Clickable Gets Social With Facebook Ads

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It will soon be possible to compare the performance of search and social ad campaigns side by side. Clickable, the ad management platform that lets search marketers measure and track the performance of their online marketing campaigns across different search engines and advertising networks, will be adding Facebook Ads as an option on April 12.

What that means is that an advertiser buying pay-per-click ads on Google can test the performance of those search ads against pay-per-click ads on Facebook targeted to particular social demographics. Search ads versus social ads, all in one dashboard. According to this sign-up page on Clickable:

Clickable Pro now empowers you to create and upload pay-per-click Facebook ads in bulk. And with Clickable conversion tracking, you can track Facebook and search marketing revenues and conversions with a simple tag placed on your Web site. You can even produce customized, white-label reports with search and social performance displayed side by side.

Clickable is a Facebook partner which has integrated its service with the Facebook Ads API, which will allow Clickable customers to create, upload, and manage Facebook Ads directly from Clickable. The integration will work with pay-per-click text or image ads, but not yet with regular display ads.

Facebook ads are bringing in real revenues now for the social network. But how will they compare to search ads?

Hulu’s Internal Training Video (And Its Alien Plot) Revealed

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If you head over to Hulu right now and start watching a video, you’ll notice that the site has turned on a new 3D feature. At least, it looks like they were trying to — when you click the button, the site instead opens a video marked “Hulu Confidential — For Internal Use Only” (looks like there’s a pretty major typo in their code).

The video is a ten minute documentary detailing the long-running conspiracy behind Hulu’s alien plot to turn our brains into goo. It begins with footage of television pioneer Philo Farnsworth (an alien-sounding name, indeed), winds through the 20th century, and concludes with Hulu, which finally helped TV’s brain-melting content expand its reach well beyond the living room.

The documentary includes interviews with UCLA Professor Fabian Wagmister and journalist/comedian Dan Lyons (AKA Fake Steve Jobs). Lyons sums up Hulu’s impact on our future best: “Our children are going to grow up to be total, mushbrained zombies. There’s no hope for them.”

WolframAlpha Admits That We’re Better At Math

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For the past several months, I’ve given WolframAlpha a hard time. I actually think the service is pretty cool, I just think they drastically overpriced their iPhone app. The computational engine was trying to get users to pay $50 for the information they could access for free online. Sure, there’s something to be said for an iPhone-tailored experience, but $50 was just ridiculous. And guess who now agrees? WolframAlpha.

The service has slashed — and I do mean slashed — the price of the app from $49.99 all the way down to $1.99. Yes, they’ve discounted it $48. That’s a 96% price reduction. And not just that — they’re offering a refund to anyone who did pay the ridiculous price for the app. Yes, a full refund — and Apple is keeping their 30%, so WolframAlpha is losing money by doing this.

Between the $49.99 version and the $19.99 discounted version that was on sale during the holidays, 10,000 copies of the app were sold, we’re told. That’s not awful, but it’s nowhere near the number WolframAlpha needs to be ubiquitous. And that’s exactly what WolframAlpha has decided it wants to be.

The $1.99 price will certainly help towards that goal, but so will the reinstatement of the mobile-optimized version of the site. You may recall that WolframAlpha took that version away in December, erroneously thinking people would buy the $50 app without it. Now, it’s back too.

More changes to make WolframAlpha appeal to all sorts of people will be coming too, we’re told.

For now, check out the handsomely-priced $1.99 app.

Round-up: Wolfram Alpha drops its $50 app price, Hulu profitable, pundits review iPad

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Here’s the latest action:

Wolfram Alpha gets the message: The quirky computational search engine dropped the price of its mobile web app to $1.99 from $49.99. They also launched a mobile web page and are promising a refund to buyers who came in at the app’s original unusually high price. Barak Berkowitz, the company’s newly-minted managing director who came from Six Apart, said the move was to “democratize” access to the app.

Distimo launches free analytics tool for comparing app performance across platforms: Where is your app selling best? Android? iPhone? Distimo launched a tool today that lets developers track their daily download and revenue figures across different app stores. You can compare how your app is doing against competitive ones. It monitors unlimited numbers of applications and handles foreign exchange conversions for major currencies.

Hulu is apparently profitable: Jason Kilar, the company’s chief executive, told The New York Times to video site has been profitable for two quarters while its public relations department made sure to trumpet its $100 million in revenues, I suppose this is a good thing. But then again, considering that it doesn’t factor in all the very expensive production costs for its premium content, maybe not. Plus, Hulu’s future is unclear given that Comcast is set to become a partial owner of the site through its NBC Universal purchase and has a competitive vision and offering through TV Everywhere.

Apple iPad reviews coming in: Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, David Pogue of the New York Times and Ed Baig of USA Today are all coming in with their reviews of the tablet computer debuting on April 3. The verdict? They all think it’s great. Mossberg says a lot of people might use the iPad more than their laptops, though they’ll still keep the laptops. Pogue says that technofiles will miss laptop-like features, but the broader public will likely love it. And Baig says this product will likely drum up mass market interest in tablet computers.

Real Networks cuts 60 jobs: The company is cutting back to get ready for the spin-off of its Rhapsody music business and to adapt to business conditions.

Five companies fuel 75 percent of GameStop store revenues: Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Sony, Activision Blizzard, and Microsoft sell the bulk of merchandise at the nation’s largest game retailer.

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Playdom acquires Three Melons social game company in Argentina

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Playdom, the fast-growing social gaming company in Silicon Valley, announced today that it has acquired Buenos Aires-based game development studio Three Melons. The terms were not disclosed.

Playdom’s General Counsel Brad Serwin said in an interview that his company is bullish on social game talent in Argentina. He added, “There seems to be a style there (in game development) different from what is seen in the U.S., which adds a dimension to our game design and art.”

He cited Three Melons game Bola, a Facebook soccer application, saying that “this is a game designed for an international audience.” He explained that, “Americans (entrepreneurs) can be US-centric, but Argentines appear to be international” in terms of which markets their products appeal to, a big plus for Playdom and its’ global ambitions.

This is its second foray into South America just this month. On March 16, it announced a $5 million investment in Argentina’s Metro Games.

As part of today’s announcement, Three Melons CEO and co-founder Mariano Suarez Battan now becomes a Playdom Executive Producer. His main role will be to continue to run Three Melons in Buenos Aires, but when asked if he will play a role in Playdom business development in Latin America, Serwin said that, “we certainly hope so. He and his senior leadership are our Senior Representatives in Latin America for the foreseeable future.”

He did however caution that, “I would not look for additional deals in the region in the near future.”

I also reached Suarez Battan today and asked why he sold now instead of holding out and perhaps even launching an IPO from Buenos Aires. He said that, “the gaming industry is consolidating now and it is the big players that are growing very rapidly.” He maintains that this was his best option to keep up with the pace of the industry.

We have written about Three Melons before. It was one of the first companies selected for the Endeavor Mentor Capital Pilot program, launched in Montevideo, Uruguay last September. Endeavor is the New York-based non-profit that seeks to promote entrepreneurial networking in the developing world.

We have also written about how not just Argentina but the Southern Cone including Chile and Uruguay is rich with gaming companies. In Buenos Aires, other gaming companies include QV9, Sabarasa, Hungry Games, and Atommica. French company Game Loft also has development here. Suarez Battan estimates that 1500 people work in game development in Buenos Aires.

Three Melons is known for its Daiquiri technology, a game engine that makes 2D with flash appear three-dimensional. It was also an early adopter of Unity 3D technology. It has developed games for Lego, MTV, and Disney.

The company was founded in 2005 with $150,000 from friends, family and fools, according to Suarez Battan. In 2009, it received $300,000 from Argentina’s Banco Santander Rio’s Nexo Emprendedor program, a fund started to promote entrepreneurship here.

Suarez Battan credits the program for helping Three Melons transform from a service company to a product-based company.

While many in Silicon Valley only think of South America in terms of outsourcing, the few times they think of it all, Suarez Battan is part of a new generation of Argentine entrepreneurs who are increasingly product-focused and globally oriented.

This acquisition is likely to boost their spirits as well, according to Wences Casares, an Argentine gaming and entrepreneurial pioneer and now CEO and co-founder of Palo Alto-based Bling Nation.

Casares co-founded Wanako Games in Santiago, Chile in 2002. Vivendi acquired it in 2007.

He calls today’s deal “the first of a kind” for Argentina and says that Three Melons now becomes a bridge between other entrepreneurs here and Silicon Valley. He says that now, “a lot more young developers from Argentina are going to come to Silicon Valley, and a lot of knowledge transfer is going to take place, whether they like it or not.”

Casares also believes that Three Melons serves as another example of how young Argentine companies can bypass the traditional business-political dynamic in Argentina, which remains laden with cronyism and corruption. Twenty and thirty-somethings like Suarez-Battan are discovering they can skip the hassles of selling in Argentina and instead launch global companies from here.

Casares says that, “this is what these kids are figuring out today.”

Casares appears to have played a facilitating role in the Playdom-Three Melons relationship. Bling Nation board member Chamath Palihapitiya is also on Playdom’s board (in addition to his day-job as Facebook executive) and helped introduce Playdom CEO John Pleasants to Argentina, according to Casares.

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Wolfram Alpha Admits Mistake: Mobile Site is Back; iPhone App Down from $50 to $1.99

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wolfram_alpha_logo_may09.pngOnce upon a time, Wolfram Alpha tried to charge $50 for its iPhone app while, at the same time, offering a free iPhone-optimized mobile site. Then, the company shut down the mobile site of its “computational knowledge engine” altogether. Now, however, Wolfram is reversing this strategy and is not just bringing back a new and improved version of its mobile site, but the company also just announced that it will reduce the price of its iPhone app to $1.99 and will issue a refund to every customer who bought the app at the full price.


A New Policy for Wolfram Alpha

According to Wolfram Alpha’s newly minted managing director Barak Berkowitz, the team’s “number-one priority as of today is to get Wolfram|Alpha in the hands of everyone.” This, obviously, is a complete reversal of Wolfram’s earlier policy, but we are very happy to see this new direction the team is taking.

Refunds for Those Who Bought $50 App

While Wolfram always argued that the app was worth $50, not too many people thought so. The current version only has 24 reviews in the App Store. Wolfram will obviously take a loss on the refunds as Apple won’t return the 30% cut it took from all the sales, but the Wolfram Alpha team clearly feels that this is the right thing to do. We can only guess how much money Wolfram made from the $50 app, but chances are that the company will sell more than enough $1.99 apps to make up for the price difference. If you bought the app at the full price (or $19.99 during the holiday sale), you can go to this site and ask for a refund.

alpha new mobile siteTo get a refund, users will have to supply their phone’s or iPod touch’s UDID, a screenshot of their UDID on the iTunes summary and account details page, as well a copy of their receipt from Apple.

You can find our full review of the iPhone app here.

New Mobile Site

The new mobile site feels faster than the original page, but at least in the version we tested just before the official launch, result pages seemed to be formatted for a screen somewhat larger than the iPhone. We assume, however, that this is just a glitch and that the company will fix this shortly. Unlike the native app, the mobile site obviously also doesn’t offer the specially formatted virtual keyboards for entering formulas (something Wolfram used as the main reason to charge extra for the iPhone app).

More To Come

According to today’s announcement, the company also plans to expand on this strategy of making the service more accessible in the next few months, though the announcement didn’t offer any further details. According to Schoeller Porter, Wolfram|Alpha’s architect, “the new iPhone and iPod touch app price, and the refund offer are just the beginnings of a wider strategic move toward ubiquity.”


April Fools Shenanigans: The 2010 Definitive List

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Time to live blog April Fools 2010! Some of us got a jump start on the time-honored tradition (not to name any names here), but we still have several hours of shenanigans left. Robin Wauters, Leena Rao, and I are at the command station.

If you spot a good one please leave it in the comments. I can’t promise you a TechCrunch T-shirt, but I may get to keep my job. Here’s the definitive list of 2010 April Fools jokes. We’ll update it regularly over the day.

Wolfram Alpha Wants to Be a Google Maps for Data

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Wolfram Alpha may not call itself a search engine — rather, a “knowledge engine” to process questions that can be answered with objective data and computation — but it faces a similar challenge to wannabe-Googles that want searchers to come to their destinations. Simply put, Wolfram Alpha needs users. And so the wonky company, under the leadership of new managing director Barak Berkowitz, is now moving from polishing its product to getting people to actually use it by changing up its distribution strategy.

The first step on that road map is to redesign the Wolfram Alpha mobile site and reduce the price of its famously expensive iPhone  app. (After all, when else do you need quick and definitive answers but while on the go?) Launching Thursday, has been rebuilt to strip out the CSS and JavaScript that was making it inaccessible on some phones. And further, the Wolfram Alpha iPhone app — which had previously cost $50 and then $20 — will now go for the much more unremarkable price of $1.99 (the nearly 10,000 people who paid one of the higher prices can request a refund, Berkowitz said).

Anyone who buys the iPhone app will be entitled to a Wolfram Alpha iPad app, too — and that’s where things really get exciting. Berkowitz said his company has a goal of offering a value-added service to publishers and authors of e-books so that they can plug in web references to help readers dive in more deeply. Such a plan would also mean an alternate business model — charging a small amount for every e-book bought that’s Wolfram Alpha-fied.

Berkowitz drew a parallel with how mentions of places and public companies can be automatically and dynamically connected to maps and stock quotes, respectively. Just about any site you go to online, he pointed out, has an embedded Google Map.

Wolfram Alpha wants to do the same thing for data, turning it into a widget that can be plugged into e-books, blogs and web applications. “What we don’t have right now is the ability to get any factual data you need, and that’s huge,” Berkowitz said. “That’s a big part of the information mankind has built over time. Our hope is [that publishers and users will say], ‘If I need some data, I go to Wolfram Alpha.’”

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform

Photo courtesy of Joi Ito via Flickr.

Google Introduces Search Funnel, Ad Innovations

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Google signToday Google introduced two new elements to its popular advertising system, a Search Funnel and something it is calling Ad Innovations.

The company’s VP of product management, Susan Wojcicki, described the Search Funnel as a “set of reports describing the search ad click and impression behavior leading up to a conversion.”


The idea is that users of the Sales Funnel will, over time, tighten and focus their use of Google Ads to such a degree that they will be able to sell a grommet to an Albanian from outer space.

“The data you see in Search Funnels can help you understand how users search for your products before converting so that you can optimize these conversion paths.”

Ad Innovations is a specialist website Google has set up to “work closely with advertisers on what comes next.” They intend to use the space to debut ad-tech ideas and solicit user feedback.

Photo by Danny Sullivan.


YouTube Migrates Videos to New Design

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youtube logoToday, YouTube migrated its user videos over to a new design. The design was available before now, and has been in development for months, but today was the day all the videos got their Sunday go-to-meeting clothes on.

In a January post, Julian Frumar, a YouTube user experience designer, commented on YouTube’s blog that the old design could appear “cluttered and a little overwhelming.” (Julian, by the way, is up for an Understatement of the Year Award.)


In the intervening months, YouTube has experimented with a cleaner design that made “the video the star.”

Other changes besides the focus on the video include a thumbs-up/thumbs-down rating system to replace the 1-5 scale, a finessed up-next video list, an easier-to-find subscription button and integrated video and text comments.

Is it a hit so far? Er. Nuh-uh.

On today’s YouTube blog post announcing the change, there were… comments – hundreds of them as invested users chimed in. And the chimes sounded pretty discordant. As of this posting, the word “suck” was used 14 times, “terrible” and “shit” tied at nine times each, the word “crap” six times and “bad” five times.

Lies, damned lies and statistics? Maybe. Representative comments included the following: “Looks like crap, keep up the horrible work.”

Firefox Twitter sentiment analysis gave the changes a 15-12 positive-negative rating. But TwitterFeel disagreed, with real-time analysis overwhelmingly negative.

youtube screenshot


The only thing missing at Kleiner Perkins’ iFund event? An iPad

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$200 million still won’t buy an iPad that you can show off before Saturday’s launch. At least, that’s one of the messages I took from venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ iFund event this morning, where it announced it’s doubling the size of the iFund from $100 to $200 million.

Kleiner Perkins and its portfolio companies were all full of praise for the iPad, with partner John Doerr declaring that it will “rule the world.” There were Apple representatives at the event, and they had nice things to say about the iFund. But there was no iPad.

So Doerr couldn’t demonstrate the “swoosh of liquidity” that he seemed so excited about when describing the interface, and startups like Ngmoco and Shazam couldn’t show us their iPad applications in action.

During the presentations, there were even some jokes about Apple’s incredible secrecy and the nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) the company made its partners sign. After the event, I asked Kleiner’s Bing Gordon confirmed that he’d wanted to have an iPad at the event, but presumably he couldn’t get Apple’s blessing.

VentureBeat has had a brush with Apple’s iPad secrecy too, because a couple of companies launching at DEMO, the conference that we co-produce, wanted to show off their applications on an iPad emulator running on their computers — but even then, Apple said no, without an explanation. One of those startups, mobile presentation company MightyMeeting kept trying, even sending an email to Apple chief executive Steve Jobs (hey, it may have worked for other developers). A week later, Apple changed its mind — again, with no explanation.

On other hand, if you want to see the iPad in action, it looks like famous tech reviewer Walt Mossberg has been playing with one for the past week.


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First iPad Reviews Hit The Net

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The first iPad reviews, from tech grand-daddies David Pogue and Walt Mossberg among others, are live. Go read. Don’t have the patience? Shame on you, and TL;DR follows.

Pogue says it’s no laptop replacement, but as a giant iPod touch, it’s a huge success. Mossberg says he enjoys doing most tasks on it much more than on his laptop, and considers it 80% a laptop replacement. Pogue hates the keyboard, Mossberg likes it. Both found the battery life to be exceptional — over the quoted 10 hours in both cases, which surprises me hugely. We talked about the iPad’s potential and competitors in today’s podcast, and the consensus was that, as both reviews stress, the flagship apps are the real indicator of the device class’s potential.

Continue reading…

Review: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 map pack is just so-so

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has sold well above 15 million copies since November. So you can bet the $15 downloadable multiplayer map pack that arrived yesterday is going to be one of the most popular ever.

The so-called Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus Pack debuted yesterday as exclusive downloadable content on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online game service. It’s part of a trend of releasing digital add-on content to keep gamers engaged with a game even months after launch.

But this Stimulus Pack with five new multiplayer maps isn’t necessarily a bargain. Two of the five maps are reruns from the previous game, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare game. I paid for those maps in 2007 when I played the game back then. They’ve now been retooled for the new version.

I tried the new maps out last night on Xbox Live. I waited until Activision Blizzard and Microsoft fixed the initial glitch that prevented gamers from playing the map pack. I played multiplayer up until level 51 out of 70 and became intimately familiar with the best places to fight it out and survive inside 16 multiplayer maps. But I had to take time off to finish other excellent games such as Mass Effect 2, BioShock 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2.

One of the cool things about Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer is that you can always look at your statistics. When I played my last multiplayer match more than a month ago, I was ranked at 3.6 million. When I logged back in last night, I found I was ranked around 5.3 million. That’s what a month of inactivity will do to your record. When I walked onto the battlefield, my reactions were pretty dull, and I got my head handed to me a lot.

The new maps are called Crash, Overgrown, Bailout, Salvage and Storm. (They’re pictured in order, from top to bottom). Crash and Overgrown were fan favorites from the original Modern Warfare. Crash is the scene of a helicopter crash in the middle of a city with multi-story buildings. That was one of my favorites, because I liked going to the top of the tall building to play sniper.

Overgrown is a battlefield with a combination of buildings and fences with lots of growth as well as long vistas where you can get a clear shot at someone far away. I found it exceedingly hard to stay alive for a long time on that map.

Salvage is a snowy junkyard setting that is more like a maze for close combat. Storm has lots of rain pouring down over an industrial complex. Bailout is a scene from Washington D.C., where you fight it out in a suburban apartment complex with an empty swimming pool and lots of indoor and outdoor action. Everything looks realistic, and the attention to detail is great, down to the bullet holes in walls and flaming wrecks.

The good news is the maps are well designed. You can never dominate a map from a single position, and someone is always sneaking up behind you. I expect I’ll be able to put a lot of hours into multiplayer, thanks to these new additions. But I really need to regain my skills in playing this ultra-fast game. Even the Crash map seemed fairly fresh. Although I knew how to play on that map, I could barely stay alive on it. I should have had a tactical advantage, but the environment in all of the maps was truly murderous.

The problem with the map pack is that it is expensive. By contrast, Electronic Arts says its new maps for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 are free for anyone who bought the original game (and has a working VIP download code).

A lot of companies are still testing the waters on prices for downloadable content. If you nickel and dime customers, they might go somewhere else where they can get an “all you can eat” plan. Even if it isn’t a bargain, this is going to be a stimulus for Activision Blizzard’s profits. If the company sells five million of them at $15 each, that’s $75 million in revenue right there, which is a lot more than the sales of many full $60 console games.

Activision Blizzard is set to keep on milking this franchise. You have to figure that the company will release more map packs soon, even if there is some disarray at Infinity Ward, the game studio that made the game, after Activision Blizzard fired the two co-founders.

Check out the trailer for the maps below.

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On the Internet, every day is April Fools’ Day

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My April 1st feature for The New York Times asks The Onion, Facebook, corporate pranksters The Yes Men, and anti-fraud firm Identity Theft 911 to explain how to tell what’s real on the Internet from what’s not.

The problem is that new Internet inventions can read so much like practical jokes. Remember April 1st, 2004, when Google announced a free email service called Gmail? A gigabyte of free personal storage was paired with an ad server that reads your mail. Hilarious, until people learned it was real.

As it turns out, the same buttons pushed by a good April Fools’ prank are similar to those that get people to fall for online fraud. Be careful of anything that makes you excited and angry at the same time. If it’s too good — or too bad — to be true, it probably is.

Most of this year’s April Fools’ hoaxes will somehow involve Google. The company now has the world’s most powerful brand, and its free services reach into most of our lives. So anything that suggests a runaway Google monster has potential. My favorite so far: Google Jail for Communities, which replaces the prison system with a much more attractive form of incarceration in which criminals are given the same gourmet food and broadband access as Google engineers.

If  you feel like fooling a few people in person, my Times colleague Bob Tedeschi did a roundup review of prankster apps that let you pretend to be having a smartphone conversation with someone else – Gotta Go, Fake Conversation, Fake-A-Call, SMS Faker and Fake-Call Me.

Whoops: YouTube upgrade takes down the site

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Google-owned video sharing site YouTube, whose marketers have billed it as the word’s second largest search engine, is currently throwing HTTP error messages at some of the Web surfers trying to check out the site’s new look or, more likely, just wanting to watch some clips.

There’s a lesson for startup founders here. Too often, companies who approach VentureBeat for coverage try to schedule a big launch event in which news about the company is published at the same time the engineering team throws the big red switch on an all-new website.

Bad idea. It’s better to update the site quietly, even if you’re making the move from private beta to public availability and risk having a few people find it before you get the word out. A high-profile launch risks knocking the site down just when it’s being looked at critically.

From my experience, launch events are often pushed by investors who want to create buzz around their funding decisions. It’s tough to say no to the people holding the purse strings, but show them this screenshot and ask if that’s what they want potential customers to see as their first impression. YouTube can get away with it. You can’t.


Toura helps museums build their mobile apps

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Toura, a company that wants to help cultural institutions offer virtual tours in the form of mobile applications, just announced that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from unidentified angel investors.

The New York company says that, by using its web-based tools, an attraction like a museum or a zoo could create interactive multimedia tours that can then be distributed on iPhone, Android, Nokia, and BlackBerry devices. These tours are a form of marketing for Toura’s partners, but they can also be seen as educational tools, allowing a museum to share its art collection with a broader audience, for example.

There are no upfront fees, Toura says. Presumably it shares the revenue if the application drives ticket sales or other purchases.

Although there are plenty of mobile app creation startups out there, Toura’s focus appears to be unique. None of its applications are live yet, so we can’t judge the results, but the company did announce its first partner, the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Who’s Making Money From Open Source in the Cloud?

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Event moderator Bernard Goldstein, GigaOM Pro analyst and CEO of HyperStratus; SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin; and Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation

At this morning’s Bunker Session, the central question of the relationship between cloud computing and open-source software was answered early and often. The one thing everybody agreed upon is that most clouds of any appreciable scale are built on open-source software and, in fact, might not even exist without it. As to whether there’s any money to be made with open source, however, there was enough contention to go around.

The rub, as posited by Citrix’s Simon Crosby, is that everybody making money with open source actually has a proprietary angle. Open source is a great tool for advancing products, branding a company and expanding its reach, but vendors make their money with proprietary solutions. This holds true for companies ranging from Citrix with XenServer to Amazon with EC2. The numbers actually back up this proposition: Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, pointed out that the leading open-source investors aren’t VCs, but large IT companies like IBM, Intel and Google. Investment in open-source projects helps these companies crowdsource R&D — which saves time and money — before rolling out a commercial offering based on the results. This isn’t an indictment of vendors’ use of open source, by the way, it’s just reality –- not to mention smart business.

However, as Om pointed out from the crowd, there is a big difference between helping vendors make money and actually making money yourself. Save for Red Hat, most truly open-source companies don’t last too long before they’re snatched up by proprietary vendors that want to leverage the associated momentum and product capabilities in their own businesses. But the definition of success isn’t universal. SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin countered this argument with the position that open-source companies like JBoss and SpringSource, which did great things and built huge communities, are no less successful because they exited via acquisition rather than IPO.

Despite debate over what constitutes a viable open-source business model, the area from where we can expect to see one emerge is cloud computing. As I discussed recently in a GigaOM Pro column (sub. req’d), open-source products are building momentum in private-cloud settings especially, and the reason might be that they help users achieve the same efficiencies as large IT companies that invest in open-source projects.

Another possible avenue for open source success in the cloud is interoperability. When Yahoo’s Tom Hughes Croucher asked the Bunker crowd what the most likely solution to lack of interoperability among public clouds is, open source won by a landslide over vendor-developed standards. Opscodes’s Jesse Robbins buttressed this opinion by pointing out that many concerns over cloud interoperability and application portability can be addressed in the planning stages and by utilizing automation capabilities from companies like RightScale. Another possibility is to use an open-source interface like libcloud, which simplifies movement between clouds.

Where the money comes into play is when CIOs demand these types of capabilities before moving to cloud delivery models. As Accenture’s Joe Tobolski noted, they want to leverage the cloud, but they want to know there’s a workable Plan B and Plan C in case the primary cloud provider goes down. Cloud platforms don’t necessarily need to be open source if they’re open enough to work with third-party managements solutions. If an open-source company can build a cross-cloud automation product that lets businesses tweak it to suit their specific needs, that company might find itself in a position like Red Hat did when users were searching for a viable alternative to Windows.

Check out response to the event on Twitter via #fosscloud.

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New York Times Juices Up Its Document Viewer

This post is by from ReadWriteWeb

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typewriterThe New York Times’ new Doc Viewer 2.0 is, depending on what you value, either a pasted-on ornament of no real use to a typical news consumer, or it’s an open-source, crowd-sourcing game changer.

With information-taming technologies like search engines already at a reader’s fingertips, there is debatable value in the Doc Viewer’s ability to annotate a story with “raw” information. However, the fact that the Doc Viewer’s code is due to be released on an open-source basis introduces an additional value to it. It is not just the back-end that a media source, of whatever size, will have access to, but the whole megillah.


Want annotated source materials embedded in your kitty blog without having to churn code until the tears flow? You can do it.

This latest viewer by the New York Times is the latest iteration of a two year development process. The viewer allows reporters to augment stories by including evidentiary documentation and providing context to news stories. The viewer keys documents to words or phrases in the source story, allowing viewers to pursue the process to the depth they prefer. These “annotations” are similar to an old-fashioned “hot link” but with a new-fangled dynamic delivery.

Future versions will open up the annotation process to readers, instead of just the writers and editors. Additional features may include an embeddable version for blogs, a search-friendly version without JavaScript, variable image file type control and the ability to create custom annotation shapes. The open-source software behind Version 2.0 will be released “in the very, very near future,” according to the newspaper, and will be available on the Times’ Github page.

The key criticism to this undertaking, of course, is: so what?

BayNewswer quoted Aron Pilhofer, the paper’s editor for interactive newsroom technologies, as “recognizing that news organizations are slowly but gradually becoming more and more like technology companies.” They are, that is, more likely to triumph if they leverage a wider distribution of invested community members.

Alan McLean, interface engineer at the Times, says his focus is on the Doc Viewer as a reporting tool.

“Fundamentally what we are trying to do here is get as many tools in the belts of reporters as we can to assist them in telling stories online,” he told RWW. “Seeing it as a publishing platform is somewhat limited. It really depends on the kind of content that is being published.”

However, Chris Heisel, in a post on an earlier version of this viewer, said, “In a world where I can easily find more infor­ma­tion than I can ever pos­si­bly use does the public really need more access to raw infor­ma­tion.”

We read news in a politically and socially polarized environment. The most common charge against the NY Times – this most mainstream of MSM – is bias, that there is nothing more than a writer’s unexamined feelings or political secret sauce to support the angle of a given story. With foundational documents appended to the story itself, the reasonableness of the reporter’s approach should prove easier to determine.

But that is posited on the not-altogether-likely notion that reason and reality will overpower the desire to froth.

The New York Times is a syndication partner of ReadWriteWeb.


Vivaty shuts down site for user-generated virtual scenes

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Virtual world company Vivaty announced on its site today that it will shut down its user-generated “virtual scenes” site on April 16, another victim of the malaise around virtual worlds.

Jay Weber, chief technical officer and co-founder, announced on the company’s blog that the site will close because its business of letting users create their own 3D virtual spaces just hasn’t taken off.

“I apologize to our loyal users that this must be so,” Weber wrote. “ is a rather expensive site to run, much more than a regular web site, and Vivaty the company has been running out of money for some time. Our business model was to earn money through Vivabux sales, but that has never come close to covering our costs. We tried for months to find a bigger partner that would support the site, but that didn’t work out.”

Users will have about two weeks to take snapshots and videos of their scenes, which are not quite virtual worlds but more like 3D scenes. Users could create their own avatars and chat in the rooms that they decorated. Those who bought virtual currency with real money since Feb. 1 will get their money back. But the company won’t be able to reimburse those who adopted various offer contracts, such as cell phone subscriptions, via the Gambit offers, where players accept an advertising offer in lieu of making a payment.

If it seems like there is a funk hitting virtual worlds, it’s not your imagination. Recent closings include Forterra, Metaplace, and Some of this is hit or miss. IMVU and Linden Labs’ Second Life have boasted continuous growth. But Google Lively never got off the ground back in 2008.

By contrast, social networks such as Facebook and social games such as those made by Zynga have taken off, leaving stand-alone virtual worlds in the dust. Big budget online games such as World of Warcraft, which high production values, are also going strong. By contrast, Vivaty’s visual spaces didn’t look outstanding from the get go. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company received $9.5 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Mohr Davidow Ventures. It was founded in 2007, and back in late 2008 it had 25 employees.

[Update: Keith McCurdy, chief executive, said the company is in the final stages of being sold and that the intellectual property will be used as the foundation for something else].

[Update 2: McCurdy adds: “Why it didn’t work out. That is a long story. But I think the fact that we were targeting casual (web) virtual world users that still wanted a higher quality and 3D experience rather than 2D Flash was a key challenge. And then requiring the user to download a plug-in further made the proposition challenging. And as you pointed out in your article, virtual worlds are just not growing as a market segment, and may be shrinking. And social gaming has taken all the consumer interest.

In the end I think we can say Vivaty worked out as a technology platform to enable 3D avatar community experiences on the web. Which was our stated goal. I think the acquisition proves the technology is best of breed and desirable. We thought there would more consumer demand for a lightweight web based 3D avatar community along the lines of a simpler Second Life, and it just didn’t turn out that way.

When we started, Second Life was all the buzz. We thought that if the web was going to flourish with hundreds of Second Life like experiences, then someone would have to build the infrastructure. That was our goal. But it turned out Second Life was a single product and definitely not a foreshadowing of the future transformation of the web. At least not for a good while.”]