17 May, 2012



Check out Foodspotting’s new personalized picture menus for every restaurant

Posted: 17 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

Foodspotting, once a repository for food porn, is branching out today with a new launch. The mobile app is now serving up personalized menus just for you, everywhere you go.

“We’re trying to be a picture menu for every restaurant, so we’ve overhauled all our venue pages,” said Foodspotting co-founder and CEO Alexa Andrzejewski in a recent phone chat with VentureBeat.

“We can show you recommendations based on your personal tastes … it’s really cool, and it’s like having a personalized menu everywhere you go,” she said.

With the Foodspotting app’s newest update, you’ll see glorious images and reviews for specific dishes at restaurants near you. At the top of the list, you’ll find the dishes you’re most likely to enjoy. For example, if you’re a mole connoisseur, the turkey mole enchiladas will pop to the top of your list.

You’ll also be able to see the highest-rated dishes at that place, as well as menu items your friends tried and loved.

Here’s a sneak peek at the redesigned and new features:

Also new in today’s release are in-app profiles, which previously existed only on the Foodspotting website.

The entire Foodspotting experience got a ground-up redesign just a couple months ago. At that time, the app was given a whole new focus on creating a graph of your tastes in food and then creating recommendations of specific dishes accordingly.

With today’s new features, Andrzejewski said, restaurants in particular are getting more out of the experience.

“What restaurants really like about Foodspotting is it’s all positive — it’s telling you what you should like about this restaurant” rather than what wasn’t great or what you should avoid, she said.

“Traditional restaurant ratings focus on the pros and cons, but we draw attention to the positive.”

And for the restaurants that are proactive about maintaining Foodspotting listings, the app works even better. Andrzejewski named a couple restaurants that plug their dishes into the app with great photography and let users rate away “to populate their own picture menu so it’s easier for our users to vote up the things they love,” said the co-founder.

“The other big thing we’re finally launching is integrations with a bunch of partners … to take next steps and find out more about the restaurant,” she said. Today’s launch includes new add-ins, such as overall venue ratings from Yelp, reservations from OpenTable, and full menus from SinglePlatform.

Growth is going well for the young startup, which just had a record month, with more than 2 million launches of the mobile apps. Altogether, Foodspotting has seen nearly 3 million downloads of its iPhone and Android apps since its launch.

At least some of that growth has come from Foodspotting’s Facebook integrations. When Facebook launched Actions earlier this year, Foodspotting was quick to get onboard and saw a threefold increase in visits and activities shared on Facebook.

“We’ve had a website for a while, but we’re still working on our big website redesign … to make it a lot more like the app,” said Andrzejewski, hinting at the startup’s next big effort. “It will be optimized for the mobile web from the start.”

Top image courtesy of conrado, Shutterstock

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5 ways to keep in touch while traveling for business

Posted: 17 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

This post is sponsored by Skype. It’s time to say more and stay human. It’s time for Skype. As always, VentureBeat is adamant about maintaining editorial objectivity.

It's said that with all of our technological advancements, the world is getting smaller and smaller, but it sure doesn't feel like that when you have to travel for business frequently. It’s difficult to be away from home for long periods of time, but fortunately those aforementioned technological advancements are pretty helpful for staying in touch with your loved ones, even when you're hundreds of miles and many time zones away.

Frequent business travelers probably already know the classic tips, like using a calling card to save cash or getting an international SIM card to cut down on the wireless bill, but there are several other things you can do to keep in touch while far from home.

Calling: In addition to a calling card or international SIM card there are other options that make calling home a bit easier on the wallet. Consider setting up a Google Voice number which will ring right through to your phone and is generally significantly cheaper than a standard long-distance call on your cell.

Video Chat: While most smartphones these days have a video chat feature, the calls themselves could set you back a pretty penny unless they run over Wi-Fi. Consider using Skype instead; it comes as a mobile or desktop app so it can be used on either your computer (only requiring internet access) or your phone. If you use the mobile app, keep your phone in airport mode to avoid international roaming charges, even while on the ground.

Blog: Many people already have a social networking profile or personal blog set up; indeed, there are a variety of options including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tumblr as well as more traditional platforms like WordPress and Blogger. Share your trip with your loved ones by posting photos to Instagram or Tumblr, videos to YouTube, or blogging about the experience on your own blog. Friends and family can follow your trip as you blog it, making them feel like they're right there with you.

Games: If you've got your laptop or tablet, you can also keep in touch in a fun ways like playing games with friends and family while far away. Sure, you may be on the other side of the country, but as long as you have access to WiFi you can still play Words with Friends with your spouse, coworkers, or kids. Likewise, if you're a dedicated gamer, consider using a service like Steam that can connect you to other players.

Fun for Kids: There are many creative ways to keep in touch with your kids while you're traveling, such as making an audio or video recording of you reading a favorite bedtime story with a good night message that can be played back for kids as they go to sleep. Or, take a favorite toy or stuffed animal with you on your travels ("Flat Stanley" is a popular example). Pose for photos with Stanley notable landmarks during your trip and post them online so that your kids can see where you and Stanley have been. Another option is having kids send faxes to the hotel, and sending some back, so that you can exchange messages and artwork. They might get a kick out of the antiquated technology.

Airport image via ShutterStock

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Rogue Anonymous hacker ‘Nyre’ takes responsibility for Pirate Bay DDoS attack

Posted: 17 May 2012 08:22 AM PDT

Eager content-deprived pirates were flummoxed on Wednesday by the news that The Pirate Bay had been taken offline by a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

While suspicions were almost immediately leveled at the hacktivist group Anonymous, The Pirate Bay quickly denied the group’s involvement.

But one decidedly anti-Pirate Bay hacker named “Nyre” who is taking responsibility, ZDNet reports.

“The Pirate Bay was a press-release website for Anonymous, then I had a idea, why not take it down? Why not make it impossible for Anonymous?” Nyre said in a post on PasteBin titled “The Reason“.  (Nyre, was, of course, slightly off-base with his assessment. The Pirate Bay and Anonymous aren’t exactly allies, having disagreed on a variety of fronts.)

Nyre initially said his intention was to keep the site down for a week, but the hacker didn’t quite meet his ambitions.

So, to recap: The Pirate Bay wasn’t taken down by Anonymous. It was, however, taken down by a rogue former agent of Anonymous, who now hates Anonymous and Pirate Bay equally, more or less. It’s a narrative that James Bond creator Ian Flemming would be proud of.

As for The Pirate Bay itself, the site is celebrating its return with a special phoenix-themed home page. Let the piracy re-commence.

Hacker photo via Shutterstock

Filed under: security, VentureBeat

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Facebook Pages Manager: Now you can manage your pages from Facebook’s new iPhone app

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:54 AM PDT

During the build-up to Facebook’s impending $100 billion-plus initial public offering, mobile has been a frequent sore point. Yesterday, the social network quietly released Facebook Pages Manager, an iPhone app for Facebook marketers to manage their brand pages.

The new app will be familiar to anyone who uses the current Facebook iPhone app for their personal social networking; it lets page managers post new updates, see statistics about likes, reach, and user engagement, and respond to comments from fans. Marketers with multiple pages will be happy to see that they can manage all their pages from within this one app.

After downloading the app, users simply sign on with their existing Facebook identity, and instantly they’ll have access to all their Facebook pages.

While it’s unlikely that this app will calm investor fears about Facebook monetization, it is a nice gesture to brand managers and page owners. The new app for iPhone joins an existing Android app, Mobile Page Manager, which has not been updated since August 2011.

There is no word from Facebook on whether the Android app will be updated to match the new iPhone functionality.

Facebook Pages Manager: screenshots

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Senators want to block Facebook’s Saverin from reentering the U.S (update)

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:48 AM PDT

Senator Charles Schumer

Sparked by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s renouncement of citizenship, two U.S. Senators are planning to unveil a new plan focused on preventing the super rich from dodging taxes.

Saverin has been taking quite a bit of heat over dropping his citizenship, which was announced coincidentally just weeks before Facebook goes public. Many viewed the action as a way for him to save an estimated $100 million on taxes, a sentiment Saverin denies, as VentureBeat reported yesterday.

Sens. Charles Schumer, (D-NY) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) plan, called the “Ex-PATRIOT Act” (Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy Act), seeks to bar people like Saverin from reentering the U.S. once they’ve renounced their citizenship to avoid heavy taxation. While I understand how it could be upsetting that some people don’t value their citizenship despite everything the U.S. offers, but deciding to block them from ever visiting the country is just asinine. The goal is to compel the super rich to continue paying taxes, not excommunicate them. (See update below with more details on the bill.)

In grand dramatic political fashion, Schumer’s office labels Saverin’s renouncement as a “scheme,” and tries to bring a sense of urgency to the matter due to the recent news. What’s funny about this move is that its anything but urgent. Saverin filed the paperwork to give up his citizenship in January 2011, but was only approved the following September.

Also, people giving up their citizenship to avoid paying taxes is not a new concept. As my fellow staffer Jolie O’Dell previously pointed out, filing taxes as a U.S. citizen while living abroad can be an expensive and complicated nightmare. That said, nearly 1,800 people renounced their citizenship in 2011 to avoid having to deal with those taxes.

Generally speaking, Schumer does some really good things with his power, such as trying to speed up the process of adoption process for sweet German Shepherd dogs that have served in the military. But when it comes to the “Ex-PATRIOT Act,” it seems like little more than banging pots and pans in a silent room filled with people for the sole purpose of grabbing attention.

The senators are scheduled to explain their Ex Patriot Act plans later today. We’ll update the post with any interesting bits from the press conference.

Update 5/17/2012 – 9:08 a.m. PST: The senators just wrapped the press conference, offering up some additional details about their proposed legislation, which is officially called the “Ex-PATRIOT Act.”

Under the proposed bill, expatriates with either a net worth of $2 million or an average income tax liability of at least $148,000 (over the last five years) will be presumed to have renounced their citizenship for tax avoidance purposes. Any person that fits this description does have a chance to appeal to the IRS to prove why they aren’t dodging taxes.

Anyone that the IRS determines was indeed dodging taxes by renouncing citizenship will be slapped with a new tax on all future investment gains — no matter where he or she resides. The senators said this stipulation would eliminate any tax benefit/financial incentive associated with renouncing one's citizenship. Also, the rate of the new capital gains tax will be 30 percent, which is consistent with the current rate applied on non-resident aliens for dividends and interest earnings.

Official statements from Schumer and Casey pasted below:

"Mr. Saverin has decided to 'defriend' the United States of America just to avoid paying his taxes. We aren't going to let him get away with it so easily," Schumer said. "It's infuriating to see someone sell out the country that welcomed him and kept him safe, educated him and helped him become a billionaire. This is a great American success story gone horribly wrong. We plan to put a stop to this tax avoidance scheme. There should be no financial gain from renouncing your country."

"We simply cannot allow the ultra-wealthy to write their own rules," said Senator Casey. "Mr. Saverin has benefited greatly from being a citizen of the United States but he has chosen to cast it aside and leave U.S. taxpayers with the bill. Renouncing citizenship to simply avoid paying your fair share is an insult to middle class Americans and we will not accept it."

Schumer photo via lev radin / Shutterstock

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Facebook’s world takeover by the numbers

Posted: 17 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

With eight years, $2.2 billion in funding, and 901 million users under its belt, Facebook is set to become a public company. Thanks to data compiled by analytics firm Nieslen, we can revisit some of the more memorable moments of Facebook’s maturation process.

Between 2005 and 2009, for instance, Facebook was still working its way up the social networking food chain. During that period, the company managed to double its U.S. traffic each year, Nielsen found. In January 2009, Facebook surpassed competing social network MySpace to become the top social network in the U.S — and never looked back.

And here’s a fun tidbit you’ve probably forgotten: Facebook surpassed 10 million unique U.S. visitors for the first time in November 2006. Compare that to close to 153 million today — or more than two out of every three active online Americans — and you can see just how far the social network has come.

The company, however, wasn’t able to hit 10 million unique visitors in the UK until April 2008. In France, Spain, and Germany, the journey to 10 million uniques took even longer, but Facebook eventually passed those milestones in January, May, and November 2009, respectively.

But back to present day, we find that the social network reaches a majority of people active online in many of the countries where it is accessible.

In the U.S. in March, Facebook attracted a total of 152,763,000 unique visitors across work and home computers and mobile browsers. The figure represents reach to 69.6 percent of all adults active online in the month, according to Nielsen’s calculation.

Facebook also has an especially expansive reach in 10 other countries, including Brazil, Italy, the UK, Taiwan, France, and New Zealand. In Brazil, for instance, 76.7 percent of active online adults visited Facebook in March. In New Zealand, Facebook has nearly 80 percent reach to active online adults, and in Italy, the social network touches 70.5 percent of the population, based on Nielsen’s March 2012 data.

We’ve included a table and charts based on Nielsen’s data. Note that in New Zealand, Taiwan, the U.S., and Australia, Nielsen uses a hybrid measurement that incorporates mobile and tablet browser activity to calculate unique audience. In the other countries, expect for Switzerland, which shows measurement from home computers only, calculations reflect Facebook’s unique audience from home and work computers.

facebook global reach

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Research: 44% of Facebook users will ‘never’ click sponsored ads

Posted: 17 May 2012 06:39 AM PDT


Turns out GM might have been on to something. New research from marketing agency Greenlight shows 44 percent of Facebook’s users say that they will “never” click on sponsored posts or display ads on Facebook.

General Motors caused a stir on Tuesday when it leaked that the company would stop running ads on Facebook due to them not being effective. GM will drop $10 million worth of ads, but it still plans spending $30 million on marketing through Facebook. That story was poor timing for Facebook, which will have its record-breaking IPO this Friday.

For its 2011-2012 Search & Social Survey, Greenlight surveyed 500 people, including students, medical staff, accountants, lawyers, and more to gain insight about their behavior on Facebook and their sentiments toward the company. On top of finding out 44 percent would never click on display ads, only 3 percent of respondents said they “regularly” clicked a sponsored and 10 percent said “often.”

Also notable is that 30 percent of those surveyed said they “strongly distrust” Facebook with their personal data, which somewhat lines up with CNBC polling earlier this week where 59 percent of people said they distrust Facebook on user data.

“With over 30% of respondents saying they ‘strongly distrust’ Facebook with their personal data, Facebook’s advertising program has an upward struggle," Hannah Kimuyu, director of paid media at Greenlight, said in a statement. "Facebook’s advertising program allows brands to connect with more than 800 million potential customers, through targeting their age, gender, location, and interests, in other words – personal data."

One plus side to Greenlight’s report is that the few users who did click on Facebook ads found “the targeting effective and engaging,” Kimuyu noted. Perhaps that’s a sign that people will be less wary of Facebook ads over time.

Photo illustration: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

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Pinterest joins the billion dollar club: Gets $100M in round led by Rakuten

Posted: 17 May 2012 05:53 AM PDT


Pinterest funding

After Facebook’s surprising Instagram buy, it now seems like every hot startup needs to reach a billion dollar valuation to truly be taken seriously. So it was inevitable that Pinterest, the popular image pinboard site, would eventually skyrocket in value.

Japanese web retailer Rakuten announced today that it’s leading a $100 million round in Pinterest, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners and FirstMark Capital, along with several angel investors. The deal reportedly values the company at around $1.5 billion, according to All Things Digital (which caught wind of the news last night).

Pinterest, which lets users create boards of images related to their interests, has become a darling of e-commerce. The company is sending big traffic to online retailers, and it also drives more revenue per click than Twitter or Facebook,

“While some may see e-commerce as a straightforward vending machine-like experience, we believe it is a living process where both retailers and consumers can communicate, discover, and curate to make the experience more entertaining,” said Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani in a statement today. “We see tremendous synergies between Pinterest's vision and Rakuten's model for e-commerce. Rakuten looks forward to introducing Pinterest to the Japanese market as well as other markets around the world.”

Rakuten is no stranger to big investments in Western companies. It  purchased e-book reader company Kobo for $315 million last fall, and e-commerce site Buy.com in 2010 for $250 million. The company put in over $50 million of the Pinterest round, All Things D reports.

When asked by the Financial Times what the site will provide to Rakuten’s stores, Mikitani said, “Search is still the main driver or us. We are always looking to make our site more interesting. Pinterest is a little bit different from Facebook. Pinterest is more targeted. They use beautiful graphics very effectively to create interest circles. They are extremely good at it. Because of that, the traffic coming from Pinterest probably will have a very high conversion rate. That is why I think they are very good at this discovery shopping.”

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Pinterest was founded in 2008, and previously raised around $40 million in funding.

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Funding daily: go shopping for vintage clothes and Russian furniture

Posted: 16 May 2012 07:30 PM PDT

woman with shopping bagsWe've got a lot of stories this Wednesday for you. Click each link below to learn more about the day’s funding news.

If you're hankering for more funding news throughout the day, you can subscribe to our Deals Channel RSS feed by either clicking the red RSS icon at the top of this page or adding the Deals Channel feed link to your favorite reader. And as always, send funding news our way at tips@venturebeat.com.

Mocavo grabs funding for its family tree

TechStars 2011 alum Mocavo has raised $4 million in its first round of funding in a bid to help people find their ancestors through its search engine. The funding comes from Foundry Group. Seth Levine, Foundry Group's Managing Director, will join Mocavo's board.

Wave Accounting nabs $12M

Small business startup Wave Accounting has raised $12 million in its second round of funding, the company announced today. Wave, which offers free accounting software for small companies, says managing "the books" is a complicated and dreaded task that isn't any easier thanks to desktop accounting software. Social+Capital Partnership led the round. Charles River Ventures and OMERS Ventures also contributed.

Big data, big money for Palantir

Data analysis company Palantir has raised $56 million in its latest round of funding, through two unknown investors, according to an SEC filing today. Palantir has seemingly been very successful with its tools that analyze all sorts of data.

Bitly may have new funding in the works

Four-year-old link shortening service Bitly is reportedly working on raising a $20 million round and launching a few new products. The link shortening service also offers enterprise link analytics. So far Bitly has raised $15 million from a laundry list of investors including Ron Conway, SV Angel, and AOL Ventures.

Fotolia wins $150M

Fotolia received a $150 million growth equity investment from leveraged buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co. The company claims to be the leading stock photography site in Europe.

HomeMe raises $5M

Russian home shopping site HomeMe has raised $5 million in funding. Mangrove Capital, ABRT, and AddVenture led the round for the Moscow-based company.

Vox Mobile gets funded

Vox Mobile grabbed a $7.5 million investment to help manage mobile devices for businesses. The company also helps train employees on how use mobile devices. Edison Ventures led the round and Permal Capital also participated.

Appcelerator raises $3M

App development platform Appcelerator has closed a $3 million funding round, The Next Web reported. Presidio Ventures led the round. Appcelerator helps companies build device-specific apps.

ModCloth grabs $25M funding round

Clothing and home decor site ModCloth has raised $25 million in funding. The site offers vintage inspired clothing and accessories. Norwest Venture Partners led the round.

Woman with shopping bags image via Shutterstock

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Facebook’s Saverin on giving up citizenship: “This had nothing to do with taxes”

Posted: 16 May 2012 07:00 PM PDT


Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin is taking quite a bit of heat for renouncing his U.S. citizenship prior to the social network giant’s estimated $100 billion IPO this Friday. And after apparently growing tired of people painting him as greedy, he’s now speaking out.

Saverin told the New York Times today that he filed the paperwork to renounce his citizenship in January 2011, but it wasn’t approved until the following September. The government then reported his renouncement in April as part of a regular process. It just worked out that the announcement happened to coincide with Facebook going public, he said.

“This had nothing to do with taxes," Saverin told the New York Times.

However, the 30-year-old does stand to save an estimated $100 million for dropping his U.S. citizenship. The Times points out that Saverin is currently living as a permanent citizen of Singapore, a country that doesn’t collect a capital gains tax. Essentially, that means it’s very attractive for rich people.

“I was born in Brazil, I was an American citizen for about 10 years. I thought of myself as a global citizen," Saverin also said.

I don’t really buy his logic. Captain Planet is a global citizen. He’s also a hero and someone who’s going to take pollution down to zero. Saverin, on the other hand, is a billionaire with a Harvard economics degree who lives in capitalist-friendly Singapore. These two identities have nothing in common. That doesn’t make Mr. Saverin a bad person, it just means he’s not a global citizen.

In the New York Times report, Saverin seemed concerned about his personal image. He quashed the notion that he leads a playboy lifestyle, explaining that, “It's a misperception, especially the playboy… I do have a Bentley. I do go out. I'd rather not go into personal details.”

Also, the depiction of him from hit movie The Social Network (which is based on the true story of how Facebook was founded) was “more art than documentary,” he said. One of the key elements of the film’s story was Mark Zuckerberg’s betrayal of Saverin. The film even ended with Zuckerberg agreeing to a settlement to avoid a costly and messy lawsuit between he and Saverin. These details are true, but Saverin said "there was no burning there. Mark is a phenomenal guy."

There is some truth to Saverin’s statement though. He and Zuckerberg are among the very few people who, at a young age, have achieved an incredible level of success so quickly. Both men also share an inability to speak to the press in a natural manner.

Kidding aside, Saverin does seem keenly aware of his situation. According to the report, he’s asked a number of very rich individuals for advice on how they handled their success. He’s also honest about the difficulty in trying to wrap his head around his wealth — a problem most people probably wouldn’t mind having.

Saverin photo via National University of Singapore

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Move things with your mind: BrainGate robotic arm is controlled by brain waves

Posted: 16 May 2012 06:51 PM PDT

BrainGate robotic arm

Technology often comes together at the intersection of useful, important, and mind-boggling when it helps someone in need. Today BrainGate announced an invention that encompasses all three — a robotic arm controlled by your brain.

I constantly tried to move things with my mind when I was younger (see: five minutes ago). One day I was staring at the refrigerator door willing anything to move when suddenly a paper fell to the ground. Obviously, I was now magical and headed to Hogwarts soon. Then I realized it was being held by a crappy magnet that fell. BrainGate has made this sort of experience real. The company is testing technology controlled by the mind and that ultimately could help a lot of people with paralysis.

According to Reuters, the company uses a sensor packed with 96 electrodes, which essentially listens to the brain. The sensor is implanted into the “motor cortex” of the brain and begins reading nerves signals to perform actions.

A video released by the company shows a 58-year-old paralyzed woman moving a robotic arm created by BrainGate with this sensor. She thinks about the way her arm would pick up objects and the robotic arm moves to accomplish the task. The video starts off with her moving the arm toward pink targets that pop up at various points along a table. Listening to the brain waves, the arm moves up and down the table to reach each target.

After successfully hitting all the targets, the team gives her a coffee thermos. She is able to bring the arm down to the mug, move the fingers to grasp the thermos and bring it to her mouth. This was the first sip of coffee she was able to bring to her mouth without help in 15 years.

BrainGate, whose motto is “Turning thought into action,” is continuing the study with another individual as well. The company focuses on helping people with paralysis as well as those who are without limbs.

Check out the video from BrainGate below:

hat tip Reuters

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Are Facebook ads really that bad?

Posted: 16 May 2012 06:30 PM PDT

Facebook is getting ready for what may be history’s largest initial public offering for a tech company on Friday. But is it really a good business?

Maybe not, say an increasing number of critics, who point to how Facebook ads don’t work as well as marketers might hope. As a result, General Motors unfriended the social network, and now, says Larry Kim of internet marketing software firm Wordstream, Facebook ads aren’t converting surfers into customers effectively.

We’ve known for some time that Facebook ads have poor engagement. In fact, they have an average click-through rate of .05 percent, which is almost 10 times worse than Google’s display ad network. That means that for every thousand viewers, precisely half a person will click on your Facebook ad.

For the full, ugly details, see Kim’s infographic at the bottom of this post.

Even for an increasingly ad-blind internet, that’s not just bad, it’s horrific. So VentureBeat talked to Kim and asked: What is it about Facebook ads that makes click-through rates so low?

“There are two factors, primarily,” said Kim. “The first has to do with ad formats. On Facebook, you have very vanilla, very basic ads only. They’re not very compelling, and not very engaging.” In contrast, ad units on other sites or apps are richer, more media-centric, and more interactive. And, there’s simply more choice in style, size, and positioning.

“The second problem is ad targeting,” Kim said. “Facebook is really, really good at identifying demographics and interests, but not very good at deciphering intent.” In other words: Facebook knows who you are, but it doesn’t know very much about what you want right now. As Kim says, “Just because you like cars doesn’t mean you’re ready to buy a car today.”

The result is predictable: irrelevant ads. “We define relevancy as the right message to the right people at the right time,” says Kim. If a message isn’t relevant, you’d expect it to be ignored, and that’s what’s actually happening on Facebook, he says.

This, of course, compares poorly with Google, where intent is much clearer, particularly on searches. If someone is Googling for a specific keyword right now, it’s a pretty good indication of their intent — much better than the fact they “liked” Car & Driver‘s Facebook brand page some time ago.

So what’s causing the issue? Kim blamed lack of innovation. Sponsored ads were Facebook’s most recent ad format update, but Kim is not impressed. “I applaud Facebook for trying to be more engaging and relevant, but this is their second ad effort in six to seven years.”

“I wish Mr. Zuckerberg could be open to the possibility that ads would not ruin Facebook, and delivering the right ads could deliver value to both advertisers and users,” Kim said. “I think it would be really profound if they could get a clue.”

Photo credit: Luc Legay on Flickr

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Ratings board wants parents to think twice before buying that video game

Posted: 16 May 2012 05:47 PM PDT

Posey ERSB video game rating PSAThe Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) teamed up with San Francisco Giants players Ryan Vogelsong and Buster Posey (shown above) Wednesday to kick off a public service announcement encouraging parents to check the rating on their child’s video game.

While working in retail years ago, I sold many “mature” rated video games to oblivious parents. They usually had no clue that mature rated games contain a lot of violence, despite the clear ESRB label on each game. The new PSA is an effort to clue parents in.

“I feel it’s very important for parents to know what video games their kids are playing. We all know how sneaky kids can be, trying to pull a fast one,” said Vogelsong during a press conference.

The PSA urges parents to read video game packages to decide if the game is right for their child. The hope is to get more parents involved in the buying process, regardless if they had ever heard about the video game before their child asked for it. The point is to urge parents to think carefully if their eight-year-0ld should really be playing Diablo III.

The PSA includes references to the ESRB’s website and mobile app, which help parents check a game rating by typing in the name. Parents can also use the mobile app to snap a picture of the game to find the rating.

A video from Vogelsong and Posey, which will run on TV channels in the San Francisco Bay Area and parts of California, shows parents how to easily find an ESRB rating on video game packaging. The PSA will also include radio spots and advertising at San Francisco Giants’ home games. Brochures describing the ESRB’s rating system and resources will also pop up at GameStop stores and other retailers.

Should parents be paying more attention to the ratings on their kid’s games? Sound off in the comments.

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When rumors hit hard: Samsung falls 6 percent after Apple turns to Elpida

Posted: 16 May 2012 05:29 PM PDT


What a difference a rumor makes. Samsung, which supplies some of Apple’s mobile parts, lost $10 billion off its market cap yesterday after a report surfaced that Apple had taken some of its business elsewhere.

Yesterday, DigiTimes reported that Apple turned to the financially troubled Elpida for a large order of dynamic random access memory, or DRAM. The Japanese company, which recently filed for bankruptcy, could act as an agent for keeping competition high and prices low among Apple suppliers, according to Reuters. And the move is already starting to take a toll on Apple’s current DRAM manufacturers.

South Korea’s Samsung and SK hynix both experienced major drops in stock. Samsung suffered a six percent loss, plummeting far enough to make it the largest drop the company has experienced in four years, says Reuters. SK Hynix also closed down nine percent.

While Apple and Samsung have had a seemingly strong relationship on the supplier side, the two are embattled in lawsuits over a large variety of infringement cases. Most recently, Samsung was effectively spanked by a California judge who said the company was taking too long to comply with discovery orders. The judge ordered that Samsung not be allowed to defend itself in that particular case using the evidence it failed to hand over in the discovery process.

via Reuters; Image via Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It. World Tour/Flickr

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Big data is expensive: Palantir raises another $56M

Posted: 16 May 2012 03:56 PM PDT

Palantir data

Looks like it pays to be in big data. Data analysis company Palantir has raised $56 million in its latest round of funding  through two undisclosed investors, according to an SEC filing today.

Palantir seems to have been very successful to date, offering tools to analyze structured, unstructured, geospatial, and other types of data that various industries may use in research. The company mainly services government and financial institutions through its two, similarly named products.

Well known early Facebook investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel co-founded Palantir along with four others, including current chief executive Alex Karp. Thiel continues to be an active investor, recently opening a venture fund  in New Zealand and giving funds to would-be college goers who’ve dropped out in favor of entrepreneurship. Thiel is listed on the Form D, although it’s unknown whether he has contributed his own money to the round.

The filing does, however, state that two investors were involved in this latest round.

In 2010 the company took on its fourth round of funding, totaling $90 million. That round valued the company at a whopping $735 million dollars and was led by Founders Fund, along with Glynn Captial, Jermeny Stoppleman, Youniversity Ventures, and a number of others.

Palantir was founded in 2004 and is currently headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

We have reached out to the company for more details and will update when we hear back.

Faucet image via Shutterstock

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Netflix web video player gets a gorgeous new design

Posted: 16 May 2012 03:26 PM PDT

Netflix video player

Streaming video service Netflix is rolling out a spanking-new design for its website’s video player today, which may make people think twice about favoring their set-top box over the web browser.

As you can see in the screenshots below, the new player is gorgeous. The design better matches the user interface on Netflix’s main navigation pages. Player buttons are larger, as is the text displayed, both of which will be helpful for people who have a big enough screen to sit a few feet back when watching videos.

Another huge improvement is the navigation between episodes of a TV series. Previously, the Netflix web video player was pretty bland, and didn’t provide you with much more than the title and episode number of a show. I suspect this is because more people are primarily using Netflix to watch TV content instead of movies (which don’t really require navigation). Now, when a video is paused you can hover over the “forward” button to bring up a thumbnail of the next episode and a short description. Clicking the button next to it will bring up a full list of episodes within the current season of a particular TV series. There’s even a progress bar for each episode to show you how far along you’ve watched.

I’ll admit, I rarely use the website when it comes to Netflix because it lacks these basic pieces of functionality. But that could change now that the company has wised up.

The new video player design should work fine in most browsers, provided you have the most current version of Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin downloaded. Let us know what you think of the design changes in the comment section below.

Netflix video player

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Hey, doomsayers, Facebook will do much better than you think

Posted: 16 May 2012 03:06 PM PDT

With Facebook’s highly anticipated IPO just a couple of days away, the press has been covering all kinds of depressing opinions from skeptics, naysayers, and suit-wearing Wall Street executives. Yes, it's important to play devil's advocate and look at the Facebook IPO from all sides, but don't let the tidal wave of doom-saying drown out the obvious: Facebook has a lot of trump cards left to play.

Financial analysts, the media, and venture capital investors are poking holes in the Facebook ship and it seems as if they're almost hoping it will sink. To combat all the worrywarts and pessimists out there, here’s an analysis of why Facebook will live to become one of the most powerful companies in the world.

Mobile: The Unknown
A headline from GigaOm, a well-respected tech site I'm a fan of, read, "Facebook Admits It Doesn't Know How Mobile Works." The real problem is that nobody knows how mobile works! Facebook has taken a cautious approach when it comes to mobile investments and is just now getting into the game. And the timing is perfect – its approach has set it up nicely because Facebook is the best positioned to offer the first browser-level mobile development platform. In fact, Facebook just announced it. It's called the App Center.

The App Center lets you install apps on Facebook's mobile site. From the user's perspective, this is important because it means apps are always up to date. I have grown to hate the little red number on the Apple Store icon constantly reminding me that I have 79 apps that need updates. And since I can't play my favorite game, Zynga Texas Hold 'em, without the internet, I don't need the app installed on my tablet or phone. From a developers perspective, it saves time and money. Instead of needing to specialize in the native language of each mobile OS, the same developers that build web-based games can build apps for mobile. The App Center also addresses key challenges for developers, such as having to maintain legacy architecture to support backwards compatibility that comes with a large installed user base. My bank, US Bank, already eliminated its iOS app in favor of a mobile friendly site, which I like much better because it provides more features and is updated regularly.

While this is a growing trend, it doesn't mean that all native mobile apps will go away. Remember back when the desktop browser was invented? It gave birth to a whole new set of experiences that didn't make sense to be installed on the desktop computer. The browser didn't kill desktop apps completely. People still want to install resource hungry apps like office software, design tools, and more, but there are some experiences that are better through the browser like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. If Facebook's new mobile platform can create success stories equivalent to Zynga on its desktop platform, it could increase their revenue substantially.

Facebook's investment in Instagram and Glancee further demonstrates its dedication to winning in mobile. As does its newly released news feed ads that will flow into mobile. If Facebook can achieve similar monetization value for mobile users, then that will add massively to its revenue.

Ads: The Not Yet Unleashed
The headlines about Facebook's so-called "advertising problem" are endless, talking about how CTRs (click-through rates) are low and that the social networking giant can't seem to figure out how to increase the monetization of its 900 million users. I wish I could tell everyone all of the front-line details I’m seeing working with our customers, but I can't. For the skeptics, are you asking the right question: Does Facebook have ample opportunity to improve its monetization of every user? Facebook is just starting to put ads into the news feed, and there is a wealth of untapped potential there. For example, Facebook said it would start by serving no more than one ad per person per day into the news feed. If it sells its inventory of 500M daily active users, that's 182.5 billion ad views per year. At just $.02 per person ($20 CPM), Facebook could rack up $3.6 billion in revenue by adding a single new ad unit – and for context, Facebook did $3.7 billion in total revenue last year. Not enough money for you skeptics? What if Facebook releases one ad per person per session – which is still very non-invasive? That would add billions more in revenue to the Facebook bank account.

But, that's just if Facebook ads stay on the Facebook property. Facebook hasn't even tried to extend its advertising outside of the Facebook.com domain, but this is likely to change in the near future, because Zuckerberg and his team scooped up the product manager for Google's AdSense program, which delivers Google powered ads on sites outside of Google's own properties. I'm looking into my crystal ball and seeing that ads will go beyond the Facebook domain. Especially since Facebook just updated its privacy policy in a way that sets it up to serve ads outside of Facebook. Again, this could generate billions.

Credits: The Hidden Gem
In its entire 14 years of business, Google has never generated more than a single digit percentage of revenue from anything other than advertising. Right now, 15 percent of Facebook's revenue comes from credits. If Facebook extends its credit system to real goods and services, its projections of future revenue would change.

The Brand Budget: It is a Popularity Contest
With 900 million users, Facebook has proven it's the big man on the internet campus. Just like in high school and college, this is a popularity contest, because brands must be where consumers are. As the social ad practice matures past fan acquisition to fan monetization, we're going to see social ad investment increase, because more and more brand marketers will understand the system. As brands improve targeting, Facebook can sell more clicks on fewer impressions, which allows it to increase revenue on the same inventory. We are working with our customers to identify the best practices to improve performance. For example, we learned that targeting increases the average click through rate by seven times, which can drive cost down from more than a dollar per click to as low as less than a quarter per click.

Facebook has proven to be pretty powerful. It has generated more revenue every year than Google did at the equivalent age of its ad platform. There's no reason to assume Facebook won't solve the issues at hand, especially with an influx of an anticipated $10 billion in cash. I believe Facebook is well positioned and will continue to make people millionaires long after the IPO.

Justin Kistner is director of social products at unified mobile, social and web analytics company Webtrends. He drives the development of social products and serves as a social media thought leader for the company. He led the development of Webtrends' Facebook Analytics as well as the company's end-to-end Facebook campaign solutions. He also founded Beer and Blog, a social marketing meet up in 20 cities from Portland to Tokyo. You can follow him on Twitter @justinkistner.

[Top image credit: James Steidl/Shutterstock]

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Bitly reportedly raising $20M and launching a viral search engine

Posted: 16 May 2012 02:19 PM PDT

Four-year-old link shortening service Bitly is reportedly working on raising a $20 million funding round and launching a few new products. The startup has apparently also moved out of incubator Betaworks and into its own space, reports The Verge.

If true, the round could help the company expand its link statistics service, which is a major part of its business. Bitly is more widely know for link shortening. But knowing that it couldn’t survive off that forever, it has built up enterprise analytical services to help people track where their links go on the Internet.

Now it seems Bitly is turning to the consumer market, according to The Verge. Bitly is reportedly launching a real-time viral search engine to keep tabs on trending topics, similar to Twitter. Unlike Twitter, it wouldn’t be limited to what’s trending on one social network. The viral search could be just one of the consumer-focused services Bitly has up its sleeve that would be helped by a hefty funding round.

So far Bitly has raised $15 million from a laundry list of investors including Ron Conway, SV Angel, and AOL Ventures. The company is based in New York City.

VentureBeat has reached out to Bitly and Betaworks about the news and will update this post when we get a response.

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Tech materials of the future (and how you can make them yourself)

Posted: 16 May 2012 01:13 PM PDT

Flexible screens, wearable computers, conductive ink, wires that move like muscles: These are the materials that will make up the gadgets of the future, and they’re being dreamed up and developed in do-it-yourself hacker labs and garages all around the world.

Sure, large manufacturers are working on these kinds of materials, too, but openMaterials co-founder Catarina Mota says the real innovation is coming from the bottom up as makers, hackers, and DIY enthusiasts figure out how to do “the future” for themselves in their own home labs.

Smart materials have one or more properties that can be changed by external stimuli, such as temperature, moisture, a magnetic field, or an electric current. And these kinds of materials are changing how we think about hardware and what hardware is able to do.

At a hardware-hacking workshop sponsored by Make magazine today in Silicon Valley, Mota said she and a partner began looking for these kinds of smart materials for an art installation, but they ran into more hurdles than expected.

“We quickly realized the materials we wanted weren’t available in quantities or prices for makers like ourselves,” she said, noting that when they could get their hands on the materials, they couldn’t figure out how to use them, nor did they receive any instructions from the manufacturers, who were used to dealing with large-scale OEMs.

So, Mota concluded, she’d have to make the materials she wanted by herself.

“The only way to go about this was trial and error,” she said. “We’d make our best guess and change one thing at a time until we got the material to do what we wanted it to do.”

Eventually, the art installation fell by the wayside as Mota and her cohort became more and more fascinated by making and using these materials of the future. openMaterials is the result of their efforts, which include research and workshops on DIY smart materials.

Mota said that in 2009, she was only able to track down two or three manufacturers of smart materials. Today, there are many manufacturers of all sizes — and better still, the web is replete with information, instructions, and community resources for makers.

Here’s a gallery showing handmade smart materials and where you can find out more about them (or even learn how to make them yourself):

Top image courtesy of luxorphoto, Shutterstock

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Verizon to kill off grandfathered unlimited 3G data plans

Posted: 16 May 2012 12:48 PM PDT


Verizon Wireless will soon get rid of its unlimited data plans held by customers who were grandfathered in before the company launched tiered data pricing, according to a report from FierceWireless.

Verizon CFO Fran Shammo reportedly told an audience at the JPMorgan Technology, Media, and Telecom conference today that 3G unlimited data plan holders will eventually have switch to a “data-share” plan. The company’s data-share plans will launch this summer and effectively end single device/single data plan polices. But data-share plans are tiered and anyone upgrading to use a 4G-enabled device must have one.

It’s unclear if Verizon will force all of its users with unlimited 3G data to switch plans if they aren’t switching to a 4G-enabled phone. Apple iPhone 4S customers right now, for example, only use 3G data and have quite some time before their two-year contracts are up. Will they be allowed to use unlimited data until they switch to a 4G-enabled iPhone 5 or Android superphone?

Verizon ditched unlimited data plans last summer, in line with what AT&T has done. Sprint, notably, still offers unlimited 3G and 4G data plans and might even offer unlimited 4G LTE data when its second 4G network launches. T-Mobile still has some unlimited data offers as well, but does not have the iPhone.

We contacted Verizon for clarification on its upcoming data plan options, but a company spokesperson declined to add anything to Shammo’s comments.

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Facebook is breaking these three records with its IPO

Posted: 16 May 2012 12:17 PM PDT

Facebook’s IPO is being heralded in rather vague terms as the biggest tech IPO in history. But this initial public offering actually does break a few records, and not just in the tech sector.

This week, Facebook’s IPO will be the largest venture-backed IPO of all time, and not in the subjective Kanye West sense. If, as expected, the company’s valuation creeps toward $104 billion, it would be four times larger than Google’s 2004 IPO.

Facebook will also have earned the distinction of raising the most venture capital of any venture-backed company in the U.S. — a grand total of $2.2 billion from some of the biggest names in venture capital around the world. This is almost double the amount raised by the second-place company in this category, Clearwire, a wireless broadband service provider that raised $1.2 billion. It’s also exactly double the amount Twitter has raised to date, $1.1 billion.

Also, Facebook breaks the record for most companies acquired pre-IPO. To date, Facebook has bought 13 other startups, only two more than Twitter, which is the second-most acquisitive company that is still privately held.

"Facebook's IPO could be the first of many pay days for venture investors,” said Dow Jones VentureSource global research director Jessica Canning in a release today. “With the company seeking to raise up to $15 billion through its exit and some of that capital likely to be spent on acquisitions, Facebook’s IPO could also be a boon for investors in companies that would pair well with the social media giant. We've already seen this with a few targeted mobile acquisitions recently and will likely see more as the social space continues to evolve."

Some of the mobile acquisitions were part of Facebook’s recent shopping spree that signed, sealed, and delivered startups Instagram, TagTile, Glancee, and Lightbox into the Facebook fold all within the past few weeks.

"Facebook created a path through the venture capital landscape that no one has seen before,” Dow Jones VentureWire editor Zoran Basich said in a statement today. “It created a frenzy of trading in private-market shares, drew non-traditional players into its venture rounds, and established a template for blockbuster success that every start-up and every investor dreams of.”

Still, Basich continued, don’t expect any other companies to continue down the same path anytime soon — including the much smaller and younger Twitter.

“It's a template that no one else is likely to reproduce,” Basich said. “In about every way you can think of, Facebook is unique."

Image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell, Flickr

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Pirate Bay is under (DDoS) attack! Torrent site remains down after 24 hours

Posted: 16 May 2012 11:53 AM PDT

The Pirate Bay is currently experiencing a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, which has caused the site to remain inaccessible for the last 24 hours, reports TorrentFreak.

Members of The Pirate Bay confirmed the news with an update on their Facebook page, saying “We don’t know who’s behind it but we have our suspicions.” The group added, “We believe in the open and free Internets, where anyone can express their views. Even if we strongly disagree with them and even if they hate us. So don’t fight them using their ugly methods. DDOS and blocks are both forms of censorship.”

The Pirate Bay  provides users with a way to find torrent files for software, movies, games, music, and more, which are usually being shared illegally. The site has become a symbol for piracy by both authorities and Internet users alike, despite its recent decision to stop hosting actual torrent files on its servers in favor of offering "magnet links." These are links that take you outside the website to download your content.

So, who is to blame for the attacks? Well, there are two obvious suspects that would have a motive to shut the site down. The first of which is hacktivist group Anonymous, which The Pirate Bay criticized for the group’s role in DDoS attacks on Virgin Media last week. Anonymous’ attack on Virgin Media was a direct response to the Internet service provider’s decision to comply with a U.K. court order to block The Pirate Bay from its subscribers.

But while The Pirate Bay may not have condoned the actions of Anonymous, I find it pretty hard to believe that the group would collectively decide to punish them. The Pirate Bay — as well as its Swedish founders — embodies the piracy/anti-censorship movement. I also rule out copyright holders, who wouldn’t want to risk jeopardizing credibility in lawsuits against those accused of piracy or malicious online actions against them.

The more likely culprit for these attacks would be a governmental authoritative body working undercover. Now, obviously DDoS attacks wouldn’t seriously wound The Pirate Bay in any long-term sense — its users are far more resilient than that. However, authorities may be waiting to track Pirate Bay users that access the torrent site using unsecured proxies or other methods. Likewise, Pirate Bay members have warned people to use proxies at their own risk, and not to login to the site unless they absolutely trust the proxy supplier.

At the time of publishing, the site remains down.

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Whoops! VeriFone’s Sail user agreement ripped off Square’s

Posted: 16 May 2012 10:37 AM PDT

verifone sail mobile payment platform

VeriFone’s Sail mobile-payments platform was clearly a Square wannabe from the beginning — now it seems that’s more true than we initially thought.

VeriFone apparently lifted significant chunks of its user agreement from Square, GigaOm’s Ryan Kim has discovered. While there are other competitors similar to Square, like PayPal’s Here and Intuit’s GoPayment, VeriFone is a latecomer to the mobile credit card swiping game. I gave Sail flack for not bringing anything new to the market, but today’s revelation makes it even clearer that VeriFone is more interested in following Square than doing anything truly original.

Writes Kim:

When I notified VeriFone that wholesale portions of its user agreement had been copied from Square Tuesday afternoon, the company promptly deleted about a third of its user agreement – including most of the offending text. The SAIL agreement went from 10,525 words and 43 sections to 6,452 words and 25 sections with a couple mistakenly numbered twice.

VeriFone then sent along a statement, saying, “While many legal documents tend to use and reuse industry-acceptable language, we took your feedback into consideration and have made revisions to the agreement so that there is no misunderstanding.”

While a seemingly good excuse, Kim points out that Sail’s user agreement lifted very specific portions of Square’s. A section regarding how the services handle account histories is identical, save for “Sail” replacing every reference of Square. After Kim’s inquiry, that section and others like it were removed from Sail’s agreement.

Square is still deciding how to respond to the news. Sean Kane, a lawyer at the firm Pillsbury, tells Kim that Square could conceivably sue VeriFone for copyright infringement, though that rarely happens when it comes to user agreements.

We’ve asked for further comment from VeriFone, and will report when we hear back.

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A Windows racket: Microsoft will clean crapware off your PC for $99

Posted: 16 May 2012 10:10 AM PDT

The PC crapware problem has finally gotten bad enough that Microsoft is now charging users to fix it.

For $99 Microsoft is now offering to strip consumers’ Windows PCs of all unnecessary software pre-installed by PC makers, AllThingsD reports. Affectionally dubbed “crapware”,  the software  is installed by PC makers in exchange for cash from vendors and is almost universally hated by owners of new Windows PCs.

This makes the removal program an arrangement bordering on a racket: PC makers get paid to put the software on computers, and Microsoft gets paid to remove it. Perhaps this questionable situation is part of the reason Microsoft never made it a priority to advertise the offer, even though its been around since 2010.

To be fair, as Microsoft PR pointed out to VentureBeat over the phone, the $99 fee is more than just crapware removal. Also included in the offer are things like Windows 7 and Microsoft Security Essentials installation, data transfer, and 90 days of free phone support.

The program is offered via its Microsoft Stores, of which there are a disappointing sixteen. It’s an expansion of Microsoft’s “Signature” initiative, wherein Microsoft sells consumer crapware-free PCs directly to consumers. That program has been around since 2009, though its never been very well publicized. (Paul Thurott first reported on it back in February.)

A better solution? Prevent the software from being installed in the first place.

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Web typography: create “art from code”

Posted: 16 May 2012 10:00 AM PDT

Thanks to CSS3 web design techniques and font-foundries, the ability to create gorgeous typography and beautiful design for browsers, is more accessible than ever.

The web is about content — finding it, delivering it, exploring it, and experiencing growth and possibility within it. What’s the fun of using a site that takes forever to load and is difficult to read? A poorly designed product can be the single deciding factor for whether a user stays on your page or makes a dishearteningly rapid exit. Fortunately, with the use of new code, integrating gorgeous design and Web typography into various browsers is easier than ever.

Since 1996 when CSS1 was first enacted, the Web has seen historical changes. Initially, there were only 9 fonts browsers read by default. The focus was mostly on legibility and monitor-only interactive readability.

Fast-forward 15 years: Designers now have the ability to use a multitude of typefaces from various font foundries to make the Web a more beautiful place. Comic Sans can, for instance, have embossed effects and gradients. Pages load faster, and the Internet is more beautiful, more interactive, and (most importantly) more readable.

“We are in a time like no other. Through the use of CSS3 we are able to make art from code,” said Tantek Çelik, Web Standards Lead at Mozilla and representative to W3C HTML and CSS Working Groups, at CASCADE SF’s HTML5 presentation, on July 2010.

Want to make the Web more beautiful? Learn how-to Saturday, May 19th at Adobe HQ in San Francisco, CA.

This Saturday, May 19th, 2012 at Adobe HQ, Sean McBride, Engineer and Developer at Typekit will teach San Francisco how to create gorgeous web typographic posters, magazines, and effects using CSS3 text shadows, transitions, outlines, text-gradients, and a host of other need-to-knows. McBride’s talk at this year’s SXSW Interactive was highly recommended by developers who attended, and we anticipate a similarly enthusiastic turnout.

Sign up today.

CASCADE SF: San Francisco’s Web Design & CSS3 Organization

Founded in 2009, by Andi Galpern, web designer and technology events organizer, CASCADE SF, @cascadesf, promotes quality and innovation to teach latest tips and tricks from the top minds in the web industry.

Andi Galpern also recently launched “The Design Business“ dedicated to teach designers how to think like entrepreneurs and communicate more effectively with teams.

Typekit: The easiest way to add real fonts to your website.

Built around web standards, Typekit gives designers and developers a subscription-based library of hosted, high-quality fonts to use on their websites. They have over 250,000 customers including some of the largest sites on the web today: The New York Times, Conde Nast, IGN, Twitter, and many others. It is also actively integrating Typekit into hosted platforms such as WordPress, TypePad, and Posterous so that anyone with a website can use real fonts.

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Today, Google web search is getting a new, bigger, better brain

Posted: 16 May 2012 10:00 AM PDT

Finally, Google’s search algorithm is getting a huge boost from a source we can actually trust.

No, it’s not your dimwit friends and their Facebook shares. It’s Knowledge Base, a semantically structured body of data 500 million items strong and growing.

With Knowledge Base plugged into Google Search, Google is going to get a heck of a lot better at knowing what things (not just what words) you’re searching for and delivering better results — more useful, more visual results.

How Google’s new brain works

Briefly, Knowledge Base is Google’s attempt to change your search experience from strings (of characters) to objects, whole entities with collections of their own data.

For example, yesterday, Google could parse your search for “roots” as five letters that might have a connection to a wide range of URLs. Today, Google knows you are probably searching for The Roots (the music group) or or Roots (the TV miniseries) or roots (the biological feature of plants), and it will help you get to the best results for that object faster.

Here’s a quick tour of how Google Search will look with Knowledge Base powering it:

Knowledge Base takes structured data from Wikipedia, Freebase, and other sources, including MusicBrainz (an open encyclopedia of music facts), the CIA’s World Factbook, and many other repositories of publicly available open data.

“Our overall mission is to organize the world’s information,” said Google Search project management director Jack Menzel in a phone conversation with VentureBeat yesterday.

“We’ve done some really clever things when it comes to understanding your query, but computers don’t really understand what people are talking about,” he continued. “To a computer, it’s just a string of letters.”

While Google’s parsing of misspelled and incomplete search terms as well as synonyms and related terms has been helpful to users, Menzel has been working to give Google’s search engine a more useful, more advanced understanding of search terms as interconnected objects in a database.

“As a search engine, all the results might look like good web pages, they all contain that word … but it’s not enough,” he said.

Why we’re in love with structured data

Knowledge Base has been a Google project at least since the company acquired Metaweb in 2010. The San Francisco startup was the maker of Freebase, a massive open-structured database. While Freebase was a starting point for Google’s foray into structured data, it was just the beginning.

Web companies are having a very public love affair with structured data these days. Basically, companies like Google, Microsoft (with Bing), and Facebook (with Actions) are attempting to understand not just the letters and words you type into their systems, but also what those letters and words mean and how they’re connected to URLs, to each other, and to sets of facts.

“We look at all the publicly available information on the web, and we try to reconcile them into a representation of the real world,” said Menzel. “It’s a huge challenge, and we’re just getting started.”

But, the Googler noted, even at its initial launch to the public, Google’s structured database contains 500 million people, places, and things; and these objects are connected by 3.5 billion attributes. Menzel thinks this gives Google’s web search a competitive advantage over Bing.

And because of how those attributes are structured, Google search is now able to return fascinating chunks of information for many kinds of queries — think of it as rich snippets on mega-steroids.

“When you do a query for a specific, real-world thing, we can synthesize a summary on the fly based on what the most relevant information is,” said Menzel. “That acts as a map of all the information that’s available to you on the web.”

For example, if you search for “roots,” Google will ask you if you mean “The Roots” the musical act. If, in fact, you do mean to search for that group, Google will quickly pull up a slew of related data — stats, members, shows, pics — all neatly organized in a scannable table for you. Think of it as a mini-infographic each time you search for something.

Here’s a video Google made to show off some of the new Knowledge Base features:

The “Wikipedia Hole” is coming to Google

And the searches just keep coming, too. “When you’re doing a research task, you very rarely want to do just one query,” said Menzel. “We help people create a map of the topic they’re interested in so they can more quickly explore the information.”

Menzel and the Google web search team call this “serendipity.” You or I might call it a “rabbit hole” — a dark, delicious tunnel of information, a bottomless pit of trivia from which you may never emerge. This happens a lot to the casual Wikipedia reader, and while it can suck up a ton of time, it can also yield some fun facts and new knowledge for your sponge-like brain.

Also, just like Wikipedia, Google has built in some tools for reporting incorrect information. “This is a tremendously ambitious task that’s really, really hard, and the world is constantly changing … so we’ve built a feedback mechanism so that in two clicks, you can report any problems you find,” Menzel told us.

The long and winding rollout

The new search features are launching today and will continue to roll out over the next few days for Google search on all platforms and devices — in English only, for now.

“Ooh boy, languages are hard. And understanding how to rank this content internationally is hard,” said Menzel. Other languages and regions will be coming soon … ish.

“As you can understand more about what people and web pages are talking about, you can imagine doing queries that are pure science fiction,” Menzel continued, “like finding a Lady Gaga concert this year outdoors in warm weather. Today, that’s crazy. That’s going to take a long time to figure out. With Knowledge Base, we’ll be able to answer that very complicated and nuanced question quickly.”

Finally, we asked Menzel how Knowledge Base — that big, slick, data-driven machine — was going to mesh with Search Plus Your World, Google’s social approach to search, which launched earlier this year.

Ultimately, he told us, Google web search is just about getting you quickly to the best possible information.

“Sometimes, that best information is the private information that only you have access to, like the Search Plus Your World information,” he said. “And sometimes it’s Wikipedia, and sometimes it’s sports data, and sometimes it’s the weather. I don’t want to belittle the importance of social data, but knowledge overall does have a larger scope.”

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Electric Imp unveils cloud-based home automation: now you can burn your toast from Tokyo

Posted: 16 May 2012 10:00 AM PDT

Home automation is a hot category that just got even hotter. And possibly, just a bit easier. Today Electric Imp is announcing the Imp, a cloud-based approach to monitoring and managing everything you own.

The venture-backed startup in Los Altos, California, is taking a manufacturer-centric approach to the automation market — so don’t expect to be able to buy an Imp to retrofit existing devices tomorrow. Electic Imp is releasing a developer preview bundle in June, giving manufacturers the tools to make their devices Imp-compatible.

The Imp chip

Think pre-warming your house when returning from a vacation, or watering your lawn via smartphone. Or turning on the TV and a few lights while you’re out for dinner to convince potential crooks you’re still at home. And maybe, a fridge that re-orders food as you’re about to run out.

In a statement provided to VentureBeat, founder and CEO of Electric Imp Hugo Fiennes said "Until now, creating connected devices was a huge challenge for any vendor." The home automation category is a currently mess of competing standards and technologies. Device communication protocols include Wi-Fi, Firewire, USB, and infrared, and home automation product ecosystems include X10, UPB, mControl, HomeSeer, Control4, Vivint, PowerHome, and ActiveHome Pro, among others.

Electric Imp intends to solve that by reducing complexity. Install a tiny Imp card, connect it to your home Wi-Fi, and control it via the Imp cloud service. Each device in your home instantly knows about the other devices and can communicate with them. Then use your browser or smartphone anywhere on the planet to control your home.

The current reality is a little more complex: you have to choose control and automation software, find, purchase, and install  devices specifically rated to interoperate with that system, and install software or an embedded server to manage it all.

Fiennes says that’s all in the past. “Electric Imp changes all this by bringing the power of an easy to use, cloud-based service to almost any device and allowing the internet to interact with everyday objects." Interaction will be possible on three levels: Imp to Imp, Imp to people,, and Imp to services.

The approach makes sense, since it’s embedding most of the intelligence of the system in the cloud. It’s reminiscent of developing nations skipping legacy telephone grids and moving straight to cellular communications. In addition, by  taking a manufacturer-centric approach, Electric Imp has a chance to disrupt currently consumer-focused home automation market. According to a company statement, integrating an Imp slot into a device should cost less than a dollar.

But there’s a great deal of existing competition in this space. In addition, powerful players like Microsoft are bringing solutions to market such as HomeOS, AT&T wants to provide our Digital Life, and Google would love us to all have Android@Home. Can an iOS or Apple iHome system be far behind?

To win, Electric Imp is going to have to innovate fast, go to market hard, and find some luck along the way. The company just closed a series A round of funding from Redpoint Ventures and Lowercase Capital, which should help. And the co-founders do have some impressive credentials: Hugo Fiennes is a former iPhone engineering manager, and Kevin Fox, another co-founder, designed Gmail. VentureBeat spoke to Tom Tunguz, principal of Redpoint Ventures, who said: “Every great product has a little bit of magic. This team has worked on two of the most successful consumer products in history.” If Electric Imp can bring some Apple and Google magic to bear, they have a shot at success.

If they do, perhaps by Christmas we’ll see devices labelled “Imp Inside.”

Electric Imp founders: Peter Hartley, Hugo Fiennes, Kevin Fox. Fiennes is holding an Imp.

Photo credit: Hakan Dahlstrom on Flickr

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