they created Smartr, a social news reader, which they have since folded to focus full-time on Cinemagram.

Tens of thousands of cinemagrams are created each day, and it’s quite a global audience. “Our biggest markets are the United States, China, and Brazil says Chalasani. “I think that speaks to what an intuitive and web native art form this is.”

Next up on the to do list is hiring, the company is currently just two people, and launching an Android version.

Here are a few more fun examples from the service:

Filed under: media, mobile, social

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Google Zerg rush attacks your search results with this fun Starcraft-inspired easter egg

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 10:32 AM PDT

Quick, get your trigger finger ready. Head over to Google.com and type “zerg rush” (without the quotes) into the search field. Clicking on the search icon or hitting return on your keyboard will cause the Google logo to drop tons of little letter Os to attack the entire page, destroying all the search results shown.

You can click on the rogue letters, but — like the Zerglings they’re inspired by — they’ll just keep coming. You have no hope of escape — only clicking away to postpone the inevitable.

“For n00bs who aren’t as familiar with real-time strategy games, there’s been a zerg rush on your search results page,” said a Google spokesperson who asked not to be identified. “Because there should always be time to practice your gaming skills, click on the zerg units to defend the results page and try not to get pwned. Then you can share your APM score on Google+. GLHF!”

The Zerg rush is a term Starcraft players use to refer to a strategy when controlling the Zerg, one of three playable factions in the real-time strategy (RTS) game created by Blizzard, Calif.-based publishers of World of Warcraft and upcoming Diablo III. The Zerg rush involves creating tons and tons of little Zergling units and sending them to attack enemies at an early stage of the game before the enemies have had a chance to set up enough defenses.

Starcraft and Starcraft II have sold well enough to get their own expansion packs (Starcraft II’s is not yet available), and are the face of modern professional gaming — most notably in South Korea, where players compete for large prizes for millions of fans.

Google is, obviously, a search and advertising giant with a sense of humor. They are based in California.

[Image credit: Source]

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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Non-gamers, here’s why you should care about games

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 10:00 AM PDT

As an early investor in social gaming, I'm often speaking on panels to audiences of gamers, investors, and game company execs. At one such event —  the Future of Media conference hosted by Stanford's Graduate School of Business — the opening question was why gaming is relevant to people who are not gamers. The panelists — folks from IGN, Activision, GaiKai, and Riot Games as well as myself — gave some interesting reasons for why non-gamers should care about the game market:

Gaming has gone mainstream: Many sub-two-year-olds have played with a touch screen, and games are the No. 1 form of entertainment for the under-25 crowd.

Discoverability is still elusive: There is at least one game that is relevant to each of us, whether Call of Duty, League of Legends, Words with Friends, or whatever your taste might be. And many of the hidden gems on platforms like social, browser, and mobile are still hard to find.

Gaming has become a conversation: With the onset of cloud gaming, the activity has gone beyond an isolated, immersive experience to a dialogue between players themselves, as well as between the player and the game developer/publisher (with ongoing content and item additions as iterative weekly "expansion packs," as well as games operators studying emergent player behavior and quickly productizing around unexpected use cases). The freemium business model accelerates the need to shift from a priced, pre-packaged offering to a free2play service that's server-driven, and terrific companies like Gaikai, Riot Games, and Kixeye have taken established genres and evolved them with new formats (in-browser, on Facebook, digital download) and new business models.

Mobile is the new creative playground: With consoles, TVs and set-top boxes opening up platform and network APIs and becoming increasingly cloud-connected, and with the ubiquity of mobile devices, gaming can still create “indie” sleeper hits vs. the Hollywood model of four dominant studios with a handful of tentpole blockbuster franchises – look at the success of Angry Birds as a starting point. Tablets are especially ripe for richer game experiences, including "midcore" gaming with RTS and RPG genres.

Gaming pushes the boundaries of technology and spurs innovation: The gaming industry has piloted tech innovations like IM, gesture control, and 3D graphics, which are being used by mainstream consumers. One of our companies, Couchbase, recently provided the noSQL database platform that supported the rapid growth of OMGPOP's Draw Something from zero-25 million users in six weeks.

Gamification – leveraging game mechanics for non-game purposes — will disrupt many industries: The era of gamification tools, such as badges, leaderboards, levels, "missions," and scores, is going to turbocharge end-user acquisition, onboarding, engagement, retention, and conversion in fields ranging from health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition to financial services, HR, and customer support work. And gamification will provide game designers with new professional opportunities and creative outlets to make a big impact by applying their gaming chops outside of the games industry. As an investor, I'm excited about the potential of learning from gaming to design microtransactions and freemium conversion models (leveraging behavioral economics, social psychology, and the 7 Deadly Sins as a design framework) that help us monetize other media like movies and music. This is what led me to invest in enterprise gamification companies like Badgeville, which is killing it as a SaaS company (much like Salesforce.com did for CRM systems, Omniture for basic web analytics, and Mayfield SaaS portfolio companies Gigya and Marketo are doing for social infrastructure and marketing automation, respectively).

Tim Chang is an investor with the Mayfield Fund, whose past investments include ngMoco (acquired by DENA), Playdom (acquired by Disney), Lumos Labs, and Badgeville.  His current superpowers include gamification, quantified self and the art of the freemium business model. Couchbase,  Gigya and Marketo are Mayfield Fund investments. Chang will be a speaker at our upcoming GamesBeat 2012 conference.

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, mobile, VentureBeat

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Big Fish Games CEO hands reins back to founder Paul Thelen

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 09:47 AM PDT

Jeremy Lewis is stepping down as chief executive of casual game company Big Fish Games. He will be replaced by company founder Paul Thelen, who had previously served as chairman and chief strategy officer.

Lewis (pictured above) did not offer a reason for stepping down. He said he will remain on the board.

Thelen (pictured right) bootstrapped Big Fish Games in 2002 as a one-man game development studio. He created a hit game, Mahjong Towers, and launched the Big Fish Marketplace a year later. In 2006, Thelen recruited Lewis from his post as managing director at Goldman Sachs. Lewis became president and chief operating officer and in 2008 Lewis became CEO. That year, Big Fish Games raised $83 million in venture funding.

Lewis helped turn Big Fish Games into one of the huge companies in casual games with more than $180 million in revenues and more than a billion downloads. In 2012, the company has had a number of $1 million-plus revenue days on the PC and Mac platforms. Lewis said the company is on track for an excellent 2012 and it recently acquired free-to-play social casino game maker Self Aware Games.

Thelen said the company plans to launch its “universal cloud gaming service” to offer free-to-play games later this year, and it plans to move more deeply into Facebook with its Ace Casino platform. Lewis has worked for 20 years nonstop and he looks forward to spending time with his wife and three kids.

Here’s a copy of Lewis’ memo to employees:

Hello Everyone,

Today is an important day for me and my family, my talented friends and colleagues at Big Fish, and for our burgeoning marketplace of partners and customers.  Roughly six years ago I joined our Founder, Paul Thelen, as his partner in building Big Fish.  Since then we’ve grown the company organically through several life stages and emerged as a leading digital brand with strong momentum and huge continued potential. This is a natural point in our company’s progression for me to pass the responsibilities as President and CEO back to Paul, who at this stage is best suited to lead us forward.  He will bring his characteristic entrepreneurial drive and creativity to the forefront.  I will continue to support Big Fish as a member of the Company’s Board of Directors.

Back in 2002 Paul bootstrapped Big Fish as a one person game development studio.  He put the company on the map with his hit game, Mahjong Towers.  A year later he launched the Big Fish Marketplace, a data and analytics driven web platform now providing millions of consumers premium casual games developed by the company’s hundreds of development partners.

In 2006 Paul recruited me from my Managing Director post at Goldman Sachs to be his President and COO.  In 2008 he promoted me to CEO.  That same year we closed an $83MM financing and with our new partners expanded Big Fish’s foot print to several new countries and extended our marketplace to mobile.  In 2010 we surpassed one billion consumer downloads on PC and Mac and in 2011 we emerged as a top 10 publisher on iPad.  Also in 2011 we launched internal R&D for Big Fish’s Universal Cloud Gaming Service that will come to life in 2012.  To date in 2012 we’ve achieved several record breaking $1MM+ revenue days on our PC and Mac platform and introduced our first free-to-play virtual goods games on iPad and iPhone.  Further to our long term mobile strategy we acquired Self Aware Games, the leading free-to-play mobile/social casino platform.  Each year since our founding we have driven substantial revenue growth and we are on track for another excellent year in 2012.  You have a lot to proud of!

Looking ahead into 2012 there is so much to anticipate, including the commercial launch of our Universal Cloud Gaming Service, the expansion of our PC, Mac and Mobile marketplaces to offer free-to-play games, and the extension of our reach into Facebook starting with the category leading Ace Casino platform.

Reflecting on my time working, learning, and building to scale with all of you during these last several years, what I’m most grateful for is your commitment to Big Fish’s well-defined, strong culture and values.  The dynamic culture you have authored will continue to serve as a compass, guiding your judgments and leading to your future achievements.  Your core values — Customer Goodness, Focus, Passion, and Integrity — will continue empowering you to adapt, compete, and thrive.

Please join me in wishing Paul the very best as he stewards the company he founded into its very bright future.

With gratitude and warmest regards to all of you, carry on!


[Photo credits: Dean Takahashi, Big Fish Games]

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, VentureBeat

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