Saturday, August 27, 2011

Insulin pump hacker says vendor Medtronic is ignoring security risk

Jerome Radcliffe scared a lot of people — including himself, since he is a diabetic — when he showed how easy it was to hack an insulin pump from a distance at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas early this month.

At the time, Radcliffe didn’t disclose the names of vendor names or models. He withheld the information to stay within legal boundaries, to protect himself, and to make sure he did not arm criminal hackers with the means to undertake the actual hacks. Today he revealed in a conference call that the company in question was Medtronic and it has not acknowledged that there is a security risk.

“I chose not to disclose the details to protect the public safety of diabetics,” he said today in a conference call. But that was before he ran into a brick wall with Medtronic.

Now he has worked with the Department of Homeland Security and the Computer Emergency Response Team to contact the vendor of insulin pumps. He said he expected to get honest, public disclosure from the vendor about what it would do to fix the problem.

“I expect a company to be truthful with any press statements and to do fact checking,” he said. “I expect a comprehensive solution in a timely manner.”

Today, Radcliffe revealed that the company was Medtronic, which had an engineer available at his talk in early August. Radcliffe said that on Aug. 9, Medtronic posted a statement on its web site that says it wasn’t really a security problem. Radcliffe was unsettled by that and emailed the engineer again. On Aug. 12, the DHS contacted the company and got no response. On Aug. 15, Congress sent a letter to the General Accounting Office asking for an investigation. And on Aug. 24 Medtronic gave an Associated Press reporter the same reinforced PR statement. CERT also contacted Medtronic.

“Medtronic takes very seriously the issue of information security of its devices,” the company said in a statement. “It’s an integral part of the very fabric of our product design processes.” It also said, “To our knowledge, there has never been a single reported incident of wireless tampering outside of controlled laboratory experiments in more than 30 years of use.”

The company made a point to minimize the importance of Radcliffe’s work, which prompted Radcliffe’s follow-up call with reporters today.

“It was really disappointing to me they would publish this information without doing any fact-checking whatsoever,” Radcliffe said. “You should contact Medtronic and let them know you find this type of behavior unacceptable. If you are a customer, you should demand they take this issue seriously and be truthful.”

With diabetes, a patient can’t properly process sugar in his or her blood because the body can’t make enough insulin, which bonds with the sugar and turns it into fat. Patients have to inject themselves with synthetic insulin as often as several times a day to keep their blood sugar under control. If they have too little or too much sugar in their blood, the results can be incapacitating or even life threatening.

Insulin pumps use wireless sensors that detect blood sugar levels and then communicate the data to a screen on the insulin pump. The patient can monitor the readings and inject the insulin as needed. Radcliffe reverse-engineered the pumps and the wireless connectivity and figured out that the system was relatively unprotected. It was configured more like a dumb device where the manufacturers assumed no one would try to hack it.

There was no encryption, since that requires more complicated processing and would make the battery for the device run out faster. The sensor has to run on a 1.5-volt watch battery for two years. Adding encryption?also makes the device more expensive. Once Radcliffe,?who has used insulin pumps for a while and has been a diabetic since he was 22,?understood how the devices worked, it was relatively simple to figure out how to hack them.

Radcliffe says he really wants to educate people on how to better protect medical devices. He explained how he figured out how to hack insulin pumps, which rely on wireless connectivity and are therefore vulnerable to being intercepted and compromised.

At Black Hat, Radcliffe tackled the problem of hacking the wireless sensors that collect blood sugar information and transmit it to the insulin pump. He had to figure out what kind of chips are used in the sensors, which he did with some digging. Since the devices emit wireless signals, the manufacturers have to submit designs to the Federal Communications Commission, which investigates whether the device emits anything harmful. Those filings contained valuable information on how the devices operated, Radcliffe said. The data-sheets for the chips had good information, and the patent for the $6,000 or so?insulin pump was also useful.

Once he IDed the sensor, Radcliffe went through the process of deciphering what the?wireless transmissions meant. These?transmissions are not?encrypted, since the devices have to be really cheap. The transmissions are only 76 bits and they travel at more than 8,000 bits per second. To review the signal, Radcliffe captured it with a $10 radio frequency circuit board and used an oscilloscope to analyze the bits.

He captured?two 9-millisecond transmissions that were five minutes apart. But they?came out looking like gibberish.?He captured more transmissions. About 80 percent of the transmissions had some of the same bits. He reached out to Texas Instruments for help but didn’t have much luck. He told the TI people what he was doing and they decided not to help him.

That was as far as he got on deciphering the wireless signal from the sensor, since there was no documentation that really helped him there. He couldn’t understand what the signal said, but he didn’t need to do that. So he tried to jam the signals to see if he could stop the transmitter. With a quarter of a mile, he figured out he could indeed mess up the transmitter via a denial of service attack, or flooding it with false data.

The problem for manufacturers is that the wireless connection on the insulin pump is also not secure. He wrote a “scanner” program that could query for the device’s wireless signal and it pretty much gave itself away with no encryption to interfere with the scanning. If you can get the serial number of the specific device, you can use that to devise a transmission that issues an instruction to it. Radcliffe can control the pump from a distance. He did it on one device that he owns, not a series of devices, since it was his own personal research. He doesn’t know if some pumps are more secure. He isn’t disclosing the vendor yet, but he will work with the vendor to help create a solution.

Radcliffe figured out that if he reversed the format of the signal, he could then capture a transmission identification and then retransmit it with fake data. That would cause the insulin pump to inject too much or too little insulin into the person’s bloodstream, potentially killing the patient. The pump did nothing to inform the patient that its data had been altered.

Hacking medical devices isn’t a pretty subject. But it is perfectly possible and manufacturers of those devices shouldn’t ignore the possibility that it can be done. The problem of lack of security awareness among the manufacturers has been around for a while. In 2008, a security researcher at the?Defcon security conference?showed how he could turn off someone’s pacemaker.

Radcliffe says that next-generation pumps may use Bluetooth wireless radio, which has also been hacked in the past. Research is being done into whether the pumps and the sensors can be integrated so that humans don’t have to make their own assessments about how much insulin they need.

Radcliffe said he has ordered a new insulin pump from a Medtronic rival, Animas. The vulnerable pumps are the Paradigm models 512, 522, 712, and 722. He said that the risks are still low in terms of a hacking attack against individual users. But he said users should be concerned about the behavior of companies.

“I can’t continue supporting a company I find unethical,” he said. “I will continue to be committed to fully disclosing and cooperating with Medtronic no matter what their conduct is. Public safety is the top security.”

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Tags: Black Hat, hackers, insulin pumps, security

People: Jay Radcliffe

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Max Levchin leaves Google, Slide gets axed — blame Google+

Just one week after Slide’s Photovine photosharing app officially debuted, it appears that trouble is afoot for the Google-owned social app startup.

Slide founder Max Levchin (pictured right), who also cofounded PayPal, is leaving Slide and Google, All Things Digital reports. Slide itself will be shut down in the next few months, and remaining employees will be shuffled into Google proper. Meanwhile, the company’s apps, including the messaging app Disco and its other photo-sharing app Pool Party, are on track to be sunsetted — a fancy way of saying they’re going to be shut down.

For Google, a company that has typically made wise and forward-thinking acquisitions, the news comes as a surprise. Google purchased Slide last August for around $200 million, and it ran independently with the hopes that it would buoy Google’s flagging position with social apps and services. But that was before Larry Page reclaimed his CEO role at Google, restructured the company, and put an extraordinary emphasis on getting social right.

Now Google has Google+. Its fledgling social network is growing rapidly and has greatly reduced much of Slide’s initial value for the company. The gorgeous photo sharing in Google+, for example, competes directly with Photovine and Pool Party.

It’s also worth noting that many of Slide’s products, including Disco, Photovine and Pool Party, are iOS-only with no Android support. Indeed, Slide has seemed out of step with Google’s social moves for some time, something that can be attributed to the company being run autonomously.

The real question now is why did Google take so long to figure things out with Slide. The company could have saved a lot of wasted manpower and resources had it decided earlier that Slide’s apps weren’t necessary.

Slide has some 100 employees, some of which will land at YouTube (also run independently from Google), All Things Digital reports. Slide head of product Jared Fliesler is also jumping ship to Square, where he’ll join up with his former colleague Keith Rabois.

Next Story: Pandora beats analyst estimates, reports $67M record?revenue
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Tags: apps, Disco, Google Plus, Photovine, Pool Party

Companies: Google, Slide, Square

People: Jared Fliesler, Max Levchin

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Sequoia Capital raising fifth growth and principals funds

Storied venture capital firm Sequoia Capital is in the process of raising a new growth fund and principals fund, the firm has confirmed with VentureBeat.

Sequoia would not disclose any new details about the funds when contacted by VentureBeat. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicated that the firm is raising a new fund, but the filings do not list the amount of money the firm expects to raise for its fund.

Sequoia Capital raised its last “growth fund” in 2008, when it raised $925 million.

The firm’s growth-stage investments include the likes of Apple, eHarmony, Evernote, Google and Jive, an enterprise social networking company that filed to go public yesterday to raise up to $100 million. The growth stage investments range between $10 million and $100 million, according to the firm’s website.

Next Story: Why Apple employees avoid getting in the elevator with Steve?Jobs
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Tags: growth fund, investments, Venture Capital

Companies: Sequoia Capital

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Top 10 Steve Jobs resignation reaction stories

Everyone’s talking about Steve Jobs resigning as CEO at Apple (just like they did in 1985, image at left) but a few publications are doing it in unique ways. Here are my top 10 favorite resignation stories.

10. “No, Jobs would never be called Steve Jock,” writes?Patrick Dorsey at ESPN. “But the now-former Apple CEO impacted athletics in many, many ways.” Dorsey goes on to list them in this article “Steve Jobs had a major impact on the sports world.”

9. Want to talk to your friends about the future of Apple leadership without sounding like an idiot? Read the article “After Steve Jobs’ resignation, 5 top executives at Apple” from the Economic Times. It’s short and sweet and gives a “who’s who” of executives you will be hearing about now that Jobs stepping down.

8. Lot’s of news sites are speculating about Jobs’ health. Elizabeth Landau at CNN writes about this topic well in “Piecing together details of Jobs’ health history.“

7. Dave Caolo at has this interesting post: “Steve Jobs has 313 patents to his name, including some unexpected.”

6. “The moment Apple’s biggest fan met Steve Jobs” on The Next Web is a big, warm, fuzzy story that will make you want to get a haircut.

5. Oh, The Onion. “New Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘I’m Thinking Printers’ “

4. This story really is number 1, but since it’s my story I’m going to act like it isn’t (it is) and stick it in here at number 4: “Why Apple employees avoid getting in the elevator with Steve?Jobs“

3. does a great breakdown of Jobs’ top inventions with pictures in the post “Top Inventions of Steve Jobs.” If you don’t have a whole lot of time to read, this story is a fun skimmer.

2. “Steve Jobs steps down the first time: The 1985 press coverage” from is a good roundup of what major news outlets reported that year. Some of it is being repeated now, almost verbatim. I nabbed the InfoWorld image used in this post from them. It’s fantastic.

1. If this list isn’t enough, KQED has 14 more stories to checkout.

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Tags: resignation

Companies: Apple

People: Steve Jobs

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Vizibility wants to help you game Google

VizibilityPotential employers are going to search for you, it happens. But Google can be a fickle mistress. That’s why Vizibility has raised $1.3 million in a follow-on seed round to give you the Googling power back.

Vizibility has created a “search me” button that displays personalized Google search results in a pop up window. These results are managed through the “PreSearch” wizard, which allows you to design and control what appears in your pop up window. From there you can embed the button on your site and direct curious friends, family and potential employers to the pre-approved you.

My first question was, will this skew actual search results? The answer is no. From that pop up, the searcher can access all of your Google results in their natural order on the Google site. The benefit of Vizibility, however, is the interception. It gives you the opportunity to quench the curiosity before digging begins. Furthermore, the pop up doesn’t actually look shaddy, or like you’re trying to hide something. It’s a direct list of links that look and feel like Google search results.

Vizibility’s price points vary based on whether you are an individual or a coJames Alexandermpany. Company prices range from $30-$200 a year and individual prices range from free to $10 a month. Dependent on what level you purchase, you will receive the Vizibility button and wizard along with a personal QR code, Twitter and Facebook updates that appear when people search for you, a report when your search results change in Google, a “button report” showing who uses your button, and more.

The follow-on seed round was led by Launchpad Venture Group as well as Boston Harbor Angels, New York Angels, TiE Angels, and individual investors.

“We’ve got a great team in place and a business plan that is delivering compelling results. That, plus our two search innovation patents, is why we’ve been able to raise over $2 million in capital thus far,” James Alexander, Vizibility chief executive said in a statement.

Vizibility was founded in 2009 and is currently headquartered in New York City.

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Tags: button, pop up, search results

Companies: Google, Vizibility

People: James Alexander

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Xbox Live Gold members get a nice ESPN update


Reaffirming its strategy to evolve the Xbox 360 into an all-in-one entertainment device, Microsoft debuted an update to its Xbox Live ESPN sports offering Thursday.

The new ESPN on Xbox Live channel adds a number of new or updated features, such as event reminders, sports news notifications, voice controls via Xbox Kinect and an easily accessible college football scoreboard. Perhaps the most notable addition is the ability to watch a live sports game while also checking scores, reading news or even watching a second game via a new split screen feature.

Previously, Xbox Live Gold members had access to sports content from ESPN3, which includes live events and highlights from over 400 college football games, 31 bowl games and 75 exclusive games (about 50 of those happening in the first five weeks of the season). But the user experience wasn’t very impressive, according to avid Xbox gamer, sports nut and Geeks of Doom Managing Editor Jay Dussault.

“It was pretty cool for highlights and such, but most of the live events I found were weird sports like cricket and rugby — sometimes soccer,” Dussault said, adding that he rarely thought to use his Xbox when more exciting sports games were available.

However, the new features available in the update optimize the experience of viewing ESPN3 content on an Xbox.

“The focus on more exciting sports, reminders of what’s on, and the ability to watch split screen paired with the live alerts and Bottom Line (and perhaps having the ability to control it with voice commands via Kinect) make it well worth having for sports nuts,” Dussault said.

Image courtesy of Microsoft

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Tags: ESPN, ESPN3, sports, streaming video, Xbox Live

Companies: Microsoft

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Electronic Arts’ The Sims Social hits 4.6 million daily players a week after launch

Electronic Arts’ latest Facebook game, The Sims Social, has picked up more than 4.6 million daily active users after launching a week ago, according to AppData.

The Sims Social was the fastest growing social game this week, picking up 2.6 million daily active users as of the beginning of the week and 1.2 million daily active users today alone. That’s compared to Zynga’s smash hit Empires & Allies, which lost around 328,000 daily active users today. Frontierville, another Zynga game that recently released a new sub-game called Pioneer Ville, lost around 220,000 daily active users today, according to AppData.

Electronic Arts’ newest social game looks like it will give Zynga — which hasn’t really faced any stiff competition in Facebook games —?a run for its money. That’s because the game has a massive franchise and name behind it, along with a development team that has a pretty stellar track record. EA has sold more than 140 million copies of the The Sims and its sequels and expansion packs and has generated around $3 billion in revenue from it.

The Sims Social is basically a lightweight version of The Sims built into a browser on Facebook. The team behind The Sims and casual games maker Playfish both worked on the game. Electronic Arts bought Playfish in 2009 when it was vying with social games maker Zynga for the top social gaming spot.?Zynga has since lurched ahead and claimed the top spot, with 264 million monthly active.

Before The Sims Social launched, Electronic Arts had around 29 million monthly active users,?according to AppData. The company has since risen to around 34.6 million monthly active users, passing social gaming company Wooga (which has around 34 million monthly active users).

The Sims was a smash hit with casual gamers because it was a very light game that was easy to get into and offered a lot of depth. You basically control a “sim” as it lives its life and try to achieve lifetime goals — which lets gamers accomplish whatever they want to do in the game. ?The games are known for having tongue-in-cheek humor and sharp writing.

Electronic Arts has not-so-quietly established a fierce casual and social gaming team. The company bought Playfish back in 2009 and also bought casual games maker PopCap?for $750 million. Both teams have made successful games, and once the PopCap deal closes,?there’s a good chance Playfish will be working with casual games maker PopCap.

Next Story: SoundHound parnters with Spotify to offer music streaming in?Europe
Previous Story: Insulin pump hacker says vendor Medtronic is ignoring security?risk

Tags: CityVille, Farmville, social games, The Sims, The Sims Social

Companies: Electronic Arts

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Facebook schedules f8 conference for Sept. 22

Facebook has scheduled its f8 conference for Sept. 22 in San Francisco. The all-day event is where the company’s engineers and product teams will highlight “new tools along with best practices for developers and partners building the next generation of social practices.”

That likely means Facebook will have some kind of meaty announcement by that time. We don’t know what it is, but it could include numerous items such as Project Spartan, Facebook’s latest push into mobile social networks. Facebook said on its developer blog that there will be “some exciting product announcements that enable a new class of social apps.”

The conference is late this year, but it is likely tied to the company’s schedule for big upgrades. Facebook last held its f8 conference on April 21, 2010. At that event, it introduced a number of new features, and chief executive?Mark Zuckerberg delivered a keynote speech in which he introduced the Like button and talked about Facebook Credits.

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Tags: f8

Companies: Facebook

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Gowalla trims feature set, eliminates virtual items and notes from check-ins

Gowalla ItemsLocation-based social network Gowalla is trimming its feature set to improve the overall user experience, according to Gowalla founder and CEO Josh Williams, who made the announcement in a blog post Thursday.

The company will eliminate the use of virtual items within Gowalla that users could attain by checking in to different locations. Also gone is the note taking feature, which Williams hinted may return further down the line.

Williams said Gowalla’s feature reassessment addressed things about the service that weren’t working. For instance, he reveals that fewer than half a percent of Gowalla’s active community makes use of virtual items.

“As Gowalla has grown we’ve added many new features to the product. Some have had great success. Others haven’t worked out as well as we’d hoped. After the two-plus years of consistent feedback and amazing experiences, we believe this is an opportune time to prune the branches that were twisted in order to focus on the experience we desire to cultivate,” Williams wrote. “This has led us to some difficult decisions.”

Arguably, Gowalla’s announcement signals a win for top location-based social network competitor Foursquare — and just days after Facebook removed its own location-based Places feature. check-in features.

Founded in 2007, the Austin, Texas-based startup has $10.5 million total funding from Greylock Partners, Shasta Ventures, Maples Investments, Founders Fund, Alsop Louie Partners and others.

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Tags: check-ins, Gowalla, location-based social networking, virtual items

Companies: Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla

People: Josh Williams

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Why Apple employees avoid getting in the elevator with Steve Jobs

With all of the supernatural success swirling around legendary Apple CEO Steve Jobs as he steps down from the position, it’s easy to forget that he’s human. Michael Dhuey, 53, had two opportunities to experience the real Jobs through working with him.

“I had a good experience with Steve, but I also know people who did not,” laughs Dhuey during a phone interview from Cupertino, CA.

Dhuey is currently a tech lead and one of the founders of the Cisco Systems video teleconferencing department. He knows Jobs professionally after working with him on two significant projects in Apple history: The Macintosh II in 1987 (Dhuey was an electrical and computer engineer at Apple then, and co-invented the computer) and the original iPod in 2001 (Dhuey was one of two engineers who developed the hardware).

“He was very clear about what he didn’t like,” says Dhuey. “He was not filtered with his input. If he was in a meeting that was boring him, he would be blunt. He’d say, ‘I don’t need to see this, let’s move on.’ And we would. He didn’t suffer a fool.”

Dhuey recalls that people would dread getting into an elevator with Jobs. If you got on at the 4th floor, you’d better have captivated him by the time you got off on the 1st. Jobs remembered you when you had a great story to tell. He also remembered when you didn’t.

“He would ask you what you were working on, and people started to dread that question,” chuckles Dhuey. “Everyone started preparing questions to ask Steve in case they accidentally got in the elevator with him. A good question for Steve would keep the pressure off you.”

The types of people getting in elevators at Apple, the employees, are no slouches. These are very smart people doing interesting things. Dhuey was no exception. He began programming at age 14 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and by age 15 was working professionally as a programmer at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance. He received his computer engineering degree in 1980 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison then worked at Apple Computer from 1980 to 2005. Design News nominated him for “Engineer of the Year” in 2006 and 2007.

Jobs didn’t care about resumes and awards, though. He cared about how that person was currently contributing to Apple. Jobs also cared about being efficient. When there wasn’t a question worth asking, or an answer worth telling, there would be silence.

“I remember going into work and it was always very quiet,” says Dhuey as he recalls the building where he and a dozen others had worked on the Macintosh II. “There were only about a dozen of us [in the Macintosh II department] and, though Steve had offices in more than one building, he had one in the corner of our building. He would sit in there and work quietly on an education computer. Several years later that would become the iMac.”

A little known-fact Dhuey recalls is that Jobs has hearing loss.

“When we did the iPod we had to make sure it would be loud enough for Steve to hear the music,” says Dhuey. “We had to balance his need for volume with a French law against things that were too loud. He tends to get early prototypes and these were built with Steve’s needs in mind.”

Dhuey learned that Jobs loved the Beatles and “standard pop music.” Dhuey also talks about how Jobs pushed against having noisy fans in any hardware. Perhaps this also had to do with his hearing issues.

“He didn’t like noise,” says Dhuey. “His products were all quiet and looked nice. That was his focus. He wasn’t interested in how the electronics were done. His role model was Sony, a consumer business with a consumer product. He thought their success was based on industrial design and smart pricing, and that’s what he emphasized at Apple.”

At the end of the interview, Dhuey reminds me of one of Jobs’ most obvious human-like failures: NeXT.

The computer industry hit a sales slump in 1984, and Apple was forced to conduct significant layoffs. The stress of the situation strained Jobs’ relationship with other Apple executives and at the end of May 1985, Jobs left Apple to create NeXT Computer. The company struggled to thrive when the expensive computers failed to fit mainstream wallets and needs. Only 50,000 machines were sold by 1993 and the company transitions to software-only. In 1996, Apple bought NeXT for $429?million, and reacquired Jobs as CEO. Jobs finally hit his stride, after a decade of struggling.

“As much as he had success with his return to Apple, he didn’t have that level of success with NeXT,” says Dhuey.

And despite Jobs’s obvious success at Apple, the company’s growth is not due to Jobs alone, says Dhuey.

“The media likes to create this impression that Steve is the only one who does anything at Apple, but the whole company isn’t run by one man.”

Next Story: No Galaxy S II for Verizon, but expect a similar Samsung?phone
Previous Story: Sequoia Capital raising fifth growth and principals?funds

Tags: biography, engineers, workplaces

Companies: Apple, Cisco, NeXT

People: Michael Dhuey, Steve Jobs

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Google Plus struggles to add women after mostly-male launch

Since the launch of Google Plus almost two months ago, Google’s social media network has grown faster than any other network, reaching over 20 million users in just a month. Google’s invite-only launch positioned Google Plus as a male-centric network, and early Google Plus adopters were quick to criticize the initial gender ratios.

Groups formed?to urge women to join the social network, adding significance to the female early adopter voice and rapidly spreading the word (and invitations).? has almost 14.5 million users indexed and shows a gender ratio on it’s home page of approximately 32% female; about two men to every one woman. This is a small decrease since the previous?Paul Allen report?of 33% female over a month ago; however, Google has yet to release any official statistics.

A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, The Social Impact of Technology, lists women as the predominate sex in most social media networks. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that from 2008 to 2010 the number of women using social media increased while the amount of men decreased. The study also indicated women more frequently update statuses, comment on posts and photos, and are more apt to click Facebook’s “like” button. Women, simply put, are the backbone for most social media sites.

Google indirectly acknowledged women have something “different” to offer, at least in product design, when they posted this Girls in a Tech World video.?I believe Google has approached Google+ with an “enlightened” perspective — where ideas and information have been given weight based on the merit of the idea. In theory it’s a lovely premise to strive towards. The truth is, however, men and women not only operate differently in real life, they operate differently online as well. “Women’s behavior online … is less transactional and more relationship-driven,” according to Businessweek. The subtle point-of-view shift between men and women is likely to create different feedback between the two groups — feedback that could alter the direction of Google Plus.

Maybe Google gets this argument. It certainly stepped up month at BlogHer’s 2011 conference, demonstrating Google Plus (and it’s popular hangouts). Google gave BlogHer’s founders 3000 G+ invites for conference goers. But I can’t help but wonder it this is too little too late.

Inviting 3000 bloggers after Google Plus has over 20 million users, over a month after it’s launch, feels a bit like men were sent an invitation to the party by mail while women were sent a text message after the party had started.

(Image by Undertow851)

Clearly G+ has some incredibly talented women working on the project. And, certainly, other social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are heavily used by women, were developed by men. Twitter has the highest ratio of women to men with 64 percent female to 36 percent male (Pew Research Study).

Joseph Smarr, a Google Plus developer, states in this interview that once G+ was used outside of Google’s doors, it was used in ways surprising to Google Plus developers. Google Plus has organically evolved with its user base, whereas Twitter and Facebook’s evolutions were never shaped by users. Facebook kept a firm hand, while Google has constantly interacted with it’s users — in hangouts and chats, by commenting in streams and asking its followers for feedback.

Google Plus’s charm revolves around the user’s ability to communicate directly with developers — something other social networks haven’t done.

The service was presented to its audience for the past two months as an exclusive club — one where the users would help to mold and shape a new social media network through feedback.?This personal attention is what people love about Google Plus. It is also why female users feel frustrated Google didn’t take the time to consider who’s opinion they asked for first.

M.M. Faulkner recently abandoned her 5+ years as a vintage clothing dealer to return to writing. Her blog? on social media, technology, communication and society. You can follow her @payattentionppl or at?

Next Story: Zendesk opens new Denmark office, teams up with startup?incubators
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Tags: gender, Social networks, women

Companies: Google

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No Galaxy S II for Verizon, but expect a similar Samsung phone

Samsung Galaxy S IIVerizon Wireless won’t be joining the release party for Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S II smartphone, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Samsung plans to announce its long-awaited US Galaxy S II models at a New York City event on August 29, and the company is expected to bring versions of the phone to all major US carriers like it did last year. The Galaxy S II will still be announced for AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint next week, but now Samsung will be missing out on the biggest US wireless carrier.

But don’t fret Verizon users, the carrier apparently has a “very similar” Samsung Android smartphone on the horizon, according to the mobile site Boy Genius Report. The mystery device will sport specifications nearly identical to the Galaxy S II, which means it will have at least a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen, Samsung dual-core processor and improved 8-megapixel camera. It could be branded as a successor to the Droid Charge on Verizon, which is built by Samsung.

It’s worth noting that Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 5 within a few weeks, so Verizon could conceivably want to avoid the Galaxy S II launch so that it doesn’t distract consumers from the new iPhone.

Next Story: Top 10 Steve Jobs resignation reaction?stories
Previous Story: Why Apple employees avoid getting in the elevator with Steve?Jobs

Tags: Android, Galaxy S II, smartphones

Companies: Samsung, Verizon Wireless

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Skype launches new directory for third-party apps

New Skype AppsOnline voice and video communication service Skype recently opened a new directory site for third-party applications.

The directory will help raise awarenesss of apps using Skype’s API. However, it also represents a shift in the company’s relationship with its developer community, which it hasn’t always been on the best of terms with in the past.

The directory contains a mix of consumer and business apps. You can sort between app categories, pricing and developer. Right now there are only about 23 apps listed, the majority of which are Windows-only. Also, there are quite a few video and voice recording options, but little else at this point.

Skype has also created landing pages for each application, with all the basic information you’d expect to find, like release dates, system requirements, a comment section and ratings. Downloading the application sends you to the developer’s page.

It’s nice to see Skype stepping up its efforts to foster a developer community. I would imagine this strategy will only improve now that the company has been acquired by Microsoft.

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Tags: app directory, Skype, third-party apps

Companies: Skype

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Node nerds unite at the first-ever Node Summit

“I don’t cargo cult often, but when I do, I do it with Node.js.”

So runs a wry joke we recently read about Node.js, the somewhat suddenly popular server-side programming technology that’s been all the rage among developers in our acquaintance.

If you’re ready to join the cargo cult too, initiation is just around the corner.

Node Summit, the first-ever conference about all things Node, is coming up January 24 and 25 in San Francisco, so mark your calendars, book your plane tickets and train your eyes to the Bay Area sky in search of the Node-shaped beacon.

We got in touch with Joyent, the company that sponsors the development of Node.js. While they said the summit should be valuable for developers and investors, they also highly recommend that businesses sign up to attend, particularly companies planning large-scale or data-intensive real-time web apps or companies that have already done so and want to show their wares.

“This would include telcos, mobile operators and device makers, PaaS providers, Internet companies and enterprises with big data challenges,” said a Joyent spokesperson.

Sessions at the summit will cover “a range of areas where Node.js is relevant, including PaaS, Large Scale Web, Mobile and one or two others.

“We have invites out to industry experts and executives who are working on future computing challenges, who can talk about the need for technology that addresses these challenges and who can show why this is important for the target audience,” said the rep.

So far, Node-focused meetups and hackathons have been zeroed in on the technology itself. So the Node Summit team wanted to create a space to zero in on the business benefits of Node.js, including the efficiencies that companies are already seeing and hypothetical or theoretical benefits that haven’t yet been implemented.

“The Node.js project has evolved to the point that we are seeing large companies like LinkedIn start to deploy major applications using Node,” said our Joyent spokesperson, “and we are seeing significant interest as a result of this. We at Joyent were talking about holding such an event when we met up with Charles Beeler and Andy Jenks, and we decided to join forces.”

The summit is being produced by Joyent, El Dorado Ventures’ Charles Beeler and EMC Ventures’ Andrew Jenks. Both of the venture firms are also making financial contributions to the event.

Tickets should be available within the next couple months. The summit doesn’t yet have a website online, so interested parties should follow the above-linked Twitter account for more information.

Relevant vendors might be present, and the organizers are also planning to have a day of the summit “dedicated to a startup showcase (think LaunchPad)… about 30 startups leveraging Node.js in a significant way. These companies will each have a space to demo their stuff and meet with investors, and some will be invited to present on stage, as well.”

We’ll definitely be at the summit to report on Node news, and we’re particularly excited about the startup showcase. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

DevBeatCheck out DevBeat, VentureBeat’s brand new channel specifically for developers. The channel will break relevant news and provide insightful commentary aimed to assist developers. DevBeat is sponsored by the Intel AppUp developer program.

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Tags: developers, node, node.js

Companies: joyent

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Verizon acquires enterprise services provider CloudSwitch

Verizon-CloudSwitchVerizon on Thursday announced it will purchase cloud services firm CloudSwitch with the intent of boosting its enterprise and IT offerings.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Verizon plans to combine CloudSwitch with the Terremark IT services company it already owns. The company hopes the CloudSwitch software, which enables enterprises to easily move applications and workloads into the cloud, will help companies move over to Terremark’s services.

Specifically, CloudSwitch currently provides an interface so customers can port applications to Amazon Web Services, Terremark and Microsoft Windows Azure’s clouds. By owning CloudSwitch and Terremark, Verizon can assure customers of better security and control between CloudSwitch and Terremark. In theory, this could help peel some enterprise customers away from Amazon and Microsoft.

“The cloud market is a rapidly growing opportunity, with very real benefits both for our business customers and the consumers they serve,” said Bob Toohey, president of Verizon’s global enterprise unit, in a statement.

CloudSwitch previously earned $15.4 million in two funding rounds. In January, 2009, CloudSwitch raised $7.4 million in first-round funding from the likes of Atlas Ventures and Matrix Partners. The company then grabbed another $8 million in its second round in June, 2009. The company was reportedly in talks for a third round when Verizon approached it with an acquisition proposal.

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Tags: Amazon Web Services, cloud services, enterprise services, Microsoft Windows Azure

Companies: Amazon, CloudSwitch, Microsoft, Terremark, Verizon

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What the !@#$ is marketing automation?

Marketing automation, depicted as a funnelVentureBeat inadvertently stirred up a storm of controversy when we published a guest post about marketing automation.

The guest post, by Justin Gray of LeadMD, looked innocuous enough at first. To our editors, it at first seemed like a straightforward list of the pros and cons of several different marketing automation solutions: Eloqua, Genius, Marketo, Pardot and Silverpop.

Unfortunately, when we published the post we neglected to mention one important fact: Gray’s company, LeadMD, is a reseller of one of those services, Marketo.

We should have disclosed that. Once alerted to the fact, we promptly added that disclosure to the article. We also rushed to correct a number of factual errors that Marketo’s competitors pointed out in the article, and we’ve invited those competitors to post followup articles of their own. One of them, Eloqua, accepted, and we published its post, “What’s next for marketing automation?” But it didn’t stop the stream of critical comments or emails, which eventually wore my patience thin.

The controversy pointed out one important thing, however: We need to know more about marketing automation. And there’s clearly a lot of interest in this topic.

So we invited Joe Chernov, vice president of content marketing at Eloqua, to join us in a Q&A. Joe has been criticizing our handling of the post firmly (yet politely) via e-mail for several days, so rather than pull any punches we decided to take our discussion into the public forum. I had questions for Joe about marketing automation, and he also had questions for me about VentureBeat’s handling of the story. Both exchanges appear below.

We’re also looking forward to continuing to report on marketing automation more carefully in the future, and we’d be especially interested to interview real users of the technology to get past the marketing claims. Got stories? Let us know.

Dylan Tweney, VentureBeat: Marketing automation sounds like another name for lead generation and customer relationship management. What’s the difference?

Photo of Joe Chernov, EloquaJoe Chernov, Eloqua: For the most part, marketing automation requires a customer relationship management system. Sometimes when someone who has never heard of the category before asks me what marketing automation is, I’ll tell them, “Think of your CRM system. Now think of your CRM system with a marketing engine build on top.”

Marketing automation combines technology, typically hosted, with business processes that score leads based on fixed criteria like title and size of company, as well as dynamic criteria, such as which web pages the person viewed, whether the individual attended a webinar or clicked through to an offer. Ultimately this information allows the marketer to better target messages and promotions to individuals based on their stated and implied interests. That process is generally called “lead nurturing,” which is a popular buzzword in the industry.

VentureBeat: I’ve already got Why would I need to add yet another service?

Chernov: Congrats! So do most of our clients. In fact, we tell prospects: If you don’t have a CRM system, you probably aren’t the right fit for marketing automation.

But to answer your question, you need another service because the goal of marketing automation is to get the ‘right’ leads in the hands of sales at the ‘right’ time. In many ways it’s an efficiency story: marketing automation is based on the concept of “nurturing” leads with relevant content until the individual appears ready to buy, and then routing that prospect to a sales rep at the optimal point in the buying process.

Most marketing automation systems, and not just Eloqua’s product, are integrated deeply into the top CRM systems. It’s a your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter relationship.

VentureBeat: How complicated are these services to implement?

Chernov: We are talking about a fairly significant shift in thinking for most companies. What job titles are given which score? What is more consistent with purchase behavior, a whitepaper download or webinar attendance? What conversion rate do we need if we are to make our numbers given the number of names in our database? These are unfamiliar, if not foreign, questions for many marketers. As a result, the “complications” are less on the technology side and more on the business process side.

We offer an educational program that promises to get new clients up and running in a few days. Other companies in the space have similar programs. Although it’s a rough and tumble category sometimes, I believe we all want to see this space continue to grow, so most vendors invest in training and education — both at the start and throughout the relationship.

VentureBeat: What’s the best way for a company to evaluate competing MA services that they’re considering?

Chernov: Ha. Now we are getting a little closer to the fault I found with your article!

There are a number of trustworthy people and companies in this category. A specialty analyst firm called SiriusDecisions really understands the marketing operations role (the function we often sell into), and they produce reliable research. As does Forrester Research. An independent named David Raab produced a behemoth report that breaks down pretty much every vendor and them some. I have personally found his writing to be reliable.

However there are a number of boutique shops who resell or service a subset of marketing automation vendors but claim to speak for the industry. That model can be confusing to a potential buyer.

Ultimately, I’d say this: You are going to have a relationship with your marketing automation vendor. It’s not ‘just’ a technology purchase. Do you trust them? My father said, “Trust your instinct. That’s why you have it.”

VentureBeat: What does an entry-level MA solution cost?

Chernov: There’s a product for every price point. I don’t want to speak for other vendors, but if you are a dentist’s office and want to be found online and do some lightweight nurturing of potential patients, well there’s a solution out there for a couple hundred bucks a month. If you are a multinational Fortune 500, well you can spend in the tens of thousands monthly. For a business with a small marketing department and sales team on a CRM system, figure the starting point is $1,500 or so per month.

Chernov: Now I’ve got some questions for you. What was your understanding of marketing automation prior to this “situation” and how has it changed?

VentureBeat: I knew very little about marketing automation and VentureBeat hadn’t covered it much, if at all. This was our introduction to the field.

Chernov: Had you known initially that the author of the article was a reseller for only one of the vendors reviewed, what would you have done differently?

VentureBeat: For starters, we would have disclosed that fact right away. As it happened, one of our editors did know this fact but didn’t add it to the author’s bio, which was a mistake.

Apart from that, I would have examined the story more closely for potential bias, and tried to educate myself more about the marketing automation space, so that I could make a more careful edit. That’s easy to say in hindsight, but generally we try to be alert to these things. Sometimes the generally fast pace of the news overwhelms our editing processes though.

Chernov: In our exchanges, you seemed committed to leaving the article up, but ‘making good’ with those who felt slighted by offering them an opportunity to contribute an article. What was the benefit to your solution?

VentureBeat: Unpublishing a story is never a good solution, in my opinion, because it leaves a vacuum that can only be filled by Google cache searches and the like. It makes it look like you have something to hide. Anyway, as a publisher of news, we can’t really hide something we’ve taken pains to publish. So making corrections allows us to try and make the original article better.

Offering counterpoints from other contributors helps widen the discussion and give our readers a more balanced view. Rather than try to quash the argument, I want to foster a debate, ideally right here on our site.

Chernov: Historically, news organizations that review consumer products have processes in place to remove all perceived bias. Reviewers, for example, need to return products to the manufacturer after testing. Do you feel there is a different standard when reviewing business-to-business products, like marketing automation in this case?

VentureBeat: We have those guidelines as well, and when we review products we take the same pains to avoid bias, and to disclose it where it’s unavoidable. However, this article wasn’t intended to be a review of these products: It’s an op-ed piece from a contributor who has some experience working in the field. We viewed it as an introduction to a market that we hadn’t covered much and weren’t expert in ourselves.

Chernov: Moving forward, will you ask contributors if they have a material connection to any of the subjects in the story?

VentureBeat: Absolutely. We’ve already added that to our contributor guidelines.

Chernov: You said that I criticized firmly but politely. As the executive editor for one of the technology industry’s most influential news sites, what would be the ideal reaction you would hope to receive from a vendor who perceives some injustice at the hands of a major publication?

VentureBeat: Firm but polite insistence that I was wrong. And rational persistence.

Like anyone, I’m busy and I’m likely to respond briefly (and perhaps irritably) to criticism of my amazing news team’s work. But if your argument has merit, it’s in my interest to hear it. More importantly, our readers need to hear it. That’s why we welcome comments, pro and con. And when necessary, we run followup stories.

Chernov: Is VentureBeat ever going to respond to one of my emails again after this ordeal?

VentureBeat: I’ve already created a special “Joe Chernov” filter in Gmail. I won’t say what folder it puts your mail into.

Funnel image credit: Gossamar. Photo of Joe Chernov courtesy Eloqua.

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Tags: CRM, customer relationship management, marketing automation

Companies: Eloqua, LeadMD, Marketo,

People: Joe Chernov, Justin Gray

View the original article here

Steve Jobs’s most ambitious product: Apple Inc.

Rendering of Apple's proposed flying saucer-like Cupertino campus

The list of iconic designs Steve Jobs made possible is long. But his most brilliant and ambitious design may be Apple itself.

Jobs, who announced his resignation as Apple’s CEO yesterday, is rightly hailed as one of the most design-savvy executives in the electronics industry. He’s also an impressive architect of business structures.

In the coming years, with Jobs out of the leadership role, we’ll see just how well-designed the company he spent 15 years assembling really is. My guess is that it’s very well put together indeed.

Jobs has been working on this “product,” Apple Inc., for a long time. Immediately after rejoining Apple in 1996, he killed Apple’s clone program, radically trimmed the product lines, and generally cleaned house. He hired designer Jonathan Ive, a smart move for a leader who knew that product design would be critical in the coming years. Just as critically, he also hired Tim Cook, a man known for ruthlessly efficient operations savvy.

Over the past decade and a half, Apple has quietly built not only an impressive product lineup, but also one of the most efficient and resilient manufacturing, distribution and retail systems in the world.

“You could argue that probably his greatest achievement was Apple itself,” said Leander Kahney, editor of Cult of Mac and the author of “Inside Steve’s Brain.” “He has embedded his DNA into the way it does things. I think it’s going to be around for decades, executing on that.

“It’s the corporate personification of his spirit.”

(Click here to see VentureBeat’s video interview with Leander Kahney about Steve Jobs and Apple.)

According to Kahney, there are two key components to Apple’s success: people and process.

The people side of that formula owes much to Jobs’s very hands-on approach to hiring.

“The single most important thing he does, himself, is recruit people,” said Kahney. Jobs hires the best talent he can find, whether it’s executive, engineering, or operational. Once the right people are on board, he helps ensure that those people are in an environment where they can do their best work.

That’s not to say that Jobs is a touchy-feely human resources type recruiter. He’s famous for terminating job interviews within five minutes if he senses that the candidate isn’t up to the task. And a good work environment doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t terrified of the boss, either. Jobs is a demanding leader who doesn’t hesitate to be rude to or even yell at employees if their work doesn’t measure up.

The second part of the formula is process: How Apple comes up with product ideas, again and again, and is able to manufacture those ideas consistently, in volume. It’s not just that the company has product design and engineering geniuses (it does), but it also has found a way of generating new ideas that is uniquely creative.

A big part of that is prototyping. Whereas other companies might make six or seven prototypes while developing a new product, Apple will make hundreds, Kahney said. “They discover these products through prototypes, and that’s what makes it so creative.”

Venture capitalist Stewart Alsop, of Alsop Louie Partners, also praises Apple’s internal process. For instance, Alsop says, the company plans on the first version of any given product failing. It knows that consumers and the market will uncover faults with a product that no amount of prototyping can resolve.

Because the company typically puts several years of work into each new product before unveiling it, that means it still has a substantial lead over its rivals, even if its first version doesn’t exactly surprise and delight the masses.

For instance, Apple put underpowered processors in the first version of its iPad in order to cut costs, and only upgraded the processor — significantly — with the iPad 2 when it recognized how important that was in the real world. But because Apple had already invested huge amounts of time into the engineering and manufacturing of the iPad (going so far as to acquire a chip company and create a custom chip for the iPad), it was already years ahead of competitors like Motorola, RIM and HP.

“Nobody can catch up with that, because they don’t have a process for creating great products,” said Alsop.

Manufacturing is another area where Apple has changed the game. The company has forged uniquely close relationships with Chinese manufacturers like Foxconn, and it regularly pushes the limits of what their factories are capable of doing.

The unibody aluminum shell of recent MacBooks, for instance, represents years of design and manufacturing work. The almost seamless way in which the front and back halves of an iPhone’s chassis fit together is another, less obvious innovation: Five years ago, that level of precision was impossible in mass-produced products.

Designer Jony Ive spends a lot of time in China, Kahney says, working with manufacturers on ensuring that their machines and processes are capable of mass-producing what Apple needs.

“I think they’ve reinvented mass production,” Kahney said. “As much of what they do goes into manufacturing techniques as the product themselves.”

“The whole process — how they manufacture products, how they source components — it’s totally amazing,” said Alsop.

Even the design of Apple’s proposed new campus reflects Jobs’s commitment to building a company to last. Its futuristic design has been compared to a flying saucer, and the renderings that the company included in its planning proposal to the city of Cupertino, where they hope to build it, have a celestial, otherworldly feel to them. Beams of sunlight shoot out from behind the sleek lines of the circular building, making it look like it is about to float off into space — or perhaps has just crash-landed on Earth like the Starship Enterprise.

It’s clear that the building is intended as an icon, a monument: a permanent reminder of what makes Apple unique. It’s even got a circular shape that encloses a central courtyard like the walls around a fortress keep, enclosing a special, secret, pristinely “Apple” space. Working there, you’d be constantly reminded of the man who made the company.

“Tim Cook can probably hold the team together, so the real question is 10 years out,” said Alsop, who foresees years of continued revenue growth for the Cupertino company.

To sum up: Jobs has spent 15 years building the ultimate machine for inventing, manufacturing and selling consumer electronics, and just because he’s retiring, the machine is not about to grind to a halt any time soon.

“This guy’s been thinking about it for a long time,” Alsop said.

Related stories on VentureBeat:

Top image: Rendering from Apple’s proposal to the city of Cupertino, Calif.

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Tags: design, iPad, iPhone, ipod, Macbook, Macintosh, Manufacturing, retail

Companies: Alsop Louie Partners, Apple

People: Jonathan Ive, Leander Kahney, Steve Jobs, Stewart Alsop, Tim Cook

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A look at life inside Y Combinator from a two-time alumnus (video)

Y Combinator‘s Demo Days this year featured a crush of innovation and excitement. After 63 startups presented to a room full of reporters, VCs and other influencers, we were all exhausted — none more than the belles of this particular ball, the founders themselves.

So we gave the bright young men of Parse a day to recuperate before we asked them to drop into the VentureBeat studio in downtown San Francisco to talk about their experiences and their product.

The Parse team includes one former YC alum, Tikhon Bernstam, who had previously worked on Scribd in the 2006 class.

We chatted about what the team learned from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, how they liked working with the organization’s new designer-in-residence, Garry Tan, and whether they thought the highly controversial equity split was fair.

We also learned a bit about Parse itself. The product is a complete backend for mobile applications, designed to let mobile developers concentrate on their areas of expertise and never touch server code. We’ll have more on Parse in the near future.

Stay tuned for ongoing coverage of new Y Combinator comanies from the 2011 class.

DevBeatCheck out DevBeat, VentureBeat’s brand new channel specifically for developers. The channel will break relevant news and provide insightful commentary aimed to assist developers. DevBeat is sponsored by the Intel AppUp developer program.

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Companies: parse, Y Combinator

People: Paul Graham, Tikhon Bernstam

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Home energy management provider EnergyHub raises $14.5M

EnergyHub, a provider of energy efficiency products and associated software, announced today that it has raised $14.5 million in its second round of funding.

The company builds web-enabled home energy software that tracks electricity usage. It sells outlets, surge protectors, thermostats and the like that plug into a home’s network and then exports that data to a web-based interface. It then gives home owners suggestions — such as powering down an air conditioning unit — to save money on electricity.

“We market those solutions through two channels — utility companies and soon, directly to consumers,” EnergyHub’s marketing director Eric Fleming told VentureBeat.?”When smart meters are present, utilities can leverage EnergyHub systems to implement demand response programs.”

Right now the company sells its hardware to utility providers that then install the devices in homes. It plans to sell its energy efficiency hardware directly to consumers and homeowners soon, but Fleming didn’t say when those products would be publicly available.

The company is one of several that are developing “smart grid” technology — that is, managing an electrical power grid with advanced computer algorithms to promote better energy efficiency and reduce electricity waste.

The company also sells a “home base,” a small tablet-like device that tracks all the electricity in a home. EnergyHub already has mobile versions of its application for devices running Google’s mobile operating system Android or the iPhone operating system. But Fleming said that it makes sense for most consumers to get the home base to serve as a hub for the information.

“In order to get individual appliance-level control and information about energy use, you need an in-home network,” Fleming said. “Our Home Base integrates this capability into an in-home display.”

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Tags: energy efficiency, Smart Grid

Companies: EnergyHub

People: Eric Fleming

View the original article here

Pandora beats analyst estimates, reports $67M record revenue

Streaming music provider Pandora posted a 117 percent increase in revenue for a record $67 million after its first quarter as a publicly traded company, Pandora Media Inc. reported Thursday.

Pandora’s popular online radio service groups music into customized radio stations based on feedback from listeners. The company’s IPO in June opened with strong results that slowly dwindled as many questioned its ability to turn a profit.

The company’s overall boost in revenue, which beat the average analyst estimate of $61.1 million for the quarter, is due to strong advertising sales from its free ad-supported radio service. Its ad revenue increased 118 percent to $58.3 million, while subscription and other revenue rose $8.7 million.

Pandora saw the total number of hours people spend using the service increased to 1.8 billion (125 percent) compared to 800 million during the same quarter last year. The company also revealed that it had 37 million active users in July 2011.

Pandora faces competition from a growing number of streaming radio services, such as Spotify,, and CBS-owned as well as music download storefronts from Apple, Google and Amazon.

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Tags: radio, streaming music

Companies: Pandora

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Red Robot launches Life is Crime game with location-based play (exclusive)

There’s got to be more to location-based mobile games than checking in. That was the thinking behind the game startup Red Robot Labs and its first game, Life of Crime.

The game debuted on the Android Market yesterday, and it’s one example of the growing number of game developers who are targeting Google’s mobile operating system first before launching an iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) app. Life of Crime uses what Red Robot believes is going to be its critical asset: the R2 Gaming Network platform for making location games.

“From our view, nobody has cracked location gaming yet,” said Mike Ouye, chief executive and co-founder of Red Robot, in an interview.

A special version of the free-to-play game will be playable at the Penny Arcade Expo starting today in Seattle. The game can automatically put a layer on top of the map that looks and feels like a game (see picture). All of the major locations and landmarks are automatically identified. The map is persistent and it turns everyday places into contested criminal territory.

To perform missions, you have to be within range of about 500 meters or so of the location in question. Then the user can take over the building, rob it, leave loot, or search it for information or health packs. You can also gamble and win virtual currency at a location.

The players can add locations to the map. Users can operate in small gangs and build their reputation, energy, and other stats. You can customize your avatar, or virtual character, by buying clothes. You can level up your character and build your criminal reputation. Ultimately, the top player can become the Don of San Francisco or some other major area. Once you own pieces of territory, those places can generate “protection” money for you.

Ex-Playdom veteran Ouye (pictured left) and Pete Hawley (pictured right), a veteran game developer at Electronic Arts and Sony, started the company earlier this year to focus on making games for hardcore gamers on Android mobile devices. They believe that’s an untapped market.

“I’ve made console games for 15 years and I’ve been frustrated that there isn’t more to do on mobile games,” said Hawley, chief product officer. “We’re trying to drive people to meet new friends and play games with them. It’s active game play, not checking in.”

The company has grown quite fast. In January, Red Robot raised $2 million in funding from Rick Thompson, the former chairman of Playdom, and Chamath Palihapitiya, a former board member at Playdom. Red Robot already has 18 people. Ouye hopes to grow the team to about 50 people this year.

Rick Thompson, co-founder of Playdom, said, “The proliferation of smartphones is the most exciting opportunity in gaming today – always on, location aware and socially connected.? Red Robot Labs is among the first to tap into the full potential of this new platform; and they have nailed it with Life Is Crime.”

Life is Crime is a mafia-style game where you can enlist people into your crew and incorporate real world locations into the landscape of the game. You can take over a location, as you can location apps such as Foursquare or Gowalla. But you can also do a lot more. If you meet another player, you can fight, send a gift, or friend them. You can take out other players or watch news feeds for the activity of your friends. You can drop off contraband for someone else to pick up. At the Penny Arcade event, there will be a special leaderboard for players at the show.

Although the game targets hardcore gamers, the actions you take in the game can be done in 30 seconds or so. In that way, the game competes with apps such as Foursquare while the user is waiting in a line for coffee. In tests with members of Google’s Android team, players played the game about eight sessions a day for about 45 seconds each.

Ouye says an iOS version of Life is Crime will likely come out in around 45 days or so. Rivals include Mafia Wars from Zynga and Mobsters from Disney Playdom. Other check-in style rivals include Booyah’s MyTown as well as Foursquare, Gowalla and Shadow Cities. Ouye hopes to launch two more games this year.

“All of the other games take a different approach,” Hawley said. “We’re hanging our hat on location and a real game.”

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Tags: Life is Crime

Companies: Red Robot, Red Robot Labs

People: Mike Ouye, Pete Hawley

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Google brings voice search to Maps

Starting today, Google is letting users search Google Maps and get directions with just their voices — no typing required.

For now, this new feature relies on Chrome web browser functionality. From the browser, users can simply click the small, blue microphone icon in the search bar, begin speaking and see results accordingly.

The speak-to-search function has also been available in Google Maps mobile interfaces for a while, since hands-free directions are pretty important to on-the-go mobile users.

“Using voice search can make it easier to find hard-to-spell places (like Poughkeepsie or Liechtenstein) or simply get directions without typing (for example, say ‘Directions from Los Angeles to San Francisco’),” wrote Google engineer Jed Burgess on the company blog.

Here’s an overview of how Google voice search works:

Google’s voice search has been around for a while. The company first launched voice search for iPhone back in 2008.

Those mobile technologies made their way to the desktop earlier this summer at Google’s Inside Search event, where the company announced that people could use their computer’s microphone to accomplish the same search tasks with voice alone.

Last summer, the company launched voice actions for its Froyo-running Android phones. Also, at the end of last year, Google said it was making voice search smarter by bringing personalized voice profiles to its voice search app for Android.

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Tags: google maps, location, search, voice

Companies: Google

View the original article here

OpenFeint’s single sign-on for social games to replace Apple’s UDID (exclusive)

Apple caused panic among app developers last week when it announced that it would phase out an identification system for users on its mobile devices such as the iPhone. Mobile gaming company OpenFeint says it will help solve the problem created by the elimination of this feature by offering its own “single sign-on” identification system for app developers.

Apple’s announcement caused fear among developers because many use this unique device identifier (UDID) number to identify a user in order to quickly access that person’s history and offer cross promotions.?Apple decided to “deprecate” the UDID, meaning the company will phase out the use of the feature and no longer support it at some point in the future. Apple gave no explanation for the deprecation, but some speculated it was to end concerns about privacy.

“Developers have been panicking to some extent,” chief executive of OpenFeint, Jason Citron said. “That is why we decided to do this product.”

OpenFeint, which is owned by Japan’s Gree, said it already has 115 million users logging into games that use the OpenFeint mobile social gaming network for online play and leaderboards. Third-party app developers can now use the OFUID (OpenFeint user identification) to identify users in the same way that Apple did with UDUDs.

When a user starts playing a game or app with the OpenFeint system built-in, OpenFeint asks them to sign into their account. It asks the user if they want to access online play. If the user answers yes, OpenFeint signs them in and the app developer can get access to the player’s anonymized data and history, Citron said. OpenFeint has more than 6,800 games using its platform.

That’s certainly better than the alternative, where developers would have to create their own identification system requiring users to sign in with a username and password before playing a game. OpenFeint removes some of the potential hassle with a more streamlined sign-in system.

It isn’t a perfect replacement for UDID, which was able to log every time a user started a game. The OFUID can only gather information when the user logs into OpenFeint. That doesn’t happen every time a user plays a game. But Citron said this was the next best thing, as “the user can opt in with just one click.” The user has to have the OpenFeint app in order to sign in. However, to play online, users often have to download the OpenFeint app anyway.

The OFUID will give developers access to information such as what games are installed on the user’s phone, their usage of games, and what offers they have taken before. Developers would have otherwise had to figure out a way to do this on their own. To create the workaround, Citron said OpenFeint engineers had to figure out a way to do the single sign-on without using UDID numbers. Citron said that developers who use OpenFeint can learn how to better monetize their users with better targeting.

OpenFeint also announced an “install trade program” for developers that use the new sign-on process. OpenFeint will guarantee developers 1.5 new installs for every new install of Game Channel, an app that is needed for users to enjoy the benefits of single sign on. Game developers will be able to offer incentives for users to use the sign-on process, said Ethan Fassett, senior vice president of product at OpenFeint.

The single sign-on with OFUID will launch later this fall. Citron said that OpenFeint does not make money on this feature. On Android, Citron said that there are fewer restrictions related to the use of a UDID. But OpenFeint also offers its own single-sign-on process there.

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Tags: single sign on, UDID

Companies: Apple, Gree, OpenFeint

People: Jason Citron

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Inside Jobs’ brain: Author talks about “crazy secretive” CEO (video)

Steve Jobs is a notoriously private figure, but you can learn more about him in Leander Kahney’s book Inside Steve’s Brain. Kahney, currently the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac, stopped by VentureBeat to chat about the hurdles encountered while writing about Jobs. Kahney also talks about Jobs’ recent resignation.

Kahney approached over 100 people in the course of writing the unofficial biography, looking for sources who would tell him about the company, and no one would speak on the record — even former Apple employees.

“It was like getting blood out of a stone,” says Kahney. Inside Steve’s Brain required Kahney to fry his own in an effort to write thoroughly and?accurately?about a living legend.

In the interview we talk about reasons why Jobs is stepping down as well as his greatest accomplishments.

Spoiler Alert: “The greatest product that he ever made is Apple itself,” says Kahney.

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Tags: interview, Q&A

Companies: Apple, Cult of Mac

People: Leander Kahney, Steve Jobs

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GameStop pulls Deus Ex Human Revolution from stores after OnLive controversy

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Zendesk opens new Denmark office, teams up with startup incubators

Customer help desk management provider Zendesk today announced that it is opening a new office in Denmark and is teaming up with nearly a dozen startup incubators around the world to give its customer support software.

The company is working with the likes of Y Combinator and Seedcamp to give those attending startups its software for free for a year.?Zendesk operates a Web-based help desk service that lets companies track customer complaints across most of the web. It’s one of a number of startups trying to bring the ideas behind consumer-facing technology like Twitter and Facebook to the enterprise space.

“We were once a startup and we know how important it is to get help from those other companies whenever [you can] get it,” Zack Urlocker, the company’s chief operating officer, told VentureBeat. “Incubators weren’t around when we were getting started, and now that they are, they’re one of the best ways to get an idea off the ground, so naturally we wanted to work with them.”

Some of Zendesk’s largest customers are graduates from those same incubators.?The company now has 10,000 customers, including the likes of superstar startups Groupon, Airbnb and Dropbox. Erply, another major customer, is a graduate of Europe’s Seedcamp — another incubator Zendesk is working with.

“It isn’t a play for new customers,” Urlocker said. “We just wanted to throw some help out.”

The company now has more than 100 employees, and while it’s based in San Francisco, Calif., it has strong ties to Copenhagen, Denmark. That’s where the company is born and where the company has a “fan base,” Urlocker said. There’s a lot of talent there that the company would like to tap into, and it already has a large number of connections there thanks to Zendesk chief executive Mikkel Svane’s history in the city, Urlocker said.

Zendesk is part of a number of new-age venture-backed enterprise startups that are bringing consumer tech to the enterprise.?The company?recently closed its third round of fundraising,?worth $19 million. It also?closed a $6 million fundraising round in August 2009.

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Tags: customer help desk, enterprise, incubator, seed funding

Companies: Seedcamp, Y Combinator, Zendesk

People: Zack Urlocker

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Square who? Intuit brings its GoPayment mobile card reader to Verizon Wireless stores

Intuit and Verizon Wireless announced this morning that they will be partnering to offer Intuit’s GoPayment mobile card reader in Verizon stores, bringing the device to more than 2,300 retail locations across the US.

Aside from the obvious benefit of more widespread availability, the partnership shines some much-needed light on Intuit’s two-year-old GoPayment technology. GoPayment launched a year before the more hyped mobile payment startup Square. which has made its tiny mobile credit card reader synonymous with mobile payments.

Intuit’s GoPayment credit card reader slides into your phone or tablet’s headphone jack (yes, just like Square’s), and works together with a free app to accept payments. It opens the door for you to take payments anywhere, which could be particularly useful for small business owners. GoPayment supports iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices. It can also synchronize with Intuit’s QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online accounting software, a major plus compared to Square.

As part of the partnership, Verizon Wireless customers will be able to get the GoPayment credit card reader for free when they activate their GoPayment account and mail in a $29.97 rebate. Intuit would have been better off figuring out another way to offer the discount to customers, since a mail-in rebate isn’t as tempting to consumers as an instant discount.

Square, on the other hand, has offered its mobile card reader for free from the start, which has likely accounted for its massive growth and hype. Square’s card reader is also sold at Apple stores for $10, but you instantly get that money back when you sign up for a Square account.

There’s no monthly or transaction fee for the basic GoPayment service, but you will get charged 2.7 percent for swiped transactions. For heavy users, Intuit also offers a $12.95 a month plan with a 1.7 percent rate for swipe transactions. Verizon Wireless users will receive two free months of the monthly plan when they sign up. GoPayment can also support up to 50 users on a single account.

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Tags: GoPayment, mobile payments, smartphones, tablets

Companies: Intuit, Square, Verizon Wireless

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SoundHound parnters with Spotify to offer music streaming in Europe

SoundHoundMusic discovery company SoundHound has formed a partnership with streaming music service provider Spotify that will allow European SoundHound users to instantly access Spotify’s catalog of 15 million tracks, the company announced Thursday.

Much like its rival Shazam, SoundHound’s free mobile application identifies music by listening to songs that are currently playing or by users humming or singing the song. It also provides users with lyrics, song previews, YouTube videos and now integration with Spotify.

SoundHound users on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Android devices? — who also have a premium Spotify subscription — will be given the option to ‘Play Now in Spotify’ after identifying a song through SoundHound. If the user chooses the option, SoundHound will then seamlessly launch Spotify’s service, immediately playing the requested song while showcasing the requested artist’s singles, albums and compilations.

For now, it doesn’t appear that the partnership will extend to users in the U.S., which is likely due to the complex music licensing agreements with major record labels.

Founded in 2005, San Jose, Calif.-based SoundHound has received funding from Global Catalyst Partners, TransLink Capital, Walden Venture Capital and others.

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Tags: music, music recognition, streaming

Companies: SoundHound, Spotify

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers replace playbooks with iPads

ipad tampa bayIf being a professional football player wasn’t already a sweet enough deal, imagine being told by your coach that you’re getting a free iPad. Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris has issued his entire team iPad 2 tablets to replace printed playbooks and to allow players to re-watch game videos, reports the St. Petersburg Times.

The move to go paperless by replacing printed tomes with tablets is becoming a trend at companies and organizations. Two days ago, United Airlines announced it was purchasing 11,000 iPads to supplant massive flight manuals and give pilots access to digital flight tools.

Tampa Bay has told its 90 players to bring the iPads to practices and games instead of playbooks, which are the size of the “Yellow Pages.” Players can use the devices at home to review important practice, situational and game footage from anywhere they choose, rather than a team room with a projector or their personal TVs.

“It’s crazy how much technology has changed the game,” second-year safety Cody Grimm told the St. Petersburg Times. “Back in the day, I think probably the whole team had to sit down with a projector and a reel, and watch the film together. They’d have the whole offense in the same meeting room. Now we all have our own iPad.”

Using a tablet instead of a paper playbook also gives the team a better sense of security in case it is lost. Players can lock the devices with a passcode, and if an iPad is ever stolen, the device can be remotely wiped using the Find my iPhone application.

Overall, it seems like a pretty smart deal all around, and I expect other NFL teams might follow this inventive play.

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Tags: Buccaneers, iPad, NFL, Tampa Bay

Companies: Apple, National Football League

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Diffbot launches APIs for monitoring web pages

Internet search startup Diffbot launched its API today for visually scanning, parsing and extracting information from web pages. Diffbot detects what type of layout a page has, then searches it for common visual cues to monitor when any content changes on a page, or to extract specific information for developers to use.

The Palo Alto-based company was founded in 2008 by two former Stanford students, CEO Mike Tung and CTO Leith Abdulla, with seed funding from Stanford incubator StartX. Tung originally created Diffbot to monitor the websites for his various Stanford classes and tip him off to any new announcements, posted lectures or assignments via text message.

According to Diffbot’s creators, all web pages fall into one of 30 different page-type categories. By pegging what category a page falls in to, it can extrapolate the various types of information on that page. For example, front pages of news sites typically have the same elements: headlines, images, tags, advertisements and article summaries.

“Diffbot understands visually what all of these different elements of the page are and can be used by developers to connect that content to direct action,” Tung told VentureBeat.

Currently Diffbot has hundreds of developers using the beta API, and some intriguing products have already been created using the tools. AOL’s free Editions iPad magazine app uses Diffbot to analyze the front pages of news sites and pull out important new or breaking information. Hacker News Radio tapped Diffbot to pull content from hacker news sites and turn them into spoken reports. The city of S?o Paulo in Brazil uses Diffbot to track changes on the local government website and turns them into an automated Twitter feed.

Diffbot’s Follow API creates an RSS-style feed of fresh content. The On-Demand API currently looks at just two major page types, Frontpage and Article, but Diffbot plans on releasing more in the future, and that’s when things could get interesting.

“Once we have released the API for all 30 page types, we hope to enable a new type of mobile application — one where the user can take actions directly on web data, instead of reading a bunch of blue links,” said Tung to VentureBeat. “Something like SIRI, but for the entire web, and not just a set of handpicked APIs.”

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Tags: APIs, search, Stanford University, StartX

Companies: Diffbot, StartX

People: Leith Abdulla, Mike Tung

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Why do big companies get stuck?

Everyone knows they need to engage with growth, but the resistance companies face in moving resources from areas that work into new areas is tremendous. This is why big companies are so slow to innovate, says Geoffrey Moore, author and venture partner at MDV. In this Entrepreneur Though Leader Lecture at Stanford University, he explains that while there are no shortage of great, groundbreaking ideas at big companies – including many that could threaten startups – the established culture at those companies prevents the ideas from maturing.

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Tags: Stanford University

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Druva raises $12M for protecting enterprise data

Druva, a startup that protects data on enterprise laptops, said today it has raised $12 million in a second round of funding.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company makes Enterprise inSync software to back up data on enterprise laptops, smartphones or tablets. It can also retrieve data as needed. Intel recently said that the cost of a lost laptop with unprotected data is $49,000.

Druva’s backups are more efficient than a standard backup because the company “de-duplicates” data, where it saves only a single copy of data duplicated across users. That makes backups 10 times faster and allows them to save 90 percent bandwidth and storage. Druva can store its data on a company’s premises or in the cloud, or web-connected data centers.

The round was led by Nexus Venture Partners, and existing investor Sequoia Capital also contributed. The funding will be used to expand both products and sales and marketing in several regions. Jaspreet Singh, co-founder and chief executive of Druva, will also become chairman. Other board members include Shailendra Singh, managing director, Sequoia Capital; Jishnu Bhattacharjee, principal, Nexus Venture Partners; Ramani Kothandaraman, co-founder and chief operating officer of Druva; and Yoram Novick, CEO and founder of Topio.

Druva was founded in 2007 and it has more than 750 customers. It protects 300,000 laptops and other devices. Druva has 90 employees and competes with EMC Avamar, Symantec, and Iron Mountain (now Autonomy). It has raised $17 million to date. The name Druva comes from Sanskrit and means “North Star.”

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Tags: enterprise laptop backup

Companies: Druva

People: Jaspreet Singh

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