NeoEdge raises $4M for in-game video ads from game-focused VC firm

In-game ad company neoedge-logoNeoEdge has raised $4 million in a new round of funding for its business. The company has both an ad network and a platform for placing video ads in casual downloadable games on the PC. And with this new funding, it plans to offer its own exclusive games for the first time — acquiring rights to games and publish them under the NeoEdge brand.

The first institutional round of funding shows that, even though the recession has hurt ad spending, NeoEdge has been able to grow its business enough to justify the new investment, said Dan Servos, president and chief executive of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.

neoedge-yahooThe money came from an interesting source. Vanedge Capital co-led the round with Jefferson Partners. Vanedge is a new venture firm with offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and Vancouver, Canada. It was started earlier this year by Paul Lee and Glen Entis, two former development executives at Electronic Arts. They are focusing on investing money in video game and digital media companies. Servos said NeoEdge chose Vanedge and Jefferson because of the deep relationships that they brought to the table.

While rivals such as Wild Tangent can do ads at the beginning or end of a game, NeoEdge focuses on putting 15-second to 30-second video ads into the middle of a game (see this demo), such as when a gamer completes a level. These video ads can run across a full screen. Servos said the company has gained good traction during the past 18 months. Its ads run in 470 games from more than 50 game publishers, such as Big Fish Games and Yahoo Games. The advertisers include a variety of Fortune 500 companies such as NBC Universal.

The recession has hurt CPM rates (cost per mil, a measure of how much an advertiser pays per 1,000 views). Advertisers who once paid $20 CPMs now pay $15 CPMs. But Servos said that NeoEdge has been able to grow because it has added sales people in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Chicago. Those people have relationships with ad agencies and major brands that sponsor a lot of web advertising.

As a result, revenue has been growing since January, and Servos said that his company can get as much as $30 CPM for targeted ads. Servos said the company’s own studies have shown that brand awareness can go up 30 percent to 50 percent as a result of running campaigns in the company’s ad platform. The games of the past 30 days include Aloha Solitaire, Luxor2, 7 Wonders (above), Bouncing Balls, and Monopoly.

Alex Terry left his post as chief executive of NeoEdge in May, after the board decided to make some changes. Nolan
Bushnell, the founder of Atari, has also left his post as chairman of NeoEdge in the wake of this funding. The new
chairman will be Paul Lee, while Entis will join the board too. Byron Lee of Jefferson Partners is also joining the board. After Terry left, Servos became CEO. He previously headed business development for NeoEdge

Servos said he is bullish about ad revenues in the fourth quarter. The company has a backlog of campaigns that are scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter and continue in 2010. The company has 24 employees.

Mobile phone health apps could improve care in developing countries

healthcare1Healthcare in developing countries could get a shot in the arm from mobile health apps being developed by startups, according the executive director of the mHealth Alliance.

David Aylward, who is being named head of the alliance today, said in an interview that the personal healthcare monitoring apps being developed for the iPhone and other smart phones could ultimately prove useful in improving healthcare in developing nations.

“It’s going to take time to get the apps on phones like the iPhone in developing countries, but maybe not as long as you think,” he said. “Even in the poorest parts of the poorest countries, you can find mobile phones.”

Lots of companies are vying to get U.S. consumers for these services, but Aylward said that makers of apps often fail to consider overseas markets, where the competition might be slimmer.

One new company that just announced a mobile healthcare app is Ringful, which demonstrated its technology at the DEMOfall 09 conference last week. The idea is for caregivers to distribute information to patients via the phone and to collect healthcare data that can be analyzed by the caregivers.

The mHealth Alliance in Washington, D.C., is a partnership of the UN Foundation, the Vodafone Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Its mission is to support and advance mobile health initiatives in the developing world. The alliance was announced in February at the GSM World Mobile Conference. The goal is to generate collaboration between nonprofit, government and private parties in the interests of global health. Right now, most of the projects funded are in pilot stage.

At the core of the alliance is the notion that most people in the developed and developing countries have cell phones now. If you can deliver healthcare through those phones, you can keep people out of hospitals and thereby reduce overall healthcare costs. Since 80 percent of healthcare costs are due to chronic illnesses that send people to the hospital, much of the effort in saving money is to keep people at home and to treat them there, as noted in our recent piece on healthcare and technology.

“The apps that are being developed for the first world are the kind we’re interested in for the developing world,” he said. “We have apps that are collecting data. What hasn’t happened so far is integrating the data with the healthcare system.”

Aylward said that one of his missions will be to introduce startups with interesting mobile healthcare solutions to big carriers that can help the technology spread widely. Since 2006, the UN Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation have made investments in technology to support global health goals. In that respect, Aylward said that the mHealth alliance is like an angel investor. It can foster startups and introduce them around and then get them moving toward full-scale deployment, Aylward said. Thanks to support from Qualcomm, Aylward said 21 mHealth projects will be highlighted at the upcoming CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment conference in San Diego, Calif.

VC-backed companies could benefit from getting information from masses of people on mobile phones in developing countries. For instance, companies could collect data on how people respond to drug treatments. That data could be valuable to drug makers. Also, companies could use mobile phones to ensure that drugs that are reaching people in developing countries are authentic, not counterfeit, and have not been tampered with en route.

One of the success stories is EpiSurveyor, which made software for gathering healthcare data about spreading illnesses via mobile phones. It is being used by health ministries in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In the past, it took months to find out what kinds of diseases were spreading in local countries. Now it’s nearly instantaneous.

“It’s simple and straightforward but it radically changes the reporting of infectious diseases,” Ayalward said.

BillShrink Compares and Ranks Savings Plans [Saving Money]

BillShrink, the compare-and-save web service that previously jumped into the credit card and phone plan markets, is now offering up a look at what savings accounts and CDs could earn the most bang for your buck.

As with its other comparison tools, BillShrink asks you for some basic information that's not quite identifying, like how much you have saved, with which bank, and how much you plan to sock away every month. You can specify features you need in your bank, like check drawing and ATM access, and type in a ZIP code or limit the search to major banks to factor in local availability.

A quick test, pretending that one had $10,000 stashed and $200 per month to put away, brought up a lot of internet-only or financial service firm accounts, rather than recognizable firms. That's to be expected when sorting only by the bottom line, so digging a little deeper, we saw the recognizable ranks and BillShrink's savings estimates. Disappointingly, they're all pretty close in this economy, but it's good to know the differences.

BillShrink is a free service, requires a sign-up to save comparisons and use advanced features.

mSpot Launches Web-Based Mobile Movie Streaming Service

Mobile entertainment startup mSpot is launching its Mobile Movies site, which will let users stream full-length movies on their mobile phones. Movies will be available on 30 different smart phones, including the iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices and via all four major U.S. carriers.

To access mSpot Mobile Movies, users can go to mSpot’s mobile site on their phone, and use a credit card to rent individual movies for $4.99 each, or subscribe to a monthly membership at $9.99 (for four movies), $12.99 or $15.99 per month. Based on the movie, rentals could last anywhere from 24 hours to 5 days. The movie will launch within the browser and is powered by the phone’s native media player.

mSpot has struck deals with Paramount, Universal and The Weinstein Company to stream movies onto mobile devices and at launch has 350 movies available on its streaming platform. mSpot’s movies are mainly new releases, says Daren Tsui, CEO of mSpot. Of course, mSpot’s main competition is Apple, which lets iPhone and iPod touch users, download and sync movies and shows onto their devices. But Tsui says the beauty of mSpot is that there’s no downloading or syncing process with a computer; you can simply start streaming a movie with a click of a button. Of course, mSpot will face other series competition from Netflix or Hulu, if either of their iPhone app rumors are true.

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Palm Pre Woes — When the Cloud Goes Down [jkOnTheRun]

Palm PreThe big news in the Palm world yesterday was the release of webOS 1.2. This new version had been delayed once or twice and contained a lot of fixes and new features. Like most Pre owners I jumped on the update as soon as the word spread, and after a brief inability to get it due to the slammed servers I was able to download and install the 79 MB update.

The update process was typical Palm, smooth and without event. That wasn’t the case when I grabbed the Pre this morning after letting it sit overnight. It turns out the Palm Profile server, where all Pres get backed up and synced continually, had gone down. My Pre could not talk to the mother ship, so it forced a hard reset. Investigation showed I was not the only one, and owners were not happy. The Pre Synergy syncing is a thing of beauty, unless the cloud goes down. Then the phone is a brick.

I have my Pre set to backup at 2 AM every morning. It does so while it is sitting on the Touchstone charger, and I don’t have to worry about it. It keeps my data protected, photos, music and the like, and also backs up any programs I have installed. It is a great example of how vital the Palm Profile server is to the Pre owner. Synergy on the Pre merges my email accounts, Facebook account, Google account, and with the new version 1.2, my LinkedIn account. It’s what sets the Pre apart from the rest of the smartphone crowd. It also requires the Palm Profile server to be up and running all the time.

When you buy a Pre the first thing you must do is create a Palm Profile account. This ties your online information with the phone, and the Pre must remain logged in to the Palm Profile server all the time. When the Profile server went down, even temporarily, many Pres were instantly logged out of the server. The phone then forces a “restart”, which in reality is a factory reset, and the phone is wiped. Until the reset process completes, and the Pre is able to log into the Profile server, the phone is a brick. It won’t do anything other than make manual phone calls. Many owners set out to start the day as I did, and found the phone was not usable.

When the server came back up, the Pre was able to log in properly, but it was like the very first time. All accounts mentioned above had to go through an initial sync process before the phone was fully usable. My personal data was restored from my Palm Profile account, so all my photos and music files were back on the phone. My theme customizations did not make the trip, however, and while any apps I had installed through the App Catalog were back on the phone, none of the many homebrew apps I had installed survived. Palm is not backing up all apps, only the ones installed on the phone and any installed through the Catalog.

This dependence on the Profile server is unsettling. All servers go down occasionally, that’s a given. When it bricks your phone in the field, that is a huge problem.

David Hoover’s Top 5 Tips for Apprentices

If you're a senior developer with years of experience under your belt, it may be hard to remember what it was like coming out of college with a newly minted CS degree, and entering the workplace. But as David Hoover argues, helping these newcomers to the workforce to succeed can be the difference between effective, motivated developers and confused, discouraged ones. Hoover is the author of the new O'Reilly book Apprenticeship Patterns, and he says that people coming right out of college may, in fact, be less motivated than someone who has been working for a while. "One of my theories is computer science education is really hard, and it's expensive. And so when you're done with it, you're ready to cash in and sit back for a little while. 'Hey, I just spent a lot of money. I spent a ton of time and effort and pain on four years of getting this certificate and okay, now it's time to make that pay off.' You're definitely going to be less incentivized to start a new job, and now realize that you've got so much more to learn still. As opposed to someone who's just coming up, who's going to be at a big disadvantage knowledge-wise, but is probably actually going to be at a big advantage motivation-wise because they're going to be hungry, and just assume that they have to learn everything on their own. Whereas, like I said, some computer science people are going to be disincentivized. They're going to be surprised that they've come into their first job and, geez, they have to learn source control and they have to learn unit testing and they have to learn about these different processes that we use. And some programs prepare you for that stuff; some programs are very theoretical and very outdated. And you just have a ton to learn in your first gig."

According to Hoover, one way to ease the transition into real life development is to use an apprenticeship model. His book draws on his own experience moving from being a psychologist to a developer, and the lessons he's learned running an apprenticeship program at a company called Obtiva. "We have an apprenticeship program that takes in fairly newcomers to software development, and we have a fairly loose, fairly unstructured program that gets them up to speed pretty quickly. And we try to find people that are high-potential, low credential people, that are passionate and excited about software development and that works out pretty well."

Hoover says that most developers have benefited from one or two key people in their career that helped them move along. "For people that had had successful careers, they only point back to one or two people that mentored them for a certain amount of time, a significant amount of time, a month, two months, a year in their careers." He also points out that finding that person may mean looking outside your company. "For me personally, I wasn't able to find a mentor at my company. I was in a company that didn't really have that many people who were actually passionate about technology and that was hard for me. So what I did is I went to a user group, a local Agile user group or you could go to a Ruby user group or a .net user group, whatever it is and find people that are passionate about it and have been doing it for a long time. I've heard several instances of people seeking out to be mentored by the leader, for me that was the case. One of our perspective apprentices right now was mentored by the leader of a local Ruby user group. And that doesn't necessarily mean you're working for the person, but you're seeking them out and maybe you're just, "Hey, can you have lunch with me every week or breakfast with me every other week." Even maybe just talking, maybe not even pairing. But just getting exposure to people that have been far on the path ahead of you, to just glean off their insights."

For Hoover, one strategy that pays off is to not try and be the most experienced person in a group, but the least. "For me, I didn't really get good solid mentorship until I was able to leave that company and get to another company where I could basically try to be the worst. I wanted to get onto a team where I wasn't the three-year programmer who was suddenly senior application developer. I wanted to be on a team where as a three-year programmer, I was junior. And then I got to pair with people that had written books about test-driven development and people that were authors of successful open source projects."

On the other side, being a good mentor may require some patience, but Hoover considers it part of the nature career path for a senior developer. "At a certain point in your career, your priorities shift from learning being the most important thing, to delivering software is the most important thing, then mentoring becomes part of your responsibilities. It's something you take on if you're following the craftsmanship mentality of apprentice to journeyman to master. And transitioning from apprentice to journeyman, part of that is taking on more responsibility for projects and taking on more responsibility for mentoring. One of the basic simplest ways of mentoring is programming with someone who's more junior than you. And understanding that that person's going to slow you down potentially, in the short-term. And it only works if you've got the right apprentices or the right motivated learner novice sitting next to you. But if you can invest some time into them at the beginning of a project or at the beginning of their time with you, that's going to pay off three weeks, three months, six months down the road when they're going to be blowing you away with their productivity because a lot of times these people are just sponges and they're very excited about flexing their new development muscles.

For newcomers, part of the challenge is figuring out what to learn first, when dumped into a fast-paced development environment. "When it comes to trying to get up to speed, whether you're in your first gig and you've just got this huge laundry list of things you've got to learn, or you need to get a first gig and you've got to knock out all of these acronyms that you see on the job requirements, one of the things that's tempting is to just take it all on at once. There's a book called The Art of Learning that's written by this guy that was a chess grand master when he was relatively young, and left that behind and went and became a martial arts grand champion. And he talked about the way that he was taught chess wasn't to start with a full board. It's to start with the king, another king and a pawn, meaning remove as much as you can and make the game as simple as possible for starters and start with the end game. And we use that in our apprenticeship program, by don't have somebody learn Unix and then RSpec and Ruby and Rails all at once, right? Have them just learn one thing at a time. Don't have them learn vim and database design at the same time. Let them use the tools, as few new tools as they can at once. It's tempting for these enthusiastic young people to take it all on because they are fast learners, but it can become overwhelming four weeks down the road when you're starting to get advanced in all four -- you're trying to take next steps in too many things at once. What I would do is pick one and time-box it to two or three weeks. And then move on to the next. And then you're going to end up coming back, of course, because you're not going to master anything in two or three weeks."

Although Agile development is all the rage now, Hoover laments that it has led to a lot of virtual development teams, a practice that he says works against apprenticeship. "Whether you're distributed or you're just isolated in cubicles working by yourselves, it's just fundamentally a poor learning situation. Because the newcomer is only going to have the internet and books, basically, to figure out how to do their job. Peer programming and a team working collocated together is pretty much one of the most ideal environments for apprenticeship, for people getting up to speed because they're immersed and working side-by-side with people who really know what they're doing. There's a lot of teams and companies that are completely virtual. They're spread across the country or maybe they're even fairly close together in a big city, but they don't have an office. I think that's not an apprenticeship friendly environment. There's a ton of things to learn from pairing or sitting right next to somebody that you can't learn from them over instant message or over email or even over iChat. Especially at the beginning of your career, you've got to be looking for situations where you can expose yourself to new senior developers and learn their tricks because they're going to have a billion little tricks that they don't even know about, that they wouldn't even be able to tell you about because it's just so ingrained in the way they work. So you've got to stay away from distributed development."

He also suggests seeking out small companies as a good way to learn a lot in a short time, although it has its downsides. "To be honest, I'm pretty biased against large companies. It's just very difficult to make that work, but I've heard Google's done a pretty good job at it. Although I don't personally know many people whose first job was Google. I do know more people whose first job was in an IT organization at a mid-sized company. And again, a lot of those companies are actually starting to adopt Agile. I think you're definitely going to have a different experience in a small company. There might be more pressure. Might be a little bit less stable in a small company. But you're probably going to have exposure to a wider or a deeper set of people. You might have exposure all the way up to the top of the company. And you might have exposure all the way down to the business of the people actually paying for the software or specifying the software. Whereas my experience in midlevel or large companies is there was many, many layers separating the doers from the people that were specifying what needed to be done or paying for what needed to be done. In some ways it's more intense because these people from far away can lay down strict deadlines and schedules on you and not really care about the consequences. But in some ways, it's also less intense because if you screw up, you personally are so removed from the consequences of your mistake that it's not a big deal. Whereas if you're in a small, very tight-knit environment and you screw up, you can see who that affects. So there's pros and cons to that. One's going to allow you to experiment more, potentially. While the other is going to be a little bit more intense and you're going to be learning from your mistakes and you might be afraid to experiment in a smaller situation. There's probably no hard and fast rules about that. It's just personal preference really."

Here's Hoover's top 5 suggestions to succeed as an apprentice:

  1. Understanding where you're at. "I wasn't really exposed to the concept of apprenticeship until about two years into my career. And I had already made some pretty good progress. But once I was exposed to that idea and that people were out there trying to master this craft, this software development, it made me realize, 'Oh, man. I'm just an apprentice.' So having an accurate self-assessment. And you have that but it's too easy to compare yourself to the standard developer out there, the average developer in our industry. And if you do that, you're going to feel a little bit smug. And you're going to feel like you've accomplished something pretty darn quickly. Just by caring, you're already going to be ahead of a lot of different people. But instead, you should be comparing yourself to masters which are people that are out there doing great work and potentially speaking about it or writing books about it. And if that's what you -- if you want to achieve mastery of this craft, that's who you should be comparing yourself to.
  2. Find mentors who are ahead of you in the field. "That might not be the luminaries of the field, but people that you can learn from and that are going to be able to give you some guidance about the right ways to approach problems."
  3. Find some peers to network with. "Finding kindred spirits is another thing that is really important, I think, for people that are trying to walk this long road to mastery. These are more peers, people that come along with you who you're going to bounce ideas off of each other or you're going to keep each other going through different projects. You might not work with them. For me, I had a kindred spirit who worked at a different company, but we both worked in Chicago. We'd meet once a week over pizza and either pair on things we were more interested in than our job or lament the difficulties of our different organizations."
  4. Perpetual learning. "As people in our industry know, our industry changes quickly. The technologies are rapidly evolving. There's fundamentals, so you have to go back and study the classics of our field. There's certain books that are timeless that I think everybody needs to be able to read. Certain computer science fundamentals like compilers and algorithms that maybe you're not going to use everyday, but they're important for stretching your brain. And other things that are a little more people-centric like Peopleware by Demarco and the Psychology of Computer Programming by Weinberg. So educating yourself, perpetual learning."
  5. Setting aside time to practice. "Setting time aside to be able to write software outside the constraints of your day job is important because that's where you're going to be able to learn new techniques and try out new techniques without bringing down your production site because you screwed up or you were too excited about some new design pattern or some new technology, but being able to break these things called breakable toys where you can experiment and learn. And sometimes those things grow into real projects. Linux was a breakable toy a long time ago. Where Linus was just playing around and never thought it would amount to anything, but it turned into something."

Use Google Docs to Convert Images to Text [Documents]

It's not an official feature (yet), but Google Docs can perform OCR image-to-text conversions on high-resolution files you upload to it. They have to be pretty darned clear and crisp, but it's a nice freebie.

Those with webapps or services that upload to Google Docs can use this URL parameter to accept PNG, JPG, and GIF files for conversion, listed as an "experimental" feature at the moment.

Users, in the meantime, can try out a conversion using their own accounts at the Google Code Samples link. I tried uploading PNG screen grabs of Lifehacker and Wikipedia to Google Docs for conversion. Docs returned nothing with Lifehacker's text, and a somewhat muddled take on the Wikipedia entry for "life hack" with both PNG and JPG uploads (the full-quality JPG conversion, not pictured, fared just a bit better). Those were taken using nothing more than Ubuntu's screen capture tool and GIMP, however, so if you've got a better screen capture tool, or an actual camera shot of some relatively clear text, you'll probably do better.

Tell us how automatic Google Doc OCR might help you out in the comments.