torsdag 29. april 2010

How Sandra Bullock kept a baby a secret

Sandra Bullock has Oscar-winning talent, but it took more than just being a good actress to keep the adoption of her infant son private for months -- especially when the paparazzi started swarming following allegations of marital discord.

Mark McGrath and fiancée welcome twins

Thursday morning was twice as nice for rocker Mark McGrath and his fiancée, Carin Kingsland, who gave birth to twins -- a boy and a girl -- in Los Angeles

Kid Rock to host 2010 CMT Music Awards

Someone alert the authorities: Kid Rock's been given the keys to the CMT Music Awards.

'A Day in the Life' lyrics to be auctioned

John Lennon's autographed lyrics for "A Day in the Life" -- one of the best-known songs from an iconic album -- are expected to sell for more than a song when they go up for auction at Sotheby's New York on June 18.

AdMob opens the gates to other mobile ad networks

Mobile ad network AdMob, a San Mateo, Calif. startup that Google hopes to acquire as soon as the FTC approves the deal, has removed two major restrictions in hopes of broadening its customer base.
First, it has enabled support for iPhone and iPad apps that use Apple’s iAd system by complying with the confidential rules and restrictions Apple has provided to ad network companies.
AdMob’s ad system, AdWhirl, was acquired along with the company of the same name last year. AdWhirl will now let app developers serve their own ad units — “house ads” in industry jargon — along with ads served by Apple’s iAd system onto the screens of iPhone and iPad toters.
Second, AdMob has removed a previous restriction that only let developers add one other advertising network into their apps. “Adding their own in-house advertising was probably the most popular feature,” CTO Kevin Scott told me during a phone interview. “But based on feedback from our developers, they wanted more flexibility.”
“It was easy for us to go in and allow an unlimited number of other networks. Otherwise, they’re going to go out and try implementing their own solutions.”
AdMob, which claims to serve ads for 1,700 apps, released its source code last December, another move aimed at bringing in a larger customer base. Developers frustrated with one little thing now have the opportunity to try fixing it themselves.
Tags: iAd, ipad, iPhone
Companies: AdMob
People: Kevin Scott

Our own interview with Bungie’s Harold Ryan and Activision’s Thomas Tippl on their new game deal

All eyes in the video game industry are now on Bungie and Activision Blizzard, which announced this morning that they are working together on Bungie’s next major game after the Halo series.
I just interviewed Thomas Tippl, chief operating officer of Activision Publishing (a division of Activision Blizzard) and Harold Ryan, president of Bungie. Here’s the transcript.
VentureBeat: Tell me about the thinking behind the deal.
Tippl: From Activision’s perspective, this is a fantastic opportunity for us. It broadens our portfolio of existing games with a new franchise from a proven team. Bungie is one of the best development teams, one of the most creative out there with a proven track record. We are the leading publisher with presence in all parts of the world. We have a multiplatform strategy and distribution capability. The gaming community will be very excited about the future and play Bungie’s games on all platforms. This is a partnership that is going to be accretive to our operating margins and consistent with our strategy to grow.
Ryan: For us, we became independent from Microsoft in 2007. We put a lot of thought into it and what we wanted for the future of the company and our products. We had a lot of opportunities to work with different potential partners for our next intellectual property. Activision allowed us to meet all of the goals we had for remaining an independent company. We wanted independence. We wanted to create new original properties we wanted to control. And we wanted to get our stories out to consumers worldwide on multiple platforms.
VB: Why was it so important to go off into a new game universe, considering you had done so well with Halo?
Ryan: Microsoft still has full ownership of Halo itself. We tried to coordinate on a new, well executed franchise plan over the next 10 years. That required control of the messaging, timing and content. There are a lot of things that went really well for us with Halo, and there were things we would do differently. Now we have an opportunity to plan 10 years out. We can address all of the things we didn’t do quite right last time with a partner we trust.
VB: Thomas, how do you do this in a way that makes business sense? Bungie is probably not a cheap partner.
Tippl: It depends how you want to look at it. The way you generate financial returns in the industry is focus on really big opportunities, make sure you have best development talent, best marketing talent, best sales talent, best online talent, and make games that appeal to the right audiences. There are very few developers with this kind of track record. Over the last couple of years, we have done that with Blizzard, the No. 1 online game developer. We attracted Bizarre Creations, the No. 1 independent racing game developer that will do a new intellectual property for us. We have attracted great teams, such as a new studio that is working for us as Sledgehammer Games. They have started work on the Call of Duty franchise. Now Bungie is working on the next big thing in interactive entertainment. Our strategy has clearly paid off. We haven’t just been throwing money around like some of our competitors. That is why in 2009, Activision Publishing delivered operating margins above 20 percent while our competitors posted losses. This is totally working and is very exciting for our long-term prospects.
VB: By the way, what is that Call of Duty game you are announcing tomorrow night?
Tippl: Tomorrow you will see a teaser for this year’s Call of Duty release, which is shaping up to be awesome. The quality is really great. Treyarch is taking the Call of Duty franchise to the next level with their release this holiday.
VB: This deal took place amid what happened at Infinity Ward. How did that affect the discussions here?
Tippl: From our point of view, those are completely unrelated topics. It’s unfortunate. We have been in this business for 20 years. We have never been put in this situation. The timing on this announcement is totally unrelated. We have been in discussions for the last nine months. We signed a term sheet in March. We finished the long form discussion today, and that’s why we are discussing this with you.
VB: And Harold?
Ryan: It really has been unfortunate what is happening at Infinity Ward. From Bungie’s view, we have been talking potential publishers for a couple of years. We have come to completion of the deal. We have lots of other stuff going on with Halo: Reach, which starts a multiplayer beta next week. We are done with the negotiations and are ready to step forward into the partnership.
VB: You have been working on the property, the new game universe, since 2007. Is it pretty far along?
Ryan: Yes, it is pretty far along. It is a natural stage to find a publisher. Our focus has been on Halo: Reach. Most of the studio will move over to the new intellectual property [IP]. Our burn rate will go up compared to what it was. Until now, we have been completely self-funding the development.
VB: There is a lot of talk in the industry about other platforms like the iPhone, iPad, Facebook and MMOs. It seems like you believe very strongly in the core console platform. Is that true?
Ryan: No. We are very focused on fun. We like to create competitive and cooperative fun for gamers. And we focus on connecting people and building communities. We have always done that. We are absolutely looking to take this IP to the broadest consumer group we can get to worldwide on almost every platform.
VB: So you could take this to some of the new platforms I have mentioned?
Ryan: Absolutely.
Companies: Activision Blizzard, Bungie
People: Harold Ryan, Thomas Tippl

Cisco tops new Greenpeace ranking of IT companies

Greenpeace released its latest listing of information technology companies ranked by eco-friendliness today, promoting it at GigaOm’s annual Green:Net conference in San Francisco. The big winner is Cisco Systems, which topped the Cool IT LeaderBoard, buoyed by its relatively new environmental policies.
To produce the list, Greenpeace looked at companies’ full environmental footprints and at their various initiatives to lessen their impact on the environment and become more energy- and resource-efficient.
Cisco, which knocked IBM out of the No. 1 slot, scored extra points with its push into Smart Grid and connectivity technology, helping not only itself but many other businesses become more energy efficient. Cisco itself has a goal to reduce its emissions by 25 percent by 2012 (from 2007 levels).
The other notable placement was Google, which was dropped to the middle of the pack despite its trumpeting of green efforts and recent approval to buy and sell wholesale energy. The company claims that it wants this capability in order to use more solar and wind generated electricity, but this remains to be seen. Greenpeace dinged it because it hasn’t been as transparent in its emissions reporting. It is also not very forthcoming about the amount of energy being sucked up by its data centers.
Ericsson came in second place, acknowledged for its efforts to measure carbon emissions and other metrics. It equips its customers with the tools they need to see how big their footprints are, and to take action to reduce their energy demands and carbon output. IBM fell to third despite its increased involvement with Smart Grid technology.
The bottom of the list belonged to large electronics manufacturers, including Toshiba, Sharp and Panasonic. While these companies have been racing each other to advanced battery and storage technology that could one day vastly improve the capabilities of the Smart Grid, they have remained relatively quiet about current efforts to shrink their footprints.
Greenpeace was pretty unforgiving in its analysis. As the New York Times points out, Sony is the largest buyer of renewable energy in Japan, but it still came in second to last place because it has not disclosed any emissions data.
Tags: energy efficiency, information technology
Companies: Cisco Systems, Ericsson, Google, Greenpeace

Coming soon: Call of Duty Vietnam

Activision Blizzard is poised to announce the next game in the Call of Duty series, which has generated $3 billion in revenue over the last seven years.
The new game, Call of Duty Vietnam, is being produced by Activision Publishing’s Treyarch studio and is expected to be unveiled Friday night on Game Trailers TV with Geoff Keighley. No details have been shared yet, other than a teaser for “next big Call of Duty”‘ game.
The announcement will include a trailer of scenes from the upcoming game. To date, the Call of Duty franchise has been split into two different story arcs and settings. One is focused on World War II and the other has branched into modern combat with Modern Warfare. The last game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, debuted in September and generated more than $1.1 billion in sales and 15 million units sold as of Jan. 13.
But Activision Blizzard fired the co-founders of Infinity Ward, which made Modern Warfare, and has been locked in litigation as a result. This new announcement is designed to show that the litigation hasn’t frozen the franchise. Treyarch is working on its game, and Slegehammer Games, a new studio, is also working on Call of Duty games.
“Tomorrow you will see a teaser for this year’s Call of Duty game,” said Thomas Tippl, chief operating officer of Activision Publishing, in an interview this morning. “Treyarch is working on it and taking the Call of Duty franchise to the next level.”
So far, it’s not clear when the new Vietnam game will debut. But the setting isn’t a surprise. Other combat shooting games such as Battlefield Vietnam and Men of Valor have been set during the Vietnam war. But Vietnam as a setting has not yet produced any blockbuster shooter games. Still, publishers have to move the settings around to keep gamers from getting bored.
Companies: Activision Blizzard, Treyarch

Come see VentureBeat’s executive editor talk about the future of news

Journalists, PR pros, and anyone else with an interest in how the media world is changing should consider stopping by San Francisco’s 111 Minna tonight, where VentureBeat Executive Editor Owen Thomas will be participating in a panel entitled, “Can Fairness & Accuracy Survive in a Page-View World?”
We’ve already had some fun internal discussions about this since Owen joined VentureBeat a month ago, so I can promise that he has plenty to say. Owen has also worked at Time, Wired, Red Herring, Gawker/Valleywag, and most recently NBC, so he can draw on a long background in journalism when talking about these issues.
Other panelists include Cnet’s Ina Fried, InfoWorld’s Eric Knorr, and public relations firm Waggener Edstrom’s David Patton (formerly of the Wall Street Journal). Media analyst Sam Whitmore will moderate. Here’s the event description:
Media and publishing companies face unique challenges today. Ad-supported content can often translate into intense pressure to drive page views and click-throughs. Does this rush to be first allow time to fully and accurately cover the story? Therein lies the question – can media outlets realistically create deeper, richer and more engaging content, or will they strive to deliver the ‘quick bite’ story that drives traffic and sells ads?
Waggener Edstrom, which is organizing the panel, tells me there are about 30 tickets left. You can grab one here. The event is free.
Companies: Waggner Edstrom Worldwide
People: Owen Thomas

Bullock's ties to New Orleans

It's a city synonymous with rebuilding -- so New Orleans seems like the perfect place for Sandra Bullock to raise son Louis.

Sister: Bret Michaels sounds good

Bret Michaels "sounds like Bret" nearly a week after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage, his sister told a radio show Wednesday.

Worst movie remakes of all time?

Remake "Clash of the Titans?" What was wrong with the original?

Sandra Bullock files for divorce

Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock has filed for divorce from Jesse James in a Texas court, saying their marriage "has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities."

English Attack teaches English via entertainment

French startup English Attack,which just went into beta, is offering free English language lessons tailored specifically to the young adult market. The company is one of the 20 products pitched by (mainly European) startups in TheNextWeb conference startup rally in Amsterdam this week
Input is the key for language learning, and English Attack targets teenagers and young adults with the type of input they love best: entertainment. The majority of English learners are 15-35, and they are difficult customers. They don’t like rigid text books (in fact, they tend not to be big on reading at all), are enthusiastic gamers and social networkers and, most importantly, don’t like to pay for content online. English Attack builds free language exercises around the type of interactive, social and gaming content they are already using.
The tool is intended to be complementary to more structured English learning like classes and is aimed at intermediate level learners. Teachers can get involved by developing their own exercises. An upcoming teacher platform will also let them assign homework from existing exercises (and track how students scored). Teachers can also advertise for free on the site if they contribute content.
The business model is freemium with paid features to be added in later versions. France is the first test market to be followed shortly by Turkey and Brazil. English Attack says it has 5 or 6 competitors, only half of which are focused on English and none of which specifically target young adults. The company is currently self-funded.
Tags: english, language learning
Companies: English attack!

MusikPitch to help songwriters compete for contracts

A startup that allows songwriters to compete for custom music licensing contracts is launching today. The Nashville, Tenn., company, MusikPitch, promises to match songwriters with people or companies looking for custom music via “contests.” A “contest holder” wanting to license a particular piece of music specifies what it’s looking for, including requirements such as song length, genre and budget, and songwriters then compete over a 14-day period to meet those requirements.
Songwriters submit their tracks, and the contest holder then has until 5 days after the close of the contest to review submissions and provide feedback to songwriters that they may use to fine-tune their submissions. At the end of the contest, the contest holder chooses a winner and pays the specified prize, while MusikPitch provides a form licensing contract, in which MusikPitch takes full rights to the song and then licenses it to the contest holder.

MusikPitch’s standard licensing contract will work for 90% of cases, according to founder Scott McIntosh. For the 10% where an industry standard contract isn’t a good fit, for example animation films in which songs are produced in-house as a work-for-hire, MusikPitch will work with the contest holder to negotiate a more suitable contract.
MusikPitch decided on a model in which it essentially serves as the publisher to ensure that songwriters would get performance royalties (based on radio play, TV, and public performances) as well as mechanical royalties (from sales of the music) if a song has commercial potential, according to McIntosh. MusikPitch collects royalties, of which it receives a share, and will refer songwriters to performing rights organizations BMI or ASCAP if it believes the song will be sold commercially down the line. The prize amount is not an advance on future royalties, which the song can generate if it ever goes commercial (ie, if it is used in public such as radio or TV or sold).

The company charges contest holders a $39 flat fee plus 10% of the prize amount. MusikPitch will recommend a prize amount when a company is setting up a new contest, and the recommendation will be based on industry standards for the usage category (for example, movie trailers, personal projects, independent films, etc). However, contest holders are free to set their own prize amounts. A “premium” prize level is meant to incentivize songwriters to provide higher quality work, said McIntosh. If contest holders do not find a winning song for their purposes, MusikPitch will refund their money.
The service is free to songwriters. The standard length of a contest is 14 days, but contest holders can extend this for no additional fee. MusikPitch is also planning to add quick, shorter contests in the future, said McIntosh. The submission file type will be MP3 for the initial entry and then most likely wav files, but will be based on the contest holders’ needs. All contests are closed so that only the contest holder can hear all submissions, and the songwriter is only able to hear his or her own entry.
A small number of invitations to MusikPitch went out Monday and Tuesday. McIntosh said the goal is to target songwriters who are already producing quality work, but he hopes MusikPitch will also discover new songwriters. McIntosh would like to have up to 50 contests being run a day, with 50-100 entries per contest, a number he believes won’t overwhelm contest holders but would provide them with a large enough entry pool to find a winner.
In addition to finding songs to license for TV shows, video games, films, and corporate jingles, MusikPitch would also allow contest holders to find songwriters to create a personalized wedding or reunion song.
MusikPitch is the second venture focused on songwriters for McIntosh (the first was StartMySong). It has raised $100,000 from angel investors. There are many companies in the crowdsourcing space including 99designs for design work and Crowdspirit for software, but the contest concept is new to music licensing. The closest competitor is probably Taxi, but its process is less automated, with the label or publisher telling Taxi what they are looking for and Taxi filtering through the submissions itself (similar to the traditional A&R function). There are “a lot of people tap dancing around it,” said McIntosh.
Companies: MusikPitch
People: Scott McIntosh

5 tips for finding a community manager

(Editor’s note: Erin Bury is the Community Manager at Sprouter, an online collaboration tool for entrepreneurs. She submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
While more and more companies are adding community managers these days, too many are leaping onto the bandwagon without actually knowing what they’re looking for.
These next-generation communications persons blend social media savvy with an up-to-the-minute knowledge of online trends and master networking skills. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all role. The person and qualities your company requires depend on a number of factors, including where you are in your business’s growth trajectory, how big the company is, your budget limitations and your specific goals.
I’ve been a Community Manager for a year and a half for Sprouter,. When I began, our goals were simple: Build our brand recognition on a grassroots level while working on new features and functionality behind the scenes.
When we launched the current version of our site last August (with a new name and new branding), the focus shifted to getting media attention, gathering feedback from users and answering questions from the community. These days, my role includes speaking at, attending and organizing events, planning out social media strategy, public relations; customer service, content creation – and sometimes playing receptionist. (I should point out Sprouter only has four people on staff).
The point is: My role at the company has changed dramatically and it will continue to evolve. So too will your needs vary depending on where your company is in its evolution.
While it’s essential that your community manager have an outgoing personality and at least a basic understanding of social media and communications, it’s more important to first know what you’re trying to achieve and then find a potential hire that matches those ambitions. Otherwise, you’ll never get the most out of the role.
If you’re in the market for a Community Manager here are my five tips for finding someone who works for you and your business:
Figure out your priorities – What’s important now – and what do you expect to be important in a year? Is your main priority to build brand recognition before your public launch or to acquire more customers for your established company? Know what you want the community manager to focus on, so you can develop the role from there.
Use those priorities to build your job description – If your priority is to get media coverage then consider hiring someone with a public relations background. If you’re looking to create great content for your blog or newsletter, then look for someone with journalism or other writing experience. And if you’re looking for someone who can shake hands at events, make sure they’re not afraid to walk up to a crowd of strangers and introduce themselves.
Communicate duties and goals effectively – Make sure to outline metrics goals and specific day-to-day duties you want the candidate to achieve – giving them something to work toward. Community management is about relationships, but it’s also about impact on your bottom line.
Experience isn’t as essential as you think – Since the role of community manager is fairly new, you’ll likely interview people who have never held such a position. Don’t overlook them due to this inexperience. This is truly a field where the best way to learn is by doing. Ambition and smarts can actually be more valuable than experience.
Bring them into your inner circle – The best tool a community manager has in their arsenal is a deep understanding of your business. They’re the ones communicating your message, so make sure they understand your growth strategy and your goals for the future. If you regularly update your them, they’ll not only be able to evangelize your company, they’ll be able to adapt the role as needed.
Tags: community manager

In memoir, Laura Bush says she, husband may have been poisoned

Laura Bush is suggesting she, her husband, and several aides were poisoned during a 2007 visit to Germany for the G8 summit -- one of several new details in the former first lady's forthcoming memoir, "Spoken from the Heart."

Randy Quaid's wife makes plea deal in hotel case

Felony fraud charges against actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi, were dropped Wednesday after she accepted a deal on a misdemeanor offense, a California prosecutor said.

Court rules in Seinfeld cookbook case

The author of a children's cookbook cannot copyright ideas for slipping vegetables into children's food, a federal appeals court ruled.

Lindsay Lohan and other stars drop-kicked from films

Lindsay Lohan has been dumped once again. This time not by a girlfriend, but by a film director.

'Lord of the Rings' director becomes knight

Peter Jackson, the Oscar-winning writer and director of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, was knighted in his native New Zealand.

tirsdag 27. april 2010

Apple expands in-house chip resources by acquiring Intrinsity

Following rumors earlier this month that it was acquiring mobile chip company Intrinsity, Apple today confirmed the deal to The New York Times.
Apple declined to discuss the reasons for the acquisition, but it seems like part of a larger effort to move more of the design and manufacture of its products inside the company. The A4 chip in the iPad was the first big example of that, and there’s speculation that Intrinsity’s chip was “the basis” for the A4, according to The Times. (Presumably, technology from PA Semi, a chip company that Apple acquired in 2008, also played a role.) The acquisition should help Apple expand its chip efforts to its other devices like the iPhone.
In addition to giving Apple more control over the process, moving work in-house allows the company to be even more secretive than it is already, since it won’t have to worry about pesky leaks coming from partner businesses, as TechCrunch’s MG Siegler points out. Of course, the most recent leak, where an Apple engineer left an iPhone prototype at a bar, can’t be laid at the feet of partners.
Another set of rumors in the last few weeks had Apple acquiring chip maker ARM, but ARM chief executive Warren East has denied that. Meanwhile, Google has been doing some buying of its own, with the acquisition of Agnilux, founded by defectors from PA Semi.
Tom Halfhill, an analyst with Microprocessor Report, told The Times that “he believes” the acquisition price was $121 million.
Tags: A4, ipad
Companies: Apple, Intrinsic

'Deadliest Catch' star: Phil's sons struggle with his death

The stars of "The Deadliest Catch" are tough guys who make their living doing grueling work -- but the death of Capt. Phil Harris earlier this year dealt a terrible blow to his fellow fisherman, particularly his two sons, Jake and Josh.

M.I.A. video elicits strong online response

If singer/rapper M.I.A.'s purpose was to get people talking about her new single "Born Free," she succeeded.

Nokia’s new N8 camera aimed at Facebook hipsters

Nokia sells more handsets worldwide — nearly half a billion in 2009 — than top competitors Samsung, LG and Motorola put together. You could throw in fifth-ranked Sony Ericsson and Nokia would still be close to beating the bunch with nearly 40 percent market share.
But in America, Finnish Nokia has lost its footing through several missteps, including an attempt to end-run America’s superpowerful wireless carriers and sell unlocked phones directly to consumers, without the usual subsidy provided in exchange for a subscription contract. Buyers didn’t bite.
The N8, a new phone planned to go on sale in the third quarter of this year, is Nokia’s attempt to recapture the Facebook generation. What do young social networkers do? They post short text updates at all hours. They shoot and post lots of photos at social events and on outings. They play video and games a lot.
Nokia has built, in effect, a Facebook member’s smartphone. It packs a 12-megapixel camera with four times the digital resolution of Apple’s 3-megapixel iPhones, and more than twice the 5 megapixels in Verizon’s new Droid Invincible. Users can edit photos directly on the phone, then share them immediately onto popular social networks without plugging into to laptop to edit, or going home to upload.
The N8 shoots YouTube-ready video at YouTube’s highest resolution of 720 scan lines, compared to the iPhone’s 480.
The phone also has a built-in social network application that merges Facebook and Twitter updates into one stream on the phone’s home screen. It can download Facebook events onto its calendar. There are built-in maps with travel guides for 70 countries, great for wanderlust daydreaming even if you can’t afford to see the world.
Who’s the market for this phone? Let’s go to the press kit: Nokia mixes sterile product photos with several shots of a young couple at the seaside with their N8’s. The young lady tucks her Nokia into the back pocket of her jeans. These are would-be iPhone users.
Selling against the iPhone will be hard, because of the gadget’s role as a cultural icon. But Nokia has correctly identified two of Apple’s most exploitable weaknesses.
First, the iPhone shoots pretty good photos, but its camera isn’t as high-res as it could be and you can’t edit photos on the phone before uploading to Facebook, Twitpic or wherever.
Second, Apple seems culturally averse to social networking. The company builds its own Web browser, but doesn’t build a Twitter or Facebook application into its mobile devices and laptops. (Ask a software developer how easy Twitter would be compared to Safari.) Steve Jobs once demoed podcasting during a product launch, but he never tweets from his new gadgets, nor does he go to Facebook and click Like buttons. His idea of a photo feature is a fussy Apple-hosted family album, not a random bunch of look-we’re-drunk shots uploaded to Facebook at 2:00 AM.
Nokia’s press kit does something edgy for a gadget launch: It contains a blurry shot of the N8 being used by young adults outdoors, in which the N8 itself is out of focus. The photo is meant to look like it was taken by a friend with a cellphone, not a photographer with a truckload of equipment. Instead of “look at this awesome phone,” it says, “this could be you.”
Companies: nokia

5 things to know about Chinese startups from former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee

We were lucky enough this morning to sit down with Kai-Fu Lee, one of the most prominent figures in the Chinese internet universe. Known best and most recently for serving as the founding president of Google China, he also led R&D at Apple and founded the Microsoft Research division in China — the full trifecta of computing kingpins.
After departing Google last September (an event he remained understandably mum about during this meeting), he spied several gaps in China’s tech startup and venture capital culture. First and foremost: there were hardly any funds providing seed and early-stage financing to young entrepreneurs. The country lacked its own Ron Conway.
To remedy the problem, he founded Innovation Works, a startup incubator — with a twist. Instead of just doling out a million dollars here and there to promising projects, the company recruits top engineering graduates throughout the country and enlists them to help its portfolio companies get off the ground, while simultaneously grooming them to found startups of their own in 12 to 18 months.
It’s like Y-Combinator, only it starts with the human capital — one of China’s greatest strengths. VentureBeat’s Kim-Mai Cutler interviewed him about his vision for the company in September immediately after he left Google.
Now, with 80 employees and 2,500 square-feet of office space in Beijing, Innovation Works is looking to raise a $115 million (it’s putting this together right now — not that we heard that from Lee), in order to create five successful Chinese startups a year in the mobile internet, cloud computing, gaming and e-commerce sectors.
In discussing Innovation Works and its goals, Lee offered intriguing observations about how startup culture is different in China than America, and how his incubator’s entrepreneurs are being trained to take on both. Here are 5 of his insights:
1. Education gap: The education system in China is not set up to produce startups, Lee says. Students graduate with advanced technical training, but lack the holistic skills they need in marketing, sales, operations and leadership. “They come out as rockstar programmers, but they need coaching,” he says.
Education is even lagging behind government policy, which is actually strongly encouraging young people to start their own enterprises with matching funding and debt forgiveness programs. Lee urges recent grads to join the staffs of startups — through Innovation Works or otherwise — before heading out on their own. Launching a startup straight out of school almost guarantees failure.
2. Parent trap: Older generations in China remain very conservative, including the parents of burgeoning entrepreneurs who are skeptical — to say the very least — of the startup lifestyle. Lee says he has had to personally convince more than a few parents (and at least one girlfriend) that joining Innovation Works would be a good move for young engineering recruits.
The company pays half what Microsoft, Google and Chinese search engine Baidu pays, and obviously requires more than a little risk. In a culture where security and prestige are major goals, it’s hard to entice the cream of the crop to go out on a limb and launch something on their own. “I got very nice letters back from two of the three parents I wrote to,” Lee says. “But they also said things like ‘My son’s success is now in your hands.’”
3. Failure is not (really) an option: In the Silicon Valley startup community, failure is almost celebrated. Many successful entrepreneurs say their failures taught them more than any experience, and some VCs like to see a few disasters under a team’s belt before financing them. Not so in China. “People don’t understand the risk and the failure,” says Lee. Having a startup fall apart is viewed as a sign to get out of the game, not try again. This limits the amount of experience startup executives bring to the table, stifling innovation.
4. It starts with people: “Y-Combinator would have a very hard time making it in China,” Lee says. “It would have a hard time finding the startups and qualified people to fund. It could interview hundreds and find only two.” The American incubator model only works in China if you turn it on its head, starting first with the people before generating the concept. Right now, Innovation Works is funding two external startups and working on five projects that came fro the inside team. Lee says this ratio will probably flip as more entrepreneurs get the training they need. When he was first starting the incubator, he spoke with Bill Gross of Idealab, incorporating a lot of similar ideas, including centralized infrastructure like human resources, mentoring services and other tools to all of the companies it is working with. It exposes entrepreneurs to these needs and skill sets before they spin out.
Now Innovation Works is a bastion of engineering talent — one of the key features that attracts startups into its portfolio, Lee says. When it first opened hiring, it immediately received 7,000 resumes. By the end of the first month, it had 40,000 to sift through. About 30 engineers were initially selected. Now the company has a database of more than 100,000 resumes, making it a great resource for startups having a tough time recruiting for aforementioned reasons.
5. China requires a different lens: While the mobile internet, gaming, e-commerce and cloud sectors are rapidly growing in both China and the U.S., they differ across borders in both clear and subtle ways that impact startups’ trajectories, Lee says. One major example: the iPhone and Android have yet to gain traction in China because they are too expensive and complex contracts with carriers are not the standard. Nokia has the bulk of the market share, but is falling behind in its mobile internet offerings. This is something developers in China have to contend with and strive to work around.
Application stores, like Apple’s App Store, also won’t work in China, according to Lee. “The Chinese don’t pay for software.” he says. “A freemium model will be more successful.” And when it comes to which apps people want most, Chinese users prioritize games, music, photos and instant messaging over the standard search, YouTube, and browser options preferred by American users. Developers have to tailor their goals to these interests.
Lee also acknowledged that mobile and social gaming startups in China will have an incredibly hard time breaking into American platforms like Facebook — mostly due to tough competitors like Zynga. Notably, Zynga is moving toward a deal with Japan’s Softbank, as we reported yesterday, which could open up new opportunities for the company in Asia. It will be interesting to see if it has as much trouble expanding into China as its Chinese counterpart would have jumping to the states.
Tags: china
Companies: Google, Innovation Works, Zynga
People: Kai Fu Lee

Zynga grabs a member of MySpace’s old guard for public relations

Social gaming giant Zynga has grabbed MySpace’s vice president of global communications, Dani Dudeck, to shore up its public relations department.
The company, which has attracted bad press before for serving users misleading offers in games and for comments made by its rather candid chief executive Mark Pincus, will need to tightly manage its public image as it quickly grows toward 1,000 employees.
Dudeck expressed enthusiasm on her personal Twitter account about moving back from Southern California to the company’s Potrero Hill office in San Francisco.
She leaves after a string of senior employees stepped down at MySpace. Ali and Hadi Partovi, who sold iLike to MySpace, left full-time roles at the social network while former chief executive Owen Van Natta left the company earlier this year. Dudeck was one of the few executives at MySpace who stayed on after the departure of Van Natta’s predecessor, Chris DeWolfe, who ran the company at the time of its sale to News Corp.
Tags: hires, public relations, social gaming, social networking
Companies: MySpace, Zynga
People: Dani Dudeck and VMware team up on new platform for business apps

Two big players in enterprise technology, virtualization company VMware and sales application maker, announced today that they’re working together on a new service called VMforce. With VMforce, developers can build business applications using the popular Java language, then run them on Salesforce’s platform.
The move should help Salesforce reach a broader and more traditional group of business app developers. Salesforce says there are already 72,500 businesses running more than 135,000 apps in, but those apps are locked in to — if you want to run them on a different cloud service, you have to build them again from scratch.
On the other hand, there are 6 million enterprise developers using Java, including 2 million using the Spring Framework developed by SpringSource, and those Spring developers can now “simply drag and drop your app onto to deploy it to the cloud,” according to a blog post from Salesforce Chief Technology Officer Parker Harris. Besides getting access to Salesforce services and infrastructure, those developers will still have a Java app that they can move to other platforms.
VMWare Chief Technology Officer Steve Herrod writes that this is VMware’s first use of the technology from SpringSource, which it acquired last year. The company will be launching other platform application services, all united by an “open” philosophy:
Enterprises are very concerned with the privacy, security and auditability of their applications – something that is often a concern or blocker for public PaaS offerings. VMware’s [platform-as-a-service] will have a significant focus on enterprise-grade qualities — providing strong controls for privacy, identity, and authorization control, allowing applications to be extensions of those in the corporate datacenter.
VMware’s entries into this space will focus on addressing this challenge and, with our partners, creating “Open PaaS” offerings. …
A PaaS offering can be architected in a way that clearly separates layers and avoids the restrictions seen in many of today’s implementations. Furthermore, the parts of a PaaS offering that the applications depend on (e.g. libraries, messaging, data access) can be built using open development frameworks and technologies with liberal licensing programs. Ultimately this makes it easier for an ecosystem of more compatible PaaS offerings to grow, providing choice for the developers and consumers of the applications.
The companies are planning a developer preview of VMforce later this year.
Tags: VMforce
Companies:, VMWare

Marketo brings in another $10M for marketing automation

Marketo, a company selling web tools for salespeople and marketers, has raised $10 million in a fourth round of funding. The funds came from existing investors, led by Mayfield Fund and with participation from InterWest Partners and Storm Ventures.
The company has been bringing in funding at a steady rate — it raised $8 million in August 2008, followed by another round in September 2009. Its funding now totals $32 million. The money is supposed to help with Marketo’s continued growth: In the funding press release, Mayfield’s Robin Vasan said the firm encouraged the San Mateo, Calif. company to raise more money so that it “can grow even faster.”
Marketo’s applications include automation for email marketing campaigns, analytics for sales leads, and more. They integrate with other sales apps like The company says it has signed up more than 500 customers in the last two years. Competitors include Eloqua and LoopFuse.
Companies: Interwest Partners, Marketo, Mayfield Fund, Storm Ventures

Gwyneth Paltrow wants more kids

Apple and Moses, make room in the house: Your mother, Gwyneth Paltrow, wants to add to the family.

Is Carrie Bradshaw a classic?

This spring, "Sex and the City's" Carrie Bradshaw will have nearly her entire life story recounted for audiences.

Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon renew vows again

Renewing one's wedding vows is typically a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey prefer to do it a little more frequently than that -- like every year!

Ground Truth grabs $7M for mobile internet measurement

Ground Truth, a provider of mobile measurement data, today announced a second round of funding for $7 million.
Ground Truth leverages millions of mobile internet subscribers from sources like telecommunication companies to provide insights into mobile internet usage. Ground Truth calls its methodology True View and focuses on providing marketer, publisher and mobile operators with data to better their business, including traffic and performance metrics.
Since the data is compiled from an assortment of sources, the company claims more accurate data than traditional survey methods from competitors like Nielsen and ComScore. A recent study from the company showed that half of the time spent on the mobile internet was on social networking sites. Interestingly, while sites like Facebook and MySpace may be the most popular with PC users, sites like MocoSpace and AirG are visited more on mobile phones, according to the company.
The Seattle company has closed around $9.5 million in total funding. The round was lead by Emergence Capital Partners and Openair Ventures including existing investors Steamboat Ventures and Voyager Capital. Kevin Spain, principal at Emergence Capital Partners, will join the Ground Truth’s board of directors.
Tags: mobile internet
Companies: comscore, Ground Truth, Nielsen
People: Kevin Spain

Zong lands $15M for gaming and social network mobile payments

Zong, a mobile payment company, today announced it secured a first round of funding for $15 million. The company plans to use the funding to hire more staff and continue marketing efforts.
Zong allows users to make mobile payments for virtual goods within games and on popular social networks like Facebook. Through a widget, the user enters their mobile phone number in a one-time sign-up process which is then linked to a credit or debit card. Once complete, the user can use the widget to purchase virtual goods like clothing or weapons.
The company claims to have seen rapid growth since it’s launch only a few months ago. The reason may be its twist in how the payment process works, which uses mobile carriers and not traditional banks to process transactions. The result is lower transaction fees for the user. An advantage over other mobile payment companies like FaceCash, Square, Obopay and Bling Nation.
According to Venturewire, Zong has partnered with some 174 wireless carriers and was recently selected by Facebook to process its new Facebook Credits currency for popular social games Farmville and Mafia Wars.
The first round funding was lead by Matrix Partners and Dana Stalder, general partner of Matrix, will join Zong’s board of directors.
The company, founded in 2008 and spun out of Echovox, which helps companies make money through mobile services, is based in Palo Alto, California.
Tags: Facebook, mobile payments, social gaming
Companies: Face Cash, Matrix Partners, Zong
People: Dana Stalder

5 tips for managing a growth-stage company

(Editor’s note: Clate Mask is the co-founder and CEO of software company Infusionsoft. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
Starting and growing a business is not for the faint of heart – especially if you want to grow fast.  When I say “grow fast” I’m talking about rates of 80-100 percent per year.  It’s achievable, even in this economy, but it results in spectacular highs and lows and tests and stretches the entrepreneurial venture in every imaginable way.
Our company has gone through this type of growth over the past seven years. Here are five of the biggest lessons we’ve learned about managing a growth-stage company:
Set your prices higher - Most entrepreneurs simply don’t charge enough to make a profit. This hampers the business’s growth because there isn’t enough dough to share with marketing partners. Consequently, the business struggles to grow at a fast rate, not because the product wasn’t good, but because it was too inexpensive.
I remember many years ago when we were launching our first product.  I had a price in mind, based on competitive research and what seemed reasonable to me.  Fortunately, a couple of partners talked me into charging a higher price, and that made all the difference in the marketing of that product, which paved the way for us to eventually launch our flagship product.  I often think that we might have never escaped those early years if we had set a lower price on that first product.
Work relentlessly to establish the vision of your company - For most of us, vision doesn’t dawn on us overnight.  Sure, there are seminal moments when glimpses of the vision come together, but usually, it happens over time, only through much reflection, deliberation and practical application of your business plan.
Corporate vision guides everything – and it becomes clear through constant, iterative planning, execution and reflection.  Some people give up hope of clarifying the vision.  Others establish a notion of the vision only to obliterate it beyond recognition for arcane reasons.
Constant, iterative planning, execution and reflection are needed to establish, clarify and maintain your vision.  Once we got serious about it at the end of 2006, the magic in our business began to happen.  I wish we had pushed ourselves to establish a grand vision, a “BHAG” as Jim Collins puts it, earlier in our company’s history.
You need more cash than you think - As you grow a business quickly, it’s amazing how much cash is consumed.  Investment in equipment, systems and personnel are constant.   You’re always leasing more space than you presently need so that you can accommodate the growth.  Customer acquisition is critically important, which requires a bunch of cash.  And, of course, there’s the normal need for working capital to account for the receivables that begin to mount.
It’s frustrating to realize just how much capital is required to grow the business.  Timing when raising venture capital is crucial, but many entrepreneurs resist or deny the need for capital because it frequently implies dilution. As a result, the venture grows slower than it could and sometimes a market opportunity is lost.  I’ve certainly learned a few lessons from bootstrapping, but it is also heart breaking to see how much capital is required to grow a business.  It’s always more than you think.
Your culture is your most valuable asset - Your competitors can knock off your products, replicate your process and steal your customers.  But they can’t swipe your culture.  They can’t compete in the marketplace if your positioning is based on you and how you operate.  (By the way, this is why the vision work is so important-because it establishes who you are, why you operate and how you attack the market.)
Your culture attracts the right people, ejects the wrong people and clearly guides your path.  The trick is to stay true to it.  When we were looking for venture capital, we were fortunate in that we had many VCs interested in us.  By that point in the company’s history, we knew who we were and we wanted a VC partner that would support that.  So, we made it clear to VCs that we were about serving small businesses. If the VC was looking for us to move upstream and serve a larger customer, we were not the right fit for them.
In the end, the fact that we clearly communicated that helped us attract the right VC partner and repel the wrong ones.
A high growth rate will demand the heart and soul of you and your people - I am convinced that most of corporate America couldn’t hack it in a high growth venture.  The change is constant.  The pace is blinding.  The required “figuring it out” is taxing. You must be highly adaptive… and you must devote an incredible amount of energy and intensity to the venture.
This is true not just for founders, but also for employees.  I have learned that striking the work/life balance is incredibly difficult in a high-growth venture.  Which means you and your employees need understanding families.  And it means your heart better be in the venture.  Because if it isn’t, you won’t find the balance; you’ll burn out.
I always say that I need missionaries as employees, not mercenaries.  The hired gun will never last in a startup.  You’ll use him up, wear him out and move on to the next person.  And that’s a lesson I learned early on: don’t hire mercenaries… and do your best to help your missionaries find some life balance so that they can keep fighting the crusade.
Tags: managing growth

Celebs who've complained about dieting

Actress Amanda Seyfried has been pretty candid about her disdain for dieting. She recently spoke up on The Huffington Post site about how unfortunate it is that near starvation is often necessary for success in Hollywood:

Lindsay Lohan's dad threatens legal action against her

Lindsay Lohan's father will "pursue any and all appropriate legal action" to prevent his daughter from becoming "another Hollywood statistic" because of alcohol and substance abuse, Michael Lohan's lawyer said Monday.

Michaels' type of hemorrhage has wide range of outcomes

The feeling of blood hitting the brain's sensitive covering can give a person the worst headache of his life, doctors say.

Judge orders Randy and Evi Quaid jailed

Actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi, were booked into the Santa Barbara County, California, jail Monday after they showed up for a hearing on accusations that they defrauded an innkeeper and failed to pay a hotel bill.

AdMob report: Nexus One is barely there

Here in downtown San Francisco, you’d think Google’s Nexus One was duking it out with the iPhone for top slot in the mobile world. It’s a really great gadget.
But worldwide, mobile ad network AdMob — soon to be owned by Google unless the acquisition is blocked by regulators — has issued a report today that says only one in 50 mobile ad requests to AdMob in March came from an HTC-built, Google-branded Nexus One phone. There’s a chart in the report where, compared to the plot lines for other phones from HTC and Motorola, the Nexus One is almost unfindable. Motorola’s Droid phones draw 16 times as many ads through AdMob’s system.
This isn’t the first batch of bad numbers for the Googlephone. Six weeks ago, mobile app analytics firm Flurry reported that Nexus One sales seemed weak based on Flurry’s own data. They estimated Nexus sales at just over 10 percent of the number of iPhone sales in the first few weeks after launch — 1.05 million versus 135,000. And remember, those early iPhone buyers spent $600 for the phone, making the $179 Nexus One a bargain for early adopters.
I was cautious about calling Google’s phone a flop at the time, but AdMob’s report is hard to brush off, given the pending Google acquisition. And I refuse to buy into the apologist creed that the Nexus One was designed for a small number of super geeks, in order to influence the wireless industry through them. Whatever secret documents are floating around inside Google, I’m sure none of them say, “Acceptable market share: Two percent.”
The easiest explanation for Nexus One’s fizzle is that Google messed up by choosing to sell it exclusively online. The more sophisticated analysis going around is to blame Google’s carrier partner T-Mobile for not pushing to sell the phones in its stores.
The consumerist response is, “Why didn’t Google go with Verizon instead?” Google had, in fact, planned to offer Verizon-ized versions of the phone, pairing the premium handset with America’s largest high-speed wireless network. But this week the Verizon link on Google’s purchase page changed from “Coming Soon” to a promo for Verizon’s Droid Incredible, a second-generation Android phone from HTC that goes on sale this Thursday, April 29th. Again, I doubt this is part of Google’s master plan.
There’s one mitigating factor worth a mention: Based on who totes a Nexus One in my local personal network, it’s reasonable to wonder if Google may have countered its own interests by creating the favorite phone for people who truly, deeply, passionately love to block ads.

Tags: Android, nexus one
Companies: Google

Hootsuite simplifies URL shortener, plans vanity shorteners

Social media startup HootSuite is introducing changes to its popular URL shortener — commonly used on Twitter, Facebook and other sharing sites — to make its brand less invasive. On top of that, it says it will soon sell custom URL shorteners to businesses (think Amazon’s
Before now, when you clicked on an link, the service would put an opt-out “social bar” at the top of whatever page you were viewing, containing the HootSuite logo, as well as options to retweet the link, share it on other social networks, rate the content, or conduct a new Twitter search. Perhaps in response to criticism, the company has removed this bar from links, simply redirecting you to the page you want.
However, if you like the social bar and want it included, you can use the shortener (pronounced “hoot-ly”). The company says this should be the preferred choice of marketers who want to see links shared as much as possible. But most users, particularly on Facebook, probably don’t care how far the link travels beyond their immediate friends.
HootSuite attributes the shift to “changing desires in the marketplace.” People may have been annoyed by the bar, preferring instead to go with the clean and simple, tinyurl or Then again, maybe the company just wanted to offer more options. Whichever you choose, or, will become your default the first time you choose it.
And regardless of your choice, you will still have the same access to click-through data, broken down by region or date, and spliced according to custom metrics. You can also export these reports no matter what, and both filter out bots and phishing attempts by checking against Google’s Malware/Phishing list.
The next stop on HootSuite’s roadmap is to offer vanity URL shorteners to people and companies looking to brand their links. Several examples besides the Amazon one I mentioned above: Facebook uses, Google has, and Twitter now offers HootSuite will make it easy for a business of any size to tap into this strategy.
In addition to URL shortening, HootSuite offers tools to help you track conversations online across multiple social media platforms. You can, for instance, continually search for keywords on Twitter, and you can create lists of Twitter members you want to follow. This functionality is also offered for Facebook, LinkedIn, and the slew of other networks people, particularly companies, want to keep an eye on.
Earlier this month, the startup launched several new collaboration tools for public relations agencies and teams of any kind looking to collaboratively publish and monitor content. These features can be used to assign tasks to team members and set permission levels for different types of tasks.
Based in Vancouver, HootSuite was founded in 2008, and raised $1.9 million in venture capital last December from Blumberg Capital, Heart Interactive Media and angel investor Geoff Entress.
Tags: Social Media
Companies:, Facebook, hootsuite, Twitter

Kim Kardashian’s ShoeDazzle raises $13M as shoes sales sprint

Watch out, Zappos. ShoeDazzle has a deal for the shoe lovers of the world. Today, the profitable online shoe sales company is announcing that it has raised $13 million in funding as it expands into new categories.
With celebrity Kim Kardashian as co-founder and spokesmodel, the company has seen its sales rocket in the past year. Every month it recommends pairs of shoes for its (mostly) female customers to buy.
The shopper buys one pair and at that point starts paying $39.95 a month. Each month, ShoeDazzle recommends five shoes for the buyer. The customer can pick one pair, or turn them all down and elect not to pay anything for that month. Shipping is free.
The customers can buy the latest current styles from celebrity designers, including Kardashian herself. The online business captures the “essence of shopping on Rodeo Drive, while remaining fun, affordable and effortless,” Kardashian said.
This built-in customer loyalty is a strength; not many companies have a way to get customers coming back every month. The company treats its customers like celebrities, stealing a page out of the playbook of Zappos, the online shoe sales company bought by for $807 million.
The funding was led by new investor Lightspeed Venture Partners and included existing investor Polaris Venture Partners. The company will use the money to launch related products. So you can probably expect an expansion into other fashion categories beyond shoes.
ShoeDazzel was started by chief executive Brian Lee, who previously founded LegalZoom. Jeremy Liew, a partner at Lightspeed, said in an interview that the deal was the first one he’d led in 18 months.
“This business is growing by word of mouth into millions in monthly revenues within a year,” Liew said. “The first generation of online commerce was for people who knew what they wanted and were hunting for the best price. This generation lets shoppers gather a group of things, only some of which they will buy.”
Liew said some of the new funds will go into improving the recommendation technology that suggests the shoes for shoppers. To date, the company has raised $20 million.
Companies: Lightspeed Venture Partners, ShoeDazzle
People: Kim Kardashian

353,812,819 = total number of personal records hacked since 2005

More than 353.8 million records containing sensitive personal information have been leaked in security breaches since the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse began tracking them in January, 2005.
The nonprofit privacy advocate has compiled an extensive list of every known breach, along with the number of records exposed with each security breach. The list ends with an unknown number of leaks as a result of the latest Blippy breach.
The list includes data breaches where data exposed includes Social Security numbers, account numbers, and driver’s license numbers. Since the list includes only known breaches, it isn’t complete. Clearly, something has to be done about this, as the years 2009 and 2010 show no abatement of the trend.
Tags: privacy, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Companies: Blippy

mandag 26. april 2010

To expand its boundaries, Zynga allies with Japan’s Softbank

Zynga, the maker of FarmVille and other popular social games, is preparing for an alliance with Japan’s Softbank investment firm as a way to break into the fast -growing Japanese market, VentureBeat has learned.
Japan is seeing significant growth in social gaming, even the U.S. shows signs of a slowdown.
Mark Pincus, the CEO of Zynga, had backing from a Softbank affiliate for one of his previous companies, SupportSoft.
The biggest maker of social games on Facebook, Zynga has been growing quickly. Its games are played by 252 million people every month, according to AppData. The company has seen a lot of that growth happen in the U.S., where Americans embrace Facebook in record numbers and spend playing games there, much of the time on Zynga’s games.
But now Facebook’s growth is slowing down, and the social game market has likewise paused. SecondShares, a market for trading shares in privately held companies, recently estimated that Zynga is worth $5 billion. But it noted in the risk factors section of its report that four of six major Zynga games have been declining in traffic recently. Zynga’s newly launched game Treasure Isle, which has more than 21 million users now, is the only one registering a surge in traffic.
To continue its expansion, Zynga is diversifying to other platforms, such as the site, which has roughly 15 million users. And as the Softbank deal suggests, Zynga is looking at international expansions to keep its growth rate up.
Zynga has already built up a big war chest to keep expanding, raising $180 million from Russia’s DST in December. It has acquired small game developers without announcing the purchases, presumably to avoid tipping its hand to rivals. The company also knows that some of the biggest success stories in social games are in Asia, where players have taken to the model of playing games for free and paying real money for virtual goods. If Zynga wants to be a long-term player in social games, it has to expand to the Asian markets.
It isn’t clear exactly what Zynga and Softbank are going to announce. But more than one source has confirmed that an alliance is in the works.
A spokeswoman for the company said, “We are focused on building the best social game experience for our customers and have no news to announce at this time.”
[Photo: Joi Ito]
Tags: social games
People: Mark Pincus

AMD launches its fastest six-core microprocessors

Chip maker Advanced Micro Devices is launching its fastest low-cost consumer PC microprocessor today, the six-core AMD Phenom II X6.
The company is coupling the new processor with its AMD 890FX chip set and ATI Radeon HD 5000 series graphics to create a complete consumer PC package, which AMD calls its “most powerful desktop platform ever.” Well, at least until the next fast chip comes along in a few months.
Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD said the chip is aimed at enthusiasts who want to run immersive 3D and visualization applications. The new processors aren’t as fast as Intel’s fastest Core i7 microprocessors, but they are more affordable, said Adam Kosack, an AMD marketing manager, in an interview.
The two new versions of the AMD Phenom II X6 processor are the 1090T Black Edition $295) and a standard edition 1055T ($199). Both feature AMD’s new Turbo CORE technology, which boosts performance of three cores when the other three are idle. This is good for programs that don’t require a lot of simultaneous processing and instead do serial processing, or one task after another.
The Turbo CORE technology lets three cores run as fast as 500 megahertz faster than the standard six-core processing speed. Among the applications that can use this are games and productivity software, which may need only three cores instead of six. The Black Edition chip will run three cores at 3.6 gigahertz instead of 3.2 gigahertz when in Turbo CORE mode. The 1055T can run at 3.2 gigahertz in Turbo CORE mode, compared to its normal 2.8-gigahertz speed for six cores.
Computer makers who will launch PCs in North America using the chips include BOXX, iBuyPower, CyberPower, Systemax, MainGear, NCS Technology, Velocity Micro, and ZT Systems. Motherboard makers who will sell system boards (which can be built into PCs by do-it-yourself builders) include NCIX, Newegg, Tiger Direct, and ZipZoomFly.
The latest launch shows that AMD is hitting its stride. It comes just a month after the company talked about its new 8-core and 12-core processors.
Companies: Amd

Roundup: WSJ teams with Foursquare, Google adds local biz listings to Street View

Here’s the latest action:
Samsung book rattles South Korea — Kim Yong-chul’s new book “Think Samsung” has polarized the country, with some championing him as a corporate whistle-blower as others demonize his disloyalty for exposing the corruption perpetrated by Chairman Lee Kun-hee.
Wall Street Journal launches news service via FourSquare — The newspaper says it will now be offering news and reviews related to locations through the application, complete with custom badges that can be earned by visiting WSJ-tagged places. GigaOm looks at whether this is a legitimate new media channel.
FRV, BP Solar to build 37-MW of solar in Italy — Fotowatio Renewable Ventures will own and operate the photovoltaic facilities built by BP Solar for an estimated $167 million. The arrays are expected to be finished by the end of 2010.
Conway’s SV Angel closes $20M fund — Initially, famed investor Ron Conway said we was raising a modest $10 million fund to seed smaller startups, but the amount has since doubled, and 15 investments have already been made with the money. TechCrunch has more.
South Korean official gets busted over iPad — South Korean minister Yu In-chon stepped into some hot water today when he pulled out an Apple iPad during an e-books demonstration. The device has not been approved for wireless networking in the country yet.
Yahoo models new data center after chicken coops — Yahoo’s newest data center, located in New York, is taking energy efficiency to the next level with a design similar to that of a chicken coop, effective at cycling more fresh air for cooling.
Blackberry 6 expected in Q3 — Research in Motoon’s new mobile platform, BlackBerry 6, will be available starting next quarter, according to co-CEO Mike Lazaridis. Engadget has more.
Google adds local biz listings to Street View — Now when you view storefronts on Google Street View, you will also be able to see the names of the businesses residing there, and click on them for full contact and other details.

Google changes approach to ad agencies — As much as it depends on them, the search company has always had a tense relationship with traditional advertising agencies. Today, it rolled out an effort to better match digital advertisers with agencies who can help them, and to better train agency partners in the AdWords platform.
Twitter takes down tweets after DMCA complaint — The micro-blogging site removed a tweet linking to a leaked download of a song by The National. TechDirt has full details on the debacle.
Search for TV shows on Google — Now when you search for a particular television series and click the “Show options” button above the results, you can specify a search for videos of full episodes made available through other sites like Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon, as well as and
India’s largest wireless operator picks GetJar to deliver app store – Mumbai-based Reliance Communications will offer its more than 100 million customers access to GetJar’s catalog of 65,000+ free apps for hundreds of mobile handsets. GetJar, founded in 2004 in Lithuania, isn’t well known in the U.S., but the company claims to be second only to Apple in total downloads at nearly 1 billion to date. In America, Sprint carries GetJar’s catalog “on deck,” meaning it ships pre-installed and is easy to find on customers’ phones.
Companies: Apple, BP Solar, Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, Foursquare, Google, Research In Motion, Samsung, SV Angel, Twitter, Wall Street Journal, yahoo

Entertainment journalist Sharon Waxman’s site TheWrap raises $2M

TheWrap, the entertainment news site founded by journalist Sharon Waxman, announced today that it has raised $2 million in a second round of funding.
Waxman, who is based in Los Angeles and previously covered Hollywood business for The New York Times, launched the site in January 2009 to “cover Hollywood in the digital age.” That’s also when she announced raising a $1.5 million first round led by Maveron, who also led the new funding.
TheWrap says it says it now gets more than 1 million unique visitors every month.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the funding news comes just a few days after Nikki Finke, writing at her competing site Deadline, claimed that TheWrap was about to fold due to a lack of funding.
Companies: Maveron, TheWrap
People: Sharon Waxman

Energy Dept. teams with Masdar Initiative to advance cleantech breakthroughs

The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that it has signed an agreement with Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s far-reaching strategy for developing and deploying renewable energy and other sustainable technologies. The two organizations say they will work together to make these advancements more affordable and accessible for the world community.
The memorandum of understanding will open lines of communication between the U.S. government and the companies governing and working on Masdar’s various projects. The idea is to share best practices and research and development resources, particularly to advance carbon capture, water and biofuel technologies, the Energy Department says.
The culmination of the Masdar Initiative is Masdar City, a radically green, planned community located in Abu Dhabi, built by corporations including the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, and funded by the United Arab Emirates government. It will act as home base for the International Renewable Energy Agency, and is expected to cost $22 billion over eight years of construction.
Running only on solar power and other alternative sources of energy, the city — covering 2.3 square miles — is designed by British firm Foster + Partners to be both carbon and waste neutral. Cars will be banned from its streets in favor of greener mass transit options. Even the streets are designed to be narrower and shaded to allow for natural cooling.
Masdar City will also house the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an educational institution with close ties to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It won’t just be a laboratory for green technologies, but a real, working urban environment. Current plans account for 50,000 residents and 1,500 businesses. About 60,000 more workers are expected to commute into Masdar City every day.
In addition to solar installations on most rooftops, 20-megawatts worth of wind turbines will be erected outside the city’s perimeter. Beyond that, a massive hydrogen power plant is in the works.
Water innovation is one of the areas the Energy Department is most interested in. Masdar City will depend on solar-powered desalination facilities to meet its population’s freshwater needs. Up to 80 percent of the water used will also be recycled as many times as possible, with gray water being used to irrigate agricultural plot.
Achieving waste neutrality may be the most difficult challenge. To achieve this, bio-waste will be recycled into fuel via incineration or fertilizer for crops. Plastics and glass will be aggressively recycled under current plans.
Masdar and its investors already have numerous ties in the U.S. For example, General Electric will be testing many of its new smart, energy-efficient appliances, like refrigerators and clothes dryers, within the city. The Masdar Clean Tech Fund is also a major investor in Bay Area-based solar module maker Solyndra, Texas thin-film maker HelioVolt, and clean energy company EnerTech, among other American ventures.
Tags: energy efficiency, renewable energy
Companies: EnerTech, HelioVolt, Masdar, Masdar Clean Tech Fund, Solyndra, U.S. Department of Energy

Samsung exec: We might build a Google TV

The Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper based in South Korea, quotes an unnamed Samsung executive: “We are considering Google TVs. We are examining the business feasibility.”
The television sets would run on Google’s Android operating system, already used on the company’s Nexus One and Motorola Droid phones, among other devices.
Google announced last month that it is working with Intel and Sony to develop its Google TV platform, allowing users to surf the web on their sets and tap into various applications via Android. So far, Sony is working on building a Google TV set-top box, but not necessarily a whole TV. Last week, Google acquired stealthy chip company Agnilux, which may have something to do with the effort.
Samsung has been moving in a very similar direction. In January, it launched the first application store for televisions, calling it Samsung Apps. To populate this new marketplace and recruit developers to the platform, it is also holding a contest for the best apps.
An analyst contacted by the paper said “there is no problem” for Samsung to produce Android-powered TV sets. But he worries that the move means Samsung will risk handing its control of the TV set market over to Google. “I think it would be better for Samsung to expand its own platform,” he said.
Samsung is the world’s second-largest mobile phone maker after Nokia, and claims to have the world’s slimmest TV set ready to launch in the United States this week.
Tags: Android
People: Google, Samsung

Lost iPhone case fluctuates from serious to ridiculous as Dilbert creator gets into mix

The case of the missing iPhone is a story that can’t decide whether it wants to be serious or ridiculous.
In the circle of Apple bloggers, the story about how an Apple engineer lost a valuable prototype of an iPhone that gives away secrets about the company’s future models, is serious business. A police search of a Gizmodo editor’s home shows that a criminal investigation into the matter is under way.
But the comics among us want to turn the affair into a laughable circus. First, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak created a stir with a gag T-shirt that said “I went drinking with Gray Powell (the Apple engineer who lost the phone) and all I got was a lousy iPhone prototype.” Then today, Scott Adams lampooned the matter in a cartoon released on his web site. [image: Scott Adams]
“I found this story too delicious to resist, but I worried that the story would become stale before my comics would work through the pipeline. I think the soonest I can get something published is in about a month, perhaps a bit sooner, but I’ve never tested it,” Adams wrote.
He wrote the comics exclusively for his blog readers, and he noted he didn’t need to make anything up. [image credit: Scott Adams]
Tags: lose iPhone prototype
Companies: Apple, Gizmodo
People: Gray Powell, Scott Adams, Steve Wozniak

Don’t miss your chance to grill John Battelle, founder of Federated Media

Would you like to ask John Battelle, author of “The Search” and founder of Federated Media Publishing, a question?  If so, Thursday, April 29th is your chance.
HP’s input | output is a series of interviews with some of the smartest people on the planet, and this one is going to be exciting. Among other things, the conversation will be around “marketing in the new normal,” as John will discuss the spectrum of marketing in today’s social and mobile web.
The interview will be live streamed on Thursday at 1PM PST/4PM EST, and you’re all invited to attend.  We’ll be live-tweeting the webcast with John, and would like to add some of your questions to the conversation.
To ask a John a question, please include it in a comment below. Or, if you prefer, tweet it to @venturebeat and we’ll make sure your question gets passed along. You can also tweet questions yourself during the webcast using hashtag #hpio.
Go here for live webcast details.
Many thanks to HP for making this event possible.

SolarBridge spans gaps in solar with new $15M

Fitting with the trend toward more capital-efficient investments in cleantech, microinverter maker SolarBridge Technologies, raised $15 million in a second round of venture funding today. The company produces a small component of photovoltaic systems, but could make a big difference in how solar is used.
Microinverters convert the direct current electricity produced by individual solar modules into alternating current electricity, making it compatible with electrical grids. Traditional, central inverters pose several problems. Because they aggregate the energy produced by a field of panels, total energy output is lower when just one panel is broken, or even in the shade.
Microinverters ensure that one defunct panel doesn’t impact the rest. This allows for panels to easily be upgraded, swapped out or repaired without disrupting whole systems. It also boosts the amount of sunlight converted into energy overall, and reduces the intermittent and unreliable nature of solar power — one of the major hurdles standing in the way of broad adoption.
Perhaps most compelling, the technology is said to lower the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) generated by solar systems because of higher efficiency, yields and reduced maintenance costs. This could help major solar manufacturing companies like First Solar and SunPower in a big way, making their products more competitive with fossil fuels.
SolarBridge, an Austin, Tex., company founded in 2004, says the recent round of funding should be enough to break into profitability, according to Greentech Media’s interview with CEO Ron Van Dell. It will be used for final product testing, beta installations and, eventually, production.
The company says its microinverters are said to last more than 25 years — another advantage over central inverters that usually have to be replaced, at a high cost, after a decade or less. To distinguish itself from the competition, it is offering a quarter-century warranty.
SolarBridge is indicative of a trend toward cleantech companies with narrower business models. It’s harder than ever for big solar, wind, and even biofuel enterprises to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in capital to support long-term manufacturing strategies. As a result, analysts predict that more startups will find niches within these markets, pursuing quicker M&A exits, or revenue via technology licensing agreements.
The microinverter maker previously raised about $12 million in October 2007. The recent round was led by Rho Ventures, and included existing backer Battery Ventures.
Tags: Solar
Companies: Battery Ventures, Rho Ventures, SunBridge Technologies

Spark Capital’s Rob Go is gone to new stealth project

Rob Go, the principal who created Spark Capital’s seed funding vehicle Start@Spark, has moved on from the Boston-based VC firm to start an unnamed new venture.
Spark is best known for its 2008 investment in Twitter. Start@Spark focused on Boston and New York-based companies. Spark invested in Boxee, Tumblr, Veoh and KickApps, but these deals were done before the launch of Start@Spark.
Details have been hard to come by. Spark hasn’t responded to my questions yet, and Go was entertaining but uninformative in an email to me. “I touched so many things at Spark and don’t want to say I’m more proud of one company than another,” he said when asked to name his biggest accomplishment.
What I really want is a partial list of Start@Spark’s portfolio. Tips to
Companies: Spark Capital
People: Rob Go

BYD looks beyond EVs to home energy management

BYD Auto, one of China’s most ambitious electric vehicle makers, just stretched its reach a bit further. Backed with $250 million from none other than Warren Buffett, the company is readying its all-electric e6 sedan for the U.S. market by the end of 2010. But already, it’s looking to carve out a niche for itself in the growing home energy management market, according to Cnet.
BYD will be stepping away from its automotive focus to offer comprehensive energy efficiency products to homeowners. These include solar panels, large energy storage systems (not unlike the one Panasonic is working on), and light-emitting diode lighting systems — not to mention software solutions for monitoring and automating how and when energy is used in real time.
The company — which started out as a battery and consumer electronics maker — has been inching toward this type of strategy for a while, growing its presence in advanced battery manufacturing and vehicle charging systems. Both are closely linked with broader grid and energy opportunities.
To showcase its other energy technologies, including solar panels and home-scale batteries, BYD has teamed up with a company called KB Home to build a prototype low-energy house in California. It says it plans to roll out similar systems to other contractors, particularly those located in states with generous government rebates on green energy installations. California is a prime example.
Breaking into home energy efficiency is a bold move for BYD, which will come into direct competition with Panasonic. It has also diversified its solar offerings with the acquisition of Sanyo, and seems to be leading the pack when it comes to grid-scale storage systems capable of storing energy loads generated but not used during off-peak hours.
Still, BYD isn’t exactly an underdog. It has the distinction of being the fastest growing automaker in a country where car sales are increasing explosively. Last quarter, its profits tripled to $249 million, a spike attributed to higher demand for its vehicles. Over the course of 2009, its profits nearly quadrupled to $555.2 million from the sale of 162 percent more cars.
Tags: electric vehicles, energy efficiency
Companies: BYD Auto

Barnes and Noble’s Nook outsold Amazon’s Kindle in March, says analyst

Things may be looking up for Barnes and Noble’s Nook ebook reader, at least according to analysis by Digitimes Research. Its numbers from hardware suppliers show that the Nook outsold Amazon’s competing Kindle for the month of March 2010, and accounted for 53 percent of all ereader device purchases.
Amazon has historically refused to divulge specific numbers for its Kindle sales, which leaves tea leaf reading analysts as one of the few ways to determine its success against competitors like the Nook.
Digitimes senior researcher Mingchi Kuo offers a few reasons why the Nook may be faring better. For one, it has the in-store advantage at Barnes and Nobles. Customers can touch and test the device in person, and the company also sales representatives on-hand to answer questions. Amazon announced last week that Target stores will soon start carrying the Kindle, but the Nook still has the advantage of being featured in dedicated book stores.
The Nook also had the advantage of coming out more recently — it was announced in October 2009, and started shipping out in November. The release came just in time for the holiday season, and also offered features that the Kindle lacked — like a secondary color touch-screen display, and the ability to loan ebooks to friends. In comparison, Amazon hadn’t announced any new devices since the Kindle DX in May 2009 (it released the Kindle 2 in February 2009).
Until Amazon releases a new Kindle, or drastically reprices the current models, the Nook is likely to continue winning out. The Nook is also receiving more new features and updates than the aging Kindle, which continue to make the device more compelling. Then again, Amazon is spending more time developing its Kindle ecosystem by delivering apps for the iPad and iPhone that are more polished than Barnes and Nobles’ — so maybe it doesn’t care as much about winning the hardware battle.
Digitimes also reports that global e-book device shipments totaled 1.43 million in the first quarter of 2010, and will hit 2.02 million units by the second quarter. Global shipments of ebook readers in 2009 were a mere 3.82 million in 2009, and Digitimes predicts it will jump to 11.4 million units for 2010.
Tags: ebooks, ereader, kindle, Nook
Companies: amazon, Barnes And Noble

GE, Nissan join forces to ready the grid for electric cars

Nissan continues to beat the electric car drum. Last week, it started taking reservations for its all-electric Nissan Leaf, and beat its own expectations with more than 6,600 immediate orders. Now today, it announced that it is teaming up with General Electric to research the impact electric vehicles are likely to have on U.S. electrical grids — one of the biggest questions in the industry.
The proliferation of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles predicted to take place over the next three years could make energy demand to skyrocket, exceeding utility supplies, and causing rolling brownouts and blackouts. Not only would this disturb ratepayers, but would also cost electric utilities millions of dollars in maintenance fees.
To avoid these problems, GE and Nissan said they will work together for at least three years to develop practical electric vehicle charging infrastructure that will keep grid power loads healthy and balanced.
In addition to surveying how cars will interact with the grid in general, it sounds like the two companies will be brainstorming roadside and household solutions similar to Coulomb Technologies‘ Smart ChargePoint charging stations — compact machines that can be bolted to standard telephone poles to deliver quick, high-voltage charges to advanced car batteries.
The key will be to develop stations that can communicate with one another and with the utilities pumping energy to the grids. If the utility is aware of how much energy is being used to charge cars in real time, it can make intelligent decisions about how much to make available, and when.
Both GE and Nissan have made bold moves to develop their own charging equipment. GE plans to manufacture these types of systems. Nissan, on the other hand, has contracted AeroVironment to build charging equipment suited to charge its Leaf models in people’s garages. The automaker plans to use $100 million of its grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy to deploy 12,750 charging stations in the U.S. when the Leaf launches later this year.
Coulomb isn’t the only venture-backed company working on the problem. Better Place, also based in the Bay Area, says it also has charging station technology in the works. However, its strategy has recently shifted more toward battery switching stations, which would allow drivers to swap out depleted batteries for fully-charged models while they are on the go. This would solve the issue of charging wait times, which reach 30 minutes, even at their fastest. No one would want to use gas stations if it took 30 minutes or more to fill up their tanks either.
In order for GE and Nissan to pitch competitive products, they will need to figure out a while to safely increase the voltages pumped out by charging stations to cut down waiting time. They will also need to come up with a viable way to integrate these charging stations into existing fueling infrastructure. It will be interesting to see whether charging station makers will cut deals with Exxon, Chevron and Shell to offer EV charging options alongside their traditional gas pumps.
Recently, Microsoft joined forces with Ford, implementing its Hohm energy management system to automate when cars charge. For example, EV owners could specify that they only want to charge their cars during off-peak hours when demand is low and electricity is at its cheapest. Other energy management enterprises like Tendril, Control4 and 4Home are taking similar approaches to the problem.
To tackle the home-charging issue together, GE and Nissan say they will look into equipment that could safely deliver a higher voltage than standard wall outlets currently being used, and consult with utilities to see if incentive or different rate plans can be offered to encourage off-peak charging. Utilities could then market charging solutions by saying they take advantage of lower-cost electricity.
Tags: electric vehicles
Companies: Better Place, Coulomb Technologies, General Electric, Nissan

Police seize Gizmodo editor’s computers in lost iPhone case

Gawker Media’s Gizmodo site is in for a legal fight with police about whether it has the same legal protections as other mainstream journalists.
In connection with a criminal probe in the case of the lost iPhone prototype, San Mateo police searched the home of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen and seized six of his computers on Friday night, Gizmodo reported.
Gaby Darbyshire, chief operating officer of Gawker Media in New York, wrote a letter to the San Mateo police department that accused them of breaking California’s journalist shield law. Chen wrote in a post that he arrived home in the evening last Friday to find the police already inside his home, having broken down the door, and exercising a search warrant.
The criminal probe is believed to be under way because Gawker Media acknowledged that it paid $5,000 for the iPhone prototype, which could be considered a stolen good under law. For an analysis of the issues related to paying for news, check out David Carr’s column in the New York Times.
A 27-year-old Apple engineer left the phone at a bar by accident and the finder did not return it to Apple. Rather, the finder sold the device to Gizmodo, which gleefully wrote everything it knew about the phone and even tore it apart. Apple asked for the prototype back and Gizmodo sent it. But the criminal probe has now escalated the conflict to a new level.
In practice, the mainstream media are protected from search and seizure under journalist shield laws, which protect the sources of the news organizations. But since Gizmodo is a blog and may not have the same protection, the criminal case might address an important issue in the modern press. Nick Denton, chief executive of Gawker, said that his company would let Darbyshire’s letter stand as its response.
[photo credit: Gizmodo]
Tags: iPhone prototype
Companies: Gizmodo
People: Jason Chen

Jim Carrey crashes Conan O'Brien's stage show - as Superman

Jim Carrey made a memorable cameo at Conan O'Brien's stage show in L.A. on Saturday night, performing the title role in a spirited duet with O'Brien of the Five for Fighting song "Superman."

Jesse James back from rehab without wedding ring

After a month at a treatment facility, Jesse James was spotted back at his Los Angeles area home Monday with his children, but no wedding ring.

No-name radicals vs. 'South Park' just a distraction

Free speech issues and portrayals of Islam needlessly stirred a hornet's nest recently when "South Park" depicted the Prophet Mohammed disguised in a bear suit in the 200th episode of the popular Comedy Central TV show.

Playboy dollars help save Hollywood sign

Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who made his fortune showcasing one type of Hollywood beauty, is sharing his wealth to save another.

Playdom buys game developer Merscom to cash in on brand-based games

Playdom continued its buying spree as it announced today it is acquiring social game developer Merscom for an undisclosed price.
Merscom is based in Chapel Hill, N.C., and it makes games for big brands such as Sea World, Purina, National Geographic and NBC Universal. Playdom, a big player in social games on both MySpace and Facebook, plans to leverage Merscom’s expertise in working with brand owners. And it will try to recruit more game veterans in the North Carolina game development community.
Merscom was founded more than 16 years ago to produce games based on brands. The team has produced over 250 games in total and over 30 casual games for such brands as Lifetime Networks, Paramount and Starz Entertainment. Prior to 2009, Merscom produced games primarily using overseas developers.  In 2009, Merscom added in-house engineers and started work on social games. The company’s first internally produced social game, The Crazies, was released in conjunction with the movie of the same name last month.
Merscom has 20 employees, led by founders Kirk Owen and Lloyd Melnick. John Pleasants, chief executive of Playdom, said in a statement, “We believe that brands matter and that over time, as the social gaming industry matures, games which incorporate content from popular culture and widely respected brands will garner larger market share than those without it.”
Mountain View, Calif.-based Playdom has previously acquired game development firms including Three Melons, Offbeat Games, Green Patch and Trippert Labs. Playdom’s most popular games include Social City, Sorority Life, Mobsters, Tiki Resort and Big City Life. Playdom raises its war chest for the acquisitions with a $43 million round in November.
Companies: Merscom, Playdom
People: John Pleasants

FreeWheel lands $16.8M for online video ads from Disney and others

FreeWheel, a startup that focuses on online video advertisements, announced today that it has raised $16.8 million in strategic institutional funding.
The company’s Monetization Rights Management product lets content owners and distributors manage, distribute, forecast, and analyze ads across a variety of video platforms. Given the increasingly fractured online video market — which will only be further fractured by TV Everywhere initiatives like Comcast and Time Warner’s, not to mention the rise of video on mobile platforms — FreeWheel’s product allows for some much-needed control over ads. The company also offers consulting via its Business Services Group.
The San Mateo, Calif.-based company was founded by former DoubleClick executives in 2007, so the company is no stranger to the online ad world. It plans to use the funding to scale its infrastructure to better support clients, expand internationally, and develop new products. Its clients include Vevo,, and Discovery Communications.
Steamboat Ventures, a Disney-affiliated venture capital firm, joined existing FreeWheel investors Turner Broadcasting System, Battery Ventures, and Foundation capital in the round. The company previously raised $12 million in third-round funding a year ago.
Tags: ads, video
Companies: Disney, FreeWheel, Steamboat Ventures

Mint founder Aaron Patzer makes a slight jab at Blippy’s privacy woes

Aaron Patzer, the founder of personal finance startup Mint, made a slight jab at beleaguered Blippy today. Blippy is a startup that lets people share details of purchases they’ve made with their friends, and it recently came under fire after credit card numbers of a few users showed up in Google searches.
“I don’t get enough value out of something like Blippy,” Patzer said at the Future of Money conference in San Francisco. “I also think the better thing to do is to use aggregated anonymous statistics.”
He added: “I don’t like getting questions about my purchases at lingerie shops. What I wear is my own business.”
Last week, a tipster discovered that credit card numbers of a handful of Blippy users were showing up in Google searches. The bad news came just a day after the startup, which allows people to share their credit-card purchases, said it raised $11.2 million in new funding at a $46.2 million valuation.
Blippy has since announced a multi-pronged effort to shore up security. It’s hiring a chief security officer to focus solely on issues relating to information security. It’s also pledging to have external auditors look at its technical infrastructure, control caching of information in search engines and create a security and privacy center.
As part of damage control, Blippy had been working with Google to remove the URLs containing credit card numbers and all snippets and caches related to Blippy. The company added that the credit card numbers that were exposed were from old purchases and that the company had examined all of the data published to the service since.
Tags: personal finance
Companies: Blippy, mint
People: Aaron Patzer

Eric Lewis and his 'rockjazz' piano

There's no point inventing a label for pianist Eric Lewis' eclectic performance style; he's beaten everyone to the punch. He calls it "rockjazz."

Gosselins cleared to work on new show

Kate Gosselin's eight children have permits to work on their mom's newest reality TV show, "Kate Plus 8," according to a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Khloe & Lamar 'make it work'

Having survived their first NBA season as a married couple, Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom have found a nice balance between career and family. The secret to a happy home, despite the time apart, she says, is simply "caring enough to make it work."

U.S. Supreme Court to review California’s video game violence law

The U.S. Supreme Court said today it would review a California law that prohibited sales of violent video games to minors. An appeals court previously struck down the law, saying it is an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.
The high court agreed to hear an appeal by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown about a law that was supposed to take effect in 2006. They argue that violent games are akin to sexual materials, which the government can and should restrict to protect children.
But the video game lobby argues that it has been singled out as a medium, noting there are no laws that ban the sale of mature books and movies. The industry trade groups the Entertainment Merchants Association and the Entertainment Software Association challenged the law and asked the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal. The EMA represents game retailers while the ESA represents game companies such as Electronic Arts.
Besides California, eight other states have passed similar laws, but all have been struck down on First Amendment grounds. Games such as Grand Theft Auto 4, pictured above, have been lightening rods for controversy because they give players the option of playing violent criminals who shoot innocent civilians or cops. GTA IV sold well above 10 million units after its launch in 2008.
In a statement, Electronic Arts spokesman Jeff Brown said, “This is another sign that gamers need to wake up and get organized to protect their rights.  Censorship and content restrictions are a very real threat to videogames.  Any gamer who has not registered with the ESA’s VideoGame Voter Network, loses the right to complain when government starts taking games off the market.”
A San Francisco federal appeals court said that the state hadn’t produced enough evidence that proves that video games cause physical and psychological harm to minors. The law required that video games be labeled for violence level, and it banned to sale or rental to anyone under 18. The industry has its own voluntary system in place that recommends that retailers not sell mature-rated games to minors, but it doesn’t carry criminal penalties and retailers have occasionally failed to pass stings where government agencies send kids to buy violent games.
Tags: video game violence
Companies: electronic arts