11 May, 2012



Thompson needs to go as Yahoo’s CEO

Posted: 11 May 2012 08:32 AM PDT

YahooYahoo CEO Scott Thompson’s latest explanations don’t cut it. He needs to go.

According to Business Insider, he told Yahoo employees that the errors on his bios were not his fault — he didn’t submit a resume to Yahoo, some underling cut and pasted his bio. Even if that were the case, he is still ultimately responsible. I’ve had recruiters puff up my resume. Sometimes they add things that aren’t true. I remove them as soon as I see it.

He also claimed that it would be awkward to correct an interviewer who was inaccurate. That’s ridiculous. I interview a lot of people. They correct me when they disagree with my assumptions in asking a question. I recently interviewed Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures and asked a question about really bad ideas in the 1990s dot-com boom. He challenged my assertion that they were bad ideas (it’s around the 3:40 mark).

I am also frequently interviewed on television and radio. If an interviewer gave me credentials that I never had, I would correct it on the spot. Although, in a live interview, I do let small mistakes slip through. (In a 3-5 minute interview, it’s hard to get everything in.) And in a TV interview, the interviewee often doesn’t see the graphics being shown.

There’s also an important difference between live and recorded interviews. If you or the interviewer make a mistake in a recorded interview of this magnitude, you can get it fixed. In one case, as soon as an interview was over, I realized that some words had slipped out of my mouth that were unnecessarily incendiary; I asked the interviewer not to use that in the segment. It seems that the Tech Nation interview was recorded. Thompson or Yahoo PR could easily have fixed that error even after the fact.

But the biggest problem with the explanations is that they still don’t explain how Thompson’s fictitious credentials made it into Yahoo’s regulatory filings. In Yahoo’s amended annual report filed on April 27, it says, “Mr. Thompson holds a Bachelor's degree in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College.”

The filing was certified by Scott Thompson himself, according to rules set forth under Sarbanes-Oxley.

Here’s the text of that certification:

I, Scott Thompson, certify that:

1. I have reviewed this Amendment No. 1 to the Annual Report on Form 10-K of Yahoo! Inc. for the year ended December 31, 2011; and
2. Based on my knowledge, this report does not contain any untrue statement of a material fact or omit to state a material fact necessary to make the statements made, in light of the circumstances under which such statements were made, not misleading with respect to the period covered by this report.

Dated: April 27, 2012

So either he didn’t review the amendment as noted in bullet point 1 or he reviewed it and decided to ignore the “untrue statement” that he had a degree in computer science. Neither is a good scenario.

The purpose of this certification is to give investors trust in the documents they review and ensure accountability from a company’s leadership. That needs to happen here.

I’m not the only one who thinks he needs to go. A survey by WikiOrgCharts of 40 Yahoo employees found that 24 of them thought he should leave. (WikiOrgCharts is a startup that allows users to pool their LinkedIn connections to collaborate on building a company’s org chart. [Disclosure: the founder of WikiOrgCharts is a former work colleague of mine.] ) Although 40 is a very small sample, the open comments from employees were interesting:

“It’s extremely disappointing given his recent All Hands speech to Yahoos worldwide about the importance of integrity. A CS degree from Stonehill College in 1979 would do very little to make him a credible CEO, it was his TRACK RECORD OF SUCCESS that got him the job and that we believed in. Unfortunately, if this in fact turns out to be a resume embellishment, all integrity will be lost among his fellow Yahoo’s. This didn’t need to happen and unfortunately our Board is now being looked at with some serious questions as well. Just a very frustrating experience to be a part of, but I will be hanging in there because I BELIEVE IN WHAT THIS COMPANY COULD BE AGAIN.”

“What I don’t agree with, and do not feel good inside about is that this puny lie ever occurred. How did this slip through the cracks of our overall team even? How did this process even take place to miss something? It’s slightly embarrassing and I feel like the overall organization is kind of like … “doesn’t really surprise me.” As for Scott, I question his character and overall level of trust. Respecting someone who appears dishonest, is another thing to move past from. Yahoo! is a tough crowd, with a real low morale at this point in time. … I definitely will be a lifer with Yahoo! if they can undo what they have done, which is make coming to work no longer a joy, but rather a JOB … boo! We need to get our stuff figured out and get everyone excited to brag about Yahoo! I still do, but it's not as sincere lately.”

“Fundamental quality of a Leader is “INTEGRITY”. Scott has proved that he has no Integrity and i don’t want to work for a person or company that has no ethics and principles. In Jan 2012 an employee was fired for faking his resume and i feel law should be equal for everyone.”

“I don’t think Scott should be fired. I think he should resign. I think that other than his lying on his resume, he (and the entire company) have handled this snafu terribly.”

“I’m appalled by the lack of integrity and honesty displayed by Scott Thompson who apparently isn’t even willing to apologize for his misrepresentations. All he apologized for was the disruption this whole affair has caused thus far but not for the fact that he lied in the first place. How do so-called leaders expect integrity and honesty from their employees, if they don’t even honor those values themselves? A senior executive is supposed to lead by example – clearly this is not happening here at Yahoo!. I also feel sorry for the 2000 people who lost their jobs courtesy of Scott Thompson, which could have been avoided had this blunder been exposed earlier and Mr Thompson either been removed from his post or, even better, never had obtained it in the first place.”

“I love Yahoo, but sadly this CV issue is not even in the top 5 of reasons why I lack confidence in our leadership. Those reasons would be the repeated cycles of layoffs and reorganizations, a narrow minded focus on short term profits, and Scott’s decisions to sue Facebook and dismantle the Products group.”

A common theme in the comments was that everyone should play by the same rules. Any other employee in Yahoo caught with such a lie in their credentials would be fired.

A few comments were supportive of Thompson. Here are a couple:

“These minor manipulations are common and we should only care about the caliber of the person not petty lies.”

“Who cares. Consider the source. Loeb wins [if] Thompson leaves. Go Scott!”

But the survey also pointed to low morale at Yahoo: Nearly half of those who responded said they were planning to leave Yahoo in the next year. Seven said they plan to leave in the next 30 days.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Nvidia’s earnings drop 55 percent with PC slowdown, but beats expectations

Posted: 11 May 2012 08:32 AM PDT

Nvidia said that its net income fell 48 percent for the first fiscal quarter ended April 29. But the graphics chip maker beat expectations and the company’s stock is rising.

Revenues for the quarter were $924.9 million, down 4 percent from a year ago. Net income was $60.4 million, or 10 cents a share, compared with $135.2 million, or 22 cents a share a year ago. That’s a 55 percent drop.

But on an adjusted basis, Nvidia reported 16 cents a share. Analysts were expecting revenue of $915.7 million and 10 cents a share.

Many feared that a slowdown in PC sales and the continued hard drive shortage (due to last fall’s flooding in Thailand)  would hurt Nvidia in the quarter. Nvidia is balancing its investment in its core business of making graphics chips for PCs with its expansion into the Tegra product line, or chips for mobile devices.

“Kepler graphics processing units (GPUs) are accelerating our business,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, president and chief executive officer of Nvidia, in a statement. “Our newly launched desktop products are winning some of the best reviews we’ve ever had. Notebook GPUs had a record quarter. And Tegra is on a growth track again, driven by great mobile device wins and the upcoming Windows on ARM launch.”

He added, “”Graphics is more important than ever. Look for exciting news next week at the GPU Technology Conference as we reveal new ways that the GPU will enhance mobile and cloud computing.”

In the second fiscal quarter ending at the close of July, Nvidia forecasts revenues of $990 million to $1.05 billion. The company will make a 10-year, one-time donation to Stanford Hospital of $25 million.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Geeknet may sell Slashdot, SourceForge, and Freecode

Posted: 11 May 2012 08:28 AM PDT

Slashdot for sale

Geeknet announced today that its considering selling off some of its iconic tech properties, including software sites SourceForge and Freecode as well as curated tech news site Slashdot.

The company’s board of directors said it’s reassessing its media business initiatives in an effort to make Geeknet’s stock more valuable. The announcement also comes a week after the company reported losing money for the first quarter of 2012 — of $2.1 million.

Geeknet’s properties, which also includes retail site ThinkGeek, took in 46 million visitors in March — meaning it doesn’t fail to gain traction with its main audience. The news that it wants to sell off its main Slashdot branded site, considering all the effort its recently put into launching spinoff sites with a specific focus, such as SlashBI and IT cloud-focused SlashCloud, Earlier this year the company also expanded the main Slashdot site with a new video games section as well as video channel Slashdot TV.

"We are focusing more investment in GeekLabs to deliver more unique and innovative products in ThinkGeek and our Media team has launched a number of new initiatives designed to improve traffic, monetization and international revenue as the year progresses,” said Geeknet chief executive Ken Langone in the announcement. “Our primary objectives are unchanged, and we remain focused on delivering growth in revenue, profits and cash from operations in 2012."

To assist with its strategic view of these properties, Geeknet has retained DeSilva+Phillips Corporate Finance as a financial adviser. The review may not result in a sale, the company points out. However, it’s apparent by the release that if the price is right, they will end up selling.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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The DeanBeat: A tale of two industry giants

Posted: 11 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

The rivalry between Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts came into focus this week as both companies reported their quarterly results, revealing their latest thinking on strategic priorities and the differences in their execution. It brings to mind a topic I hear most game companies talking about these days: focused energy.

Even as game companies experiment with new ideas, platforms, and business models, they tend to do best if they focus their energy on a limited set of games that they can execute on. This is a simple strategy but one that’s hard to execute. For the biggest companies in the industry, it is exceedingly hard to be focused. The quarterly results from Activision Blizzard and EA showed us the difference between a company that says it’s becoming more focused and a company that’s actually doing it.

Activision Blizzard said its next fiscal year will likely see record profits and revenues. EA had a good fourth fiscal quarter, but warned that its first fiscal quarter would be weak. Activision Blizzard’s stock price held up, but EA’s fell. It’s always hard to decipher why stocks rise and fall, but investors appeared to be pleased that Activision Blizzard met its targets and didn’t lower its expectations, while EA fell short on some of the expectations that investors care most about.

This round of the competition goes to Activision Blizzard.

The lightsaber vs. the battle ax

EA’s investors appear to be very focused on Star Wars: the Old Republic. In the making for six years, this game was supposed to knock Activision Blizzard’s crown jewel, World of Warcraft, off its perch. But in the past quarter, World of Warcraft held onto its subscriber base of 10.2 million users at a time when it faced multiple competitive threats.

By contrast Star Wars: The Old Republic went from 1.7 million subscribers in December to 1.3 million, a 400,000 user drop. John Riccitiello, chief executive of EA, said the game is profitable and is matching the expectations the company had. But investors seemed disappointed. They evidently thought the drop in users was too sudden so shortly after the game launched, and they expected it to do some real damage to World of Warcraft.

If EA’s stock price fell for that reason alone, it would be a little unfair. After all, Riccitiello said the game counts as one of its top 10 game investments and intellectual properties, more important than Tiger Woods PGA Golf. But it is not one of the top five, like Battlefield, Madden, FIFA, Medal of Honor, or The Sims, he said.

Game delays

But it’s hard to be sympathetic to EA, which acknowledged that one major game had slipped out of the current quarter due to a shift in EA’s research and development priorities. EA is making far fewer games for retail stores than it used to. That means each one is becoming more important. And when one game slips by a quarter, it’s easier to notice. Analysts aren’t quite sure which title fell behind. Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities said that BioWare has likely fallen behind on Dragon Age III, while Arvind Bhatia of Sterne Agee said the delayed game was probably Overstrike. EA wouldn’t say.

Blizzard didn’t delay any major games and said it is still working on StarCraft: Heart of the Swarm, and its Diablo III title — in the works for nine years — is debuting on May 15. Diablo III has higher preorders than any of Blizzard’s past games. Activision Blizzard is also releasing Battleship on May 15, and it has slated The Amazing Spider-Man for June 26. The second calendar quarter is going to be a big one for Activision Blizzard, but EA has only one retail title and 10 digital titles coming.

That’s the way development goes sometimes. But it’s another reason EA came out on the short end with investors.

The first-person combat grudge match

Activision Blizzard ran away with the bigger game sales for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. EA’s Battlefield 3 sold more than 10 million units to date and took market share from Call of Duty, Riccitiello said. But Activision Blizzard still came out on top, as far as well can tell.

Activision Blizzard did acknowledge a little bit of pain. It says Call of Duty revenues this quarter were lower than they were a year ago. It said that was because the map pack revenue from a year ago is accounted for immediately, while the Call of Duty Elite revenue (for the gamer social network launched last fall) comes in the form of subscription revenue and is spread out over multiple quarters. But Modern Warfare 3′s sales were roughly flat with sales of Call of Duty: Black Ops, the game that launched in 2010. In other words, EA stopped Activision Blizzard from growing the Call of Duty audience this year. That’s a big achievement.

This year, EA is doubling down on more Battlefield 3 map packs than it has previously done, and it is also launching a new Medal of Honor game. Activision Blizzard recently took the wraps off Call of Duty: Black Ops II. The game takes the series in a new direction — into the future filled with robots and drone combat — in an attempt to ward off any fatigue with the subject matter. At first look, Black Ops II appears to be a much more innovative game than the new Medal of Honor. But both look like they’re worth playing.

It remains to be seen who will win this slugfest in the shooter market, but Activision Blizzard still has a lot of advantages, not the least of which is Call of Duty Elite, the gamer social network for hardcore combat fans. That service is gaining subscribers, and it will be harder for EA to pry them away.

Just how focused do you have to be? 

It still feels like EA is spread out in many directions, at least compared to Activision Blizzard. But on a relative scale, EA has been tightening its focus. In fiscal year 2009, it had 67 separate game releases for sale at retail. In fiscal 2012, it released 25 major games that were also generating ongoing service revenues.

EA has said it has a simple strategy of focusing on “brands, platforms, and talent.” But somewhere in that messaging, investors are getting spooked. They evidently feel there’s too much wiggle room for EA to be unfocused and to fail at execution. Peter Moore, the No. 2 executive at EA, said the emphasis on a diverse range of platforms — both physical retail and digital online — reduces EA’s dependence on any one platform.

Moore and Riccitiello dangled a tantalizing promise in front of investors. They suggested that by spreading out onto new digital platforms, EA won’t be as dependent on the console makers. Historically, EA’s earnings plummet in a console transition as gamers hold off on investing in new game libraries until the transition is complete. But EA’s executives say they may not see the dip this time around, as the social, mobile, and online web games aren’t so cyclical. The cost for this cushion hasn’t bee light; EA paid $400 million for Playfish in 2009 and $750 million-plus for PopCap last year.

Activision Blizzard isn’t nearly as aggressive in embracing all of the digital platforms. It did recently launch its Skylanders Cloud Patrol iOS game and an iOS app for Call of Duty Elite, but those are small efforts compare to EA’s investment in mobile games. But then, Activision Blizzard doesn’t have to be as aggressive. It has World of Warcraft, a profit-generating machine. That won’t always be the case; but for now, it allows Activision Blizzard to be more focused when it comes to digital experiments.

And when it comes to launching brand-new intellectual properties, Activision Blizzard just knocked one out of the park. The company saw a big opportunity in its hybrid toy-game title, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, and it sold more than 30 million toys and generated more than $100 million in revenues. That showed that, while Activision Blizzard depends on World of Warcraft and Call of Duty,  it’s still capable of branching out and creating a new franchise.

Which competitor do you care about?

EA said this week that it will launch a major social game from its Maxis division. That game is targeted at blunting the success of Zynga, the social game giant that has grown from upstart to a genuine threat to the industry giants. Activision Blizzard doesn’t seem to care about this space. It has made a small investment in mobile but, again, considers World of Warcraft to be a great insurance policy against digital upstarts. EA is in much more of a fighting mood when it comes to Zynga.

But on this front, Riccitiello acknowledged that Zynga has lapped EA a few times. Can EA win against both Activision Blizzard and Zynga? That’s a tall order.

Investors aren’t quite satisfied with the status quo on EA’s strategy. They’re valuing EA at 1999 levels — around $4.6 billion. That’s takeover target valuation. Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard is valued at more than $13 billion. Nobody is going to be buying them soon, unless Facebook or Google decide they need to become entertainment companies.

I’m not taking sides in this particular grudge match. But it is one of the most interesting competitive matches you’ll find in any market.

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

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Why China’s game business will hit $20B by 2016 (exclusive interview)

Posted: 11 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT

China has one of the most dynamic and unique game markets in the world. Rising from virtual non-existence a decade ago, and surviving a stage when every disk was pirated, the nation has become a force to be reckoned with in online games. Lisa Cosmas Hanson, managing director of Niko Partners, has watched the Chinese online game market for more than a decade. She has seen the rise of publicly traded companies such as Tencent, the launch of popular Western massively multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft, and the emergence of social networking games. Mobile gaming has exploded with hundreds of Android app stores. And now there’s even a glimmer of hope that the Chinese government will allow the launch of game consoles, particularly if they are education focused. We talked with Cosmas Hanson about this ever-changing market. Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation.

GamesBeat: What kind of games are popular in China? Has the demand for World of Warcraft changed at all?

Hanson: I think World of Warcraft demand has changed slightly on a global scale. I don’t think it’s any more dramatic in China than it is anywhere else in the world. But I don’t have their exact data points. Now, the games that have been popular remain popular. Fantasy Westward Journey is so old now, but it’s still the leading game in the internet cafes. It’s among the leading games on the MMORPG list as well. Riot Games’ League of Legends is a smash success right now. We call that “advanced casual,” so it’s a different list. It has far more hours than Fantasy Westward Journey. It’s a new game. Gamers are attracted to it, and they’ll spend their time and money playing it. I’m sure it’ll be catapulted up towards the top of our advanced casual list when we come up with our top 10 list for home, internet cafe, office, and school use combined. But out of the internet cafes specifically, it’s doing quite well.

GamesBeat: How big is the Chinese game market?

Cosmas Hanson: It’s a harder question to answer than you’d think, because while social network service (SNS) game revenue, which is basically social games just through SNS sites or microblogging sites, started at next to nothing in 2009, it’s rising pretty quickly. But in absolute value, the massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) still totally dominate. So the SNS game revenue compound annual growth rate is 31.2 percent, and the MMOG rate is only 22 percent, but at the same time, in absolute value it’s so much greater. Overall, it will hit $20 billion by 2016 from $7 billion this year.

GamesBeat: Tell us some of the category numbers.

Cosmas Hanson: The SNS game revenue for 2011 is $753 million US dollars. And in 2016 we think it’ll be $2.9 billion. And then MMOG revenue may be six times that for 2011. In 2016, if the growth rates continue, we will see the total growth rate slowing to only 13 percent from 2016 over 2015, yet MMOGs will still generate $12 billion in 2016.

One thing to say about these numbers is that we always have declining growth because of the law of large numbers and the growth just becomes unsustainable. We keep thinking that it’s got to peak, but then this year, total games revenue was still 46 percent higher than in 2010.

GamesBeat: What does the 2016 figure include?

Cosmas Hanson: That includes MMOG, SNS, and casual games. And so we keep thinking, well, this rate of growth has to come down. The investment community has kind of written off these Chinese online operator stocks, and Chinese operators themselves are looking to international markets for their growth. Yet their domestic market is still growing so much. It’s perplexing that it continues at such a great pace. (By comparison, the U.S. console market fell 42 percent in April.) When we look at what we see for internet users and the rate of usage for online games for internet users, and then behavioral changes between the city tiers, from the big cities of Shanghai and Beijing to some smaller cities further afield, we find the growth. People don’t have a whole lot of entertainment choices. We can see that the usage of games is important. But there are a lot of other choices too. Online video is a very popular thing in China, especially now. It actually outpaced the use of online games as an internet application. We look at all these factors and we try to say, ‘Well, maybe something else is going to come along and knock down the growth rate of online games.’ But we still find that the gamers who are playing continue to spend money, and the gamers who will enter will spend some money in the games, and the revenue just keeps coming.

GamesBeat: What do you see when you compare this to the West or, specifically, to the U.S. market?

Cosmas Hanson: I know that the Chinese PC game market is absolutely critical as a segment of the global market. It’s just so much bigger than people are willing to understand. These U.S.-based and Europe-based companies feel like they’re locked out of the Chinese market, where they can only enter the market with a partner. It is quite difficult to enter, but if you have a hot MMOG, then you can take share away. The problem is you have to get a licensing deal. Then you have to get content approved by the government. You have to jump through lots of hoops and it’s not easy. But it’s worth the payoff once you’re there. It’s definitely worth figuring out what the gamers want and what the government would accept and who the right companies are to partner with in order to have the opportunity, should your development team be as top-notch as you’d hope they are.

GamesBeat: Trion recently succeeded in doing that with its Rift online game?

Cosmas Hanson: Yeah, they did quite a deal with Shanda, and I’m quite hopeful for that game. It’s a type of game that Chinese gamers should like. The only thing that could screw it up is if the companies somehow don’t protect the data. I think that the game itself, assuming that it’s marketed well, and assuming that it hits at a time when gamers are willing to take a few days to try it out, it should be successful. But we saw another game that should have been successful from Korea, Aion. It really was not as successful as it could have been. Some people say there was a lot of hacking and account theft within the game. A lot of operational things didn’t go smoothly. Hopefully that type of thing won’t happen again. It’s rare that it does, but when it does on an AAA title it’s just devastating.

GamesBeat: Speaking of bots, I heard lately that a lot of them have moved into the iPhone downloads business?

Cosmas Hanson: Not just iPhone but Android too. The way people get their games in China is different from here. There are hundreds of stores. I heard a figure of 400 app stores, for legitimate downloads. Plus, phones are jailbroken on purchase. There are all kinds of app stores that you can use, or just places to get illegally downloaded content. So we don’t yet know. We’re publishing a report on mobile games in June. But until we finish the research for that report, we won’t really understand why the gamers are continuing to buy games legally for their phones if they can get almost all of their games illegally. So we’re trying to understand that as well.

GamesBeat: I guess the bots are not just a problem for PC games anymore, then? They’re probably across all of gaming.

Cosmas Hanson: It feels like it’s almost a sport in China, to write some code that will be destructive. But I don’t know any specifics about that occurring in mobile phone games.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, mobile, social

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Apple dropping Google Maps on iOS 6 in favor of its own app, report says

Posted: 11 May 2012 07:09 AM PDT


Apple will likely get rid of Google Maps on its upcoming iOS 6 operating system and instead offer its own mapping software, according to a 9to5Mac report.

Since 2007, Apple has included Google Maps as a standard application that comes with the iOS operating system. Every iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch Apple ships right now has it and as frequent user of Google Maps on iOS over the years, I’d say it’s one of the most important apps on these devices. Whether you are getting directions, seeing where you are, or finding nearby things, it is an essential part of the experience.

But if 9to5Mac’s reporting is accurate, goodbye Google Maps. Instead, Apple will have its own Maps software that is connected to Apple’s backend and data. Apple bought C3 Technologies in October 2011 and that company offered the ability to integrate 3D imaging with 2D maps, creating awesome life-like 3D mapping. (See the above photo as an example of what we might see with Apple’s Maps.)

Thankfully, 9to5Mac says Apple’s Maps program will be similar in look and feel to Google Maps. Even with 3D flourishes and cool photo-realistic detail, it should offer most of what Google has. But the data back-end will belong entirely to Apple, tying into Apple’s need for control over its users’ hardware and software experience.

Not surprisingly, Apple did not immediately return a request for comment on the report.

Check out a video below of C3 Technologies’ 3D mapping tech, which will likely make it into Apple’s Maps program:

Filed under: mobile

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NYC: Love VentureBeat and smart tech panels? Check these out next week

Posted: 11 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT

With Internet Week New York upon us in just a few days, we’re busy mapping out our schedules (and figuring out the best parties to attend). There’s certainly a lot to look forward to, but I wanted to bring your attention to two panels moderated by Yours Truly and featuring some of the smartest technology minds in NYC.

If you’re interested in diving into the tsunami of mobile media or want to explore the world of digital service demand, sign up for these panels while there’s still room!

The Mobile Media Onslaught

How to survive and profit from the rapid proliferation of mobile media devices.

Forget about the simplicity of cord-cutting. The rise of mobile devices has led to a flood of media and social networking content that makes cable's 500 channels seem quaint. We now have access to real-time news, periodical literature, mobile video, time-shifted content, new music releases, podcasts, RSS news, streaming video, app updates … the list of potential media sources we spend time with is growing longer every month. And that's not even counting the time we spend on social networks. With mobile as the new frontier, traditional media companies and young upstarts are vying for our attention and loyalty.

What does this mean for your media strategies? What does this mean for your customers? What will you suggest for your clients? What will you watch tonight?

This panel discussion will bring together media and content professionals to discuss what mobile means for media today and in the future. We'll help you figure out a useful direction for your mobile strategies and design. And hopefully, we'll help you avoid drowning in the tsunami of mobile media.


  • Mixel co-founder Khoi Vinh
  • Thumb CEO Dan Kurani
  • Storyful product partnerships director Erica Berger
  • VentureBeat national editor Devindra Hardawar

Time: Wednesday, May 16 @ 6:00 p.m.

Sign up for this panel at NY Tech

Supplying the Demand: Providing Service in Digital

With the ever-changing landscape of the Internet, how can companies remain relevant in new and innovative ways while remaining true to their core value? How can companies create and maintain relationships with a community without losing the messaging of their values?


  • Josh Mohrer, NYC general manager, Uber
  • Anna Elwood, director of operations, ZocDoc
  • Federico Folcia, co-founder and CEO, Roomorama
  • Christopher Ray, director digital market, LG
  • Steven Rojas, director of social media, The GrandLife Hotels
  • Dave Uhler, national director of research and development, Slalom Consulting
  • Devindra Hardawar, national editor, VentureBeat

Time: Thursday, May 17 @ 12:00 p.m.

Sign up for Internet Week NY to attend this panel

Photo via Chris Isherwood/Flickr

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Video-sharing sensation Viddy rockets toward 30M users, banks $30M

Posted: 11 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Smoking-hot mobile video-sharing startup Viddy has closed a $30 million financing round and is fast-approaching 30 million registered users.

If you’ve taken a two-month hiatus from the Internet, then you’ve most certainly missed Viddy’s overnight comeuppance. The one-year-old company makes an iPhone-only application for shooting 15-second clips that can be enhanced through video effects called “production packs.” In just over two weeks, Viddy has rocketed from 10 million registered users to more than 27 million and is adding 500,000 new folks to the fold each day.

The company secured its newest millions from NEA, Goldman Sachs, Khosla Ventures, and Battery Ventures, Viddy CEO and co-founder Brett O’Brien told VentureBeat. It plans to use the cash pile to hire more engineering talent, push out products more aggressively, expand internationally, and spend on scaling growth.

Today’s announcement confirms whispers that were circulating about a looming round. The startup wouldn’t go on the record with a valuation, but earlier reports pegged its post-money valuation at between $300 million and $370 million.

“We have a big vision, big ambitions,” O’Brien said of the company’s big round, which only trails its first $6 million round by three months. “And to accomplish … those things more quickly, and manage growth, it made sense to take on additional partners.”

Additional partners is right. Viddy, basking in the limelight, has attracted a “who’s who” list of celebrity and technology investors, partners, and members. Biz Stone, Shakira, Will Smith, and Jay-Z are all backing the company in some form. And on the user front, A-listers such as Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Katie Couric, and Mark Zuckerberg are all Viddy-ographers.

“Personal video sharing is clearly an enormous opportunity and we think Viddy is positioned to be the breakaway leader,” NEA general partner Pete Sonsini said in a statement to VentureBeat. “Viddy has tremendous momentum and a growing, engaged community generating original content, a major differentiator, and we’re excited to partner with the Viddy team.”

O’Brien spoke of the proliferation of smartphones, continual enhancements to mobile phone cameras, and the rise of 4G networks as converging factors helping Viddy succeed. He said the startup’s almost unbelievable user growth is due to four factors: a great product, celebrity users, integration with Facebook, and constant placement atop Apple’s App Store charts. Of course, he added, it doesn’t hurt that people already know Instagram, which makes the Viddy experience feel familiar to new users.

“Our goal is to entertain and connect people around the world through mobile,” he said. “There’s an extraordinary opportunity for us to … enable consumers to take videos worth sharing.”

With video-shooting and sharing still restricted to iPhone users, the company believes its rapid growth is sustainable as it moves to other platforms. Viddy, O’Brien said, has a working prototype of an Android release, though he isn’t ready to discuss launch timing.

As noted above, Viddy’s service and success closely parallels that of Instagram, which was snatched up by Facebook’s Zuckerberg for about a $1 billion in cash and stock shortly after hitting 30 million users and launching on Android. Will Viddy follow in Instagram’s footsteps here too? Nope, not happening, O’Brien said.

“We’re focused on building an extraordinary company independent of anyone else’s interest,” O’Brien said.

“So you wouldn’t sell to Facebook if Zuck offered you a $1 billion?,” I countered.

“That’s not what we’re interested in right now,” O’Brien said. “We’d just like to stay focused and continue to execute.”

We’ll see about that.

Filed under: deals, mobile, social

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Cmune spreads UberStrike to new platforms and raises funds from Skype founder

Posted: 10 May 2012 11:30 PM PDT

Cmune, the maker hardcore 3D social games, has had a big couple of days. It announced that it was spreading beyond Facebook to GameStop’s Kongregate and is developing versions for iOS, Android, and other mobile devices. And now it has just announced that it has raised money from Atomico, the international venture capital firm founded by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström.

The Beijing-based company made the announcement at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing. Cmune makes free-to-play 3D shooter games such as UberStrike (pictured), which has more than 5 million registered players. It has 1 million monthly active users, making it the largest first-person shooter game on Facebook. It is also available on UberStrike.com and the Mac App Store.

"We're delighted to be investing in a China-based company that targets a global market", said Kelly Poon, Atomico's Lead in China. "Cmune's innovation in bringing 3D games to social platforms is remarkable, and it is already leading the way with UberStrike in the popular first-person shooter genre. The company has done a brilliant job at overcoming both technical and design challenges to bring console-quality games to the web."

Atomico has investments in 50 companies, including Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds.

"Niklas is one of the few modern tech entrepreneurs who has built a global company with success in both the East and West. Having co-founded Skype and previously made major investments in pioneering gaming companies such as Rovio, he understands freemium as a business model." said Ludovic Bodin, chief executive of Cmune.

At the conference, Cmune showed the browser-based UberStrike running cross-platform between Facebook, iOS, and Android mobile devices. UberStrike features sharp and fast 3D graphics.

The move to Kongregate will likely add more users, as Kongregate has more than 16 million monthly unique users.

Cmune now has 20 employees and it is hiring. Meanwhile, it has tapped fans to generate new maps and concept art for UberStrike. Cmune was founded in 2007 in Seoul, South Korea, but most of its team is now in Beijing.

Rivals include hardcore and mid-core game companies such as Kabam, Funzio, Nexon and Kixeye.


Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Game News Roundup: Sony loses billions and Microsoft ponders Kinect-controlled internet browsing

Posted: 10 May 2012 09:50 PM PDT

KinectSony’s PlayStation division loses $2.8 billion over the full year. This is down from a $429 million profit made in 2011. The PlayStation 3 price drop and low console sales are the main culprits. The PlayStation 3 sold 13.9 million units in 2012 compared to 14.3 in 2011.

PlayStation 3 software sales actually increased from 2011′s 147.9 million to 156.6 million. The entire Sony company lost $5.74 billon for the full year, which ended in March. [Source: Games Industry International]

Microsoft is working on Kinect-controlled internet browsing for the Xbox 360. The new software would allow owners to use voice and motion controls to navigate Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but you can still surf the web from your couch without the Kinect. We expect Microsoft to expose more details, including a launch date, at next month’s E3 conference. [Source: The Verge]

Japanese mobile-social game operators take hit. The stock prices of Japan’s big mobile social gaming networks, Gree and DeNA, took a tumble this week as regulators scrutinized their sales methods. Japan’s equivalent of the Federal Trade Commission said it was reviewing the “complete gacha” practice, where users pay money in virtual tokens to see if they can land a jackpot in virtual goods. The Japan Consumer Affairs Agency said it was looking into whether that amounted to illegal gambling, and when the investigation surfaced, the stock prices fell 22 percent over three days. But the stocks rose again today as both companies pledged to abandon the system by May 31. Gree, meanwhile, said it tripled sales to more than $578 million in its most recent quarter. [Source: Bloomberg]

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

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Hybrid and electric car sales soar during the first quarter of 2012

Posted: 10 May 2012 08:00 PM PDT

2012 Toyota Prius

We already know that April was a great month for Toyota Prius hybrid sales, but it turns out that the first quarter of the year produced stellar sales numbers for hybrids in general, as well as plug-in electric cars.

More than 100,000 hybrids and plug-in cars — 113,457 — were sold in January, February, and March combined, against roughly 79,000 in the same period of 2011.

The vast bulk of those sales — 106,207 — were hybrids, of course.

The hybrid sales included not only much higher sales of the Toyota Prius, now a lineup of three models plus a plug-in, but also Buicks and Chevrolets fitted with the General Motors eAssist mild-hybrid system.

All varieties of plug-in cars accounted for 7,250, according to data compiled by industry trade journal Automotive News.

Plug-in sales totaled about 17,000 units for all of 2011, the bulk of them either the Nissan Leaf battery-electric vehicle or the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car.

For 2012, the strong new plug-in entrant is the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, whose April sales beat those of both the Volt and the Leaf.

Analysts expect perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 plug-in cars to be sold in the U.S. during calendar 2012, against perhaps 400,000-plus conventional hybrids.

As always, the bulk of the hybrid sales will come from Toyota.

This article originally appeared on Green Car Reports, one of VentureBeat's editorial partners. Image via Green Car Reports.

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Funding daily: A busy day for startup investments

Posted: 10 May 2012 04:33 PM PDT

It’s been a busy day for startup funding. We’ve got a plethora of stories for you today, from mobile analytics and Google Apps security, to web programming and a website for movie fanatics. Send funding news our way to tips@venturebeat.com

Drawbridge grabs cash for better social ads

Drawbridge announced a $6.5 million investment today. The company wants to make mobile ads as sophisticated and targeted as their desktop counterparts. Prominent firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital led the round.

Mixpanel’s unique analytics attract a new investment

Y Combinator startup Mixpanel just raised its first institutional round of funding. The company dives deep into pageview and visitor engagement analytics, offering real-time "micro" stats. Andreessen Horowitz led the round and additional angel investors, including PayPal Co-founder Max Levchin, Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, and Yammer chief executive David Sacks, participated.

Coupa gets money for its expense reports

Mere months after closing a $12 million investment, Coupa has closed its fifth round of funding for $22 million. The company did not disclose its valuation. The company's software can track any payroll-related spending and procurement. It handles invoicing, inventory, budgets, and expense reporting. New investor Crosslink Capital led the round. Existing investors Battery Ventures, BlueRun Ventures, El Dorado Ventures, and Mohr Davidow Ventures participated.

Moviepilot.com gets funding for fanboys

Movie site for fanboys, Moviepilot.com raised $7 million in second-round funding. The company scours the Internet for movie news and helps movie studios promote their latest flicks. DFJ Esprit led the round.

Google Apps security company BetterCloud raises its seed round

BetterCloud announced it has closed a $2.2 million investment. It offers cloud management services aimed at Google Apps, such as security and group management. The seed funding comes from angel investors and chief executive David Politis.

This CRM raised $6.8M

Future Simple, the company behind Base, has raised $6.8 million. Base operates similarly to Salesforce by storing business contacts and leads. Index Ventures led the round, with Social+Capital Partnership, OCA Ventures and the I2A fund participating.

Drumbi grabs funding for a customer service automated system (exclusive)

Hate those machines you get when you call a customer service line? Drumbi is creating one of those, but it claims it will do a much better job. It also promises to cut down on those excruciating wait times. The company raised $2 million at a $8.5 million pre-money valuation from Quest Software.

Turning webcams into credit card scanners, Jumio nabs funding

Online payment and ID company Jumio has raised funding. The company did not officially disclose the funding amount, but it’s said to be $3.3 million from Citigroup, according to VentureWire. Jumio turns web and smartphone cameras into credit card and ID card processing machines.

Another credit card processing startup, Flint Mobile

Like Square, Intuit, and Pay Pal before it, Flint Mobile raised $3 million to process credit cards with your phone. Flint Mobile is shunning a square, triangle, or moon-shaped dongle in favor of using a smartphone camera to process payments. It will make money by way of transaction fees; 1.95 percent plus $0.20 per transaction for debit cards and 2.95 percent plus $0.20 per transaction for credit cards. Storm Ventures led the round.

Bloc is going to make a web developer out of you

Web coding online school Bloc has raised $250,000 in seed money to transform you into a web developer in eight weeks. For three grand, you’ll be able to write Ruby on Rails code with the best of ‘em. In time the company will also offer iOS develop classes and HTML/CSS design programs. Robert Hutter at Learn Capital led the seed round, in the form of a convertible note.

One million dollars goes towards 3-D fashion games for women

Frenzoo raised $1 million today to create 3-D fashion iOS and Android games for women. It’s first game, Me Girl, features 3-D-like avatars that girls can dress up and play with as supermodels. Efficient Corporate, Siemer Ventures, K5 Ventures, and Metaverse Services participated in the round.

Hey, you’ve got a loyalty program in my point of sale system

Mobile loyalty program startup RewardLoop has raised $1 million in funding. The company’s system connects to point of sale devices to offer loyalty programs and printed receipt offers. Madrona Ventures led the first round of funding for RewardLoop.

Money exploding from computer image via Shutterstock 

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Twitter nabs targeting pros behind startup RestEngine

Posted: 10 May 2012 04:02 PM PDT


Twitter has snatched up the talent behind social marketing automation company RestEngine.

“We’re very excited to announce that the RestEngine team is joining the Twitter flock! Just over two-and-a-half years ago we founded RestEngine to help social app publishers send targeted one-to-one emails based on a subscriber’s social graph,” the company said in an announcement on its website. “We’re thrilled to now focus our email skills and marketing automation know-how on a much larger scale at Twitter.”

RestEngine is said to be especially adept at helping developers with targeting, filtering, and personalization, areas that Twitter has shown plenty of interest in of late. Earlier this month, Twitter released a new Discover tab to better predict stories people want to see. And, of course, the information network has a big business interest in improving how it targets ads — ahem, “sponsored” content — to its users.

Three of RestEngine’s four-man founding team are migrating to Twitter. Co-founder Joe Waltman is going on an entrepreneurial hiatus, according to TechCrunch. TechCrunch calls the deal an acquisition, but we’re going to peg this as an acqui-hire. Here’s why: Twitter made no noise about its get (not even a tweet), the RestEngine service appears to be shutting down, neither Twitter nor RestEngine is lobbing around the “acquisition” word, and one of RestEngine’s co-founders is flying away.

Twitter has made a few other buys this year. The information network purchased social news aggregator Summify in January and blogging platform Posterous in March. The former seems like it would tie in nicely with RestEngine’s personalization capabilities.

Photo credit: FadderUri/Flickr

Filed under: deals, social

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Game sales crash 42 percent in April with a light release schedule and early Easter

Posted: 10 May 2012 03:30 PM PDT

It was another bad month for game companies. Video game sales fell 42 percent percent in April, with total industry sales falling to $630.4 million from $930.9 million a year ago, according to market researcher NPD Group. The early Easter holiday this year may have contributed to the lower than expected sales numbers, along with a relatively light game release schedule for the month.

The poor performance in April was worse percentage-wise compared to March, when sales fell 35 percent, and February, which was down 20 percent year-over-year. April, like February, had a relatively light release schedule for core console games.

In April, hardware sales were $189.7 million, down 32 percent from last April’s $279.9 million. Software was $292.1 million, down 42 percent from $503.2 million a year ago. Accessory sales held steady with $148.6 million, a one percent increase from last year’s $147.8 million.

The estimated total consumer spending on games includes physical video and retail games, used games, game rentals, subscriptions, full-game digital downloads, social network games, downloadable content, and mobile games. Not counting hardware, sales were $307.2 million, down 42 percent from $533.7 million a year ago. The poor software sales were even lower than what a number of analyst firms predicted. Of course, these sales do not reflect the digital side of games, including social, mobile, and online.

The top-selling game of the month was Activision Blizzard’s Prototype 2 (pictured). Lucasarts’s Kinect Star Wars and Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 were the next top selling games for April, at number two and three, respectively.

Here’s some more analysis from NPD Group’s Anita Frazier:

Overall new physical sales

“This year, Easter fell very early in April, which means most Easter-related purchases may have fallen into March this year, whereas last year, Easter fell late in April causing most sales to fall in that month. We usually find that Easter-related purchases generate an extra 10 percent in revenue in the month they occur, so some of the softness compared to last April could be attributed to the shift in Easter timing.”


“One thing to keep in mind is that the 3DS has outsold the DS by about one million units in their respective first 14 months in the market, and the DS went on to become the best-selling gaming hardware system ever.”

“The average selling price for hardware increased over last April, with one of the drivers of that increase being the Star Wars Kinect 360 bundle, which included the Xbox 360 console and controller, a Kinect sensor, and Kinect Star Wars game.”


“I think what the new physical retail content sales reflect a very light release schedule in terms of the amount of compelling new games. Last April, the top seven titles outsold the top-selling title this year, and, simply stated, there were notably fewer new market introductions. I think it’s a simple as that because when we see compelling content come into the market, the games are still selling as well as ever – we just saw a lot less this April as compared to last.”

“Kid Icarus: Uprising on the 3DS ranked among the top 10 SKU’s for the month, and would have made the list if we were reporting on SKU rather than total title level.”

“For some insight into digital purchasing of content, we can look at the performance of points and subscription cards which was up 75 percent in units over last April. These could very well have been last minute additions to Easter baskets early in the month.”


“Skylanders characters remain a strong driver of accessory sales. The three character pack SKU’s have sold just under 10 million units in the U.S. since their launch into the market last October.”

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, VentureBeat

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Facebook is as big as Europe, but how does it stack up against prior tech IPOs?

Posted: 10 May 2012 03:01 PM PDT

We already knew Facebook was huge, but did you realize it has as many monthly active users are there are people in Europe? The company is headed toward an IPO, but where does it stack up against the tech titans that came before it?

The company has been on its roadshow since earlier this week, talking to bankers about potentially investing in the company’s available shares. Facebook is expected to be valued at $10 billion when it makes its stock market debut, making it one of the biggest IPOs in U.S. history. With total revenue for 2011 sitting at $3.7 billion, it is almost a mouse in Google’s $37.9 billion 2011 revenue shadow.

Conversation around the IPO has also been deceiving. Here in Silicon Valley, it seems to be the only thing anyone’s talking about when Facebook comes into the conversation. But of the 66 million people mentioning Facebook on the Internet, less than one percent of those conversations have to do with the impending IPO.

Check out more on how Facebook stacks up in this infographic by Banyan Branch:

facebook IPO

Zuckerberg image via Crunchies2009/Flickr

Filed under: social

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Social gifting may be a buzzword, but it’s also the future of e-commerce

Posted: 10 May 2012 02:36 PM PDT

Last week, a Swedish company by the name of Wrapp made its way stateside, bringing with it a new mobile app that is helping to make "social gifting" the new buzzword in e-commerce.

Interested in what this new app had to offer, I tried it myself.  I quickly found that its potential success hinges solely on the fact that it provides a positive customer experience, which can be the make or break factor in an organizations' e-commerce strategy.

By allowing users to give a mobile gift card from Starbucks, H&M, or other popular retailers to friends on their birthday or any other special event — which social sites like Facebook already promote — Wrapp is blurring the lines of cross-channel commerce and making it easier than ever for consumers to shop how they want, when they want, and where they want.

Every day, I work with companies helping to bring their business online and reap the benefits of a sound e-commerce strategy.  When I work with these retailers, the first thing I emphasize is that their e-commerce platform should make it easy for customers to search, compare, and buy.  Social gifting is just a new way that makes it easy for consumers to buy online, and from our experience, anything that improves the customer experience ultimately increases sales.

For retailers, social gifting is forcing the recipient to become mobile as well.  Buying a friend a gift card to be used online or in the store takes the act of recommending one step further — by making it actionable for the recipient.  It's no longer just a rating or a review, but an invested recommendation for a person to shop with a particular retailer.  Social gifting is taking peer review to the next level, and it’s allowing retailers to cash in without making a big investment.

In the future, I suspect we're going to see more and more retailers joining the social gifting craze, especially if it's as easy to do as simply signing up with a company like Wrapp.  Having a mobile presence can be beneficial for a retailer, but can also be incredibly expensive to start up. Companies like Wrapp make it easy for retailers who wouldn't have otherwise been able to leverage an app to get into the mobile space and to reach customers like they haven't before.

In addition to providing retailers with a chance to go mobile, social gifting is also validating that a connection to social networks is going to continue to be important from a customer experience standpoint.  If it is easy for a consumer to think about their connections and where a retailer's product will fit in, companies can spread their message and push their products faster and more effectively.

Working with retailers and their mobile platforms every day, I suspect we will continue to see big companies with larger budgets want to build apps and customize their customers' experiences on their own terms.  However, I believe we will continue to see retailers of all sizes join the social gifting craze, especially those that understand that a positive customer experience will always prevail in a successful e-commerce strategy.

Bob Egner is the VP of Marketing and Product Management of EPiServer, a provider of software for social and commerce sites. With over 20 years of industry experience, his executive roles have focused on growth through communicating core value, and on creating innovative online marketing programs and product strategies.

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Think you’re hot stuff with mobile design? Prove it at our MobileBeat 2012 Innovation Competition

Posted: 10 May 2012 01:48 PM PDT

We’re delighted to announce the MobileBeat 2012 Innovation Competition, which will culminate with the winners being announced at the MobileBeat 2012 conference taking place July 10-11 in San Francisco.

In the proud tradition of the competition, we’re selecting the most disruptive mobile technologies to present on stage during the event — in front of at least 1,000 attendees. This year, however, our event focuses on beautiful design (and by this, we mean user interface, as well as experience), and so we’re using this aspect of UI-UX in our selection of candidates.

Read our post about how Design is the new battleground, and you’ll get the idea.

With design as our focus, our competition will have three different categories:

1) Tablet apps: With the emergence of tablets as such as powerful force in mobile, we're holding our first-ever tablet oriented part of the competition. Show us how you're taking advantage of larger touchscreens, as well as how you're innovating beyond smartphone design. We're looking for 10 tablet apps that will prove to the world why tablets are an exciting new computing platform, and not just a fad.

2) Smartphone apps:  Here we’re looking for smartphone apps — be it native or web app — that best demonstrate innovative and beautiful design, interface, or overall experience. We want to see design that will make us either instantly put your app on our device's home screen, or scream “wow” about your service and advocate for colleagues to use it too. Show us something that could be mistaken for a work of art.

3) Mobile services: Design isn’t just skin deep — the services that power the mobile revolution can also be elegant in their architecture. You could be using a hot new programming language, or a little-used API, for example. Show us how you’re creatively solving problems in mobile, and how end-users benefit.

At the MobileBeat conference, an expert panel and the audience will choose the winners of the competition. Winners will receive our coveted Tesla award (named in honor of Nikola Tesla, the scientist who discovered early mobile communication) along with other prizes yet to be announced.

Submit your app for the MobileBeat 2012 Competition here. (Deadline for submission is 5:00pm PST on June 8.)

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Uber launches in San Diego, Tony Hawk takes inaugural ride

Posted: 10 May 2012 01:04 PM PDT

Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk rides in style in more ways than one. Today, the celebrity became the first person in San Diego to commission and enjoy an Uber ride.

On-demand car service startup Uber formally soft-launched in San Diego with Hawk’s inaugural ride Thursday morning. The social-media savvy athlete tweeted and Instagramed his Uber moment to nearly three million followers.

Uber is the San Francisco-based startup that offers those who like to ride in style and avoid the hassle of hailing a cab a mobile way to book, track, and pay for on-demand car service. With the San Diego launch, the service is now live in 10 cities including San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles.

But don’t get too worked up, San Diegans. The trendy, on-demand car service is referring to today’s debut as a “soft launch,” and will only be servicing some parts of the downtown area as it ramps up for a full launch.

“We’re targeting the downtown area to start with five to 10-minute pickup times and will expand coverage rapidly leading to our official launch next month,” Uber general manager Ryan Graves told VentureBeat. “Early on, it’s all about matching the number of cars to the amount of demand so we’ll scale it up as is necessary.”

Uber will be experimenting with pricing, fleet, and placement for San Diego over the next few weeks, the company said in a blog post. The company, which faces competition from taxi dispatch services such as Taxi Magic, has raised more than $44 million in funding to date.

Photo credit: Tony Hawk/Instagram

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82 percent of companies use multiple cloud services, says study

Posted: 10 May 2012 12:44 PM PDT

Companies in the cloud

Most companies use at least 4 different cloud services, according to a study by Cloudability, proof that the cloud has become a ubiquitous tool, whether chief information officers want it to be or not.

Cloudability (a provider of cost-management tools for cloud services) surveyed 3,200 companies in 80 different countries to gather data that reaches back to 2005 — a time before “cloud” became a mainstream term for sharing and storage on the Internet. Today, companies are spending thousands of dollars to keep up with the technology, replacing on-premiss systems like customer-relationship management software and even local servers in favor of the Internet. Looking at the data, cloud really hockey-sticked in 2010. Prior to that, however, there were a few prominent cloud services: For instance, Mechanical Turk was released in 2005, Google Apps in 2006, and Github in 2008.

Today, 86 percent of companies use more than one type of cloud service, according to Cloudability’s data. The majority of those cloud services fall in the “hosting and computing category,” followed closely by storage needs. The data is surprising because of reservations that CIOs and chief security officers have about the cloud. Many are concerned that the cloud is not yet a safe place to store proprietary information, and could provide access to a company’s systems more easily. But as the technology evolves, more companies are jumping on board, solidifying the cloud as a core tool in businesses around the world.

Check out more about the cloud and how it is being used by companies all over the world:

How companies use the cloud

Cloud server image via Shutterstock

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Facebook IPO is juicing Silicon Valley real estate prices to crazy levels

Posted: 10 May 2012 12:27 PM PDT

The impending Facebook initial public offering is pushing already-expensive Silicon Valley real estate to frenetic new highs.

The two months prior to the IPO announcement saw only 840 sales in the region. In dramatic contrast, sales in the last two months have almost doubled to 1,531, according to Guy Wolcott, the co-founder and chief executive of the company behind real estate app HomeSnap.

It’s not just sales. The median sales price is up 15 percent in the same time period, and the number of million-dollar-plus prices is up a staggering 159 percent since the Facebook IPO announcement.

These bargains won’t last

Source: Sawbuck.com

$5.5 million. Only 18,000 Facebook shares!

While that’s not a conclusive cause-and-effect connection (there’s a lot more wealth in Silicon Valley besides Facebook stock), the rising real estate prices do indicate that something big is happening. Once the IPO happens and employees’ lock-up periods expire, prices will go even higher.

Housing prices in desirable areas of California’s tech hotbeds have always been high, especially in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, and Facebook’s hometown, Menlo Park.

But in the last two months Silly Valley is just getting plain ridiculous. Think $5.5 million for this fairly large but hardly palatial family home (right). Or $4 million for a six year old home in central Menlo Park. The built-in wine cellar will help you recover from the inevitable sticker shock.

Fortunately, Facebook employees have a lot of cash coming. As of last year, Facebook employees owned around 30 percent of the company, worth perhaps $25-$30 billion when the company goes public.

Until the company does go public, selling those shares is difficult, but not impossible, and many have been selling privately on secondary markets like Sharespost for years.

Once the IPO happens, the biggest winners will be the earliest employees, investors, and top executives. According to Who Owns Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg will cash in to the tune of $1.8 billion, former employees Chris Hughes and Matt Cohler will take home $850 and $680 million, respectively, and current employee Jeff Rothschild will also pocket $680 million.

But even employees who joined later should do fine: According to this Quora thread, the average Facebook employee will realize about $2 million in the IPO.

“Staggering” market conditions

According to Wolcott, the current doubling of home sales is “staggering,” and the prices are continuing to rise rapidly.  “All indicators are saying this is a hot market,” Wolcott said today, “and it’s hotter the higher you go up the price scale.”

Wolcott knows these numbers because he’s the cofounder of Sawbuck, an online real estate service that competes with the likes of Trulia, Zillow, and Redfin. Eight weeks ago Sawbuck released HomeSnap: a mobile real estate app that Wolcott calls “Shazam for homes,” referencing the popular music identification service. With HomeSnap, you take a picture of a home, and get huge amounts of data: if it’s for sale, price, lot boundaries, school district, tax information.

In eight weeks, HomeSnap has been installed 115,000 times and been used to snap 175,000 homes. And Silicon Valley is one of the hottest locations. Tony Palo Alto is number one. Nearby Redwood City is number two, and Facebook hometown Menlo Park is not far behind at number 4. Could all those Facebook millionaires-in-waiting be scoping the goodies?

See below for an infographic from Sawbuck illustrating the rapid changes in the Silicon Valley real estate market.

Are you an employee of Facebook or any other startup who has used stock options to buy a house or some other splurge? Congratulations! Also, we’d love to hear from you.

Image credits: Sawbuck, AMagill

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With IPO just days away, Facebook faces FTC probe

Posted: 10 May 2012 12:10 PM PDT

Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of photo-app Instagram caused quite the uproar in Silicon Valley, but it apparently also raised the eyebrows of federal regulators.

Now, just eight days away from Facebook’s scheduled IPO date, we’re hearing the Federal Trade Commission is looking into the social network’s acquisition of Instagram.

Two sources tell the Financial Times the FTC is investigating the deal for possible antitrust issues. Given that, from what we learned exclusively a few weeks ago, the deal was created in order to stick it to the competition, it’s not an unreasonable set of questions to ask.

The FTC is reportedly questioning some of Facebook’s biggest competitors — we’re looking at Google and Twitter, in particular. But in fact, such probes are routine for acquisitions worth more than $66 million or so, and this deal most certainly fits into that category.

Facebook paid $300 million in cash for the photo-sharing app, as well as 23 million shares of Facebook common stock — and Lord knows how much that will be worth after May 18 when the stock goes public.

Based on the starting price range of $28-$35 per share, Instagram stands to get between $644 million and $805 million from the second the bell rings on the 18th. By the time trading closes, there’s no telling how much the deal will be worth; however, we’re fairly certain that those 23 million shares will be far more valuable than the original $1 billion quoted as Instagram’s pricetag for this acquisition.

If the FTC doesn’t green-light the deal, Facebook will pay out a $200 million breakup fee, as stipulated in the social network’s amended S-1 filing.

Facebook’s Instagram acquisition was expected to close in the second quarter of the year; an FTC probe could, but may not necessarily, delay the deal’s closing. We have not yet heard if the FTC’s questioning will have any impact on Facebook’s IPO timing.

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Bing relaunches with prettier design, improved social skills

Posted: 10 May 2012 12:03 PM PDT

Bing Facebook Search

Today, Google introduced Search Plus Your World. Wait no: Actually, Microsoft introduced more “personalized search results” in Bing using Facebook’s data, a move that looks an awful lot like the social network-enhanced search results Google announced in January.

Microsoft’s Bing is three years old and has for a long time lived the shadow of Google’s much more popular, older search engine. While the two companies’ search results are generally on par, Google remains the number one search engine in the US and abroad. Indeed, a recent study by comScore revealed that Google owns 66.2 of search engine market share in the US, with Bing only just slipping past Yahoo to claim a distant number two spot in February.

That same month, Bing teamed up with another Google adversary to try and capture some more attention: Facebook. The partnership, while beneficial, wasn’t robust, and needed a pick-me-up. Enter today’s new Bing. The company is diving deeper into Facebook’s rich stores of data to bring personalized results to its search. Now, when you type in a keyword, it will show you images of friends on Facebook who have somehow listed or liked that keyword. And without leaving Bing, you’ll be able to pose questions to that defined crowd.

But the new program sounds very familiar. In January, Google announced its Search Plus Your World initiative, which takes data from its Google+ social network an includes photos, profiles, and posts that are relevant to your keyword.

Bing has two points in its favor, however. First off, Bing isn’t using Google+ data, it’s using Facebook data, which has had many more years to collect a lot of relevant information. Facebook is closing in on a billion registered users, while Google+ reaches a much smaller audience. Secondly, Bing’s social integration looks great: It’s just better-looking than Google.

Bing now includes a black box on the right side of its search results for these personalized results to live in. Friends who match your searched keyword will show up there, with comment boxes for you to pose questions to your friends — a conversation which can take place completely within Bing. The company uses the example of a person looking for hotels in Honolulu. He sees a friend’s pictures from a recent trip to Hawaii and asks where the friend stayed. From there he makes his choice of hotel.

Facebook isn’t the only one getting Bing’s attention. The search engine will also provide people it believes are relevant to your search from Quora, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Microsoft hasn’t yet released the new social search features to Bing, saying only that they are “coming soon,” but you can provide an e-mail address to request early access. Check out the company’s promo video below:


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Evernote launches Chinese service Yinxiang Biji to lure more paying customers

Posted: 10 May 2012 11:58 AM PDT

Evernote launches in China with Yinxiang BijiDigital-notebook service Evernote has had a good year. After raising $70 million at a one billion dollar valuation and acquiring handwriting app Penultimate, the company is expanding its services into China. The news comes after it was reported that Evernote is building a data center in Beijing.

Evernote launched Yinxiang Biji 印象笔记, which translates to Memory Notes or Impression Notes, on Thursday in China. The service looks identical to English version of Evernote, but with support for Chinese characters. Chinese versions of Evernote’s Skitch and Hello apps are also available. Yinxiang Biji also offers an API for Chinese developers to integrate Evernote into other applications. Evernote and Yinxiang Biji will be developed in parallel, so any new updates for the main version of Evernote will also get pushed out to Yinxiang Biji.

Evernote already has a million people in China using multi-language Evernote International, but connectivity complaints from users have prompted the company to introduce a dedicated service in China. Existing Evernote users will have the option to port their notebooks to Yinxiang Biji or leave them in the existing Evernote International version.

The move could prove very strategic for Evernote. China is notorious for its strict Internet regulations, something that’s barred Facebook’s, Twitter’s and Google’s plans to expand into that market. The ability to comply with the regulations and establish an Internet presence in China could help Evernote expand its 30 million user base and gain more paying customers.

Since China has strict regulations on socially shared information, there are some censorship and privacy concerns. Evernote chief executive Phil Libin said during a conference that because Evernote is focused more on storing personal information, the service shouldn’t encounter issues from the Chinese government. Libin also wrote in a company blog post that Yinxiang Biji will comply with often-changing regulations, but that under Chinese law the government may be able to view users’ stored content.

Despite already having a presence in China, Evernote has at least one clone. Mknote has a similar look and functionality to Evernote, but focuses more on sharing content. Clones of banned Internet services, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, are quite popular in China and often snatch up millions of users faster in the country than the original non-Chinese services.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Groupon goes after loyalty with U.S. launch of Rewards program

Posted: 10 May 2012 11:43 AM PDT


Groupon made its Groupon Rewards loyalty program available to all U.S. businesses today in an effort to counter claims that its deals are bad for business.

Groupon Rewards is the deal provider’s mostly-automated alternative to the store punchcard. Merchants offer rewards in the form of exclusive Groupons to repeat customers who spend above a certain amount using a credit card on file in their Groupon account. The program was previously being piloted in test markets such as Philadelphia.

With the program, merchants set their own spending requirements and rewards, and they receive payment analytics to assess the probability of their campaigns. For consumers, Groupon automatically tracks their spending at participating businesses and notifies them when they’re eligible to redeem a free Groupon reward.

The Rewards rollout comes amidst troubled times for the once celebrated deals provider. Wall Street has been unforgiving of the still-young company following repeated accounting mistakes, disappointing earnings, shareholder lawsuits, and a board shake-up. Valued as high at $17.8 billion on its first day of trading, Groupon's market capitalization now stands at $6.34 billion.

But fear not, CEO Andrew Mason said in a letter to stockholders earlier this week. The company is a leader in the local commerce space and is cooking up four key initiatives, one of them being Rewards, that will surely make it the “operating system for local commerce,” he said.

And just how significant is Groupon Rewards to a company turn aound? Very, at least in Mason’s eyes. In the past two months, roughly 30 percent of merchants eligible to participate have signed up for the Rewards program, Mason said. “Though the preliminary dataset is small, pilot results show that Groupon Rewards customers are more loyal than other customers.”

Analyst, frequent Groupon detractor, and VentureBeat contributor Rocky Agrawal isn’t yet convinced that Rewards will do anything to help Groupon recover.

“It's too soon to say how Groupon Rewards will perform. But it is an incredibly crowded space, with companies like Facebook, Foursquare, American Express, and Google all having their own offerings,” Agrawal said in an editorial critiquing Mason’s outlined business prospects. “Rewards will have much smaller take rates than the daily deals business.”

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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Score your free pass to Business Insider’s Mobile Advertising Conference!

Posted: 10 May 2012 11:24 AM PDT

This sponsored post is produced by Business Insider.

Hey VentureBeat readers: want to hear about the future of mobile advertising from Google, Nielsen, ESPN, Bravo, 1800Flowers, Flurry, and the IAB? Come to Business Insider’s “Mobile Advertising Conference,” where publishers, advertisers and technologists convene to discuss the latest practices, consumer behavior on devices like iPad, smartphones, and tablets, and the future of creative. Mobile Advertising takes place June 14 in New York.

BI is giving away ten tickets to VB readers over the next week. Here’s how to score yours: email events@businessinsider.com with “mobile ticket” in the subject line and tell us why you need to be there. Hint: look at the speakers and agenda to help you make your case. And if you don’t score a free pass, we’ll give you a discount.

Here’s what your ticket will get you:

• Hear from the president of 1800Flowers on effective mobile strategy for serving consumers on-the-go and generating sales.
• Score crucial insight on mobile publishing from NHL, Discovery and Bravo.
• Dig deep into the future of display advertising with Nielsen and Google.
• Wrap your head around the intersection of advertising and the app-conomy with a special presentation from Flurry.
• Network with 250 other mobile executives. You’ll have the opportunity to use breakfast, a coffee break every hour, and our cocktail reception to connect with potential business partners.

You can also purchase tickets here. See you in June!

Sponsored posts are content that has been produced by a company, which is either paying for the post or has a business relationship with VentureBeat, and they’re always clearly marked. The content of news stories produced by our editorial team is never influenced by advertisers or sponsors in any way. For more information, contact garrett@venturebeat.com.

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Out of India: Meet tech’s latest global humanitarian

Posted: 10 May 2012 11:00 AM PDT

N.R. Narayana Murthy is one of the most powerful people in India.

He created Infosys, one of his country’s most important companies which brought IT outsourcing in India. He sits on the boards and councils at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, as well as corporations such as Unilever and Ford. He is a tech advisor to several countries in Asia. By anyone’s measure, he’s one of the rare “masters of the universe” whose decisions control the fate of many others.

He is also a philanthropist and humanitarian with a passion for bringing more technology, more education, and a higher quality of life to rural areas and urban centers in India; and he is often named as one of the nation’s great heroes.

Today, Murthy has been named the recipient of the 2012 James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award, part of the prestigious Tech Awards presented each fall in Silicon Valley to companies and individuals whose work has shown significant and global social impact.

"Narayana Murthy's work has helped to position India as a global technology leader and has raised awareness about serious social issues in that country and around the world," said Tech Museum President Tim Ritchie in a statement on the award. "Murthy's commitment to social good is an inspiration and his work exemplifies the values we should all strive to embody."

In 1981, Murthy co-founded Infosys with a small sum of money borrowed from his wife. Today, Infosys is one of the country’s largest and best companies, and was the first Indian company to be listed on an American stock exchange.

But with all that success came some bitter concerns, as well. Infosys was instrumental in the advent of outsourcing and the business of globalization, largely through Murthy’s own design of the Global Delivery Model.

But as more IT work came to India, the country did not see the economic boom it had hoped for. “The disposable income of rural people has actually dipped,” Murthy said to reporters in 2006.

“They’re saying: ‘Is this globalization? Is this all we’re going to get?’”

So, with the millions of India’s poor in mind, Murthy shifted his focus from profit-focused IT to human-focused social work.

In 1996, his company established the Infosys Foundation to do work in the areas most critical to Indian life and culture: health care, social rehabilitation and rural uplift, education, and the arts. Murthy’s wife, an author and social worker, has been particularly involved in the Foundation’s efforts, as well.

In his book, A Better India, a Better World, Murthy outlines his values and plan for his country as told through a series of speeches given throughout his career: That the globalization and development brought on by companies like Infosys would not lead only to the prosperity of a few but to the betterment of all.

“The power of money is the power to give, and I work to embody this mantra throughout my work,” said Murthy in a statement today.

"The Global Humanitarian Award is a great honor. I have seen how technology can impact social good, and philanthropy has been a central part of my life. I have always felt that one's personal wealth should be seen as an opportunity to influence societal improvements.”

Past recipients of the award include Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and Applied Materials' Chairman Emeritus James C. Morgan, for whom the award is named.

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Isis adds American Express cards — now you really can’t leave home without it

Posted: 10 May 2012 10:37 AM PDT

Soon you’ll be able to apply that famous American Express slogan (“Don’t Leave Home Without It”) to your smartphone. Isis, the mobile payments venture between AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, announced Thursday that it’s adding support for AmEx cards.

The news means Isis will be able to support even more consumers when it launches later this year in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Austin, Texas. The AmEx cards will join those from Chase, Capital One, and BarclayCard — Isis’ first bank partners announced back in February.

Isis is developing a mobile payments wallet based on near-field communication (NFC) technology. The idea is that you'll be able to swipe your phone to make purchases instantly and securely. NFC-based swipe and pay is something Google is also exploring with Google Wallet, as well as PayPal with its upcoming wallet (PayPal already offers a way to easily transfer money with NFC).

American Express — along with Mastercard, Visa, and Discover — opened up its payment network to Isis last year, but today’s announcement will allow consumers to add their own AmEx cards to the Isis app.

While Isis seems to be taking its sweet time to launch, CEO Michael Abbott explained to me at Mobile World Congress that the company only had one shot to get this right. And it’s also a particularly complicated problem that Isis is trying to solve.

"We're solving for a four-sided market," Abbott said, pointing to the fact that Isis needs to make sure consumers, merchants, payment companies, and its parent carriers are happy with the product.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Doing deals the right way

Posted: 10 May 2012 10:12 AM PDT

I’ve voiced quite a bit of opposition to the daily deals industry, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to discounting in general. Discounting can be an important part of the marketing mix, especially for encouraging trials.

What I’m opposed to is stupid discounting to cheapskates and giving away generous discounts to people who would pay full price for your products. That’s a bad use of marketing dollars.

Let’s say you’re running a spa. Who should you offer a 50% discount to? I would want to reach people who:

  • Hadn’t been to my spa before.
  • Lived close enough to my spa to visit on a regular basis.
  • Had shown a propensity to buy spa services or similar luxury services.
  • Are affluent and have the discretionary income to pay full price for my services.

I don’t want to offer deep discounts to people who live far away or people who can’t afford my services. They can’t or won’t come back at full price. I also don’t want to give deep discounts to people who are already my regulars.

An untargeted email list can’t do that. But data can.

Yesterday I wrote about how transaction data can be used to create better recommendations for consumers; that same data can be used to create intelligent, targeted marketing opportunities for small businesses. As with recommendations, AmEx is best positioned to capitalize on this (Disclosure: I have a very tiny stake in AmEx).

“The more data that you have, the better you’re able to target not just deals, but offers and experiences to an individual,” said Dan Schulman, AmEx's Group President for Enterprise Growth. “To move away from spam. I think we’re going to look back on the Groupon approach in three or five years from now … we’re going to all say, ‘That was such a blunt tool.’”

“My view of the world of the future is that this isn’t about going to a retailer and saying, ‘What deal do you want to make today?’ It’s basically going to a retailer or a brand and saying, ‘What deal do you want to make to Rocky today? What deal do you want to make to Dan today?’,” Schulman said. “And there’s no way that any retailer or brand could actually do that. But with data, you could actually micro-segment. We come to this future vision of how you go do that armed with some great assets.”

AmEx has a product called Go Social that lets small businesses target offers on Facebook and Foursquare, although not to the level of targeting I described. Twitter integration is in the works, according to Leslie Berland, SVP, Digital Partnerships and Development at AmEx.

Targeted offers are all around us. United recently ran a promotion that offered up to 25,000 bonus miles for traveling on the airline. I had frequent flier accounts with Continental and United. For whatever reason, they didn’t get merged when the airlines merged. I received the promotion on my former Continental account. I didn’t get the offer on my United account. That’s because I had been posting my flights to the United account. Based on that data, they know that I’m someone who would fly United anyway, so spending marketing dollars on me is a waste of resources. It’s better to use that money to create even more generous offers for people who aren’t already flying.

If they looked deeper at their data, they would notice that I’ve stopped flying United on routes where Virgin America offers service. As Virgin expands its San Francisco presence (it’s launching service to Portland in June), it presents a bigger threat to United’s lucrative SFO business. United should be sending me promos on Virgin-competitive routes, but not on routes where it provides the only service. On the other hand, when Virgin launches its own elite program, it should offer complimentary elite access for United elites based in San Francisco. If I were running Virgin’s marketing, I would also offer a limited number of space-available upgrades to United elites. Once you’ve lost your Virgin virginity, it’s hard to go back.

Less effective than using data, but still much more effective than mass spam, is to use affinity groups to hit your target audience.

Cathay Pacific announced a promotion that allows Klout users who have scores of 40 or above to use their premium lounge at SFO for free. If you offered that to everyone, the lounges would be full and you’d annoy your regular customers. Delta, which has run Groupon deals for access to its SkyClubs, has gotten flak from its regular members over the Groupon crowd. But by targeting the movers and shakers, you can deliver a high-quality experience with hopes of convincing people who are likely to be your customers and likely can afford it.

FoundersCard is another example of how to reach a highly qualified audience. The membership club for entrepreneurs and innovators recently launched its own promotion with Cathay Pacific. Members get free elite membership in Cathay’s frequent flier program. That provides a range of benefits including access to Cathay lounges, priority check in, and discounts on travel. That benefit is too generous to offer to everyone. But because FoundersCard’s 5,500+ members are highly targeted, it makes sense. (Disclosure: FoundersCard provided me a free membership for review purposes.)

Unfortunately, these types of tools have typically only been available to large companies with marketing teams that can figure out how to best use them. The challenge for Silicon Valley is to find ways to make sophisticated, efficient marketing simple and accessible to small businesses.

Disclosure: I have short positions in Groupon.

[Image credit:  igor kisselev/Shutterstock]

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Brands are seeing a greater impact with online video, says 33Across

Posted: 10 May 2012 09:54 AM PDT

Watching video

Brands across multiple industries are seeing more customers respond to online video than ever before, according to the latest report from research firm 33Across.

33Across measures the consumer behavior for brands, tracking things like blog consumption, search engine usage, content sharing, video watching, and more. The latest report measures these behaviors for 80 brands across eight different categories (a.k.a. industries), including Automotive, financial services, retail, entertainment, travel, and others.

“While this report focuses on the pervasiveness of multiple social behaviors, such as blog consumption, search, and content sharing, the findings highlight unprecedented levels of video viewership and social sharing habits,” 33Across said in the report.

The industries with consumers that grab the biggest impact from online video include consumer packaged goods (46 percent), travel (42 percent), and telecom (21 percent).

For the full rundown of consumer behavior across each of the 8 industries, check out 33Across’s graphs below.

Top image via Dusit / Shutterstock

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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