03 May, 2012



Top sales talent leaving Groupon as its woes mount

Posted: 03 May 2012 09:04 AM PDT

According to a former salesperson at Groupon, top sales talent is leaving the company as its troubles mount. As of this morning, Groupon reached another all time low, trading on the NASDAQ at $10, half off its $20 IPO price. In just the month of April, the stock lost 42% of its value.

There are a number of reasons sales people are leaving, but one of the biggest is that volumes on each deal are declining. This is something that I’ve noticed lately. It’s not uncommon for a deal in the San Francisco area to sell fewer than 100 units.

“As a rep at Groupon, you pay attention to every single deal you run every week,” said the source. “Since about November of 2011 onward, all of my peers in sales were just like ‘Deals aren’t selling worth a shit anymore.’ And management ignored it.  I think about deals for hair salons that would bring in $10K in 1 day in late 2010 and since then, the same salon has been featured on Groupon 12 times and now brings in $1K when it runs.

 ”This was happening across ALL merchant categories.”

Top sales people are often among the first to leave troubled companies: they are easily employable and the troubles directly affect their compensation.

Groupon sales reps are paid a low-base wage (about $32,500 annually) plus commissions on each deal based on how profitable it is for Groupon.

As fewer deals sell, they make less money. Merchants are demanding a better revenue share, which also cuts the commissions.

Overly optimistic targets also hurt.

“The declining volumes really did hurt comp; especially since managments revenue projections did not factor in declining volumes and sales people there were paid a percentage based on their monthly percent to quota, so if a deal runs and it doesn’t sell as many units as management projects beforehand, its the sales rep who loses beccause she doesn’t hit quota,” the source said.

Declining per unit sales should worry Groupon investors, because it makes each deal less profitable and less appealing to prospective merchants. At 30, 60 or even 100 units, it’s not worth the time or effort to negotiate a deal. The effort to do a deal is relatively fixed; lower unit volume means that Groupon will be less profitable. (Or, more accurately, lose even more money.)

Even before Groupon’s IPO, there were signs that this was a concern. In Q1 2011, the average sales per sales rep was $172,000. In Q2 2011, this dropped to $138,000.

Groupon did not respond to a request for comment.

Filed under: VentureBeat

How tech companies are waking up to global responsibilities, opportunities

Posted: 03 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

Grand Challenges

This post is brought to you by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Grand Challenges Exploration. What’s This?

For the private sector, making money isn't enough anymore.

It's not enough for Walmart to have a market capitalization of $200 billion — more than the GDP of 147 countries worldwide. Or for Nokia to sell 420 million new phones in a year — increasingly to developing countries in Africa and Asia. People expect global brands to use their vast resources to make the world a better place. Now more than ever, consumers are making decisions based on companies' social agendas — and market share hangs in the balance.

While Walmart supports everything from women's empowerment to disaster relief through its foundation, the public is expecting even more from major tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon. Not only do they have some of the most visible wealth, they're also intrinsically innovative — capable of solving some of the world's hardest engineering problems and creating sustainable solutions.

As investment in social enterprise becomes more common, major brands and venture capitalists alike are learning how to make a difference without sacrificing their profit-driven missions.

Nokia is a prime example. With 51% of the mobile market share in Africa, it's one of the continent's most recognizable brands. Lacking televisions, computers — and, in some cases, electricity — many people throughout Africa access information and communicate solely through their mobile phones. Nokia has not squandered this opportunity — it's using it to extend affordable, life-changing services and tools to African farmers.

Through its Ovi application store, Nokia offers Ovi Life Tools, an SMS-based app available on extremely cost-effective handsets that provides farmers with timely weather and agricultural information to optimize preparedness and crop yields. Nokia partners with organizations like the Kenya Meteorological Department, agriculture NGOs, and more to serve up tips, techniques and market stats that could help them prevent food shortages and get the best prices for their goods. Life Tools is also being used to deliver lesson plans to teachers, learning games to kids and accounting services for small businesses.

Facilitating connections between people and expanding access to global networks is one major way tech companies are doing their part for social good. Both Twitter and Facebook exploded last year during Arab Spring, becoming primary platforms for coordinating rallies, organizing protests and disseminating news and information quickly among millions of young people. Nine in 10 Egyptians and Tunisians surveyed by the Dubai School of Government said they organized or found out about protests on Facebook alone.

These social networks found themselves playing huge roles in historical democratic movements, and gaining users by the millions. The number of Facebook users in the region jumped by 30%, and tweets from Egypt jumped from 2,300 to 230,000 in the week before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation. It might seem counter-intuitive for platforms essentially created for entertainment to be playing key roles in geopolitical events, but in this case, revolution was also good for business.

Like Twitter and Facebook, Google also provides tools that have helped people around the world communicate, organize, and be more productive. But its made a more concerted effort to not just promote social good, it's investing in it too. In 2009, it created Google Ventures, a venture capital investment arm that funds for-profit tech startups. And while its investments are financially motivated, many of the companies it backs have strong social missions.

All six of Google Ventures' energy-related portfolio companies are pursuing clean, efficient and renewable energy solutions. They include Nest, maker of the world's first learning thermostat that helps users become more energy-efficient, and attracted a lot of buzz for its sleek, Apple-esque design. Its life science portfolio is stacked with companies pursuing innovative cancer therapies and genetic diagnostic systems to make medicine simpler, leaner and more affordable. And even some of its mobile picks have a social bent, like Miso Media, which creates entertaining educational software to make learning fun and easy.

Google may be more overtly philanthropic through Google.org — it gave away $115 million in grants and over $1 billion in in-kind support to nonprofit and educational orgs last year alone — but, in many ways, Google Ventures is more indicative of the future of tech brands and social enterprise. It combines doing good with doing well, a hard balance to strike.

That said, it's a balance pursued not only by big names in tech, but also by the VCs trying to find and fund the next generation of big names. More and more, venture capital firms in Silicon Valley are seeking out socially-minded startups that have the potential to make money and a positive impact at the same time.

Marquee firms like Khosla and Kleiner Perkins are investing heavily in cleantech startups like Ecomotors, Stion, Sundrop Fuels, and Fisker Automotive. Kleiner even launched what it calls its Green Growth Fund to support later-stage greentech ventures that have gained traction and have the potential to slow climate change.

On the far end of the spectrum, you have firms like social enterprise incubator Hub Ventures and Omidyar Network, which exclusively seek out companies looking to do good in the world. The latter not only gives grants to a slew of nonprofits, it funds for-profit microfinance organizations and consumer tech companies focused on connection building and information sharing like Digg, Meetup and Wikia.

Across the board, Silicon Valley seems to be waking up to the reality that having resources and brainpower obligates them to do more for the rest of the world. With consumer eyes fixed on which brands do what — whether it's Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg giving $100 million to Newark Public Schools, or Amazon launching an environmentally-friendly packaging initiative — it's more important than ever for tech companies to do their part.

That said, if recent examples prove anything, it's that making money and a difference don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Finding these ideas that sit at the intersection of impact and profitability is what the Grand Challenges Exploration program is all about. A grant program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the program is looking for bold, creative ideas to solve the biggest problems in global health. People from all disciplines, age groups and professions are encouraged to apply. In the past, the program has seen groundbreaking submissions come from unexpected sources, from astrophysicists to mechanical engineers to students.

The deadline for submissions to this year's program is May 15. Successful projects will win support and have the chance to land $1 million in additional funding to bring their ideas to fruition — and maybe even change the world!

Filed under: green, VentureBeat

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Microsoft Research scoops up former Yahoo employees as it opens NYC lab

Posted: 03 May 2012 08:49 AM PDT

microsoft research

Microsoft is making a major expansion to its Research arm with the opening of a New York City lab.

With the move, Microsoft aims to tap into the fledging tech ecosystem of the city, one that is home to both a growing start-up scene and an established academic community. The lab will join Microsoft Research’s twelve global locations, which span seven countries.

The news comes the acquisition of fourteen former Yahoo! researchers who will head up the new operation. Three of the higher profile hires include Duncan Watts, David Pennock, John Langford, all of whom are leaders in their respective fields.

Pennock, who specializes in algorithmic economics, will act as assistant managing director for the new lab alongside Microsoft researcher Jennifer Chayes, who will continue to direct Microsoft Research New England (pictured above).

In their new jobs at Microsoft Research, the team will focus on, broadly, taking data sources from the Web and applying them social sciences, and, potentially, actual Microsoft products. The Manhattan location should not be overlooked: The new lab gives Microsoft a viable connection to the academic institutions of NYC, not to mention the growing tech and startup ecosystems.

This is something the researchers stress as vital.

"My ambition for the New York City lab is that it will become a leading center, if not the leading center, for computational and experimental social science," Watts said in a press release. “Leveraging the intellectual capital of the New York City academic community, the tremendous data assets of Microsoft and Microsoft's partners, and the rapidly growing local tech scene.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Google launching $200M campaign to promote YouTube channels

Posted: 03 May 2012 08:33 AM PDT

Google is launching a new $200 million promotional campaign to push its original YouTube channels across the rest of its properties, the company announced yesterday.

The purpose of the campaign is to help brand YouTube as an entertainment property on par with other major media companies.

The new promotional campaign supports YouTube’s current strategy for boosting the amount of premium original videos available on its site — and making it more than just a place to watch funny cat videos and viral content. YouTube committed $100 million on channel partnerships back in October 2011 to ensure that this strategy succeeds. YouTube channel partners previously debuted a number of original shows, including news programs from Reuters, a new indie film fest channel in partnership with Ridley Scott, original sports programming from Bleacher Report.

Google made the announcement at an event for advertisers last night, which included performances by Jay-Z, Flo Rida, Neon Trees, and others as well as lots appearances by many YouTube channel partners.

It’s nice to see that Google is getting behind its push to get more original programming on YouTube. However, success is unfortunately going to come down to the channel partners. If they can’t create enough big hits, no amount of promotional money in the world will make people tune in.

Via AdAge; Photo via Korosirego /Flickr

Filed under: deals, media

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Imposters and jerks: where are the real heroes in the tech community?

Posted: 03 May 2012 08:15 AM PDT

NOTE: Names have been changed out of respect for "Bob's" privacy

Most people would expect the billionaire owner of an NBA team to be kind of a jerk.

While I had spoken to Bob on the phone some months before and he seemed like a nice guy, I was still taken aback by the email that popped up in my inbox.

"Hi Francisco, I'll be in L.A. next week and would love to get together. I'll have a car and can drive to you if that's easier for you."

I thought back to all the random jokers who expected me to drive in from the suburbs or showed up late for appointments and could scarcely believe that this master of the universe was offering to drive out to meet me.

That was last September and I've spent the past eight months thinking about how Bob treated me, how he treated the waiter at breakfast, and how modest and down to earth he was.

I thought about what a stark contrast he was to so many of the self promoters that pass for heroes in the tech community.

Have we just been fooled by charlatans skilled at wrapping themselves in disguises of character, or does the fault lie with our own choices of who and what we believe worthy of respect?

As much as I'd like to point fingers at those that I consider imposters, I believe the fault lies in our own failure to discern actual strength of character from those who are simply skilled at self-presentation.

I once gave a talk at Harvard Business School where I asked the students, "Why are you friends with the people you're friends with? Is it because they're rich?" They all shook their heads "no."

I'd like to think that their answer applies to all of us; and if I'm right, why then do we choose our friends based on qualities other than wealth while we seem to choose our heroes based almost entirely on wealth?

Shouldn't our heroes be held to at least the same standards as our friends when it comes to character? Or has money become the great cleanser that can wash away transgressions of selfishness and vanity?

As much as I think it's wrong to idolize money alone, I suppose it's better than blindly looking up to inexplicable traits of popularity.

Just because someone is good at performing on stage at conferences or blogging about the secret to working less, being thinner, or acting bolder, doesn't mean they are deserving of our respect. Who are they and what have they really accomplished beneath the veneer of claimed expertise?

There's a scene at the beginning of Schindler's List when the main character, Oskar, is still a proud Nazi seeking only to profit from the plight of the Jews. He says, "I'll do what I'm good at, not the work! Not the work! The presentation."

Today it seems as though "the presentation" is the only thing that matters and that popularity for the sake of popularity is enough to make you a person of honor.

Some of you are probably wondering what this has to do with technology or entrepreneurship. For better or for worse, much of the nation and the world look to the technology community as a beacon of the future. Unlike other industries such as oil, tech is seen as relatively pure and uncorrupt. Many feel we hold the keys to economic revival.

It isn't unreasonable to reject these labels since none of us actually asked to bear such a heavy cross. But if we are to lead the way, I believe what and who we admire set the path for what we do. If we continue to worship at the altar of personality over character, then we should also face the truth that any admiration of the tech world as being somehow better is nothing more than a case of the blind leading the blind.

Perhaps this post is unfair and I'm simply projecting my hopes for the technology community on to everyone. Perhaps I expect too much. I am, after all, only "in tech" because I believed this was the best place to find smart people. Perhaps I was wrong.

Or, as entrepreneurs, perhaps we should hold our heroes to higher standards of character.

Francisco Dao is the founder of 50Kings, a private community for technology and media innovators. He is a former leadership columnist for Inc.com, a lifelong entrepreneur, author and former stand-up comic.

Top image courtesy of olly, Shutterstock

Filed under: Entrepreneur

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Boku locks mobile billing deals with all four major U.S. carriers

Posted: 03 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

Boku, the company that allows you to pay for online purchases with your mobile phone number, is announcing today it has signed a deal with Sprint, allowing it to process mobile payments with all of the major U.S. mobile phone carriers.

That means that if you have a Sprint phone, you can buy things and bill them directly to your phone bill via Boku. San Francisco-based Boku is also announcing it has a mobile billing deal with Deutsche Telekom in Germany, said Ron Hirson, president and co-founder of Boku, in an interview with VentureBeat. That deal means that Boku will be processing transactions with every major carrier in Germany.

And it has hired two new executives. Jon Prideaux is joining as chief business officer. Prideaux was former executive vice president of Visa and he helped establish Visa’s initial presence in the European market. Stuart Neal is joining as senior vice president of business development. He was formerly a managing director for international development at Barclaycard.

Boku will have direct access to Sprint’s billing system, which enables Sprint’s 55 million customers to pay for items with their phone numbers, which can be easier to remember and easier to obtain than credit cards. Hirson said that one of the good things about the U.S. market is that the carriers are charging a lot lower fees than they used to. They take a percentage of a transaction in the teens, Hirson said, rather than 30 percent or more in past years. That, along with bank-grade transaction processing, is helping the mobile payments market take off, he said.

With Boku, users can make a purchase right on a Sprint phone or tablet, or on another device such as a PC. Once the user makes the purchase and chooses to pay with Boku, they simply authenticate the payment and the charge appears on their monthly phone bill.


the carriers don’t want to rush into anything risky. when they see lower refund rates and the platform performs well, people put more on the phone bill, then they lower the rates. we are a payments company. Boku has 110 employees and it competes with PayPal/Zong. Boku has raised more than $75 million from Telefonica Digital, New Enterprise Associates, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, DAG Venture, Index Ventures, and Khosla Ventures


Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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TV broadcast viewing is losing eyeballs to DVR, mobile, & the web

Posted: 03 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

The latest cross-platform report from Nielsen reveals that the number of hours people spend watching live broadcast programming is down sharply compared to a year ago.

The main culprit? “Time-shifted” DVR devices, according to the report. Basically, that means people still prefer to watch somewhat current programming, but on their own time. The growing number of streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu are having a great impact on viewing habits — in the sense that TV shows are becoming much less of a performance and far more like a good book on a shelf that you’ll eventually get around to reading.

The report shows that 98 percent of all viewing is still done on a television set. This is partially due to the presence of more set-top boxes and homes that contain a game console capable of using streaming video services.

And while TVs are still the center of the universe for video watching, mobile is showing some impressive strides. One interesting thing to note is that the report found 33.5 million mobile phone owners now watch video on their phones—an increase of 35.7 percent since last year.

Photo via Shutterstock; Graphic via Nielsen




Filed under: media, mobile

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EA’s quarterly earnings report will be a must-read on Monday

Posted: 03 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Game industry observers will be watching Electronic Arts closely on Monday, May 7, when the company is scheduled to report its fourth fiscal-quarter earnings for the period ending March 31.

The results will give investors a first peek at EA’s financial performance after the launch of its Mass Effect 3 blockbuster sci-fi game and a full quarter’s worth of sales of Star Wars: The Old Republic, which EA-owned studio BioWare developed over the past six years. The Old Republic is EA’s main competitive thrust against Activision Blizzard’s money-making machine, World of Warcraft. EA has said that the vast majority of Star Wars’ 1.7 million subscribers have signed up for beyond the initial free trial, with paying subscribers likely numbering around 1.5 million.

Analysts are expecting the Redwood City, Calif.-based video game publisher to report revenue of $960 million and non-GAAP earnings per share of 16 cents. They expect EA to guide first fiscal-quarter revenues to $925 million and EPS of 10 cent to 20 cents a share.

Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities, expects EA to outperform estimates. He believes EA will report revenue of $980 million on EPS of 20 cents a share.

EA’s stock climbed on Wednesday, and it closed at $15.87 a share. That values EA at $5.26 billion. The company’s stock rose last week on rumors that Nexon had made an offer to buy EA, but that made no sense, Pachter said, as the Japan-based online games giant didn’t have the financial resources to pull off such an acquisition.

Still, the very thought that EA could be vulnerable to a takeover is an alien one. Founded in 1982, EA was once the biggest independent publisher of video games. But it now has a smaller market value than upstart Zynga, which is valued at $6.51 billion, and rival Activision Blizzard, valued at $14.31 billion. EA’s strategy has been to continue to produce major blockbuster console games and diversify into digital sales — including mobile, social, and online games — at the same time.

A couple of weeks ago, a rumor circulated that EA was preparing to lay off more than 10 percent of the company’s staff. But EA didn’t announce any cuts to employment and merely said that “there are no layoffs.” The company further stated that it always has projects that are growing and morphing with people coming in or leaving. EA currently has about 9,000 employees, a number that has grown since a big round of employee cutbacks in 2009.

For the coming fiscal year, Pachter expects EA to report non-GAAP revenue of $4.55 billion to $4.6 billion (about four times Zynga’s current revenues) and $1.10 a share in EPS.

EA has likely been hurt slightly (a $5 million sales reduction) by the bankruptcy filing of Game Group, the big game retailer in the United Kingdom. OpCapita purchased GameGroup’s assets on April 1, Pachter said.

In the previous quarter, EA’s stock price fell after it gave relatively weak guidance for the fourth fiscal quarter. Big games coming on the horizon include SimCity, Plants vs. Zombies social games from EA’s PopCap division, and other titles to be announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June, Pachter said.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Evernote raises $70M in advance of IPO, now worth $1B

Posted: 03 May 2012 06:14 AM PDT


Evernote confirmed its rumored massive funding round this morning, though it wasn’t the $100 million whopper early reports indicated. The digital note-taking company raised $70 million at a valuation of $1 billion in its fourth round of funding, led by Meritech Capital and CBC Capital.

“This financing brings us another small step closer to our long-term goal of building a hundred year startup that can be everyone's second brain,” Evernote CEO Phil Libin wrote on the company blog today. He noted that the company didn’t really need the funding but it’s “a crucial component” of remaining an innovative and durable company.” And of course, it’s a helpful valuation bump as Evernote plans to go public.

Libin says the company will use the funding to increase product improvements, make future acquisitions, and expand internationally. Mostly though, it seems the money will help Evernote weather market conditions and remain focused on its product.

Evernote offers a suite of digital note-taking products with the goal of letting you remember everything. The core Evernote app lets you save pretty much anything — including text, pictures, and other files — to the cloud, which is then accessible from desktop and mobile devices. All of Evernote’s apps are free to use, but the company offers premium features at $5 per month (or $45 per year) rate that gives you larger upload capabilities, offline access, and more.

The company is close to reaching 30 million registered users, and more than 25 percent of them pay for the service today. Evernote acquired four small companies last year, including the image app Skitch, and launched a few standalone apps, like “Hello” and “Food.”

Always looking ahead, Libin says the future of Evernote is far beyond its current $1 billion valuation. “I agree with our very wise investors,” Libin told TechCrunch in an interview. “I think that Evernote as a publicly traded company could be worth $10 billion, $100 billion or more."

While going public will certainly be a major new step for Evernote, Libin tells TechCrunch that he doesn’t want the company’s focus to change much. He wants Evernote to spend all of its energy making the product better, and he wants users to trust the company enough to use it for the rest of their lives.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Evernote has now raised around $166 million, including today’s funding. The company apparently still has much of its previous $96 million in funding left in the bank, according to TechCrunch. But it never hurts to have a $70 million safety net.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Nirvanix nabs $25M from Khosla, others to perfect enterprise cloud storage

Posted: 03 May 2012 05:00 AM PDT


Enterprise storage startup Nirvanix has raised $25 million in its third round funding, with a goal to bring enterprise cloud storage to the largest companies in the world.

Nirvanix offers its more than 1,200 customers across the globe access to the cloud storage in three forms, depending on their needs: public, hybrid, and private. The company claims it is the only one of its kind to offer and fully managed services with usage-based pricing. Basically, you pay for exactly what you use, rather than paying for a set amount of storage.

Scott Genereux, President and CEO of Nirvanix, told us Nirvanix separates itself from cloud storage companies like Box because it stores much, much larger data sets with its nine data centers. The largest data set being stored for a single customer is 8.5 petabytes (for USC Digital Repository). Other customers storing huge amounts of data include NBCUniversal, Cerner Healthcare, and Advocate Healthcare.

“We have one customer who has more data stored with us than what Box is hosting in whole,” Genereux told us.

Genereux said the company is in “hyper-growth” mode and its next big step is opening an engineering facility in Boulder, Colo. that will act as the company’s second office outside its San Diego home. The company chose Boulder because it has a strong startup community and quality engineering talent.

The new funding round was led by Khosla Ventures with participation from existing investors Valhalla Partners, Intel Capital, Mission Ventures, and Windward Ventures. Nirvanix has raised about $70 million to date, including the new round.

Nirvanix was founded in 2007 and now has 70 employees. Genereux said the company aims to double its employee number within a year.

Photo illustration: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Original photo: brainpencil/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, deals, VentureBeat

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Is the Call of Duty: Black Ops II drone war realistic? (videos)

Posted: 02 May 2012 10:01 PM PDT

In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, a terrorist leader takes over America’s drone and robot armies and turns them against their creators. But some gamers have reacted to this scenario — set in 2025 — with scepticism.

Now, Activision has released videos describing all of the research it did on the subject of future warfare and just how plausible the plot of this first-person shooter could be. The developers at Treyarch, the studio behind the game, insist the storytelling is reasonable and have created this five-part video documentary to show off the new sci-fi ways to kill.

As we noted earlier, Black Ops II has some scenes in the 1980s, but it moves into a near future where a terrorist leader has hacked into America's military systems and hijacked an entire fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The leader, Raul Menendez, sends them to destroy American cities such as Los Angeles and then threatens China, triggering a potential global war that only black operations agents can head off.

The flashpoint for the conflict turns out to be a bid to corner the market on rare earth elements of which China holds 95 percent. If we've fought wars for control of oil supplies, then it's not crazy to think that we’d fight for these 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.

Part of this awesome arsenal is a currently experimental microwave heat-ray gun and a self-guiding bullet. Both of these weapons are in development. In the 1980s scenes, you get to see the weapons of the old days, and then you see how they compare to the weapons that change war in the future.

Another weapon is the quad-rotor drone with an on-board camera. Such machines already exist, and they're becoming a bigger part of America's military muscle. The Central Intelligence Agency has waged a secret "drone war" against Al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and other countries. Wayward UAVs are also in the news: Pilot error may have led to a drone falling into the hands of Iran.

The Federal Aviation Administration is even integrating drones into civilian air operations. And ground-based robots are an increasingly significant part of the military's future, according to Wired for War author Peter Singer. With all the news about Anonymous and hacking, it's entirely plausible that a terrorist could launch a cyber attack that takes over a fleet of robots.

Check out the videos below, headlined by retired Lt. Col. Oliver North and Singer. Singer says, “The future is not as far off as we think. We’re not ready for it.”

“I don’t think the average American grasps how violent war is about to become,” said North. He added, “I don’t worry about a guy who wants to hijack a plane. I worry about a guy who wants to hijack all the planes.”

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Social collage app Mixel now lets you create art in private

Posted: 02 May 2012 09:54 PM PDT

After launching in November as a gorgeous app for making social collages, the iPad app Mixel received an update today that will let you create private image threads, instead of having every Mixel creation public.

With increased privacy, users will hopefully have fewer inhibitions about using personal photos to create Mixels, co-founder Khoi Vinh told VentureBeat in an interview earlier this week. Vinh, a former design director for the New York Times, noticed that users were particularly hesitant to use personal photos in the past. That’s not too surprising, since any public Mixel collage can be easily remixed by others on the service.

You can think of Mixel like an Instagram for collages — it lets you effortlessly create collages, or Mixels, using your own images and photos from around the web, or by tweaking someone else's existing work. You can share your digital finger art with friends on the service or push it to the web or other social networks for all to see. Mixel is a product of Lascaux, a company co-founded by Vinh and Dump.fm creator Scott Ostler.

With a private Mixel thread, only you and the people you invite will be able to edit and share a collage. It’s also better for collaboration — for example, designers using the service wouldn’t want their work leaking out early.

Before Mixel took shape, Vinh initially wanted to create a social drawing app where multiple people could draw at the same time — but the performance anxiety with simultaneous drawing made that idea untenable. With the initial release of the app, Vinh learned that using personal photos and working in public led to performance anxiety of another sort.

With the latest update, the app now also supports the new iPad’s Retina Display. Vinh said that migrating the app wasn’t a huge ordeal, particularly because most Mixel users weren’t using high-resolution images to begin with.

Since it launched last November, Mixel has developed a strong following of core users. The company isn’t talking user figures yet, but Vinh told me that its engagement is “healthy.” Almost half of Mixel’s active users step into the app once a day, and the app is outperforming similar apps in session length by three times.

New York City-based Mixel has raised $700,000 so far, including $600,000 from a seed round that included Polaris Venture Partners, Betaworks, and Allen & Company.

Mixel image via Akira Hashiguchi

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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New ‘Action Links’ make third-party Facebook apps more interactive

Posted: 02 May 2012 06:18 PM PDT

Facebook action linksFollowing in the steps of its “actions,” Facebook on Wednesday introduced a new Timeline tool for third-party applications called action links. These customizable links will appear below an app’s post on your timeline or news feed alongside the links for Like and Comment. You’ll start to see the new links immediately on full web versions of Facebook, but they’re not on mobile.

These links will allow viewers to do specific tasks related to the post or app, and they’re not limited to Facebook’s built-in action types — Read, Listen, and Watch. For example, you can now “Fave this Product” for a Fab.com post, which will add something you see on a friend’s feed to your own Fab.com list. Some other early examples include “Save this Place” on Foursquare and “Save this Recipe” for a cooking app. When you click the link, you will complete the action and also post a story on your timeline/feed/ticker telling all of your friends that you did so. That won’t be annoying at all.

“Action links tie one action to another, and can be part of any Open Graph story.” Facebook software engineer Alex Wyler said in a post announcing the new feature. “Developers can designate an action link for any action they define, which will then appear throughout Facebook.”

Developers who want to start making their own action links can check out the documentation page for instructions.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Obama wins in race for digital attention

Posted: 02 May 2012 06:11 PM PDT

Obama Facebook Page

The Obama campaign is employing a digital strategy like no other, betting more aggressively on Facebook, display ads, and paid search than Republican candidates seeking the nomination, according to new data from analytics firm comScore.

In fact, the Obama for America campaign delivered 835 million display ads in February, representing 86 percent share of voice for all presidential candidate display ads in that month, according to comScore.

“The Obama campaign outnumbered the combined effort of the four leading Republican campaigns with any notable online ad presence by a ratio of 10 to 1 in the past six months, reflecting a significant difference in advertising strategy between Obama and the rest of the candidates,” comScore said in a report entitled, “5 Ways Digital Media is Shaping the 2012 Presidential Election.”

The report, published earlier this week, looks at the digital media practices of presidential hopefuls. Obama’s approach — blanketing the web with display ads — resulted in 777.5 million paid ad impressions in January. Compare that to just 32.6 million paid ad impressions for Mitt Romney in the same month and you’ll see the disparity in display advertising strategies.

The digital exposure disparity between Obama and the Republican candidates carries over to social channels including Facebook. The Obama campaign delivered 22 percent of its display ads for a six month period on Facebook, where his more than 26 million Facebook fans went on to do the dirty work of social promotion for the campaign. In January alone, Obama’s flock of Facebook followers and their friends contributed nearly 66 million earned media impressions.

presidential candiate ad impressions

click to enlarge

“It is fair to say that on sheer volume of exposure, the Obama campaign is far outpacing Republicans in leveraging social media,” comScore concluded.

That’s not to say the Republicans aren’t trying to compete in social exposure. Likely nominee Mitt Romney, for instance, has invested heavily in Facebook, running 58.2 percent of campaign display ads on the social network during the past six moths, which is the highest percentage for any candidate so far. And Ron Paul is organically popular with Facebookers. The candidate attracted more than twice as many earned impressions on Facebook (30 million) than on paid display ad impressions (12.7 million) in January.

comScore also found a correlation between social supporters and actual campaign donors. Obama's Facebook fans and their friends donated at a rate 2.5 times that of other donors, though fans donated less on average, according to the report.

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Bye bye coolest dorm ever, Berkeley can’t handle your automated lights

Posted: 02 May 2012 05:49 PM PDT

Derek Low

UC Berkeley’s idea of dorm life probably consists of noisy roommates, unwashed linens, half-eaten cups of Ramen noodles, and maybe a few electrical outlets to power a laptop.

The university is making freshman student Derek Low go back to those dark times just days after he debuted his B.R.A.D. (Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm) dorm room system to the world via YouTube. As the video shows, his efforts had some pretty incredible results. Using custom-made iPhone and iPad apps, The B.R.A.D. system is capable of opening the dorm’s curtains in the morning, controlling lighting and music via voice commands, and probably a dozen other functions that could set the mood for many situations.

Word of Low’s “smart dorm” eventually reached officials in his resident hall, prompting them to view the video. I can only imagine their reaction went something like: “That’s entirely too awesome, far too much fun. We’re going to do something about this right after I put another stick up my a…” You get the point.

Officials then scheduled a judicial hearing to review if Low had violated resident housing policies. However, the outcome is of little consequence to Low, since he has decided to move out of the dorm and into his own apartment, where his automated living system can operate freely, he told InnovationNewsDaily.

“The whole system is quite mobile, actually, so that won’t be too difficult,” Low said.

So if you want to build cool things in your dorm room, you should probably head over to Stanford. I hear they support innovation (even the blinky lighted, romantic mode kind).

Screenshot via Derek Low/YouTube

Filed under: mobile, offBeat

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Watch out, Android users: Some web sites are auto-downloading malware to your phone

Posted: 02 May 2012 05:17 PM PDT

Android malware

Lookout Mobile has detected websites aimed at mobile devices to distribute malware.

This type of attack — or drive-by download — happens on a website infected with malware. When a user loads the site, it automatically triggers a malware download. It often does not prompt you like other downloads, and instead quietly downloads a virus in the background. These are dangerous as the user is left unaware. Lookout Mobile, which makes mobile anti-virus software, says this is the first it’s seen websites facilitating malware downloads targeting mobile phones, specifically Androids.

The Trojan is called NotCompatible and is executed when an Android browser accesses an infected website. The website has a small iFrame installed, which opens a separate webpage. This webpage then downloads an application to the Android phone. The application will disguise itself as a security update and prompt the user to install it. If successfully installed, the Trojan gains access to your system. Thus far, Lookout says, NotCompatible doesn’t look like it disrupts your phone or collects any data. Instead, it has the capability of entering private networks your phone may be connected to. This may be the case for enterprise and government employees.

Researchers expect this hasn’t affected many Android users, as the websites don’t seem to be getting a lot of traffic. Thus far Lookout has identified 10 infected websites, including gaoanalitics.info and androidonlinefix.info.

Recently, security professionals have been warning about the possibility of drive-by downloads on mobile devices. Overall malware has increased 41 percent in the last year, according to a report by Symantec, and mobile is certainly on watch.

Android image via Shutterstock

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Funding Daily: Get graded on your big data intelligence

Posted: 02 May 2012 04:30 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.

Birst raises $26M for big data

Big data startup Birst has raised $26 million in its fourth round of funding, with a goal accelerating growth and product development. The company provides business intelligence software and competes with QlikTech, SAP, IBM, Oracle, GoodData, and Microstrategy. The new funding round was led by big dog VC firm Sequoia Capital with additional participation by prior investors Hummer Winblad and DAG Ventures.

Engrade moves to the front of the class with funding to keep teachers organized

Classroom management software company Engrade has closed a $3 million funding round. The company’s software helps teachers, administrators, and school boards keep track of students’ grades and progress reports. Rethink Education led the round, with NewSchools Venture Fund and private investors Greg Gunn, Zac Zeitlin, and Richard Chino.

Flingo grabs another investment, mere months after its last one

Smart TV app maker Flingo has received another $1 million in funding from entrepreneur Mark Cuban, bringing its total first round to $8 million. Flingo has developed a technology, dubbed SyncApps, that can detect what you're watching in just a few seconds and communicate that information to your television, smartphone, or computer.

Datasift secures $7.2M investment

DataSift, a social data platform that extracts large amounts of data from a number of online sources, raised $7.2 million. Essentially its services help understand the impact of social media marketing techniques employed by business. Existing investors IA Ventures and GRP Partners led the round.

App security startup Appthority gets a $6.25M boost

App security company Appthority has raised $6.25 million. The company works to prevent potential apps with malware, location tracking, and keystroke recording  from ending up on your smartphone. US Venture Partners and Venrock led the funding.

Vungle Raises $2M seed round

Mobile advertising company Vungle has raised an impressive $2 millionseed investment. The company creates ads in the form of video trailers for mobile applications. Big name VCs and angel investors Google Ventures, AOL Ventures, Crosslink Capital, Ron Conway, Dave McClure, Maynard Webb, Scott McNealy, and Tim Draper participated in the round.

McCann WorldGroup invests $4M in Israeli incubator

Media startup incubator Thetime has raised $4 million from investor McCann WorldGroup. Thetime is an Israel-based incubator for media companies looking to get guidance, funding, and new business ideas before they obtain a seed round. After seed funding, Thetime offers additional resources to help startups receive institutional funding. McCann WorldGroup gets a 15 percent stake in Thetime for its investment.

Collaboration software startup Blueprint raises $15.9M

Blueprint has raised $15.9 million to help with software development project management. The company helps business people and software developers, working for the same companies, set goals for software and app development projects. It then manages the work for each project, helping each department communicate effectively. New investor Tandem Expansion Fund led the round, with the participation of existing investors from BDC IT Venture Fund, Walsingham Partners Fund, and several private investors.

Reading child against numbers background image via Shutterstock and Flickr

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Google Docs puts design font and center

Posted: 02 May 2012 04:25 PM PDT


Google added a whopping collection of 450 fonts to its online document service Google Docs today — thus freeing your text from years of enslavement by the likes of Arial, Courier New, and the universally reviled Comic Sans.

Well, you know what Comic Sans? We’ll just see how comical you are within a sea of equally goofy font options now available to co-workers, friends, and family members who have zero grasp of basic design principles.

Google Docs users can add the new font styles by clicking on the font menu in the tool bar and selecting the "Add fonts" option at the very bottom. From there you’ll see the entire menu of web fonts available, such as Economica, Princess Sofia, Jolly Lodger, Happy Monkey, Dynalight, Wallpoet, Lobster one, Lobster two, and Esteban. All of your chosen fonts are displayed alphabetically in a sidebar to the right. You can click the “X” to remove any font you don’t plan on using. That sidebar will then appear in the “font styles” tool bar when you’re working within a doc.

Even with all these fresh new font options, it’s possible that bland white document background isn’t doing for you anymore. Thankfully, Google has added over 60 new document templates for you to choose from.

The full list of Google Docs updates is listed below, via the Google Docs blog:

  • Google Drive launched as a place where you can create, share, collaborate, and keep all your stuff.
  • There are now a few more options for inserting images in Docs, including inserting from Google Drive, searching for images from the LIFE Photo archive, or taking a snapshot with your webcam.
  • Charts in spreadsheets now has support for minor gridlines and options to customize the formats of axis labels
  • Accessibility in Docs got better with support for screenreaders in presentations and with the addition of NVDA to our list of supported screenreaders.
  • From File > Page setup… you can now set the default page size for your new documents.
  • It’s now easier for speakers of right-to-left languages by automatically showing bidirectional controls when you type in a language that might use them.
  • Apps Script had many improvements, including
    • A new ScriptService for programmatically publishing your scripts and controlling when they run.
    • A new function to find the root folder of someone's Drive.
    • An increase in the allowed attachment size in emails from 5MB to 25MB.
    • An increase in the size of docs files you can create from 2MB to 50MB.
  • There are now over 60 new templates in our template gallery.

Filed under: cloud, enterprise

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Mark Cuban believes in social TV, tops off Flingo’s funding

Posted: 02 May 2012 04:11 PM PDT

Mark Cuban invests in Flingo

Flingo, one of the largest smart TV app publishers, has received another $1 million in funding from entrepreneur Mark Cuban, bringing its total first round to $8 million.

As the company tells it, Cuban first learned about Flingo while strolling by its CES booth earlier this year. After catching a glimpse at the company’s social TV platform, Cuban quickly struck up a conversation with Flingo CEO Ashwin Navin and wiggled his way into the funding round. He’s leading the additional funding together with Gary Lauder, managing director of Lauder Partners. In February, Flingo announced that it raised $7 million from August Capital.

“I’m excited to be part of the Flingo experience,” Cuban — owner of the arthouse cinema chain Landmark and Magnolia Pictures, and chairman of HDNet — said in a statement today. “I truly believe the future of TV is social TV and Flingo will be one of the companies out front.”

Flingo has developed a technology, dubbed SyncApps, that can detect what you're watching in just a few seconds and communicate that information to your television, smartphone, or computer. Think of it like a location-based service for what you're watching. SyncApps eliminates the need to track down hashtags or other content related to what you're viewing, allowing you to seamlessly interact with content while you're watching it.

The company says it will use the funding to expand its presence among smart TV and device makers. It already has partnerships with Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Western Digital. Navin calls Cuban’s support a “tremendous validation” of the company.

Flingo was founded in 2008 by former early Bittorrent employees Ashwin Navin, Alvir Navin, and David Harrison. The company currently has offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and other cities.

Photo via Steven Rosenbaum/Flickr

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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How to build an enterprise app people will actually use

Posted: 02 May 2012 03:22 PM PDT

These days it seems like everyone is building an app — not just consumer apps, but apps for the enterprise, too. Google and Salesforce.com, for example, are making hundreds of APIs available, and developers are seizing the opportunity to build on these as more businesses migrate to the cloud.

Whether it's a project-management app or another Instagram, one rule is constant: A successful app must be deeply integrated with the underlying platform.

But what do I mean by "deep integration"? Think about your favorite smartphone app. Does it take into account the native capabilities of the phone? Does the camera open seamlessly? Can you use your fingers to draw and swipe? Can you easily share a game, photo, or drawing with a friend? The same questions and issues apply to enterprise apps because, let's face it, if the application doesn't seamlessly integrate with the product your users "live in" (like an email inbox), users will struggle to find value in it.

Take Yelp's monocle feature for example. It works flawlessly with your phone's camera, GPS, and map. You're able to stay inside one application while accessing all the information you need — location, name of restaurant or bar, and diner reviews.

Now imagine a similarly deep integration between your email and CRM. A tight enterprise integration will pull contacts, calendars, and order history or active deals into the email inbox where workers spend the majority of their time. The same strategy applies to security apps, project management extensions, and more.

So, how can developers be sure they're building something that will deliver value to users? Here are a few tips to ensure you're building a deeply integrated (and useful) application.

1. Understand what your customers use and the integrations they need

Survey your current customers. Find out which email platform they're using, which CRM system your sales customers interact with everyday, and the plethora of other cloud services customers touch on a regular basis. Once you know which platform to integrate with, take plenty of time to investigate what features are missing, which can be improved on, and most importantly which features your users rely on.

Once you've settled on a platform for integration, do some research to make sure the platform isn't working towards the same feature. A good question to ask yourself is, does my product compete with the platform, or does it fill a need for a niche industry or specific job function? For example, Google Apps typically develops features that every user in a given organization can use. It's pretty safe to say that they will not build an accounting product, since it touches only a few users in an organization.

And if your product already competes directly with the platform, make sure it plays on another level. Common ways to differentiate your app from an existing feature include building an improved user experience or enhancing the functionality of native features.

2. Understand the strengths of your team and product

If your product is the best-in-breed security software, stick with what you're good at. Building on top of a new platform doesn't mean reinventing the wheel. Your customers use your product because it's good, and integration will only make the product more valuable to a larger user base. Stick with your niche and don't lose sight of where you came from.

3. Take advantage of opportunities to integrate

Platforms like Google Apps and Salesforce — and iOS and Android for that matter — make hundreds of APIs available, so take advantage of them. If you can integrate calendar scheduling into your project management app, do it. If shared contacts would make your CRM easier to use, build off of the relevant API. There's nothing worse than installing a third-party app and finding out the app contains little integration beyond "single-sign on."

4. Does your integrated product make your customers more efficient on a day-to-day basis?

If you've come up with your strategy and can't answer this question, you probably have some rethinking to do. Admins aren't going to shell out for an app that won't make their workers more efficient and productive. If your app adds another step to an already complicated process, it won't gain traction with admins or end-users.

Building a great product is more than half the battle. Setting up a deep integration should be fairly simple as long as you know what your customers want and need. As time goes on and platforms like Google Apps and Salesforce mature and gain a broader user base, opportunities for even deeper integrations will appear.

David Politis is founder and CEO of BetterCloud, a developer of enterprise security and management tools that integrate with Google Apps. Follow David on Twitter @DavePolitis and BetterCloud @bettercloud.

[[Top image credit:  chaoss/Shutterstock]

Filed under: dev, enterprise, mobile

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Tumblr starts selling ads — but not all advertisers welcome

Posted: 02 May 2012 02:58 PM PDT

tumblr spotlight ad

More than five years, $125 million in funding, 55 million users, and 22 billion blog posts later, trendy blogging platform Tumblr is finally getting serious about making money — just on its own terms.

The New York-based company announced Wednesday two advertising products available to sponsors for a minimum $25,000 package commitment. Approved — and that’s a key detail — advertisers and media companies can pay for content placement and account exposure through Tumblr Radar and Tumblr Spotlight.

With Radar, sponsors are featured through the company’s curation engine that spotlights top and interesting posts on the network in the right-hand margin of members’ dashboard. Radar pushes 120 million impressions per day, according to Tumblr.

tumblr radar

Sample Radar ad

Tumblr Spotlight, a member directory of sorts, is the area where members go to find new people to follow. Sponsors will be featured in a large display above spotlighted members (pictured above).

Together, the products comprise a mini ad suite that echoes the style of ad products offered by Facebook and Twitter. Tumblr promises advertisers thousands of new followers, likes, and reblogs through the promotional placements.

“We are constantly delighted by the creative ways that brands use Tumblr, and are confident that the world’s greatest marketers and media companies will use these products to set a new bar for creative advertising on the web,” a Tumblr spokesperson said in an email to VentureBeat.

Creative is the operative word. The steep $25,000 price point is no accident; it’s intended to keep out junky ads from un-ideal advertisers. In fact, Tumblr is gating its ad platform and will only be working with select advertisers that understand the opportunity, vice president of product Derek Gottfrid told VentureBeat. “We’ve priced this accordingly to make sure we have a really high quality experience,” Gottrid said.

The units, he added, we’re designed to give advertisers a way to buy into the native Tumblr experience, thus requiring a would-be sponsor to invest time and energy in the platform for story-telling purposes. “Our goal is that the experience makes sense for users and sponsors.”

When the ad units do go live, and no hard date has been set, members can expect to see a mix of advertisers spanning categories such as automotive, fashion, and consumer goods.

Even with the emphasis on strong creative and the anticipated launch, Wednesday’s ad announcement represents an about-face for a company that has previously shunned advertising.

Tumblr CEO David Karp has often expressed a disdain for ads. “We’re pretty opposed to advertising,” Karp said in a 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times. Just this past January, Karp said that Tumblr was pursuing “novel approaches to revenue” in lieu to tacking on ads. Karp, however, admitted to being wrong about ads at an AdAge conference in April.

Filed under: social

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Sex.com plays it safe, slips on a Pinterest-like UI

Posted: 02 May 2012 02:38 PM PDT


Sex.com, the most expensive public domain ever purchased, has just re-launched as yet another Pinterest for porn, joining sites like Snatchly and Pornterest in curating the web’s randiest material. (NSFW links)

While lurid, Sex.com is interesting because in the early years of the Internet, it was the most valuable piece of virtual real estate. The current owners continued that tradition and paid a staggering $13 million to buy the domain name. There’s even a book written about the URL’s ownership changing hands between all kinds of crazy characters.

The revamped site will join the many Pinterest clones that are popping up around the web. Pinterest’s user interface that lets users “pin” photos and videos they like to virtual pin-boards has proven incredibly successful thus far, and it is now the third most popular social network in the U.S.

Sex.com’s smooth operators are optimistic the made-over site will succeed. In its press release announcing the launch, Sex.com claims more than 97 percent of Pinterest accounts are created by women and that the pictures shared are “of very little interest to men.”

"Pinterest doesn't allow adult photos, so we felt there was an opportunity in the marketplace for such a service, and with the large amount of adult-oriented traffic, we expect to compete with sites like Tumblr and Pinterest over the next 12 months," said “Fred” of Sex.com, in a statement.

If anything, the new Sex.com is certainly a far cry from the 90s incarnation:


Seductive woman photo: Anton Zabielskyi/Shutterstock

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Big TV treats cord-cutting as a threat. In reality, it’s an opportunity. Here’s why

Posted: 02 May 2012 02:32 PM PDT

With the advent of numerous over the top (OTT) platforms, which bring online video directly into the living room, pay-TV operators face new competition — competition from hot startups like Hulu, Netflix, and Roku.

In way, OTT video represents the first real threat to the traditional pay-TV model. But in many more ways, it’s also the traditional TV industry’s biggest opportunity yet.

Multi-channel pay-TV rose to prominence in the 1980s and has grown steadily all over the world. The business model of a fixed monthly fee for a tiered package of TV channels has proven more resilient than anyone could have imagined.

Over the years, providers of multi-channel TV have become very profitable companies, enjoying almost the same kind of monopoly as telecom operators enjoyed in the past. It is clear that most pay-TV operators would like the industry to remain in the comfortable state of the last 20 years, with steady growth and healthy profits.

But with high speed broadband Internet finally available for most consumers, there are more options than ever to find content.

Consumers download movies and TV shows from the Internet, legally or illegally, while new OTT video on demand (VOD) offerings like Netflix and Amazon have grown their subscriber base significantly. It is these alternatives to pay-TV that have caused analysts to predict doom for operators due to consumer so-called cord cutting.

Yet despite the proliferation of these alternative services, over the past 10 years cord cutting has barely made a dent in major operators' top line revenues.

Cord shaving rather than cord cutting

The real risk for operators is not that the mass market will cut the cord entirely, but rather that they will downgrade to a lower priced tier, thereby reducing operator profit margins.

This trend of declining average revenue per user (ARPU) will be the main driver of innovation over the next couple of years, both for the networks and the operators.

By seeing consumers slowly but surely consuming more of the content via alternative distributors, operators feel threatened even if the changes so far have been small. Consumers see the value with more choice, better availability, and high usability. As long as the operators cannot offer something similar, the gradual loss of revenues will continue.

The transformation of the TV industry will be slow

The television industry is a cautious industry. Technology shifts have traditionally happened on time scales of 10-15 years rather than the 1-2 years that we have become accustomed to with Internet and mobile.

The immense capital expenditures from replacing and deploying new set-top boxes is a gaiting factor to operator innovation. Operators are reluctant to spend capital on rolling out next generation boxes, which are needed to provide a significantly new consumer experience.

Also, operators are wary of making risky upgrades to a legacy technology solution that has worked for many years.

Furthermore, consumers keep TV equipment in use for a longer period of time than they do with PCs and mobile equipment. Consumers also tend to be more loyal to TV channels than they are to Internet websites. The entire value chain from advertisers and content providers to networks and operators are happy with the current structure and are not in a hurry to roll out new changes.

And finally, content distribution agreements are typically 4-5 years, which slows the rollout of new innovative offerings.

Over the next couple years, operators and networks will focus on innovation using complementing services that take advantage of OTT infrastructure. Complementing applications will offer consumers access to content and features, which enhance value, but will not replace the standard multi-channel tiered package, consumers get today.

These applications improve loyalty and retain the current business structure rather than complete disruption, and this is the area where the pay-TV industry will invest over the next few years.

International case studies: Telstra and Viasat

Two of our pay-TV customers have fully embraced the OTT opportunity and have launched attractive services to their customers on their respective markets with slightly different strategies.

Telstra is the leading telco in Australia. It has launched a pay-TV offering via the T-Box. To give additional value to its broadband Internet subscribers, it has launched a multi-channel pay-TV (Big Pond TV) and full VOD offering (Big Pond Movies) across Australia.

By using OTT devices such as tablets, Smart TVs, and game consoles, Telstra has managed to reach its entire consumer base without the need for an additional set-top box. This will build loyalty for the broadband Internet customers and also create natural upsell possibilities for additional services.

Viasat is the leading pay-TV operator in Scandinavia, historically mainly with a direct-to-home satellite dish offering. In 2011, Viasat relaunched its Viaplay offering across a number of OTT devices.

The real innovation is that consumers can subscribe to the OTT offering without having a standard set-top box, pay-TV subscription.

This will be slightly cannibalizing, but it opens up a new market which cannot be reached with a direct-to-home offering. Viastat is now competing head-to-head with cable operators and telcos in parts of the market where they have never been able to compete before.

OTT is an opportunity for operators

Pay-TV operators, with their strong subscriber relationships, technology infrastructure ,and content portfolio, will benefit from distribution via OTT devices.

With the big brand names and ample cash flow, they can easily equip themselves with the most innovative OTT offerings and create loyalty among existing subscribers and potentially an efficient way to acquire new subscribers. The opportunity for pay-TV operators to take the lead in the OTT market is huge.

Michael Lantz is CEO an co-founder of Accedo, a provider of enabling platforms for apps and app stores for IPTV and Smart TV. David Adams is Accedo’s vice president for corporate development.

Image courtesy of Yuri Arcurs

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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After IPO, Yelp’s first quarter revenue jumps 66 percent over last year

Posted: 02 May 2012 01:53 PM PDT

Yelp made $27.4 million in revenue during the first of 2012, a 66 percent jump from last year, the company reported in its first quarterly earnings call Wednesday.

Exactly two months ago Wednesday, the business-reviews site debuted on the public market. During its first day of trading, the company was valued at $1.43 billion, about 17 times the amount of Yelp’s total revenue in 2011.

Now the company is reporting $27.4 million in revenue for quarter one 2011. Yelp beat analysts’ predictions by almost $2 million, which were set at $25.3 million.

“Our initial public offering added $114 million to our balance sheet,” Yelp chief financial officer Rob Krolik said in the earnings statement.

However, the company’s losses were up significantly up this quarter over last year, at $9.8 million. That’s already more than half of Yelp’s total net loss for 2011, which was $16.7 million. In comparison, Yelp reported a net loss of $2.8 million for the 2011 first quarter. The Adjusted EBITDA for the first quarter of 2012 was approximately $1 million, compared to a loss of $880,000 for the first quarter of 2011, Yelp reported.

Still, Yelp seems happy with its earnings. Chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman said in the earnings statement that he is pleased with the company’s performance post-IPO.

Eleven new markets were added to the Yelp universe this year, including Antwerp, Brussels, and Oklahoma City. Those new cities seem to have helped boost the amount of reviews, active business accounts, and monthly unique visitors for Yelp. Total reviews on Yelp grew 59 percent from 2011 to 27.6 million reviews, and business accounts were up 117 percent over last year at 27,300. In addition, 71.4 million people visit the site each month and 6.3 million are using the Yelp mobile app each month.

Yelp expects its revenue to be between $29 million and $31 million for 2012′s second quarter, which started April 1.

Yelp buttons image via Flickr user Ed Kwon

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Amazon rolls out nifty Cloud Drive desktop apps for Windows and Mac

Posted: 02 May 2012 12:52 PM PDT

Amazon cloud drive desktop App Amazon is making its Cloud Drive service, which is primarily for storing media and document files that live on your hard drive, easier to use.

The company announced Wednesday that it is rolling out new Amazon Cloud Drive desktop applications for both Windows and Mac. The apps function very similarly to cloud-storage service competitor Dropbox’s desktop clients. Amazon’s Cloud Drive app allows you to seamlessly drag and drop files from your computer to the cloud with little work. Files are downloaded and uploaded in the background, but can be paused and restarted again should the need arise.

Amazon’s Cloud Drive service, which debuted last year, provides users with 5GB of storage for free. They can purchase more space at the rate of $1 per additional GB, per year.

With the recent launch of Google’s long-hyped cloud storage service Google Drive, Amazon will need every advantage to keep current Cloud Drive users from leaving. The new desktop apps also makes the Amazon Cloud Drive experience much more fluid, but nothing new in terms of what’s available by other competing services.

The new apps are available to download today on Amazon’s website, but you’ll need to sign up for the Cloud Drive service to gain the storage functionality.

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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“Ohh Board” and other terrible ZBoard names that (thankfully) didn’t make it

Posted: 02 May 2012 12:49 PM PDT


The ZBoard was undoubtedly my pick of the show at last month’s DEMO conference. Over 75 companies each had six minutes to rock the stage and pitch their startups, yet none came remotely close to having the enthusiasm, confidence, and coolness of the ZBoard crew. But as a recently released list of unused names shows, ZBoard could have been a lot less cool….

“[My favorite was] ‘Electrobolt,’” says Intuitive Motion’s Ben Forman. “Blatantly and intentionally cheesy, I think this name would’ve reminded people of childhood memories of favorite toys. Also it has a Jetson’s-esque quality.”

Forman notes the “Ooh Board” was the least favorite pick of the bunch. “We probably thought this one up after a late night in the lab without enough sleep. We wanted to build a product that would make people go ‘ooh.’ A very stupid name.”

So why did the team finally settle on “ZBoard”? What does it mean? “The ‘Z’ in ZBoard refers to the Z-axis,” explains Forman. “When ZBoarding, the rider moves around the XY plane by applying force parallel to the Z-axis (down). We liked it because ZBoard works well as both a noun and a verb e.g. ‘I ZBoarded over to my friend’s house to play Fifa.’”

The full list of scrapped names can be found below:

  • techboard
  • switch
  • switch board
  • freeboard
  • chariot
  • 8skate
  • switchdeck
  • skate-tour
  • hotfoot
  • electrobolt
  • skatepilot
  • dashdeck
  • flashdeck
  • switchboard
  • switchdeck
  • ingo
  • ingo board
  • ingaboard
  • propel
  • regatta
  • i-fly
  • momentum
  • o-mentum
  • omicron
  • the osiris
  • rawboard
  • gboard
  • the “q”
  • infiniboard
  • zooboard
  • zoomboard
  • ooh board
  • nemesis
  • marathon
  • muse
  • zipboard
  • jetaround
  • alicorn
  • phoenix
  • spectre
  • gaea
  • da vinci
  • aeolipile
  • martlet
  • pit bull
  • rising sun
  • no tech
  • question mark

So, which one’s your favorite? Personally, I have to say the “Da Vinci”–while making no sense–best represents the sort of pompous exuberance with which I like to wield all of my pricey tech toys. But “ZBoard” is cool, I guess….

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

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Twilio and Microsoft partner to bring cloud communications to Azure developers

Posted: 02 May 2012 12:44 PM PDT


Microsoft and cloud communications startup Twilio have signed a deal to bring Twilio’s APIs to developers who use Windows Azure, the two companies announced today.

Azure is used by many companies to host and build web applications through Microsoft's data centers. Naturally, some of those companies and developers using Azure could benefit from the cloud-based phone and SMS technologies that Twilio offers. On top of API access, the deal will give Azure developers a credit of 1,000 free text messages or inbound voice minutes. Interested developers can sign up here.

"In line with our commitment to serving developers, Windows Azure welcomes support from Twilio to make their voice and messaging APIs available on Windows Azure," said Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, in a statement. "We’ve seen the innovation happening around Twilio, and we want to make it as easy as possible for Windows Azure developers to build great apps that use Twilio's communications platform and take advantage of Windows Azure's scalability, reliability, and flexibility."

San Francisco-based Twilio has raised around $33 million to date, with its most recent funding totaling $17 million. Twilio recently revealed that part of that funding was humorously delivered via a touchtone term sheet created using Twilio’s API.

Cloud photo: basketman23/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, dev, VentureBeat

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Replay Games raises more than $600K on Kickstarter for Leisure Suit Larry game

Posted: 02 May 2012 12:41 PM PDT

Leisure Suit Larry will live again in the land of the lounge lizards.

After a 30 day campaign, Replay Games has raised a total of $673,602 via Kickstarter crowdfunding, handily beating the company’s goal of $500,000. The pledged funding came from more than 14,079 fans and it will enable the company to fuel the development of its PC and tablet game without giving up any equity ownership. (The numbers are different from the figures on Kickstarter’s site because of additional PayPal donations).

As such, it is another example of a successful funding for a small game company at a time when alternative money is hard to get. (We’ll have a panel on how crowdfunding is changing game financing at our GamesBeat 2012 conference).

“I’m really stoked,” said Paul Trowe, founder of Replay. “Especially after one of the VCs turned us down because they didn’t want to be associated with Leisure Suit Larry. It’s such an honor. When you think you’ve seen every business model, and heard every story about publisher battles and ego fights, I’m floored, thankful, and grateful.”

The Replay crew got the idea for crowdfunding after watching the success of game veterans Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo in using Kickstarter to fund their separate games. The aim is to bring back the Leisure Suit Larry franchise that sold more than 10 million copies in the 1980s and 1990s.

The whole project is part of the retro trend to bring back beloved franchises to older games and win new fans as well. Al Lowe (pictured above) said in the company’s Kickstarter video that the team will update the graphics, the music, the user interface, and the humor.

“We’re bringing it into the 21st century onto PCs and tablets,” Lowe said. “And we want to do it without any pesky publishers telling us to dumb it down or make it tamer so we can get it into Walmart.”

In exchange for a $15 donation, users are getting a copy of the game. But if they donated more, they will get more personalized collectibles such as a link to a digital version of the original soundtrack, an art book, or even a role in the game’s development. For a pledge of $100, the donors will get a packaged mailing of the game and related assets, plus a Leisure Suit Larry brand condom (in its wrapper).

Trowe is now in the process of sending out more than 13,000 T-shirts to donors, and thousands of condoms as well. The high-end donors are getting a bunch of funny perks. One person donated $10,000 in exchange for a lunch with Lowe. Four people pledged $1,250 to get their faces into the game in a scene where they’re called “perverts.” One donor pledged $2,500 for the “doggie style” edition which includes the right to have the image of the donor’s pet dog  put into the game. Two donors pledged $2,500 to have their likenesses put in the game as drunks.

Lowe created the original adventure game, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, in 1987. He said the original Leisure Suit Larry was one of the most pirated games in history at the time and he knew that because he sold a lot more hint books than actual games at the time.

“If we were smart, we would have just printed the hint books and stopped making the games altogether,” he said.

Five more Larry games and other auxiliary titles followed. The last Leisure Suit Larry game that Lowe worked on was Love for Sale, released in 1996. But Lowe said he still gets fan mail about the original series.

The Larry franchise was most recently owned by Vivendi Universal, which acquired Sierra (via acquisitions of parent firms) years ago and then sold it to Codemasters, which published a title called Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, in 2009. That game was done without consultation with Lowe and didn't sell well. Critics hated it, with GameTrailers.com giving it a 2.3 out of 10 rating.

The new game got its life after Trowe bootstrapped his Austin, Texas-based company in 2008 to focus on the digital distribution of games. Trowe was the first teenage beta tester at Sierra On-Line, the now-defunct publisher of the original series.

In 2010, he picked up the rights to Leisure Suit Larry, essentially grabbing it back from the “clutches of corporate America,” he said. Then he got Lowe to agree to recreate a new game, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards: Reloaded. The actual developer will be Adventure Mob, a Tel Aviv-based game studio that will use the Unity Technologies game engine for cross-platform game creation.

Trowe said that he got very little sleep in the last month because he had to respond to fan comments around the clock. One volunteered to set up a forum for the fans and now that volunteer will become a full-time employee.

“I learned so much about community management,” Trowe said. “If we didn’t listen to our fans, we wouldn’t be in this position” of having so many donors.

The game was targeted for October, but Trowe thinks that the added tasks will now push the game toward January, 2013 launch.

“At the demand of fans, we have to add a new girlfriend, two extra rooms and all new dialogue,” Trowe said. “It’s going to be a lot more than a remake.”

The new title will run on the Unity 3D engine and will have beefed up graphics. The game will be published in six languages. Trowe said that the successful campaign told him that the audience for the title should be very good.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Get funded on Google+: Silicon Valley VCs are holding hangouts

Posted: 02 May 2012 12:40 PM PDT

Google+ Hangout

Google is trying really hard to get people interested in Google+’s group video-chat feature, Hangouts. The company has brought on celebrities, political figures, and is now trying to attract its own Silicon Valley neighbors to participate on the social network through “VC Office Hours.”

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are constantly looking for access to venture capitalists. Even if a company doesn’t want funding, venture capitalists can offer advice on a business model, see broader market trends, and in general share a lot about successes and failures in the business. The new program, announced by Bradley Horowitz on the social network, will allow entrepreneurs to chat with selected VCs through Hangouts. Horowitz will invite six to eight “interesting entrepreneurs, students, of fans of tech investing to lob questions at the respective VC’s.” Others can only watch the conversation.

The first group of VCs to participate in the Hangout include John Lilly of Greylock, Chris Dixon of Founder Collective, Roger McNamee of Elevation Partners, and John Borthwick of Betaworks. John Lily will go first on Thursday, May 10, at 8:15 am pacific time.

“We’ll announce each VC session with an individual G+ post,” said Horowitz in the blog post. “If you’d like to be part of the interview panel, you can respond in the comments. I’ll select a group of panelists from those that self-nominate.”

Previously, Google+ has hosted President Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama, and a number of other impressive names. So far, Hangouts seem to be Google+’s biggest draw as the social network tries to make a stand against heavyweights Twitter and Facebook.

hat tip The Next Web; Google+ image via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, social

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Foursquare forges ahead with ad platform as biz dev exec exits

Posted: 02 May 2012 12:35 PM PDT

tristan walker

As check-in champion Foursquare prepares to make a run at making money, the startup’s vice president of business development, Tristan Walker, has checked out.

Walker, who holds an MBA from Stanford and was once an intern at Twitter, announced his resignation from Foursquare in a blog post this morning. Walker is heading to Silicon Valley’s youngest elite venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz where he’ll serve as an entrepreneur-in-residence. Holger Luedorf now heads up Foursquare’s business development initiatives.

“The opportunity at foursquare enabled me to think big, take risks, re-imagine what's possible … and following an incredible journey, I have decided to resign from foursquare to pursue my next big dream,” Walker said.

Walker developed Foursquare’s significant brand relationships and was the mastermind behind the startup’s most progressive initiatives, including a massive loyalty campaign with American Express.

“There’s no better place for him to land than this entrepreneur in residence role at Andreessen Horowitz,” Foursquare co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley told VentureBeat. “Tristan’s big thinking and drive have been invaluable assets to foursquare over the last few years. His work has helped solidify foursquare as a strong marketing tool for brands and a data-driven loyalty platform for merchants,” a company spokesperson added.

The exit could be perceived as a blow to Foursquare, especially as it prepares to take its first stab at a real monetization strategy with an ad platform slated for launch this summer, according to a recent AdAge report. VentureBeat has independently confirmed with multiple sources that Foursquare plans to test an ad platform powered by its Explore engine.

Couple Walker’s resignation with the recent ouster of co-founder Naveen Selvadurai and what you have are company growing pains visible for the world to see.

Why might there be trouble? Foursquare, as VentureBeat has previously reported, is a company in flux. Known primarily as a check-in service, the startup is battling a self-imposed identify crisis and hoping to prove to people, and soon advertisers, that its offering spans beyond the tiny little niche of check-in apps — just 6 percent of online adults use geolocation apps — and is in fact a tool for real-world discovery.

Foursquare is also no longer the industry’s darling up-and-coming mobile app, despite recently surpassing 20 million users. Instagram, Pinterest, Viddy, and others have stolen the company’s thunder; they are the new hotter-than-hot services web denizens and press are salivating over. And nearly a year after raising $50 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz, Foursquare has yet to prove that it’s worth a $600 million valuation.

But don’t read too much into the high profile departures, they’re nothing more than normal exits for a three year-old startup still finding its way, Crowley said. Crowley referred to Foursquare’s current operations as “organized chaos.” With a 115 people on staff, Foursquare is brewing the next PayPal mafia, he said, meaning that he fully expects a handful of staffers to leave and build their own companies.

“We’re a machine now … Foursquare is a completely different place than it was a couple of years ago,” Crowley said. “Everyone here is bullish on the direction of the company.”

Walker could not be reached for comment.

Photo credit: Mari Sheibley/ Flickr. Used with permission.

Filed under: social

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