02 May, 2012

VentureBeat

VentureBeat


Unifyo launches as a unified inbox for maintaining social relationships (exclusive)

Posted: 02 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

social inbox puzzle

A startup called Handy Elephant has just released an app to bridge the gap between your inbox and cloud applications. The app, called Unifyo, is to be a unified inbox where people can check and respond to all incoming social networking messages in your email client.

The product’s makers ultimately hope to help people successfully maintain and build deeper relationships with the thousands of contacts they’ve encountered on the web.

“We’re having so many more relationships, active relationships, these days that it’s hard to get an overview of them,” Handy Elephant founder and CEO Benjamin Wirtz said in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat. “You have your few thousand friends on Facebook, and you’re maintaining business relationships with LinkedIn, Twitter, and email. That’s just a large amount of people that you’re in touch with, and I wanted to create a solution that makes it easier for people to deal with that.”

click to enlarge

The version of Unifyo (pictured right) out today is a phase one release that connects to Facebook and Twitter to pull in mentions, direct messages, and Facebook messages for an inbox unified across those popular social channels. Social messages are sandwiched in a right-hand column where users can view and respond without needing to navigate back to the social network in question.

I found the tool simple at best, and unnecessary at worst (the only good news is that it works with Rapportive, so you don’t have to uninstall one for the other). But I’m missing the bigger picture, Wirtz explained. Unifyo will soon sync with CRM services such as Salesforce to pull in customer data and conversation history, and eventually become a take-it-with-you-as-you-browse relationship management necessity, he said.

“Once you have a unified inbox, then wherever you go on the web and you see a name that looks familiar, we can tell you exactly how you know that person,” Wirtz said of Handy Elephant’s future plans for Unifyo. “That can be in your project management tool, on Eventbrite or Plancast … on Hashable and that sort of stuff.”

So Unifyo will store a master list of contacts from across multiple social and CRM platforms for you. Then, when you load a website, perhaps an event invitation for instance, the tool will show you which of the contacts on the page look familiar, how you know these folks, and your previous conversations with them. “It’s a lot about giving you the information you need at hand,” Wirtz said.

Okay, that’s admittedly a bit cooler than direct messages in my email client, even though it does border on the creepy side of the social intelligence spectrum.

For now, though, this futuristic version of Unifyo is in the proof-of-concept stage. Handy Elephant will, however, update Unifyo with CRM integration and syncing at the end of the month.

Unifyo is free for individuals and will eventually be offered to companies for a fee. 500 VentureBeat readers can get early access to the beta release.

Founded in 2010, Cambridge, UK-based Handy Elephant has raised an undisclosed sum of seed funding from the Citrix Startup Accelerator.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


Filed under: social


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Stitcher’s Election Center app gives Obama, Romney yet another outlet

Posted: 02 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

stitcher-radio-obama

Stitcher, the iOS and Android radio app that is trying improve the state of non-music streaming content, has added an Election Center section to its app to keep people in the loop on the contentious 2012 U.S. elections.

Stitcher’s in-app programming already includes high-profile shows like NPR's Fresh Air, Rush Limbaugh, CNN News, Chelsea Lately, Marc Maron, and Fox Sports. But now the application will have a section dedicated purely to the election that can keep political watchers up-to-the-minute with news and updates. News and updates will mostly come from media outlets, but there’s also a section for candidates themselves.

Notably, only the Obama campaign has signed up to issue direct updates. That said, the Romney campaign’s messages and updates will be coming soon, according to Colin Billings, Stitcher’s Director of Product.

Billings said this update shows the direction Stitcher will take in quest to make audio programming better. He said the app only offers on-demand streaming now, but the company is working on a way to let people save content for later listening, for when they don’t have access to wireless data or want to conserve battery.

“We’re trying to innovate the radio and audio space and evolve the medium,” Billings told us.

San Francisco-based Stitcher has raised about $20 million to date, with its last round totaling $10 million. Investors include New Enterprise Associates, Benchmark Capital, New Atlantic Ventures, and Ron Conway.

Take a better look at the new Election Center below:

Pres. Obama photo: Becky Fiedler/Flickr


Filed under: media


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Facebook’s open-source hardware project gets new momentum, new allies, and new specs

Posted: 02 May 2012 08:29 AM PDT

What do HP, Salesforce, AMD, VMWare, and Alibaba all have in common?

They’re all partners in the Facebook-led Open Compute Project, a group that aims to revolutionize computer hardware through the power of open-source collaboration.

Facebook’s Open Compute Project is having its third Summit event today, and it’s bringing together some of the best minds in the world to solve problems of data center efficiency, server design, and more.

Most of its partner companies have a stake in the issue, either because they use massive server resources, because they design and sell hardware and chips, or because they are involved in creating the software that makes all this hardware more efficient.

“The momentum that has gathered behind the project – especially in the last six months — has been nothing short of amazing,” wrote Frank Frankovsky, Facebook’s hardware design guru, in a blog post this morning.

Frankovsky notes that the OCP now includes HP, AMD, Tencent, Salesforce, VMware, Canonical, Vantage, Alibaba, Supermicro, and Cloudscaling among its members, and that HP, Quanta, and Tencent have also joined the project’s Incubation Committee. This committee is responsible for reviewing proposals for official OCP support.

As far as new projects are concerned, Frankovksy said OCP has accepted proposals for a vanity-free storage server called "Knox") and two high-efficiency motherboards, code-named "Roadrunner" and "Decathlete," designed with the specific needs of financial services companies in mind.

OCP is also merging specs with Baidu and Tencent for its Open Rack design for servers.

Finally, the OCP project is doing what most open-source projects do these days: It’s launching support services for customers to easily and comfortably get started with its Open Rack designs. The OCP Solutions Provider program will allow companies to sell and use hardware based on OCP specs.

“Companies currently pursuing Solutions Provider status include Hyve, ZT Systems, and Avnet, as well as new business units from Quanta and Wistron (called QCT and Wiwynn, respectively) that have been launched to sell directly to consumers,” Frankovsky concluded.

The OCP got rolling about one year ago. At that time, Facebook’s vision of open-source hardware got started because Facebook itself was having trouble scaling its servers out in a way that made business sense.

"We looked at why things were done the way they were, and it always came down to legacy. Challenging legacies and starting from scratch was the most innovative thing we did in the project," Facebook OCP lead Amir Michae told VentureBeat in an interview last fall.

"It's natural in an environment where companies are trying to remain profitable to keep some pieces of innovation to themselves. But they also need to be able to share and engage with the community,” Michael concluded, encouraging other companies to get involved in the open-source hardware project.

Stay tuned for more coming up soon from today’s Open Compute Project Summit.

Also, if this is a story you find interesting, you should check out what Facebook is doing with Ringark, its mobile browser testing suite, and the W3C Core Mobile Web Platform Community Group.

Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell


Filed under: dev


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Bing fights Google with simplicity, cleans up search results page

Posted: 02 May 2012 08:27 AM PDT

Bing has had an epiphany.

Rather than compete with Google in the sheer number of features it can cram onto its results page, Microsoft’s search engine is going the opposite direction towards simplification by releasing a clean, more streamlined results page.

The result is pretty nice: Microsoft has stripped the Bing results page down to its very skivvies, tightening up the header area and moving the Related Searches from the left side to the lower right. The result is a clean, simple page that’s far less cluttered and far more attractive than the overwhelming mass of information that the Google results page has become.

Simplicity, it seems, is now a point of differentiation for Bing, and one that Microsoft hopes information-inundated web users will notice. It’s a somewhat perverse notion that simplicity has become a feature in the technology world – but its also very telling. As the success of simple interfaces like iOS has shown, less has now become more. And as you can see from the Metro interface on Windows Phone and Windows 8, simplicity is a concept that Microsoft finally seems to understand.

The Bing design shift is important for another reason. In the wake of the controversy surrounding Google’s Search Plus Your World results, users have been fleeing the search engine towards the welcoming arms of competing services like Bing and DuckDuckGo.

That’s evidence that Google, for all of its market dominance, is more than a bit vulnerable. And Bing may just capitalize on that.

Via TechCrunch


Filed under: VentureBeat


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Nokia straps on boxing gloves, files patent suits against HTC, RIM, Viewsonic

Posted: 02 May 2012 08:06 AM PDT

After proving it can still innovate in the smartphone arena with the Lumia 900, Nokia is now getting aggressive about defending its patents. The company announced this morning that it has filed patent suits against HTC, Research in Motion, and Viewsonic in the U.S. and Germany.

“We have already licensed our standards essential patents to more than 40 companies,” Nokia’s chief legal officer Louise Pentland wrote in a statement this morning. “Though we’d prefer to avoid litigation, Nokia had to file these actions to end the unauthorized use of our proprietary innovations and technologies, which have not been widely licensed.”

While patent litigation is becoming tiresome, it makes sense for Nokia to fight for compensation and potential licensing deals given its poor showing last quarter, where it saw a loss of $1.7 billion.

Nokia is suing for infringements on 45 patents, including hardware features like “dual function antennas, power management and multimode radios,” and software features that include multitasking, navigation, and application stores. Pentland called many of the patents “fundamental” to Nokia’s products — a sign that the company won’t back down easily.

Specifically, Nokia issued a complaint to the ITC against HTC; filed suit against Viewsonic and HTC in a Delaware federal court;  filed suit against RIM and HTC in the Regional Court in Dusseldorf, Germany; and filed suit against all three companies in the Regional Courts in Mannheim and Munich, Germany.

We’ve asked for comment from HTC, RIM, and Viewsonic, and will update when we hear back. (Update: RIM declined to comment on litigation.)


Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat


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The biggest revelations about Call of Duty: Black Ops II (spoilers)

Posted: 02 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT


Activision Blizzard‘s Treyarch game studio lifted the veil on Call of Duty: Black Ops II yesterday. We got a special briefing at the company’s headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif. Here’s the list of the most surprising revelations from the rundown about this next game, which is the latest in the series that has dominated sales in recent years.

1. Oliver North, retired U.S. Marine Corps officer who was indicted for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair,  served as a consultant for the design team. He was particularly helpful in describing the environment for black operations, or secret military missions, of the 1980s.

2. Los Angeles is destroyed. The city was evacuated, but the drones didn’t like the architecture and attacked en masse. You discover this in the first mission of the game. Well, if Washington, D.C.; New York; Paris; and London had their turn in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, it’s logical that the entertainment capital of the world would be next on the list.

3. Rare earth elements. We’re going to be fighting over these 17 metals in the future. When you think about it, Iran has 10 percent of the world’s oil, but China has a lock on 95 percent of these minerals, which are used in all sorts of electronic products and batteries.

4. Frank Woods, an iconic soldier from the first Black Ops game, is back in the new game, even though he died already.

5. Zombies will be back and bigger than ever with a brand new world and in brand new modes. The undead have been sighted in Santa Monica.

6. Flying drones are going to take over combat in the future. Don’t go into battle without one. In the future, a madman villain will be able to hack into the military infrastructure and take control of the entire fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles.

7. The second Cold War will be between the U.S. and China.

8. The 3D graphics on consoles will look better than in previous games thanks to improvements in software efficiency. But the game still runs at 60 frames per second.

9. Strike Force Mode will allow you to play from different combat perspectives, including a commander with an overhead view of the battle, a mech-like robotic CLAW, a drone, or an individual soldier. You can switch from one role to another to bring the most firepower upon the enemy.

10. The last frontier for making realistic human faces is getting the lips to look right during speech. If the computer animators succeed in this regard, then video game characters will look as real as we do. Meet the face of Raul Menendez, the villain of the game.

11. One of the sniper guns has a scope that lets you see the outlines of enemies hiding behind barriers of wood, metal, or concrete. If you fire at them, you can kill them.

12. They did motion capture with a horse. And you get to ride a horse as a player.

13. The audio team used the sound of metal on dry ice to simulate the sound of a skyscraper falling.


Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, VentureBeat


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Big data startup Birst grabs $26M to transform business intelligence

Posted: 02 May 2012 07:31 AM PDT

birst-26m-business-intelligence

Big data startup Birst has raised $26 million in its fourth round of funding, with a goal accelerating growth and product development, the company announced today.

Birst is part of a relatively crowded field of business intelligence players including QlikTech, SAP, IBM, Oracle, GoodData, and Microstrategy. But Birst claims it only allocates “one-third the cost, time, and staff of traditional big BI,” while still being available as in SaaS form and on-premise. That sort of flexibility is quite attractive, and Birst can connect to multiple data sources, such as CRM, ERP, financial, and operational systems.

The new funding round was led by big dog VC firm Sequoia Capital with additional participation by prior investors Hummer Winblad and DAG Ventures.

"This is an extraordinary time for us,” said Brad Peters, CEO and Co-Founder of Birst, in a statement. “We founded Birst to change the way the world used and interacted with BI and by pushing the envelope of possibility we are witnessing great success. This investment furthers Birst's ability to continue to drive innovation and expand our solution to new markets and new audiences. We are thrilled to have world-class investors such as Sequoia Capital by our side."

San Francisco-based Birst was founded in 2004 and has now raised a total of $46 million, including today’s funding.

Check out a video describing Birst’s dashboards below:


Filed under: cloud, deals


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Apple’s iOS head sold 95% (worth $38.7M) of his stock on Friday

Posted: 02 May 2012 07:18 AM PDT

Apple’s senior vice president for iOS Scott Forstall took advantage of Apple’s high stock price last Friday and sold 64,151 shares worth around $38.7 million.

The stock sale (PDF) relieved Forstall of around 95 percent of his Apple holdings, Fortune’s Philip Elmer-Dewitt reports, and leaves him with 2,988 shares worth $1.8 million as of Friday.

While it may look like Forstall is planning his escape from Apple, the sale seems more to be a well-time moved to make the most of his Apple stock. And his Apple stock portfolio won’t be empty for too long, as Forstall has over 350,000 restricted stock units that will vest over the next four years (as long as he sticks with Apple).

Elmer-Dewitt points out that the stock Forstall sold on Friday came from a 120,000-share retention bonus issued back in 2008, but which only vested last month. All of this is on top of Forstall’s $700,000 annual salary. Given that he’s responsible for Apple’s iOS business — which counted for $29 billion of the company’s $39 billion revenues last quarter – I’d imagine that Apple will do whatever it takes to keep him around.


Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat


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Prezi zooms past 10M users, releases PowerPoint import tool

Posted: 02 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

In building an intuitive and fluid alternative to PowerPoint, startup Prezi is helping presenters reimagine their productions. Tuesday, the company announced that it surpassed 10 million users, and released a PowerPoint import tool to help members transition from outdated presentations to the zooming future.

Founded in 2009, Prezi is a venture-backed startup that makes an unconventional, non-linear, web-based presentation and collaboration tool built around cognitive science and spacial-relativity constructs. Prezi members can collect all of their ideas in a single canvas, zoom in to tell a single story, and zoom out to highlight the bigger picture.

“Prezi is a tool where we move beyond the slide and think beyond ideas that don’t fit in an email,” Prezi CEO Peter Arvai said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’ve found it to be a powerful way of conveying a message.”

Prezi's growth

The company’s recent hockey-stick growth supports Arvai’s statements. The web, mobile, and desktop tool has attracted more than 10 million users who are creating a “prezi” every second. Prezi also has more than doubled its user base in less than a year, is being used by people in every country around the world, and has attracted employees at 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies, Arvai added.

Tuesday, PowerPoint-switchers can make the complete leap over to Prezi. The company has released a PowerPoint import tool for uploading PowerPoint presentations and slides — all at once or one at time. During the import process, slide elements are coded into objects that can then be easily inserted into prezis.

“This was not a simple solution,” Arvai said. “We’ve been working on this for seven to eight months.”

PowerPoint import will be a popular feature for the startup if the response to an early beta test of the product is any indication. More than 200,000 PowerPoints were uploaded during a pilot period, Arvai said.

Prezi has offices in San Francisco and Budapest. The startup employs 70 staffers, has raised $15.5 million in funding to date, and is cash-flow positive.


Filed under: VentureBeat


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DataSift scores new round to make sense of social data, plans move into startup city

Posted: 02 May 2012 06:25 AM PDT

DataSift, a social data platform that extracts large amounts of data from a number of online sources, raised $7.2 million in a first round of funding from existing investors IA Ventures and GRP Partners, the company announced today. The funding will aid in accelerating its growth with real-time and historic social data due to consumer demands.

Along with plans to move into a new office in San Francisco's SOMA district, the company's ability to mine social data from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and other mediums is helping businesses understand how their social marketing is reaching out to the public by providing analytic and visualization tools. For nearly $200 per month a business can use the service to enhance the productivity of their social data and analyze consumer interaction.

"DataSift has been flooded with interest from both customers and investors since our launch in November. We are seeing incredible demand from a wide variety of sectors of customers, including Social Media Monitoring, Business Intelligence, News and Finance," Rob Bailey, CEO, said in a press release. "While we were not actively looking for financing, we were lucky to receive a fantastic offer from our existing investors that will enable us to continue building our business without the distraction of raising a funding round."

Over the last four years, DataSift has developed technology and software that filters through billions of tweets for simpler analysis. To date the company boasts over 200 corporate customers in its portfolio that is also inclusive of Fortune 500 businesses.

To date the company has raised over $15 million in funding.

Photo via Ken-Lee


Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat


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Runkeeper is Pebble smartwatch’s first app partner, with integration at launch

Posted: 02 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT

pebble smartwatch

The Pebble smartwatch has been a runaway success story for Kickstarter’s crowdfunding model, with almost $8 million pledged for the project so far. Now Runkeeper, a popular app for measuring and tracking your fitness, is joining in on the fun as Pebble’s first app partner at launch.

Pebble integrates with your smartphone via Bluetooth, and uses its E-Ink display to show information like incoming call data, calendar entries, and social media updates. After years of failed attempts at a truly useful smartwatch, it looks like Pebble has struck a chord with consumers with its elegant design and customizable app experience.

Jason Jacobs, CEO of Runkeeper, wrote on the company blog today: “We know that many of you are always looking for ways to make your fitness tracking easier, and with Pebble integration, you won't ever have to pull the phone out of your pocket or armband – you can just see and do everything you need right from your watch.”

As one of the more than 53,000 people backing Pebble, I’m glad to see the company is already building up its app ecosystem. Runkeeper has already proven itself as one of the most useful exercise apps on the market, so it seems like a perfect fit for Pebble.

Notably, Pebble was initially rejected by venture capitalists when it was seeking funding. But now with its massive Kickstarter success, the company is able to turn its dream into a reality without giving up any equity.

Pebble still has two weeks left in its Kickstarter pledge round, which means the company could see close to $10 million in pre-sales at this current rate. The smartwatches are scheduled to ship sometime in September (though I’m hoping the extra funds will help the company get it out earlier).


Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat


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Dailymotion adds Flattr’s crowdfunding button to original videos

Posted: 02 May 2012 05:43 AM PDT

Dailymotion screenshot

Creators wishing to distribute their video content online for consumption by the masses have plenty of services to choose from, but the same isn’t always true for getting compensated for the work. Fortunately, web video site Dailymotion thinks its found a winning solution through a new partnership announced today with crowd-funded micropayments service Flattr.

“Not only is this a great way to compensate video creators, but it [Flattr] will help democratize the way content is being monetized," Dailymotion U.S. Managing Director Roland Hamilton told VentureBeat.

Flattr is the genius idea of Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde and Linus Olsson that allows for virtually any thing on the web to receive crowdfunding by clicking a “Flattr button” associated with a particular project, piece of content, software, or service. Flattr works by having users set up an account that they can add monthly donations to, which ranges from a few bucks to several hundred dollars. Flattr users then use the web as normal, clicking Flattr buttons whenever they find something worthwhile. At the end of the month, the total donation in a person’s account is divided up equally based on how many times you clicked the Flattr button. The funds are then distributed accordingly.

“Most people create content and hope they will make a living on it, but get little or no money,” Olsson told VentureBeat. “Flattr may not be a main source of income, but maybe it’s enough to buy a new camera or microphone… or even just some beers for their fans.” He added that those small improvements can be just as important for creators.

As part of the partnership, video creators that belong to Dailymotion’s Motionmakers' program – the site's premium content hub for users to upload their own HD content – can now embed a Flattr button on their channel page as well as on each individual video page. The Flattr button is only accessible via the website, but Dailymotion said its working on adding functionality for mobile devices, Xbox Live apps, and embedded videos in the future. Flattr will split its regular 10 percent transaction fee for Flattr donations with Dailymotion.

I’ve been intrigued by Flattr since its beta launched in 2010. Flattr adapts the concept of clicking Facebook’s “Like” button (or Digg’s digg button, Twitter’s retweet, StumbleUpon’s stumble, Reddit’s upvote arrow, etc.) and turns it into something that matters every day. Most social news aggregators offer a reward in the form of increased visibility through popularity. Honestly, I can see how most people would become apathetic to clicking buttons every day, especially after the promotional benefits are exhausted. With Flattr, you actually have a reason to continue clicking because it’s putting money into the pockets of people who create stuff you care about.

Flattr’s Olsson told me that the micropayment service is primarily used to fund people working on open-source software and news blogs, but the partnership with Dailymotion could help push crowd-funded video content the forefront for Flattr donations. Dailymotion brings in 114 million unique visitors per month that generate over 1.5 billion video views, according to a recent comScore report.

The new Flattr integration may provide some creators with an incentive to host their content through Dailymotion rather than other video sites. YouTube, which is arguably the biggest home for video creators, only offers advertising partnerships to generate money on videos hosted on its site. If you don’t get a massive number of video views every month, you’re probably not even going to see a paycheck — even if a small number of people are extremely enthusiastic about your videos and willing to pony up obscene amounts of cash to see more of it *ahemFirefly*. At least with Dailymotion, you can now set up a tip cup next to a person’s monitor to compensate for the lack of major advertising potential.

Screenshot via Dailymotion


Filed under: deals, media, social, VentureBeat


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Spotify finally debuts iPad app after an annoyingly long wait

Posted: 02 May 2012 05:22 AM PDT

spotify-ipad-app

Streaming service Spotify has finally launched an app for the Apple iPad after a strangely long wait, the company announced today.

Spotify is most closely watched of the new crop of streaming music services, battling it out with the likes of MOG, Rdio, and Rhapsody. The service has attracted more than 3 million paid users across 13 countries. Rhapsody, which has been around since 2003, has more than 1 million paying users in the U.S. alone.

The new Spotify iPad app has been in the works for quite a while, and both Rdio and MOG debuted iPad app before it. Rdio launched its iPad app in August 2011 while MOG made its iPad debut this past March. Since Spotify gets more attention and scrutiny than its peers, the company was constantly questioned where the heck its iPad app was and why it was taking so long.

But alas, the day has finally come. The app features support for the latest iPad’s Retina display, advanced search through the Spotify catalog of 17 million songs, hot and trending playlists, an inbox sorted by users, gapless playback, and AirPlay integration.

You can take a look at screenshots below of the new app:

And you can watch Spotify’s promo video below:


Filed under: media


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Redesigned Weather.com tells you exactly when the rain will stop

Posted: 02 May 2012 05:00 AM PDT

weather.com-redesign

Weather.com, one of the 20 most popular sites on the web, has redesigned its site with new social and personalization features, and it can now even predict the exact minute the rain outside will stop.

As someone who uses the site or its iOS apps nearly every day, I find it to be fairly reliable and incredibly helpful for planning my day. I’m clearly not alone, as the site attracts more than 1 billion pageviews and more than 60 million unique visitors each month. Not every single page will be different with the new design, but the changes will affect the look and feel of the site for 95 percent of its traffic.

Cameron Clayton, executive vice president for digital products at The Weather Channel, sat down with me and outlined the changes. He said the most notable page where people will see the difference will be the one for their local weather. On that page, temperatures and some other content have been condensed and brought up higher, including the weather map, which used to be down near the bottom of the page. You’ll also now be able to add your name to the top box and will see personalized content and news brought on the page.

“It’s passive personalization,” Clayton said. “People are inherently lazy about personalization, so we’re doing what we can to help them.”

On that local weather page, you’ll also see the TruPoint box up at the top right. This lets you see when rain showers will begin and end.

“This is the first time any organization has told people down to the minute when rain will start and stop,” Clayton said.

Another noticeable change is the borrowing of weather-themed backgrounds from Weather.com’s iPad app (which is the second-most downloaded iPad app ever). With this feature, the weather you see in the background is the same weather as outside, so you can quickly get an at-a-glance feel for how things look outside.

Check out the slideshow below to get a better look at Weather.com’s new digs:

Singin’ in the Rain picture via MGM


Filed under: media, VentureBeat


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Enterprise social networker Jive upgrades with powerful new apps

Posted: 02 May 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Jive-Anywhere

Enterprise social networking company Jive Software has considerably upgraded its product offerings for the first time since the company went public last December, with the debut of new apps to help its customers stay in touch and collaborate better.

Palo Alto-based Jive faces strong competition from Yammer, Moxie, and Salesforce's Chatter, but it’s also in a class of its own as a newly public company. Jive earned $22.5 million in revenue back in February per its fourth fiscal quarter. To keep increasing revenue, it needs to attract more customers and up the ante on its offerings. Which brings us to today’s announcement.

The new apps and features Jive has built for its customers greatly expand its capabilities in social, search, and collaboration. One of the most interesting new additions is Jive Anywhere, which lets you comment on and share any content from around the web with your co-workers. For example, you can go to a Wikipedia article, make a note about it, and then share that article (with comments included) with your team.

“We’ve talked about this for years, but now we’re finally doing it,” Nathan Rawlins, Jive’s VP of product marketing, told VentureBeat. “We thought that social should follow you and it should be a pervasive experience no matter where you go.”

Here’s how the company describes the new features:

Jive Anywhere – a breakthrough capability that extends social business to the web at large, enabling users to access
social functions from any website or web application.
Jive !App Experiences – enabling users to invoke powerful applications and merge them seamlessly into social
business workflow with a single keystroke.
Jive Edge – a sophisticated social intelligence engine that optimizes a wide range of social business processes such
as search, providing more relevant, precise, and personalized results.
• Major improvements in Jive What Matters activity streams, including customizable Attention Streams focused on
specific processes and people.
Jive for Teams – a new group collaboration solution for teams of 25 to 250,000 people.
• A dramatically simplified and engaging user experience.

Companies that want to give Jive a spin can also now do so with Try Jive, a 30-day free trial meant for small and large teams that is entirely browser-based.

You can view more photos showing Jive’s new feature lineup below:


Filed under: enterprise, social, VentureBeat


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InMobi launches free mobile ad tracker with real-time analytics, no UDID

Posted: 02 May 2012 04:00 AM PDT

ss-inmobi-ad-tracker

Independent mobile ad network InMobi has launched a new, free Ad Tracker that can measure mobile conversion rates without needing to know your phone’s unique identifier (UDID), the company announced today.

Apple has begun rejecting apps that access a user’s UDID, which is the most common tracker for advertising, over privacy concerns. We recently reported that app developers could lose up to 24 percent of their ad revenue without UDID access. As the second largest mobile ad network after Google, InMobi is especially looking to solve this issue and identify ways to track without depending on UDID.

“If you have been relying on UDIDs for iOS mobile app conversion tracking, you will need to find a new solution,” InMobi product manager François DeschĂȘnes told VentureBeat via e-mail. “Because of Apple's announcement in August 2011 that they would deprecate UDIDs, the scale and efficacy of conversion tracking solutions – or in-house matching using UDIDs – is declining.”

The company’s Ad Tracker lets advertisers tap some of InMobi’s power without costing a dime, including access to real-time analytics and intelligence. Developers can integrate and use Ad Tracker for free. It works across all ad networks and measures multiple conversions across mobile web and apps. Ad Tracker is separate from InMobi’s huge ad network.

Deschenes notes that InMobi has been pushed hard not only by UDID being phased out but also by the rise of users depending on mobile versus other electronics.

“There is a gigantic gap between time spent and media investment in mobile right now,” DeschĂȘnes said. “Consumers in the U.S. are spending more time on mobile than laptops, desktops, or TVs. The driving force behind any shift in media dollars into new channels is having an understanding of that channel’s true value. Analytics is a crucial enabling tool in order to provide that level of visibility to advertisers.”

The company lists the following benefits of using InMobi Ad Tracker:

• Network agnostic and works across all mobile ad networks
• Tracks multiple conversion types across mobile web and app inventory
• Combines multiple tracking technologies to ensure no dependencies on UDID and any form of device ID
• Single login to access conversion data across all mobile ad networks
• Real-time dashboard view of all conversion events
• Ability to define bespoke goals, for example, downloads, registrations, payments, etc.
• Conversion data can be passed back to the originating mobile ad networks to enable real-time optimization
• Easy SDK integration for iOS and Android Apps and JavaScript integration for mobile web campaigns
• Completely free to integrate and use.

San Francisco-based InMobi has raised around $216 million to date, with its last funding round totaling a staggering $200 million. Its backers including SoftBank, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Sherpalo Ventures, and Mumbai Angels. The company also has offices in Bangalore, Johannesburg, London, Nairobi, New York, Paris, Seoul, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Photo credit: nokhoog_buchachon/Shutterstock


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Treyarch unveils Call of Duty: Black Ops II, also known as Attack of the Drones

Posted: 01 May 2012 09:01 PM PDT

[Editor's note: This article contains a few story spoilers.]

Activision Blizzard‘s Treyarch game studio is unveiling the worst-kept secret in video games today: Call of Duty: Black Ops II. But the unusual storyline of the first-person shooter and its heavy use of advanced technology, such as drones and robot-mechs, may surprise hardcore gamers.

With Black Ops II, Treyarch wants to deliver something unexpected with new twists in the fiction and a setting that takes place both in the 1980s and in the near-future of 2025 in the midst of a “second Cold War” that is about to turn hot. But the game isn’t science fiction. Mark Lamia, studio head at Treyarch, said in a briefing at the studio’s Santa Monica, Calif.-based headquarters that the story is rooted in fact.

With the newest revelations, Treyarch is under a high-pressure spotlight. The studio is taking some huge risks that could make or break an unprecedented sales streak for the Call of Duty series, which has become the biggest franchise in the video game industry in terms of annual sales. Each new Call of Duty game is breaking sales records, but Treyarch isn’t taking its 30 million fans for granted.

“What we’ve created here is the best-kept secret in gaming because I don’t think it was what anyone was expecting,” Lamia said, speaking in a dark room lit with green floodlights, Call of Duty style. “We realized that with the fiction we created for the first game, we were just scratching the surface. We wanted to take our signature style of working with historical fiction and take it to the next level.”

He added, “On every front, the team wanted to push the boundaries. We could have done a predictable sequel. But the team wanted to push the boundaries on the campaign, multiplayer, and zombies. It’s exciting to be in that kind of environment. We were energized by the first Black Ops and wanted to carry it forward. We are being very ambitious.”

A taste of Black Ops II story and combat

The point of setting the game in the 1980s is to anchor the narrative in the first Cold War and then take the story forward into a second Cold War, presumably between the U.S. and China (although, Treyarch didn’t exactly say that). The team wanted to make the point that warfare is in the midst of completely changing thanks to the march of technology.

In a preview of the first level of the game, Lamia showed the city of Los Angeles under assault by a fleet of combat drones in the year 2025. You play a Black Ops soldier, David Mason, who is part of an escort for the President of the United States in the evacuated downtown area. The graphics look sharp, and there are a lot more things happening in the scene than you usually see in a Call of Duty game. It definitely has a more immersive visual environment. And that’s a reflection of the fact that the team pushed hard to have “PC graphics on a console at 60 frames per second.”

As the drones cause havoc overhead, the president’s armored vehicle gets attacked and flies off a double-decker freeway. Then you have to go into action, shooting drones in the air and terrorists on the ground. Your air cover is an attack helicopter, but it doesn’t last for long.

You pull out a sniper rifle and get a bid on the enemies. Your scope can see the enemies through the barriers, such as concrete freeway columns. You fire at the enemies, and the projectile appears to go right through the column, taking the enemy out. That’s one hell of a sniper rifle. You can shoot at cars and blow them up with a single shot. A walking tank, called a Cognitive Land Assault Weapon (CLAW, pictured above), comes into view. You have to attack it by shooting out the wheels in its legs. If you hold down the trigger of a gun, you can queue up more projectiles and penetrate deeper, as if it were a “charged shot.”

Once you close with the infantry, you can bring your own quad-rotor friendly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These drones automatically fire at enemy targets from above, helping you clear through waves of enemies in a short time. You can board a vertical take-off jet fighter and fly through skyscrapers, chasing after the enemy UAVs.

All around you, as far as the eye can see, Los Angeles is in ruins. Dust, smoke, and fires are everywhere. Clearly, the future is going to be very black.

Moving to a plausible near future

When you look at that scene, it may bring to mind something like Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (launching at the end of May) or Battlefield 2042. But Lamia contends that it is possible to connect the dots from the modern combat of today to the futuristic weapons. Interestingly, the fictional story of Black Ops does not mesh with the fiction of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Lamia said. The narratives are completely separate.

In this Call of Duty, the game’s story has moved on from the 1960s. The cleverness of Black Ops was that its fiction was essentially a reinterpretation of the Cold War. It had scenes that were set in Vietnam using the conventional weapons of the day. But the Black Ops teams had access to experimental weapons that were cool for gamers to use, like Dragon’s Breath shotgun shells that exploded in flames on impact. The Black Ops backdrop allows the team to create cool weapons to play with regardless of the era of the setting.

The new game has some scenes in the 1980s, but it moves on to a near future where a terrorist leader has hacked into America’s military systems and hijacked an entire fleet of drones. The leader, Raul Menendez, sends them to destroy American cities such as Los Angeles and then threatens China, triggering a potential global war that can only be headed off by black operations operatives.

“China and the U.S. are pawns in a larger end game for the villain,” said Dave Anthony, game director at Treyarch.

The flashpoint for the conflict turns out to be a bid to corner the market on rare earth elements, which are 95-percent controlled by China. If we’ve fought wars for control of oil supplies, then it’s not so crazy to think we would fight for rare earth metals, which are a key part of the electronics food chain and a subject of trade disputes. Those rare earth elements are also the root of all of our military electronics equipment.

The original Black Ops debuted in 2010, and its story borrowed elements from brainwashing-themed movies, such as The Bourne Identity. But it had enough new elements to be more than a knock-off. In fact, the story of the game was its strong suit. The narrative had so many vast conspiracies, hallucinations, and double crosses that you didn’t know what the truth was at the end. It focused on black ops units that developed up with their own weapons, such as a crossbow grenade, and operated behind enemy lines.

Black Ops and other Call of Duty games distinguish themselves by being movie-like in their portrayal of intense combat moments. In the last Black Ops game, you had to jump off a cliff to escape an avalanche. You as the player are put in the most intense situation, and you have to fight your way out of it. But the fans like the series because it also feels real as if you were in the middle of a modern combat battle.


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Treyarch’s Mark Lamia explains taking risks with the design of Call of Duty: Black Ops II (interview)

Posted: 01 May 2012 09:01 PM PDT


Activision Blizzard is announcing today that Call of Duty: Black Ops II will be the newest installment of the fastest-selling video game franchise of all time. Once again, studio Treyarch will make this game, which has more than 250 developers (plus another 50 outside) working on the title for its fall release.

Call of Duty has generated billions of dollars in revenues since 2003, and the latest installments are generating more than $1 billion in revenues each year. While Call of Duty creators Infinity Ward have overshadowed Treyarch in the past, Treyarch has become an equal partner in producing a new Call of Duty game every other year.

The previous Black Ops title took us back to the secret operations of the 1960s. The new game will take place in both the 1980s and the year 2025. That’s a huge change for the franchise in terms of storyline and combat tactics. In the game, terrorists hijack the U.S. military’s fleet of drones and use them against major cities in the U.S. and China.

We talked with Mark Lamia, studio head of Treyarch, about this change in the setting for the game and the challenge of designing it. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. And check out our interview with Lamia from two years ago.

GamesBeat: How did you get started on the concepts for Call of Duty: Black Ops II?

Mark Lamia: It came toward the very end of Black Ops. I think it was around submission. Dave Anthony [game design director at Treyarch] and screenwriter David Goyer had a conversation about working together. We wanted to create a sequel. What would that be? Dave Vonderhaar has made quite a few Call of Dutys, and this time he really wanted to rewrite the rules of storytelling. We talked about doing this generation-spanning Call of Duty: Black Ops.

While the first one took place mostly during the Cold War, there was one level in that post-World War II era. As part of our fiction, we don’t focus on a time frame. It’s all about black ops. That really allows us to take on whatever fiction we want to tell. So in this case it was — we knew we wanted to introduce new gameplay. And we felt like that near-future setting would provide some really good fertile ground for us to create new gameplay with new weaponry and new technology available at the time.

That’s where that all started. It started on the story front but also from the gameplay perspective, looking at it on both sides. I think it’s really important, especially since you can’t just think about the campaign. You have to think about multiplayer. We wanted to introduce new gameplay there. Having some of the new technology would allow some of the new gameplay. And if you look at what the campaigns in the past — they have really introduced a lot of new gameplay that you can experience. I say you “can” experience it because you don’t have to, like in the Strike Force missions. You could just play that with a gun in your hand. You don’t have to take over any of the tools of the battlefield, like the drones or commanders. But you’d be missing a lot of the fun if that’s all you did.

GamesBeat: How long ago did you also decide to go down different fictional lines between Treyarch and Infinity Ward? This seems like the story almost means that you’re on a completely separate story arc than Modern Warfare.

Lamia: Yeah, the two timelines have never intersected. They’re in the same franchise, but they’re different fictions inside the same franchise.

GamesBeat: I didn’t really realize that with the first Black Ops.

Lamia: Oh, really?

GamesBeat: I thought that Black Ops is the ’60s, Modern Warfare is in the present time, but they all could be in the same timeline. And so if your story is now moving to 2025, that creates a problem. If you visit New York in your story, and it is still standing, then that means that the city wasn’t destroyed in Modern Warfare 3. But that’s never been the way you guys have thought about it?

Lamia: No, no, actually. Like I said, when we think about the fictions, we actually created a historical fiction for Black Ops that assumed we were where we were — that these were the black ops. If you remember, our story was that everything you know about history is wrong. Those are the secret wars — the deniable operations you didn’t know about.

That’s the case as we’re crafting the ’80s as well. So when you experience those conflicts in the ’80s, some of those conflicts that you have heard about might be different. They’ll set you in that historical setting, but we’ll weave our fiction right into it. There will be a lot of interesting surprises for the player in the story much like there was with the original Black Ops. That was really interesting. One of the new interesting challenges for us is we don’t know what the future holds, so we actually had to create it. We knew that we wanted it to feel very rooted in fact if someone were to research it. This is a very well-researched and thought-through fiction for a future story. We’re creating that second Cold War.


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Russian classifieds startup Avito.ru grabs $75M

Posted: 01 May 2012 09:00 PM PDT

Avito

Avito.ru, the biggest site for online classified ads in Russia, has closed a new $75 million round of funding, the startup announced today.

It’s easy to write off classifieds as something people used to pay for before the advent of Craigslist, but in Russia it’s still big business.

Avito’s service helps both individuals and small- and medium-sized businesses (traditional retailers, real estate agencies, car dealerships, etc.) generate additional revenue at very little cost. The startup doesn’t charge users to place an ad, but it does charge for optional features, like advanced search functionality, highlighting ads, etc. — not unlike item listings on eBay.

Avito is seeing nearly 30 million unique users per month and about six million new items added per month. The startup estimates that, by the end of 2012, the cumulative value of all items traded on its site will top 3 percent of the Russian GDP.

Avito said it will use the new capital to further its expansion of the company as well as hire additional employees.

Founded in 2008, the Moscow-based startup previously raised a $26 million round back in 2010. Avito has raised $101 million to date from Accel Partners, Baring Vostok Private Equity, Kinnevik, and Northzone.


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Why Yelp is the Digg of local

Posted: 01 May 2012 08:26 PM PDT

Yelp doesn't customize resultsThe other day, I tweeted “I should be able to ban anyone who rates Applebee’s 4* from ever influencing a Yelp result for me.” That sentiment touched a nerve among my followers. Shervin Pishevar of Menlo Ventures coined it “ The Agrawal-Applebee Law”.

Although it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek tweet after a particularly disastrous eating experience (not at Applebee’s), it reflects a core consumer problem with Yelp: There is little personalization. Yelp is Digg living in a Facebook and Twitter world. (I documented Yelp’s problems for local advertisers earlier.)

Yelp is still the best source for restaurant and nightlife information in the country thanks to its large database of reviews, but it requires users to do too much work to get information. As with Digg, a tiny group of users provides all of the content on the site. As with Digg, the barriers to participation are too high for casual users. Like Digg, Yelp’s traffic is driven by SEO. And like Digg, Yelp has failed to show any meaningful innovation in the last several years.

Many consumer decisions are based on tastes. A 4-star restaurant for one person may be a 2-star restaurant for another. Something that is the pinnacle of dining for one could be stuffy, pretentious, and overpriced for someone else. I only eat at Pizza Hut or the Olive Garden when I’m really desperate, but those are special occasion places for my parents. I won’t take them to the places I really like to go because I know they would feel uncomfortable there. (I’ve tried.)

Yelp’s default searches make it hard to distinguish between the nice casual places and the truly outstanding restaurants. I’m in New Orleans this week for Jazz Fest and had a wonderful lunch at Satsuma Cafe, which is rated 4 stars. I paid less than $10 for lunch. On Sunday, I’ll be having brunch at Arnaud’s Restaurant, which is rated 3 1/2 stars on Yelp and will likely cost more than $40.

There’s no way that these two places are even remotely comparable. Satsuma is a very accessible place. Arnaud’s is expensive and one that many would consider a bit pretentious. Someone who rates Applebee’s 4-stars is unlikely to appreciate what Arnaud’s is; their opinion is irrelevant to the type of place Arnaud’s is.

Yelp has a lot of data that it doesn’t seem to be using:

  • The distribution of ratings by a given rater. I’m a tough grader (as regular readers may have noticed). If I rate something 5-stars, that’s a really big deal. Others give away 5-star ratings like candy. Individual distributions should be factored in.
  • Ratings of similar places. Different types of venues should be grouped together, not sorted against an arbitrary scale. I can appreciate a great dive bar like Zeitgeist, but it’s not the same as Press Club.
  • Anomalous reviews. If someone regularly reviews low-end places and than has a review at a high-end restaurant, that review should be downweighted versus someone who regularly eats at high-end restaurants.

Yelp can improve dramatically based on the data that it already has.

But it’s missing key pieces of information to make the best recommendations for users: the interests of the reader. More than half of Yelp’s traffic comes from SEO, and Yelp doesn’t know anything about those users, so it has to serve them the same generic content that everyone else gets.

Yelp optimized its site for SEO. There’s a reason that it focuses on long-form reviews with lots of words: It’s great for search. In its S-1, Yelp touted that “We feature full-text reviews, providing detailed, searchable information about local businesses with greater depth of content than most competitive offerings” and that those reviews contained an average of more than 100 words. Yelp’s claims are similar to newspaper restaurant reviewers who looked down on Yelp because they provided higher quality. (The “100 words” stat likely includes the portions of the review spent talking about being dumped by the girlfriend at dinner or the horrible day at the office, which seems to be a staple of many Yelp reviewers.)

Although some mocked Google’s purchase of Zagat as the equivalent of buying Encyclopedia Britannica to fend off Wikipedia, as long as Yelp follows a publishing model, it’s just another point on the same spectrum.

Local needs a low-friction, low-effort way to get recommendations. It needs a model similar to that of Netflix, where each rating is personally relevant, not universally irrelevant.

But that requires scale of data that Yelp doesn’t have. For that reason, companies with real data on their users, such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, and American Express will eventually eat Yelp’s lunch.

[Image credit: Tony Bowler/Shutterstock]


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OpenFeint founder Jason Citron unveils new post-PC social game company

Posted: 01 May 2012 06:26 PM PDT


Jason Citron scored big when he sold OpenFeint to Japan’s Gree for $104 million. Now the entrepreneur is back again with a new company called Phoenix Guild.

For now, it’s a one-man shop. Citron plans to make social games for the “post-PC” era, which means making games for devices with touchscreens such as smartphones and tablets. Citron doesn’t need to work, and he could fund the company himself. But he’s raising a $1 million seed round.

Citron made his announcement during a demo day in Menlo Park, Calif., put on by Silicon Valley incubator YouWeb and incubator StartEngine, which is based in Los Angeles. Citron is working as an entrepreneur-in-residence for the second time at YouWeb.

Citron used to work at console game company Double Fine Productions, where he worked on Brutal Legend. He was also involved in Eragon at Stormfront Studios. He sidetracked into the iPhone while he was an entrepreneur-in-residence at YouWeb. Citron founded Aurora Feint and launched his first game as the App Store opened in 2008. He expected maybe 100 people to play the game that day, but by the time he woke up, more than 2,000 had downloaded it. Then he morphed that company into OpenFeint, which created a mobile social network platform. Gree bought it, and it now has 200 million users.

Citron said he is working on his own now, writing code for his first game. He plans to pull together a team, but he also thinks he can launch the game this year.

“All of the gaming today is casual or mid-core,” he said. “There is a huge bunch of gamers who can’t frigging stand this crap, myself among them.”

He wants to create real games that console fans will like, but he will do it on devices like tablets. He noted that Funzio, which has had three big hits with its iPhone mid-core games, has just been acquired by Gree. He said, “We want to [be] Funzio, but fast forward that by five years.”


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Hackers behind Mac Flashback Trojan may have made $10K a day

Posted: 01 May 2012 05:51 PM PDT

Flashback Trojan

We’ve heard so much about the Mac Flashback Trojan in the last month, but what is its goal? Turns out it’s financial gain (who knew) in the form of ad revenue.

Security researchers at Symantec have found that the Flashback Trojan downloaded an “ad-clicking component” through a Java vulnerability. From there, it would hijack clicks on ads through Google. You know the links that show up in a yellow box at the top of your Google search query? Yeah, those make the search giant a ton of money. Ninety-six percent of Google’s overall revenue comes from advertising revenue through its search engine and other advertising programs. And when your revenue sits at $37.9 billion for 2011, cyber criminals have an incentive to steal some of that.

The people behind the Flashback Trojan may have been making up to $10,000 a day, according to Symantec. They did this by infecting the Mac’s browsers (Firefox, Chrome, or Safari). The Trojan then waited until someone searched for something on Google and clicked on an ad. From there it redirected the user to a site of its choosing, getting in between Google and the advertising click, and eventually collecting the revenue from that click.

Symantec looked at a search query for “toys” made on an infected machine.

“We can clearly see a value of 0.8 cents for the click and the redirection URL highlighted in red. This redirected URL is subsequently written into the browser so that the user is now directed to the new site, in effect hijacking the ad click Google should have received,” Symantec wrote in a blog post. “Considering the Flashback Trojan measures in the hundreds of thousands, this figure could sharply rise to the order of $10,000 per day.”

The Flashback Trojan enters a computer through a hole in Java, which Apple has since patched.

Trojan image via Shutterstock


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Funding Daily: ATMs that give you money for old broken phones

Posted: 01 May 2012 05:51 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.

EcoATM gets funding to recycle your old phones for cash

EcoATM has raised $17 million for its electronics recycling "ATM" kiosks, which give you money for handing over old phones, MP3 players, and even laptops. In order to get more people to recycle their electronics, the company will make it worth your while to part with your old device by giving you money or discounts on new phones. Claremont Creek Ventures, Coinstar, and TAO Ventures led the $17 million second-round funding, with PI Holdings, Moore Venture Partners, AKS Capital, and angel investor Koh Boon Hwee participating.

Blue Pillar raises $7M

Blue Pillar raised $7 million Tuesday for its electrical grid software that manages power usage for large corporate campuses, hospitals, and other electricity sucking facilities. The company helps manage energy consumption, connecting all different types and ages of equipment together. The funding round was led by Claremont Creek Ventures, Arsenal Venture Partners, Allos Ventures, and OnPoint Technologies.

Signpost grabs $3.75M

Local advertising startup Signpost grew its business a little bit Tuesday with a $3.75 million investment. Signpost tackles the market of local businesses that need exposure, but not beyond their town, county, or tri-state area. Spark Capital led the round of funding.

SEOmoz nabs $18M for search engine optimization

Hoping to be the small business’ go-to for search engine optimization, SEOmoz has raised $18 million in funding. The company's product, called SEOmoz Pro, crawls your site every week to figure out if your SEO tactics are doing anything at all. Foundry Group led the round, with an additional investment from Ignition Partners.

Social shopping site Ruby Ribbon grabs $3M

Ruby Ribbon raised a $3 million seed round to create social fashion parties. Like Tupperware partners for this century, the company provides fashion to “Independent Stylists,” or fashion salespeople who host fashion parties for friends. Trinity Ventures led the round.

Peoplefluent invests in Socialtext

A Palo Alto-based startup that makes social software for businesses, Socialtext, became a subsidiary of talent management company Peoplefluent. Peoplefluent announced it had made a strategic investment in the company, but it seems more like an acqui-hire. Peoplefluent is owned by Bedford Funding, a $1.4 billion private equity firm.

Basket of cell phones image via Shutterstock


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Gree acquires mobile game maker Funzio for $210M

Posted: 01 May 2012 05:20 PM PDT

Japanese mobile social network Gree has acquired Funzio, a fast-growing maker of hardcore mobile and social games, for $210 million.

Funzio has the rare distinction of having three games that have all garnered big audiences. Over the weekend, as we noted in our story earlier today, Funzio’s three games were all in the top 25 grossing apps on Apple’s AppStore.

Gree is a billion-dollar-plus company in Japan with more than 50 million users who play games on its mobile social network. It is in the midst of expanding into the U.S. market and plans to launch its platform in the second quarter.

Funzio calls its titles “mid-core” games that are hardcore in terms of subject matter but can appeal to a wider audience that plays for a shorter period of time. The company’s three hit games are Crime City, Modern War, and Kingdom Age. Kingdom Age got more than 1 million users in its first five days on the App Store.

Ken Chiu, chief executive of Funzio, and Anil Dharni, chief operating officer, will join Gree as senior vice presidents. Funzio executives Ram Gudavalli and Andy Keidel will join Gree as vice presidents.


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First trailer released for Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Posted: 01 May 2012 05:00 PM PDT

Publisher Activision Blizzard just released the below trailer for the newest Call of Duty title, Black Ops II, which will debut this fall. Santa Monica, Calif.-based Treyarch, who created the original Black Ops, returns to develop this sequel.

The companies originally ran the video during the NBA playoff game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets on TNT. It reveals that the player is Frank Woods, the Marine sergeant who was killed (but evidently brought back to life) in the first Black Ops, which was the best-selling video game of 2010. It also reveals that the game takes place in 2025.

The action features a gigantic battle full of drones, robots, snipers, jets, helicopters, armored cars, and infantry grunts. The music and voice acting are quite dramatic, and the cinematics look beautiful. The battle is taking place in the middle of a destroyed Los Angeles, which should go over well with Lakers fans.

The trailer shows an old man talking about the automated armies of the future, which includes all sorts of high-tech weaponry. The old man says, “Technology got stronger, while we got weaker” then continues with, “No one ever asks, ‘What happens when the enemy steals the keys?’” suggesting that the modern weapons of war can be turned against those who build them.

“They’ll always need men like us and those who are willing to do what others cannot,” he says in closing.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II will launch on Nov. 13.


Check out our other coverage of Call of Duty: Black Ops II:


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Droid doesn’t (again): Motorola sees $86M Q1 loss, ships 8.9M phones

Posted: 01 May 2012 04:14 PM PDT

droid-razr-maxx

Motorola Mobility posted another not-so-hot earnings report for the first quarter today, with a net loss of $86 million on revenues of $3.1 billion. Considering Motorola lost $80 million in the fourth quarter last year, the company clearly needs to find some way to shape up to justify Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition (which is still pending).

The company shipped 8.9 million devices in the first quarter, 5.1 million of which were smartphones. Motorola’s mobile device segment is hurting even more than it was last year, with a loss of $121 million compared to an $89 million operating loss a year ago.

Motorola’s struggle shows yet again the winner-take-all nature of Android — where the top manufacturer (currently Samsung) does extremely well, while everyone else languishes. While it’s still unclear what Google will do with Motorola once its acquisition is complete, I have a feeling the search giant will need to break its promise of treating Moto the same as every other Android maker.

Motorola’s home device segment, which contains its cable box business, actually improved during the quarter with earnings of $68 million (compared to $53 million a year ago).

Google and Motorola continue to work with Chinese authorities to approve the acquisition, and they expect it to be completed during the first half of this year.


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Facebook could IPO May 18, roadshow starting Monday

Posted: 01 May 2012 03:34 PM PDT

Social network Facebook is poised to start its IPO roadshow as soon as Monday, according to sources of the Wall Street Journal. If the meetings with bankers go as planned, the company could IPO as soon as May 18.

Facebook declined to comment in an e-mail to VentureBeat.

Facebook filed to go public this past February. The Wall Street Journal notes that Facebook could sell as much as $10 billion in shares, valuing the social network at $100 billion — a more than remarkable number for a technology IPO that could make it the largest tech IPO in history.  Recently, Facebook reached over 900 million monthly active users, with 60 percent of all Internet users in the U.S. and the UK on the social network.

It is said that Zuckerberg will not attend all of the IPO roadshow meetings, but chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and a number of others will be making the rounds. As per usual, Facebook will price its shares the day before its actual IPO debut.

It was recently assumed that Facebook’s IPO would be delayed due to its purchase of photo-sharing application Instagram. VentureBeat reporter Jolie O’Dell also noted that tech stocks have been down and that May might not be the best time for a new addition to the public pack. The company was also recently involved in lawsuit ping-pong with Yahoo, suing and counter-suing over patents.

It seems despite it all, Zuckerberg is ready to plow forward with what will be one of the biggest tech IPOs ever. Though, as MSN Money notes, it won’t actually crack the top 10 IPOs in history (many of which do not include U.S. companies). It certainly will be a huge for American IPOs, however.

When Facebook does debut, it will do so under the stock ticker “FB” on the NASDAQ. The NASDAQ stock exchange houses other tech heavy weights including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.


Filed under: social, VentureBeat


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Local advertising startup Signpost grabs funding and a former AOL Patch employee

Posted: 01 May 2012 03:08 PM PDT

Signpost raises $3MLocal advertising startup Signpost grew its business a little bit Tuesday with a $3.75 million investment and a new employee. Christopher DePatria, former head of sales at AOL Patch, joined the team as the vice president of revenue.

Signpost tackles the market of local businesses that need exposure, but not beyond their town, county, or tri-state area. The company recently hooked up with Google Offers, the baby of the daily deals world, to promote its clients.

Signpost’s customer track record is not bad, with 93 percent of businesses renewing their services every month. The company also boasts that its costs are much lower than others at $100 per month. The amount of money will get you a campaign that Signpost creates and manages, and analytics about how the campaign is performing. You can also set up local coupon deals with the company’s services.

PaperG, CitySlick, and even Google Adwords are competitors of Signpost. With the company’s Google Offers integration, it also competes with LivingSocial and Groupon.

Chris DePatria left AOL’s struggling local business blog service Patch, which also recently lost its Editor in Chief Brian Farnham. AOL’s media business has had its up and downs, so it’s not surprising that DePatria left a browning patch of grass for potentially greener pastures. DePatria previously worked in ad sales for Yahoo.

Spark Capital led the round of funding. The money goes toward adding DePatria to the team, as well as growing the business. The $3.75 million brings the company’s total funding to $5 million.

The New York-based startup was founded in 2009 and is backed by Google Ventures, Spark Capital, and angel investors Jason Calacanis, Jack Herrick, and Thomas Lehrman.

Signpost image via Flickr user Johanna McCunn


Filed under: deals


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Foursquare starts charging merchants for instant verification

Posted: 01 May 2012 02:56 PM PDT

dollar suit

Merchants looking to skip the line and get instant access to Foursquare’s business tools need only grease the wheels with a sawbuck.

The location-based discovery service, which offers merchants free access to analytics and admin tools, is now enabling businesses to claim and verify their locations instantly for a one-time $10 fee.

U.S. merchants who fork over the $10 fee will get immediate access to the administrative tools for offering Foursquare specials, tracking real-time data about patrons, and editing their page information.

“We rolled out the new claim flow to give business owners the option to instantly verify their listings,” a Foursquare spokesperson told VentureBeat. “They can still verify listings for free via mail, but this typically takes several weeks, so instant verification is much more efficient. You can claim your listing and be looking at real-world analytics within a matter of minutes.”

Tuesday’s surcharge is a relatively minor addition that should remove a bit of friction from the business sign-up process — don’t expect it to bring in any substantial revenue for the startup.

Foursquare, which has 20 million users, says it now has 750,000 businesses already using its complimentary merchant services. The merchant figure is only a smidgen higher than the 500,000 number the startup touted in July of last year.

Photo credit: zoomar/Flickr


Filed under: social


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Why smart authors are cutting Amazon out

Posted: 01 May 2012 02:50 PM PDT

Lithograph of the Titanic illustrates "unsinkable" publishers sailing towards the iceberg of digital media
Source: Flickr/Cliff1066

This isn't going to end well.

The recent anti-trust suit against the big five book publishers reminds me of the scene in the movie Titanic where the lifeboats are pulling away from the gasping survivors in the water. We all know what's going to happen and it's painful to watch.

What surprises me is how little discussion there is about what happens to the authors in all of this. For sure, advances are going down. Way down. But that has been happening for a while. Even before the Kindle, Amazon was dominating print sales, which meant the publishers had a lot less control over how their book sold.

Publishers have no idea how drive online sales

For years, as book sales moved increasingly online, the responsibility of the sale has increasingly moved to the author. Publishers can't drive sales because they have no idea who is buying their books online. With offline bookstores, publishers knew the location of their buyers and based on location, they could extrapolate demographics. With online sales, print publishers have no location-based information, and Amazon doesn't release any customer data to publishers.

Publishers have resorted to un-trackable promotion such as print ads, and television. While book publishers have no way to track direct traffic from television spots, bloggers do, and bloggers know that TV and radio translate to much fewer clicks than online publications. This is because, for most people, there are simply too many steps from hearing someone speak on NPR to going to the person's web site.

I know this because my personal blog gets about a million views a month. When I write a post like this, promoting a book, I can tell exactly how many sales I made — more than 1,000, in this case.

This is really bad news for publishers, because I make almost as much in commission from Amazon when I sell a book I didn't write as I would make on the sale of one of my own books after the publisher takes out their cut.

So book publishers are largely ineffective at selling books, and they can't get better because Amazon is not sharing data that would reveal exactly what works and what doesn't.

The list matters more than the advance

Right now the only non-celebrity authors who can get book deals are people who can drive their own sales figures, almost always through online means. Besides, that, most nonfiction authors are not making their money from their books. Their books are more marketing tools for their higher profit-margin products:  speaking or consulting.

That means that people who are getting book deals need their mailing list more than they need their book advance. People who write nonfiction books will make more money from their mailing list than from any Amazon-whipped book industry advance. The problem is that Amazon keeps the list.

So here's what happens. An author who is good at driving book sales gets an advance from the publisher. The publisher has no idea how to market a book online so the author is driving most of the sales on Amazon.

But only Amazon knows the email addresses of the people who bought the book. Moreover, Amazon knows what else this customer would want to buy and can sell it to them. Amazon is keeping — stealing, really — the mailing list away from authors.

Pro tip: Go around Amazon

So it would behoove all authors who can sell their book to sell it on their own website and not on Amazon. Amazon is using ebooks as a marketing tool for the Kindle, and if you drive your list to Amazon, you're merely driving them into Amazon's Kindle-centric sales funnel.

There is already a trend for authors with their own audience to go around Amazon. Leo Babauta publishes his own books and sells them on his own site. Ramit Sethi not only does that, but it's hard to find his books to buy on his site because Ramit is one step ahead of everyone. He collects names first and sells books later. And those books are not on Amazon.

Emily Gould is using her reputation online to sell books that she didn't write. She's a publisher, of sorts. But she doesn't sell the ebooks on Amazon.

So the trick is not to write a book and get it published. That's no longer difficult, or even clever — the whole world has a book today. The real trick is to build your own audience to the point where you can sell directly to them.

That's much harder to do than publishing a book. But face facts: Building your audience is becoming the only way that makes financial sense to sell books.

In other words, build your own lifeboat, and do it now, before the Titanic sinks.


Penelope TrunkPenelope Trunk founded Brazen Careerist and two other startups. Her career advice runs in 200 newspapers, and she is the author of a bestselling career advice book. She lives on a farm in Wisconsin and homeschools her sons.

Top image of the Titanic: via Cliff1066/Flickr


Filed under: VentureBeat


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