Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Samsung, HTC and Apple Fuel Smartphone Market Growth [STUDY]”

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Samsung, HTC and Apple Fuel Smartphone Market Growth [STUDY]”


Samsung, HTC and Apple Fuel Smartphone Market Growth [STUDY]

Posted: 06 May 2011 02:43 AM PDT


The worldwide smartphone market has grown 79.7% year over year, with smartphone vendors shipping a total of 99.6 million units in in the first quarter of 2011, market research firm IDC reports.

Although Nokia is still the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer, with a 24.3% market share, its decline has been amazingly fast – in Q1 2010, Nokia held over one third of the market, with a 38.3% share.

Although Nokia’s smartphone shipments have actually grown from 21.5 to 24.2 million units, everyone else has been growing much faster. Samsung’s market share increased from 4.3% to 10.8%, while HTC has grown from 4.9% to 8.9%. Samsung’s growth has been particularly impressive, with shipments increasing 350% – from 2.4 to 10.8 million units.

Apple is also showing steady growth, having captured an 18.7% market share in Q1 2011, compared to 15.7% in the same period last year. Research in Motion is holding third place overall with a 14% market share, but, like Nokia, it’s been growing much slower than everyone else, having increased shipments from 10.6 to 13.9 million units in Q1 2011.

With Nokia looking at a tough period of transition from Symbian to Windows Phone 7, we can only see its market share declining in 2011, and we’re sure Android manufacturers, led by HTC and Samsung, as well as Apple will be there to grab it.

“The rise of Android as a prominent mobile operating system has allowed several suppliers to gain share quickly. Also, the relatively nascent state of smartphone adoption globally means there is ample room for several suppliers to comfortably co-exist, at least for the short term,” says Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

IDC recently predicted that the smartphone market will grow 49.2% in 2011, with Android dominating the smartphone OS market by 2015 with an overwhelming 45.4% share.

More About: apple, htc, idc, Nokia, RIM, samsung, smartphone, smartphone market

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As Sony Recovers, It Faces Challenges From Hackers, Customers & Congress

Posted: 05 May 2011 10:50 PM PDT


By now you’ve probably heard about the cyber attack that took down the PlayStation Network and compromised user account information. The attack revealed security flaws so gaping that Sony has been working for the past two weeks on a completely redesigned system with additional firewalls, encryption and server-side security.

There’s no question that the attack has cost Sony millions of dollars and tarnished the electronic giant’s strong brand. For the first week after the attack, Sony was mostly silent on the matter while it investigated the attack. Ever since its Sunday press conference though, the company has been on a public relations assault to win over upset customers and even members of Congress.

On Thursday for example, Sony published three posts on the PlayStation blog. The first was an announcement stating that it had begun “the final stages of internal testing of the new [PlayStation Network and Qriocity] system,” one of the last milestones before PSN returns to millions of PlayStations worldwide. The second post announced that Sony would be offering identity theft protection to U.S. customers. Sony is giving away a one-year subscription to “AllClear ID Plus,” which provides personal data protection and a $1 million insurance protection program.

The third and final blog post is actually a letter from Sir Howard Stringer, Sony’s CEO. In the letter, Stringer apologizes to customers “for the inconvenience and concern caused by this attack,” explains what steps Sony is taking to restore service. It also reiterates Sony’s position that “there is no confirmed evidence any credit card or personal information has been misused.”

The following is an excerpt from his letter:

“As a company we — and I — apologize for the inconvenience and concern caused by this attack. Under the leadership of Kazuo Hirai, we have teams working around the clock and around the world to restore your access to those services as quickly, and as safely, as possible.

I know some believe we should have notified our customers earlier than we did. It's a fair question. As soon as we discovered the potential scope of the intrusion, we shut down the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services and hired some of the best technical experts in the field to determine what happened. I wish we could have gotten the answers we needed sooner, but forensic analysis is a complex, time-consuming process. Hackers, after all, do their best to cover their tracks, and it took some time for our experts to find those tracks and begin to identify what personal information had — or had not — been taken.”


Fighting Off Another Attack


As Sony recovers from the attack that breached its servers, it must simultaneously appease customers, addresses congressional concerns and fend off a potential hacker attack.

The planned attack seems to be the most immediate concern facing Sony. According to CNET, hackers are telling people on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) that they intend to attack Sony’s website sometime this weekend and publicly release any information they can take from Sony’s servers. These hackers already claim to have access to some of Sony’s servers and data.

Another successful attack would be a devastating blow to Sony’s credibility. Customer trust in Sony’s ability to protect their data would all but disappear, and that’s simply something the company cannot afford. For its part, Sony has been working around the clock to beef up its security in case of a follow-up attack.


Appeasing Lawmakers


Sony also faces political pressure. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Sony asking for information about the attack. Sony has also received a Subpoena from the New York Attorney General.

The technology giant has already responded to Congress in an eight-page letter. It details the attack and what steps Sony is taking to increase its security. The letter also revealed that “Anonymous” may have planted a note on PlayStation’s servers. Anonymous, a loosely organized group of hackers known for its attacks against Scientology and other targets, has denied involvement.

As for the subpoena from the New York Attorney General, Sony says that it will review and respond to the request.


Regaining the Trust of Customers


With its heightened security measures, Sony has the capability to fend off hackers. It can also likely satisfy Congress with its explanation of what happened, especially if credit card information wasn’t accessed. However, regaining customer trust will be a big challenge that could take months or even years.

Sony didn’t win points for taking days to inform and reassure PlayStation Network customers about the outage. We understand why Sony waited so long to respond, but even a daily blog post saying it was working on restoring service day and night and conducting an investigation into what happened would have gone a long way to soothing customers.

Sony has made the right moves since then, though. It is giving customers a month of free service and a year of free identity theft protection. It is hiring a Chief Information Security Officer and a security team to make sure this type of incident never happens again. And most of all, it is communicating with customers on a daily basis.

If Sony can keep its servers safe from hackers, it may be able to recover from this disaster. The big question is whether customers will trust Sony with their data once the PlayStation Network is back online.

More About: hacker, hackers, playstation, playstation network, PSN, Qriocity, sony

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Facebook Now Effectively Paying Users 10 Cents to Watch Certain Ads

Posted: 05 May 2011 09:34 PM PDT



Facebook on Thursday introduced a program that, in effect, offers consumers a financial incentive to watch ads on the site.

Facebook will now reward users who watch certain ads on the site with Facebook Credits, which can be redeemed to purchase goods on Facebook Deals, the company's new Groupon-like daily deals service. The incentive, however, is not huge. Initially at least, the average ad will yield one credit, which is the equivalent of 10 cents.

The ads will mostly be in games. CrowdStar, Digital Chocolate and Zynga are among the participating game publishers. Facebook is working with Sharethrough, SocialVibe, Epic Media and SupersonicAds to serve ads on the program as well as TrialPay, which will provide analytics.

Dan Greenberg, CEO of Sharethrough, says that Facebook's move represents "a step away from interruptive advertising." Greenberg, whose clients include Microsoft and Nestle, says his network won't deliver traditional advertising, but rather branded entertainment, which consumers will want to not only watch, but share with their friends.

Incentivizing consumers to watch ads is one solution for Facebook's low banner click-through rates. The move comes after Facebook expanded its Credits program last week to let consumers use the Credits to buy real-world goods advertised in Deals. Previously, the credits, which were awarded for consumers who signed up for various programs (like magazine subscriptions) or bought outright could only buy virtual goods.

More About: advertising, CrowdStar, digital chocolate, Epic Media, facebook, facebook credits, SupersonicAds, Zynga

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Highlight, Annotate & Save Web Pages With Scrible

Posted: 05 May 2011 08:30 PM PDT


The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Scrible

Quick Pitch: Scrible lets you highlight and annotate web pages and easily save, share and collaborate on your web research with others.

Genius Idea: Markup tools for the web.


A new tool to annotate the web is as original as another social network, and yet history has shown us that a late entrant can outshine incumbents if the product is stellar — just look at Facebook.

Scrible, a startup that makes a browser-based bookmarklet for annotating and marking up web pages, believes its technology put its more senior competitors to shame. The team also thinks there’s still market share for the taking, suggesting that most researchers still resort to copying and pasting text into documents and printing out web pages to mark them by hand.

“We’re bringing web-based research into the internet era by empowering people to markup web pages in the browser and manage and collaborate on them online,” Scrible co-founder Victor Karkar explains.

Scrible is designed for researchers, students, bloggers, investors and anyone else who regularly digests information online. “We’re operating in the middle space between the end of a Google search and the creation of a deliverable,” says Karkar.

Once added to the user’s browser, the Scrible bookmarklet calls up the Scrible toolbar — it’s like a document text editor but designed for the web — on click. The user can then use the toolbar to add notes, highlight snippets, bold, underline, italicize or strikethrough text, and select different colors for different purposes.

The toolbar houses a few additional selections including an annotation legend, an envelope button for sharing a marked up page with contacts via email and a save option that saves a copy of the annotated web page to the user’s “Personal Library.”

The Personal Library is essentially an online inbox for saved annotated web pages. It follows the same tagging principles as Gmail, so users can categorize and sort through saved pages. Because Scrible indexes the text of saved pages, users can also perform full content search across notes, annotations and web page text.

The original inspiration for Scrible dates back to 2001 and Karkar’s frustrations around online research. He first started on an early version of the idea in 2004, but his progress was often stalled. By 2007, Karkar managed to team up with co-founder Andrew Delpha and the pair worked part-time on an early stage version of Scrible, which was then intended to be an Internet Explorer add-on targeted at the enterprise.

After a private alpha release last year, Scrible’s co-founders were met with positive feedback, but only as it pertained to the tool’s technology. The fact that Scrible was solely tied to Internet Explorer was a nonstarter, early users said. Karkar and Delpha quickly realized that they needed to remake the system to be compatible with all browsers. Wednesday, Scrible finally unveiled its reworked beta web annotation tool to the public, a launch four years in the making.

Scrible was recently awarded with a phase two $500,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation, which had previously rewarded the startup with a phase one $100,000 grant.


Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark


Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: annotations, bizspark, scrible, spark-of-genius, startup

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Lawsuit Accuses Google, Apple, Lucasfilm & Others of Fixing Employee Wages

Posted: 05 May 2011 07:48 PM PDT


Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar are the target of a new lawsuit that claims that the companies conspired “to fix and suppress the compensation of their employees.”

The class action lawsuit (PDF), filed yesterday by former Lucasfilm software engineer Siddharth Hariharan, focuses around “no solicitation” agreements that the companies in question allegedly agreed to between 2005 and 2009. It claims that these tech companies violated California antitrust statutes, though interestingly enough it doesn’t seek relief under the U.S. Clayton Act of 1914. That assures the case only deals with California law, rather than federal antitrust statutes.

If these accusations sound familiar, it’s because Apple, Adobe, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar settled with the Department of Justice last year over an investigation into anticompetitive employee solicitation agreements. The lawsuit actually mentions the DoJ investigation as evidence of this wrongdoing. Some companies, including Google, announced that they would end their “no cold call” policies.

The class action details the various relationships and alleged agreements between these companies. Most of these we knew about from the DoJ investigation (the image above, taken from the lawsuit, details those relationships). However, this lawsuit details a “conspiracy” between Pixar and Lucasfilm “to eliminate competition between them for skilled labor,” something that wasn’t in the DoJ report. Pixar originated from a division of Lucasfilm that Apple CEO Steve Jobs purchased in 1986.

Essentially this lawsuit argues that that a lack of competition for Silicon Valley talent resulted in artificial wages that were lower than market value. If Google, Apple, Adobe and other tech companies hadn’t agreed to “no cold call” policies that prevented employee poaching, then it stands to reason that wages would have been higher due to increased competition for talent.

“We estimate that because of reduced competition for their services, compensation for skilled employees at Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm, and Pixar was reduced by 10 to 15 percent,” said Joseph Saveri, a representative of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, the law firm that filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of Hariharan.

For its part, Intel says that it will conduct a “vigorous defense,” and Lucasfilm believes “the claim is meritless.” Those are fighting words, which is why this case could become very interesting.

We have embedded the entire class action lawsuit below:

More About: adobe, apple, Google, intel, intuit, lawsuit, Lucasfilm, pixar, thumbnail

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Shopkick Lands New Retail Partner, Hits 1.4 Million Users

Posted: 05 May 2011 06:53 PM PDT


When last we heard from Shopkick, a location-based shopping app, the startup was touting 750,000 users and more than 100 million checkins. Shopkick is announcing Thursday though that it’s nearly doubled its user base to 1.4 million users and has found a new mega retailer friend in housewares seller Crate and Barrel.

Crate and Barrel will begin doling out kickbucks — Shopkick currency redeemable for rewards — and special offers to Shopkick users who visit any of its U.S. stores.

With Crate and Barrel in the mix, Shopkick, which also partners with the likes of Target, Best Buy and Macy’s, will have a presence in nearly 1,500 retail locations and 160 malls across 39 states.

Shopkick partners purchase and deploy in-store devices that detect application users as they walk in to stores. The device is meant to measure in-store foot traffic and automatically check the user in to the location so he can receive kickbucks as an incentive for visiting.

The startup’s hardware and application approach to location-based shopping is unique enough to have netted it $20 million in pre-launch funding. Now, in addition to logging millions of checkins, Shopkick is reporting that users have also scanned five million partner products since its August launch.

Shopkicks competes directly with CheckPoints, another location-based shopping app.

More About: crate and barrel, location-based shopping, MARKETING, shopkick

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Facebook App Gives Venue Profile Pages a Makeover

Posted: 05 May 2011 05:30 PM PDT


ReverbNation already had a Facebook app for bands, and now the music promotion platform has added another tool to its belt: a Venue Page app.

“We’ve talked to venues for years and we always wanted to do something with them,” says Ferol Vernon, VP of product for ReverbNation. “Gigging and playing live music is a big part of what a band does, and venues are a huge part of that. So we wanted to bring the venues into Reverbnation’s family.”

The new app, which you can see in action over on Brooklyn venue The Knitting Factory’s Page, is a little simpler than the band app, but includes a lot of features that make venue content more shareable and interactive. Moreover, it’s free.

For instance, the show schedule features playable tracks from performing bands, links to tickets and more band info (via Reverbnation and the Knitting Factory’s website, respectively), and the option to share a show on a user’s wall. That option is particularly awesome (some ticketing sites allow you to do something similar after buying tix), as it lets a show spread virally through a person’s network. Vernon says that a later version of the app will integrate Facebook Events for easier planning.

The Page also has a prompt to join the venue’s mailing list, which Vernon says is extremely valuable to venues: When a user joins a list via Facebook, the venue owner gets a lot more info about them than just an email address, which lets them better know their audience.

And, of course, venues can add custom venues and jigger their themes as they see fit, and if they already have a ReverbNation page, info (like address, location on a map, etc.) will be integrated automatically.

Vernon also says that venue owners will soon get access to stats on user engagement, much like bands are already privy to: shares, reach of shares, page traffic, etc.

More and more, musicians and those in the industry are turning to Facebook when it comes to promotion. Services like ReverbNation’s have been ramping up their efforts of late, and even Facebook itself launched a resource page for members of the music industry.

What do you think of these new venue pages? Would they make you more likely to see a show?

More About: facebook, music, ReverbNation, social media

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Demand Media Revenue Surges as Google Threat Lingers

Posted: 05 May 2011 04:10 PM PDT


Search referral traffic to some Demand Media sites took a hit after Google implemented search engine changes, the company acknowledged in an earnings call on Thursday.

Google started an overhaul to its algorithm in February with the goal of decreasing the visibility of “content farms” in its search results. Demand Media has repeatedly claimed that it doesn’t fit into this category, which would imply that the changes wouldn’t affect its traffic.

That’s not quite how it turned out, however. During a conference call about the earnings, CEO Richard Rosenblatt said that search traffic to Demand Media’s eHow.com has suffered a 20% decline from Google’s ongoing adjustments, which resulted in a 12% pageview decline. That is significantly less, however, than the 40% drop across all Demand Media sites estimated by Hitwise following Google’s so-called “Panda” update in April.

How that all will impact Demand’s revenue isn’t yet clear, as the Panda update occurred after the first quarter was already completed. Demand reported Q1 revenue of $79.5 million, a 48% increase from the same period last year.

Rosenblatt said the company has been considering “what the changes say about our content and how to improve it.”

Not all Demand Media sites took a dive in pageviews. The company launched a fashion and beauty site in March called TypeF that Rosenblatt said is already rivaling the traffic of similar established sites like Cosmopolitan.com and Allure.com. He also said Demand Media’s comedy site, Cracked.com, has more page views per visitor than any other humor site on the web. Overall, Demand Media’s owned and operated sites have increased their collective pageviews by about 300 million since Q4 of 2010, despite Google’s algorithm changes.

Going forward, Rosenblatt said Demand Media’s strategy is to increase the quality of its content. He blamed the company’s bad reputation on “user-generated content,” which it stopped accepting last year and is now making efforts to remove. It is also adding longer, original feature content to its sites and improving reader feedback tools. eHow recently got a makeover that funnels its unwieldy content into six channels, one of which — cooking — will be co-branded with Rachael Ray starting in June.

More About: content farms, Demand Media, earnings, Google, Search

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Meet “Heidi,” Nestle’s Social Media Spokesmodel [VIDEO]

Posted: 05 May 2011 03:27 PM PDT

Nestle, which has had an awkward time embracing social media, has launched an uncharacteristically zany and slightly lewd series of web shorts.

The shorts, called “A Moment With Heidi,” feature a pigtailed Bavarian woman using her downtime to daydream as she microwaves a Lean Pockets Pretzel Bread Sandwich. The six (so far) videos range from zany (Heidi bouncing a basketball while painting and playing a keyboard with her foot or arm wrestling, above) to prurient (Heidi getting her face splashed while playing "Milk Pong”).

Nestle’s not alone in taking a more adventurous approach to web advertising than traditional TV allows. Brands ranging from Ford to K-Swiss have recently pushed content that would get a PG-13 or, in K-Swiss’s case, R rating to attract the attention of Gen Y’ers on the web.

Whether Heidi will gain a similar following remains to be seen. So far, the videos have only gotten views in the three- and four-digit range and the brand's Facebook Page has about 29,000 fans.

Several other Heidi videos are promised on the product's Facebook Page, which features a $1.50 "Like"-gated coupon. "We won't pay you to 'Like' us,” the site reads. “Unless you consider a coupon payment.”

More About: advertising, facebook, MARKETING, nestle, youtube

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Magic Chair Appears To Stand on One Leg [PICS]

Posted: 05 May 2011 02:41 PM PDT


Has this chair somehow defied the laws of gravity? In the picture above, you’ll notice there is someone standing on it, supported by a single leg. How is this even possible?

Artist Peter Bristol created “Cut Chair.” He’s the lead designer at the Seattle-based product development consultancy Carbon Design Group, well-known for its design of products for Microsoft and many others.

So far, “Cut Chair” is in the prototype stage, but Bristol is looking for a partner to build it for multiple installations or mass production.

How does it work? See if you can guess before you dive into the gallery below, where the secret will be revealed.


Cut Chair Front View




It looks impossible.


Cut Chair Side View




How does it work? Magnets?


Cut Chair: The Solution




It's bolted to a steel plate hidden under the carpet. Did you figure it out? Let us know in the comments.

More About: galleries, Magic Chair, Microsoft designer, Peter Bristol

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7 Ways to Show Mom You Love Her & Support Social Good

Posted: 05 May 2011 02:29 PM PDT

mom image

Everyone’s on board for Mother’s Day. Unlike the comically polarizing Valentine’s Day, it’s hard to argue against celebrating moms the world over. Amid all that mother lovin’, there are a bunch of ways that you can help celebrate Mother’s Day and also give back to good causes. How’s that for two birds with one stone?

We dug up some cool social good projects to help you get your charity on this Sunday while also showing mom how much you care. Take a look and let us know in the comments which you think were best able to combine the holiday and charity.


Social Good for Mother’s Day


to mama with love image

To Mama With Love is running an international collaborative art project to honor mothers. Users can create a “heartspace” with a donation to Epic Change, a non-profit that empowers women in countries such as Afghanistan, Nepal and Tanzania. Heartspaces are online cards that you can fill with images, text and video to send to the women in your life.

ebay image

eBay is getting into the mix with a dedicated digital storefront for Mother’s Day. Sellers from the page will donate a minimum of 10% of sales to Women for Women International, providing work training and education to female war survivors. eBay also is organizing celebrity auctions for women-oriented charities at its Be Her Hero page.

engender image

EngenderHealth, a reproductive health organization for women, is letting users plant a virtual flower for their mothers. For every flower, an unnamed donor will give $5 in support of maternal health to EngenderHealth.

doctors image

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières is making it real easy to honor your mom and do some good. You can send an ecard by donating to the organization, which brings medical and humanitarian aid to impoverished or in-crisis communities.

world food programme image

The UN’s World Food Programme is also offering up ecards and donations but with a spin. Users can select different cards to support different initiatives, like feeding children in Bolivia, educating women in Ethiopia or donating a stove to a Sri Lankan woman. Each card and donation can be made on behalf of — and sent to — your very own mother.

macys image

Macy’s has started up a Facebook campaign called the “Thank-A-Mom Movement.” Liking the Page allows users to send an ecard, and Macy’s will donate $5 to five women-focused charities up to $400,000. The good news is that Macy’s already hit its target but you can still Like the Page for a free ecard and to show your support for the cause.

red image

(RED) is launching a campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, encouraging people to share photos or text of something they got from their mother. The goal is to raise awareness about mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the idea being that we want to receive positive traits from our mothers but not a preventable illness. Users can share their love using #RED2015 on Twitter or Instagram, or check out (RED)’s Facebook Page.

Donate. Of course, you can always just make a donation on behalf of your mother. Pick a registered charity that she supports — or that benefits women’s rights and issues — and let her know how her donation is helping.

There are dozens more worthy projects out there. How are you showing your love? Let us know in the comments.


Interested in more Social Good resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of Flickr, emilywjones

More About: charity, gift, mom, mothers day, non-profit, social good, social media

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Lady Gaga’s “Judas” Hits the Web [VIDEO]

Posted: 05 May 2011 02:18 PM PDT


Each day, Mashable highlights one noteworthy YouTube video. Check out all our viral video picks.

Little Monsters, rejoice: Lady Gaga’s long-awaited video for “Judas,” off the upcoming album Born This Way (which drops May 23) has finally arrived.

The video actually leaked this morning, but now there’s an official version on Vevo.

The song “Judas” leaked last month, and news of the video has been buzzing about the web for a while now, foretelling a racy video laced with Gaga’s own brand of religion.

In my humble opinion, the new video isn’t all that transcendent (although the lipstick gun should definitely be a real product). Apparently an uncut version premieres tonight on E! at 7 p.m. ET, so perhaps that iteration is a bit more intriguing.

Let us know in the comments what you think of the video.

More About: judas, Lady Gaga, music, vevo, video, youtube

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Wall Street Journal Launches WikiLeaks-Style Site for Whistle-Blowers

Posted: 05 May 2011 01:51 PM PDT


WikiLeaks has more than proved how a safe file submission process can help uncover troves of important information. Now, the Wall Street Journal is implementing a similar model.

On Thursday, the paper launched WSJ SafeHouse, a WikiLeaks-style whistle-blower site.

“SafeHouse will enable the collection of information and documents that could be used in the generation of trustworthy news stories,” Robert Thomson, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones & Company and managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, said in a statement.

While news organizations such as The New York Times and The Guardian have worked with WikiLeaks to obtain such information in the past, they learned that it was no picnic in the process. If the WSJ site and several others like it prove effective, its likely that more of them will appear.

Contributors to SafeHouse can choose whether or not to include their contact information when they upload files. They can also request confidentiality before they submit information.

The paper has made a number of efforts to create an anonymous submission process. SafeHouse runs on its own server instead of sharing with WSJ.com, and any file sent or stored within the system is encrypted. The WSJ says that it will minimize the technical information it receives during upload that might identify the user, and it encourages users who want further protection to use an encryption key and install a free software that masks their web identities. Only a select group of editors have access to the submissions.

Still, the terms of service warn, “We cannot ensure complete anonymity.”

Other news outlets have also started or considered efforts to imitate WikiLeaks. Al Jazeera launched an in-house version of WikiLeaks in January. The New York Times is considering a similar program, and Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli told Yahoo that he “wouldn’t rule it out.”

More About: journalism, SafeHouse, wall street journal, wikileaks

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HOW TO: Build a Mobile App for Better Customer Support

Posted: 05 May 2011 01:42 PM PDT


Roberto Pieraccini is chief technology officer at SpeechCycle, a global leader in customer experience management solutions. He has been at the leading edge of spoken dialogue technology for more than 25 years, both in research as well as in the development of commercial applications. Follow SpeechCycle on Twitter @speechcycle.

The widespread adoption of smartphones has already revolutionized our everyday behavior and, in particular the way we communicate. We read on smartphones, play on smartphones, reserve our dinner or movie tickets on smartphones and, sometimes, we even use them to call people. In fact, it was recently reported that the use of smartphone applications is exceeding that of text messaging, voice calling and web browsing.

What does all this mean for customer care channels? Invoking a branded icon on the touch screen of a smartphone — which already knows who we are and can provide the best personalized solution to our service problems — is no doubt a more pleasant experience than interacting with an automated call menu or waiting for the next available representative. However, building a smartphone application that’s able to deliver a superior customer care experience is more complicated than just porting a mobile version of your FAQ.

Here are a few points that every company should consider when deciding to develop a mobile customer care solution.


Create a Platform-Agnostic App


One of the main issues with the development and maintenance of smartphone applications lies in the fragmentation of the device base. Fortunately, most, if not all, smartphones can be grouped according to the four most common mobile operating systems: iOS (iPhone), BlackBerry, Android and Windows Phone 7. Even so, maintaining four versions of the same application can be prohibitively expensive for some brands.

In that case, you might want to consider using cross-platform mobile frameworks in the construction of your app. They’re not perfect, but they can be cost-effective. Additionally, advances in modern web standards like HTML5 and CSS3 mean that mobile web apps are functioning more and more like native mobile apps. If you can build a great mobile site, it would function well on most modern mobile devices.


Ensure the App Integrates Into the Overall Customer Care Strategy


In moving toward mobile customer care strategies, service providers have to consider that while the adoption of smartphone applications will continue to increase, the need for traditional care — agents, automated phone applications, the web — will still exist, even if at a reduced level. Thus the integration of smartphone self-service applications with traditional channels is essential.

For instance, as the result of a transaction on a smartphone, the application can decide to transfer the user to the right agent for the requested task or schedule a callback, while providing the target agent with information about the subscriber's issue and interaction history. Or, if the user decides to access support on the desktop website, the interface there should be able to get the same historic information about the user as the smartphone app does.

In a nutshell, you need to make sure one hand of your customer care strategy knows what the other hand is doing to ensure a cohesive, effective system.


Develop Intelligent Notification Capability


The "always available, always connected" property of smartphones is a uniquely new channel for pushing notifications in a non-intrusive and highly personalized manner. Targeted notification, such as information concerning a local outage, new features or promotions, will not only improve the customer experience but will be instrumental in avoiding further issues and calls to agents and will increase the loyalty of valuable customers. The notification feature can also be used for outbound survey campaigns and the solicitation of customer feedback.


Create Personalized Experiences


Leveraging the highly personalized smartphone environment is another powerful way to ensure great user experiences. With the precise identification of each device, and thus the subscriber who owns it, companies can now decide not only to present highly personalized information but also keep track of the history and usage patterns of each individual. This behavior can also be enriched by leveraging capabilities such as location services and near-field communication (NFC).


Take Advantage of New User Interface Capabilities


Finally, it is important to realize that smartphones offer the ability to reach customers in a variety of ways. They can interact with a mobile application either by touch, type or talk. Touch has always been critical, but the growing implementation of voice search (most notably by Google on the Android platform) has opened new frontiers for app developers. Free-form text and voice input, when complemented by powerful natural language processing systems, can provide superior search and help users bypass long and often counter-intuitive hierarchical menus.


While the adoption of smartphones continues to grow exponentially and the emergence of new and personalized customer care mobile applications comes into the mainstream, vendors need to make sure they design and build applications that are at least as smart as the phones that host them and leverage all properties and features of this new medium. If vendors keep this in mind, smartphones can truly become the next frontier for customer care.


Interested in more Mobile resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, franckreporter

More About: android, blackberry, branded apps, business, customer service, development, how to, iphone, Mobile 2.0, mobile apps, mobile development, tips

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Master Passwords At Risk in LastPass Security Breach [ALERT]

Posted: 05 May 2011 01:24 PM PDT


Irregular network activity caused cloud-based password management solution LastPass to issue a security notification Wednesday night. In addition to the security notice, LastPass is requiring users to change their master passwords as a precaution.

On its blog, LastPass notes that it noticed some strange network activity in several places in its system. Because the root cause for the traffic couldn’t be ascertained, LastPass is assuming the worst.

From its blog:

…We’re going to be paranoid and assume the worst: that the data we stored in the database was somehow accessed. We know roughly the amount of data transferred and that it’s big enough to have transferred people’s email addresses, the server salt and their salted password hashes from the database. We also know that the amount of data taken isn’t remotely enough to have pulled many users encrypted data blobs.

LastPass notes that the potential threat in this case is brute-force password attacks, likely using dictionary-based key generators. For that reason, LastPass says users who have strong, non-dictionary based passwords or pass phrases should be fine.

Understanding that not all users have a strict password, however, LastPass is requiring everyone to change their master password.

An unfortunate side effect of all this password changing, however, is overloading the LastPass infrastructure. At 2:15 p.m. Thursday, LastPass posted this update:

Record traffic, plus a rush of people to make password changes is more than we can currently handle.

We’re switching tactics — if you’ve made the password change already we’ll handle you normally.

What this means is that LastPass users who have not already changed their passwords will be logged into offline mode. LastPass will work as usual, but the syncing of new passwords won’t be available.


Understanding the Real Threat


Operating under LastPass’s worst-case assumption that email addresses, server salt and salted password hashes were lifted from the LastPass database, there is little reason to think that users face any substantial risk.

Although crackers may now be able to use brute-force methods to crack the passwords for some users, LastPass is taking major steps to prevent access to user accounts from nefarious sources.

First, the company is requiring that users change their master password. Because of the site’s server load, this process could take days. However, all users will be required to change their passwords before they can access their accounts.

Second, LastPass will be verifying that users are who they say they are, by requiring email validation or by having users enter the password change form via an IP block used in the past. In other words, if a request is coming from an IP range thousands of miles away from the last place a user logged in, the user won’t gain access without going through another verification layer.


What This Means for the Future


LastPass is one of the largest cloud-based password management tools on the web and through the years, it has proved to be an effective and secure option for individuals and businesses. Mashable has recommended LastPass as a password management solution in the past.

We commend LastPass for making the decision to notify users immediately, require new master passwords and utilize an email/IP-based authentication system.

But we still worry about how and why an attack like this was possible in the first place. LastPass says that its security audit isn’t giving much insight into the attack vector. The company’s transparency in this matter is admirable — in fact, it’s essential — but it’s still troubling.

For users who already have qualms with having their passwords stored in the cloud, this incident, unfortunately, will not make things any better.

We’re not security experts, but perhaps LastPass could consider requiring that master passwords fit a minimum strength. Password strength meters are already built into the product — if users were required to have a password that would be unsusceptible to dictionary-based brute-force attacks, the consumer-facing risk might be a bit lower.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, peepo

More About: LastPass, password management, passwords, security, trending

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Startup Analyzes 30 Billion Tweets To Measure Twitter Engagement [EXCLUSIVE]

Posted: 05 May 2011 01:15 PM PDT


Comment tracker turned social analytics platform BackType is unveiling BackTweets Pro, a new product that attempts to help marketers and publishers put a dollar value on engagement.

BackTweets Pro, a much-enhanced premium addition to the startup’s BackTweets product, costs $100 per month and reports on the account holder’s performance on Twitter.

BackTweet’s data includes every tweet published in the past year and every link shared on Twitter during the past two years. Altogether, that amounts to data on more than 30 billion tweets.

The BackTweets dashboard offers a macro and micro view of Twitter activity. It includes data on tweets, mentions, retweets, replies, impressions, reach and followers. It even suggests the best time to tweet to generate replies or retweets. The tool includes search and advanced search features for keyword performance analysis.

The user can also sign in to Google to connect his or her Google Analytics account and marry tweet activity to website traffic. An enterprise version offers support for multiple Twitter accounts, additional analysis and integration with additional web analytics products such as Omniture.

“BackTweets is the only product that closes the loop for marketing on Twitter, helping brands, agencies and publishers understand how engagement on Twitter converts to web traffic, sales or other key performance indicators they’re interested in,” says BackType founder Christopher Golda.

The new BackTweets Pro product exists for two primary reasons, Golda says: to measure what’s actually happening on Twitter and to help marketers and publishers understand the impact of that engagement.

“People are now getting serious about social media, and we’re translating engagement metrics into something concrete, something that a CMO could really understand,” he says. “We can put a dollar value on engagement.”

BackType, a Y Combinator class of summer 2008 graduate, initially focused on providing users with a way to discover blog comments matching their keyword queries. It was essentially Google Alerts for the fledgling social web. As the social web has matured, so too has BackType, and the new BackTweets Pro product hints at where the company is headed in the months ahead.

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Choose Your Own Adventure Film Promotes Range Rover [VIDEO]

Posted: 05 May 2011 12:59 PM PDT

The Range Rover Evoque Pulse of the City project is out with a new offering: a choose your own adventure film called Being Henry.

The film keeps with the theme of mingling tech and art with advertising. Starring Leo Fitzpatrick (The Wire) and directed by Nick Gordon (Levi’s, Sony, Doritos), Being Henry is housed on a dedicated Adobe Flash site. It’s basically composed of multiple videos that seamlessly switch when the viewer clicks on Henry and drags him toward a certain decision. The dragging sequence is done via a series of JPEGs that cut smoothly into the live action.

Henry is an everyman character that the viewer manipulates through a series of choices, resulting in nine storylines and 32 different endings. (Check out the above video for a taste of what kinds of things happen in all the possible stories.)

So where’s the product tie-in, you may ask? Well, every choice you make — taking chances, looking for love, etc. — apparently determines your ideal Range Rover Evoque, which you’re presented with at the end of the film.

The Range Rover Evoque Pulse of the City is the same project that brought you OK Go’s new project, a video for “Back From Kathmandu” in which the band wrote its name across Los Angeles using the Range Rover Pulse of the City app.

This new film recalls musician Andy Grammer’s debut video for “Keep Your Head Up” (for which he won an OMA), which also let viewers choose their own path through the narrative — but with a product to sell.

What do you think of this kind of advertising? If you checked out the video, did the final car actually reflect your personality?

More About: Film, Flash, MARKETING, Range Rover Evoque Pulse of the City, range-rover-evoque, video

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Google’s Plan To Win Location & Social

Posted: 05 May 2011 12:37 PM PDT


Google VP Marissa Mayer laid out the company’s vision and strategy for winning in local and social in a keynote Thursday at the Social-Loco conference in San Francisco.

Google’s location strategy is focused on three areas: exploration and discovery, interactivity, and new perspectives. By making it easier to discover new places, interact with them and glean new information from that interactivity, Mayer says she hopes to take location services to the next level.

Google’s location-based services are growing fast too. Google Places now has 5 million user ratings and reviews, and it adds 1 million ratings and reviews each month, Mayer said.

Mobile, and its relationship with location-based services, is becoming a larger part of Google’s overall strategy. Mayer said that Google Maps has been quickly evolving from its desktop roots into a mobile-focused experience. In fact, during weekends, Google Maps via mobile receives more traffic than the desktop.

Mayer also announced new products that she said exemplify Google’s core strategy of bringing interactivity, discovery and new perspective to local: Google Business Photos for Maps and Google Earth for Android tablets.


Google’s Reorganization & Mayer’s Role


During a Q&A, Federated Media’s John Battelle asked Mayer about Google’s recent reorganization. He asked her what’s changed now that Larry Page is CEO and what it’s like now that “there is a new sheriff in town.”

Not all that much, she said, especially in terms of building products. “I think Larry’s very focused on technology and products, and [Page as CEO] brings them to the forefront,” she said.

Battelle also asked about her role after the reorganization — essentially, was Mayer demoted in favor of Jeff Huber, the new SVP of local and commerce? Once again she said her role hasn’t really changed, though she dodged the question of whether she’s been demoted or lost some of her power.


Google Offers “Does Not Exist”


Mayer played coy during a discussion of Google Offers. She said Google’s Groupon competitor “does not exist,” but elaborated by saying that Google is looking at the offers space, talking with businesses and trying to figure out what approach it should take in the group buying space.

Battelle compared the exploratory process to being in pre-production for a film.


How Google Will Compete With Facebook


“What is Google’s social strategy?” Battelle asked Mayer. It’s a question that has plagued the company since Facebook’s dramatic rise. In fact, the answer to that question is so important to Google that bonuses will be determined by social media success.

“Our social strategy is to help users connect with each other,” Mayer responded, elaborating on how it already connects people through Gmail and Google Profiles but is also testing new social products such as +1.

More About: -local, geolocal, geosocial, Google, larry page, location, marissa mayer

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VH1 iPad App Acts as DVR for Reality Show Tweets

Posted: 05 May 2011 12:22 PM PDT


Social media as content has become an integral part of television viewing — hence VH1′s new second-screen, co-viewing iPad app VH1 Co-Star.

VH1 Co-Star was created to go hand in hand with reality programming such as Saddle Ranch, Audrina and Mob Wives, and focuses on the social side of viewing.

“People are creating, sharing, interacting with content across multiple devices and platforms,” says Kristin Frank, general manager of VH1 and MTV Digital. “We're focused on products and experiences that are complementary and have a symbiotic relationship to other screens.”

In short, VH1 wants to take all the chatter that’s going on about its shows and corral it all into one place for easier engagement.

“It’s all around the idea of commentary as a new kind of content,” says Noah Vadnai, vice president of VH1 Mobile.

The app is rather straightforward: A home screen presents on-air programs, upcoming programs and shows getting a lot of social buzz. If the user clicks on the show now airing, “Watch With” opens. It contains a stream of tweets about the show from viewers and celebrities alike, as well as extra content.

VH1 employed mobile developer Rogue Paper to develop a curation platform to capture relevant tweets.

Users can then “Like” or “Share” tweets (via Facebook or Twitter) and add their own comments to the stream in-app. Unfortunately, one can’t reply to any of the tweets, which would have been a nice feature. However, tweets from actual friends get priority over randoms, as do popular tweets.

Now let’s say a viewer missed an episode of Mob Wives — perhaps “Made in Staten Island” — but said viewer DVRed the show. Well, when that viewer fires up the DVR, he or she can also “Watch With” that show, replaying tweets that went out during the course of the episode in recreated real time as well as any new tweets that might be going out.

VH1 also plans to include sponsored content in the tweet stream that coincides with live advertising in the coming months. VH1 also plans to release an iPhone version of the app.

The app features the usual suspects when it comes to content: trivia, blog posts (that can be shared via social channels), pictures and video (that can’t be shared) and badges for engagement.

VH1′s big selling point here, it seems, is that users can view added content even if they’re not watching the show in real time, a feature that Grey's Anatomy Sync also boasted. Still, we have to wonder if tweets and social commentary are content that users value enough to revisit.

Twitter recently said that TV integration with the platform has reached new heights, citing instances in which tweets appeared on screen during shows, and folks crafted countless 140-character epistles during the Royal Wedding. Yes, people are undoubtedly tweeting more while watching television, but the question becomes: Does anyone actually read those tweets? (Aside from the ones emblazoned across the screen.)

Take a look at the gallery below and let us know in the comments: If you tweet while you watch, do you read as well?


Homescreen




The homescreen features a currently airing show in the lefthand corner, as well as upcoming programs and shows getting a lot of buzz.


Watch With




Click on a show to bring up Watch With, which features real-time tweets from people watching the show and VH1 celebrities.


Cached Tweets




If you saved a show, you can bring up Watch With when you decide to watch it and "Play" tweets that went out at air time.


Photos & Videos




More extras. Sadly, you can't share them.


Badges




Earn badges for engagement


Show Blog




You can also read blog posts about the show, which you can share via social networks.


Episodes




Interact with several different episodes.


Comment




And add your own voice to the conversation.

More About: ipad, television, vh1, VH1-co-star

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Google Earth Optimized for Android Tablets

Posted: 05 May 2011 12:00 PM PDT


Google Earth for Android has been available for a year. Now, a version of Google Earth has been created specifically for Android-powered tablets.

Announced on Thursday, the Google Earth update adds textured 3D buildings, Street View tours, an Action Bar for easier navigation and the ability to fly to a location, similar to the way the desktop Google Earth app works.

Here’s how the Official Google Blog says the company adapted the smartphone version of Google Earth to tablets:

“Moving from a mobile phone to a tablet was like going from a regular movie theatre to IMAX. We took advantage of the larger screen size, including features like content pop-ups appearing within Earth view, so you can see more information without switching back and forth between pages.”

As illustrated in the graphic above, Google Earth’s tablet version features a clever way to fly around 3D models while simultaneously allowing users to browse photos that were taken at that location. It’s available for free download now, by either m.google.com/earth on a mobile browser or the Android Market.

More About: android, google earth, software, tablets, Update, web apps

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Get Exclusive Music & Merchandise With New Deals Service

Posted: 05 May 2011 11:29 AM PDT


If you’re already a fan of music discovery site RCRD LBL’s “RCRD of the Day” service — which delivers free MP3s to your inbox daily — you’ll be thrilled to hear that RCRD LBL and Topspin Media have kicked off their joint deals venture.

RCRD DEALS, which leverages RCRD LBL‘s audience and Topspin‘s merchandise, is basically like Gilt for music and music merchandise, offering limited-time retail offers at discount prices.

DEALS will come via its own email, but RCRD LBL and Topspin members will be sent an introductory deal Thursday, enabling them to join the email list.

The first deal to go live today will be a Band of Horses Infinite Arms box set, featuring the band’s third album in vinyl, CD and digital download, as well as extras like photos, posters and a T-shirt. Other deals will include messenger bags and artist music journals from bands like No Age, USB figurines loaded with DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist’s The Hard Sell, and tickets and discounts for the Pop Montreal festival.

We’ve been seeing a lot of deals sites popping lately — aside from big guns like Google Offers, there are specialized sites like GroopEase and 1band 1brand. For more music-related offers, check out Mashable’s feature on deep discounts on jams.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Martin Cathrae

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iPad Subscriptions Coming to Esquire, Popular Mechanics & O

Posted: 05 May 2011 11:12 AM PDT


Subscriptions to the iPad editions of Esquire, Popular Mechanics and O, The Oprah Magazine will be available via the App Store come June, publisher Hearst confirmed to Mashable Thursday.

Subscriptions will cost $19.99 per year, or $1.99 per month, and will be available within each title’s respective app.

Hearst is one of the first major magazine publishers, following Bonnier, to offer iPad subscriptions for its titles. Other publishers, including Time Inc. and the FT Group, have been in negotiations with Apple over pricing and access to subscriber data since Apple began offering subscriptions in February.

The new agreements, both with Time — which began offering print subscribers free iPad access to Sports Illustrated, Time and Fortune earlier this week — and now Hearst, suggest that publishers may be making progress with Apple after all.

It is not yet known, however, whether Apple has agreed to reduce the 30% cut of in-app subscription sales it previously demanded, or whether the company is now sharing more subscriber data with publishers.

Representatives from both Time and Hearst have declined to discuss the terms of their agreements.

A Hearst spokeswoman suggestively told WWD, however, that Hearst and Apple “came to an equitable and fair agreement to owning customers together.”

We’ll be waiting to see if similar agreements are struck with the FT Group and Hearst rival Conde Nast in the coming weeks.

More About: apple, esquire, hearst, ipad, media, o, popular mechanics

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Mini Keyboard With Built-in Touchpad Lets You Control All Your Devices

Posted: 05 May 2011 10:57 AM PDT


iTablet is a mini Bluetooth keyboard with a rear-facing touchpad that takes advantage of the fact that humans have opposable thumbs.

This versatile input device lets you control Windows 7 and XP PCs, iPads, iPhones, Android phones and tablets, interactive TV hardware and gaming consoles — just about anything with Bluetooth connectivity.

On the back, there’s a touchpad, so when you’re using your thumbs to type, you can move the cursor around with your fingers on the other side of the device. It’s shaped like a game controller, giving you a couple of easy places to grip the keyboard, while letting your thumbs and fingers perform two separate functions at the same time.

This makes a lot of sense. When you’re holding a device in your hands that’s tailor-made for keyboarding with your thumbs, you might as well give your fingers something to do. And putting that touchpad on the back saves space, making this an even more portable pointing-and-typing device.

On the other hand, until you get used to it, there will probably be some accidental brushes against that touchpad, but that looks like the sort of thing you could get used to after a few minutes with this $132 keyboard. It’s available now in black or white, in your choice of U.S. and UK keyboard layouts.

[Via Oh Gizmo]

More About: gaming, iTablet, keyboard, pointing device, portable, Touchpad

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iPhone App Turns Music Discovery Into Addictive Game

Posted: 05 May 2011 10:20 AM PDT


If you feel the need to compete in every sector of your life, you’re in luck — because a new iPhone app that melds gameplay with music discovery just hit the scene.

AudioVroom [iTunes link] — born from the energy drink-fueled morass that is Music Hack Day — is an app powered by music intelligence platform The Echo Nest and packed with jams courtesy of 7digital that lets you interact with your radio stations — and your friends.

“Our inspiration came from our desire to share music with each other, but due to the copyright issues and limitations of file-sharing, we came up with the idea, almost two years ago, to stream music in subscription format and simply exchange preferences, which is completely legal,” says co-founder Marcos Lara.

Upon installing the app, you can choose to let it dig through your iTunes, better tailoring future listening to your preferences. Then, much like Pandora, you can search for artists and create a radio station of similar bands, which you can then rate: “love,” “wtf?” and “fail.” (You get 6 skips per hour, folks.) Loved songs are added to a list for easy re-listening, and stations are also catalogued for later use.

Every time you rate a song, you get points, which you can use to listen to still more music. Everyone starts out with a cache of 1,000 points upon download (you can also buy points — $40 per year garners you unlimited listening).

Points are key to AudioVroom if you want to keep listening for free, and a lot of point-garnering is about interacting with others, both online and in the “meatspace.”

Digitally, you can add friends by inviting people via your phone’s contact list or via email (we yearn for Facebook integration), and IRL, you can add friends by bumping phones. Bumping also transfers your friends’ favorite songs to your device and creates a playlist based on your mutual preferences.

Like any good social game, you can also score badges via bumping: “First Bump” occurs when you bump with your inaugural friend, and scores you 250 points, “Slow Dance” is meted out when you bump with the same person four times, which nets you 100 points. “Shake Baby, Shake” means you’ve bumped 10 times, and garners you 500 points.

Moreover, you can search for nearby DJs and check out what they’re listening to, tapping into their playlists and adding your own jams. Co-founder Marcos Lara plans to try out a new feature called “DJ Mode” at San Francisco Music Hack Day this weekend. DJ Mode creates a station based on the preferences of everyone in the room with AudioVroom installed and allows all users to manipulate the playlist. Right now, users can only “join” said DJ sessions; “host” capabilities are coming soon.

As it stands, this app seems more like an aural game than a venue in which one would actually linger in order to listen to music. We can see if being a hit at parties and among music-loving groups of friends, but not really a go-to for the passive listener (for one, it lacks caching, which is rather essential for a mobile app — but Lara says that could come later).

However, that might be okay. There are tons of music subscription services out there, and not many based on fun and interaction (with the exception of Rdio). Therefore, AudioVroom’s allure lies in differentiation.

Lara and fellow founder Sanem Alkan have managed to score an undisclosed amount of funding from angel investors for SocialGenius, which was founded to distribute the app, so we’ll see what future iterations of AudioVroom have in store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Finding Josephine

More About: audiovroom, mobile apps, music

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You’ll Soon Be Able To See Inside Buildings With Google Maps [VIDEO]

Posted: 05 May 2011 09:51 AM PDT


Google has unveiled Business Photos for Google Maps, a new product that allows users to check out the inside of local businesses.

Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of consumer products, made the announcement Thursday at the Social-Loco conference in San Francisco.

During a demo on stage, Mayer and a co-worker showed off the ability to “enter” local businesses and see the inside of a building. Businesses can provide photos to Google, which can then be compiled into a 360-degree view of a building’s interior.

These features have been making the rounds in the rumor mill for more than a year. Back in February 2010, we heard that Google would be adding Street View-like features for retail interiors as part of Google Maps.

Business Photos could prove to be a useful tool for restaurants, bars and establishments that depend on local patronage. Many people like to check out the places they eat and drink on the web. Soon, Google users will be able to see inside these places directly from Google Maps.

Mayer says that Google Business Photos will be released in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada and several other countries next week, with more countries getting the feature in the following month.

More About: Google, Google Maps, location, marissa mayer, trending

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The PR Pro’s Guide to Facebook

Posted: 05 May 2011 09:49 AM PDT


The Social PR Guide Series is supported by Mynewsdesk. Our online newsroom makes it easier to exchange news with key influencers, reach top of search engines and automatically update your social media channels.

Facebook is about sharing. We share updates that reveal little pieces of our lives, and we check out our friends’ updates to share in little pieces of their lives. And when there are pictures, links, comments, companies and various other things that we like, we share that as well. Companies and brands have a wonderful opportunity to participate in this give and take, and engage in real conversations with their customers and fans on Facebook. As PR professionals, how can we help our clients connect with their communities through Facebook? Here are some tips.


Get Started (It's Super Easy)


Setting up a basic Facebook Page for your client is really simple. Just go to this page and follow the prompts. Note that you'll need a personal user account to set it up, but most of us already have one. Once your client's page hits 25 likes, you can secure a vanity URL (facebook.com/yourbusinesshere) for it. And that's pretty much it. The rest of the Facebook game is about content and community building.


Set the Stage


You can put all sorts of stuff on a Facebook Page — but know that there's a fine-ish line between a nicely organized variety of content that will engage your audience on an ongoing basis and a random mishmash of bits and pieces that doesn't do much of anything. Jamie Tedford, "chief evangelism officer" at social marketing company Brand Networks, recommends starting with a content calendar. Include information such as what percentage of posts will be brand messages, community messages and promotional messages, how many promotions will run and how they will be incorporated, what kinds of things you're going to link to, who's posting and how often, he says.

That brings us to the obvious next question — how often should you post? Unfortunately, there's no magic number, though there have been studies about the best times for Facebook engagement. Advise your client to start with a post once every two days, use Facebook's built-in Insights app to track likes and audience engagement, and then adjust the schedule as needed.


Decide What To Say


Next, focus your client's attention on the content itself. My colleague Jason Throckmorton, a partner at the San Francisco-based PR firm where I work, offers a clear-cut rule of thumb: "Each and every post you publish should give your fans a reason to engage." Facebook is about sharing our own experiences and responding to those of others, and so the Facebook community has a built-in thirst for engagement.

Bonobos, an online men's clothing retailer, posts to its Facebook Page two or three times daily, and keeps things organized with a set theme for each day of the week. There's "Monday Man-Style," for style-related posts and "Tuesday Threads" for product posts. Wednesdays are an open forum, and fans can ask Bonobos customer service "ninjas" anything they want. And they do –- from "When are the seersucker jackets coming out?" (Answer: “In the next week or so.") to "When is the cut-off age for dressing 'hip'?" (Answer: "Whenever you stop being able to pull it off…")

Richard Mumby, VP of marketing at Bonobos, explains that a company's Facebook Page shouldn't be about selling. When you're just starting out, it's easy to skew early posts to a more salesy, product-centric approach, but this can be counterproductive, he says. Your newly minted fans won't be interested in a hard sell, so don't start that way.


Get People to “Like” You


It's no fun to create a client Facebook Page only to find that only "4 people like this," no matter how many how enthusiastically (or repeatedly) you hit refresh. To build your base, start with your client's most loyal fans — the ones that already exist. Place a call to action in email newsletters and make sure the Facebook Page is visible on your client's website, blog, Twitter and on all physical promotional materials, especially those given out at offline events. If appropriate, place hyperlinks in press releases and other PR-related materials. Note that Facebook has specific rules about how it can be referenced and linked. For example, you cannot connect your client's company name and Facebook in the same hyperlink. Be sure to read through Facebook’s brand permissions guidelines.

This past November, St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY ran a campaign with a goal of reaching 2,011 fans by New Year's Eve. The day they launched, they had 1756 fans. In order to make it to "2,011 by 2011," they kicked up both the frequency and quality of their posts, incorporating more dynamic content, such as photos and video. During a big offline annual event in December, they also handed out Facebook "business cards," directing attendees to Facebook for post-event photos and posts. They achieved their goal a few days ahead of time — by December 26.


Let Them Win


There are plenty of benefits to running Facebook contests. Most importantly, they give people a fun way to interact with your client's brand and a reason to come back to visit and see who gets the prize. But if you're going to run a contest, Jim Belosic, cofounder and CEO of ShortStack, a self-service Facebook tab building platform, says that Facebook has some strict rules that your client must follow:

  • Companies are not allowed to run contests in which people enter by commenting or posting to the wall.
  • Companies are not allowed to use the newsfeed to announce contest winners.
  • Companies are not allowed to notify winners through Facebook, such as via Facebook messages.
  • Companies must run their contests through a third party app.

ShortStack allows users to build custom Facebook tabs without any developer experience. You can easily create branded pages using a template, and then there are a host of customization options from there. Using ShortStack's contest widget, which launched earlier this week, you can quickly set up a contest and not worry about figuring out how to follow Facebook's rules, as the ShortStack platform takes cares of meeting those requirements for you. ShortStack's interface allows you to design a contest submission form, customize the look and feel with images, incorporate contest rules and other information, set launch dates and duration and manage several other contest functions. Within the next few weeks, ShortStack will also roll out photo-upload submission capabilities.

Note that beyond contests, ShortStack also lets you add a range of other tabs to your client's Facebook page including contact pages, YouTube channels, Flickr feeds and polls. Service plans start at $9 per month.


Make Your Fans Feel Special


This May 16, Freedom Riders, a documentary that tells the story of the men and women who participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961, will premiere on PBS's acclaimed history program, American Experience. In advance of the broadcast premiere, PBS is offering a special preview to its Facebook fans: A 35-minute excerpt of the film debuted exclusively on the PBS Facebook Page this past Monday, and will be available for viewing until the film airs on the 16th. American Experience has offered exclusive content to its Facebook community in the past as well. One week before the broadcast premiere of documentary Earth Days in April 2010, the film was live-streamed in full exclusively on the American Experience Facebook Page. During the screening, viewers were able to live chat with each other and with the director.

Once you have loyal Facebook fans clicking around, commenting and participating on your client's page, reward them with something special that they won't find anywhere else. It doesn't have to be as elaborate as a movie screening, it can be as simple as a coupon code. And the allure of exclusivity will attract new fans, too, so make sure you let people know what's going on through other channels.


Parting Advice For Your Facebook Page


  • Ask tons of questions.
  • Incorporate upcoming events, product launches and other happenings into your client's content calendar.
  • Use third-party apps to build out tabs, but remember that the newsfeed is the vehicle for your client's call to action. Let fans know about new contests, events and other tabbed content by posting to the wall.
  • Even if multiple parties and admins are posting, assign one person as the primary lead to make sure that the general calendar is being followed and the content of the main posts is in harmony with the voice of the brand.
  • Take a read through of the Facebook promotions guidelines, Pages guidelines and brand permissions guidelines.
  • Make sure that people have to "like" your client's page before they get to enter a contest or get access to a promotion. ShortStack and other third-party apps offer this option.
  • Give fans a bit of power. If appropriate, consider posting a picture of a new product and letting the community decide what to name it. Or if that's too risky, try crowdsourcing something a bit safer, such as the flavor of the CEO's birthday cake (and make sure you post pictures afterward).
  • Let fans know that you're listening. Make sure someone is there to monitor for comments that your client should respond to — and respond fast.

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More About: facebook, facebook pages, MARKETING, pr, social media, social media marketing, social pr guide series

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Sony Teases New Android Honeycomb Tablets [VIDEO]

Posted: 05 May 2011 09:13 AM PDT

Sony UK posted a new video previewing the upcoming S1 and S2 Android tablets on its YouTube page.

Sony describes the 9.4″ S1 as “designed for comfort,” while the smaller, dual-screen S2 is “built for safe portability.” The S1 and S2 will both run Android 3.0, also known as Honeycomb, and integrate with Sony’s PlayStation Suite — a platform that allows users to download and play PlayStation games.

We still don’t have any concrete details on price or detailed specs, but both tablet are set to debut in fall 2011.

What do you think of the S1 and S2 concepts? Let us know.

More About: android tablets, honeycomb, sony, sony s1, sony s2, tablets

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The Past, Present & Future of Email [INFOGRAPHIC]

Posted: 05 May 2011 09:00 AM PDT


Our reliance on social media, instant messaging, texting and especially email is growing at a rapid rate, according to a new study.

Microsoft commissioned independent market research firm MarketTools to survey 1,268 professionals and students over the age of 18 to find out about their email and online communication habits. “We wanted to have an independent observation of how people were using the different communication tools at their disposal,” Microsoft Group Product Manager Paco Contreras told Mashable.

The survey found that a whopping 96% of respondents said their email load either increased (45%) or stayed the same (51%) over the last year. Ninety percent said that social media communication has increased (28%) or stayed the same (65%). The same is true for text messaging: 28% said texting has increased for them in the past year, while 65% said they have been texting at the same level over the past year.

Thirty-seven percent of MarketTools’ respondents said that they now spend half their day reading or replying to work email. While we aren’t surprised by that number, we were a bit stunned to learn that 55% believe spending time in work email increases their productivity. These people said that they prefer email communication especially when they want to send messages to multiple people at once (74%), want to have a written record of a conversation (73%) or have detailed information such as a document (65%).

As part of the study, Microsoft also released a rather lengthy infographic depicting the evolution of email since its introduction in 1965 (yes, email is nearly 50 years old). While the infographic is a little Microsoft and Outlook-heavy, it does provide a decent glimpse into the historical milestones of email, including the introduction of IBM Lotus Notes (1989), the introduction of the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (1982) and even the release of You’ve Got Mail in box offices worldwide.

How have your email habits changed over the past decade? What’s next for email? Check out the graphs and infographic and let us know your thoughts in the comments.


Graphs: Email Usage



Evolution of Email Infographic


Click the image for a full-sized version

Thumbnail image courtesy of iStockphoto, chezzzers

More About: email, gmail, hotmail, microsoft, microsoft outlook, Outlook

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Google’s Emotional Chrome Commercials Go Viral [VIDEO]

Posted: 05 May 2011 08:49 AM PDT

Google’s latest ad for its Chrome browser has received 169,000 views on YouTube and is number one on Unruly Media's Viral Video Chart on the strength of a heartwarming story.

The ad, called "Dear Sophie," shows a father using Google products to catalog his daughter's life events from birth to a hospital stay for an unnamed illness, to the loss of her baby teeth. He writes her notes using Gmail, for instance, and posts videos of her on YouTube.

Although some might see it as slightly creepy (Are those YouTube videos public? Does the girl know?), the story of a child's first years boiled down to 90 seconds is bound to evoke the specter of time's passage and life's ephemerality. Not bad for a TV commercial. The extended length (most TV spots are 30 seconds) also seems to help deliver more of an emotional effect.

The ad is part of Google's largest-ever offline ad campaign. It comes after another emotional ad from Google that aired earlier this week during Glee. That ad supported the LGBT community with a 91-second compilation of "It Gets Better" clips on YouTube (that video already has more than 400,000 views). And Google has presented its human side before with the 2010 Super Bowl ad "Parisian Love" that told the story of a love affair enabled by Google technology.

More About: advertising, chrome, Google

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How You Can Help Find Alien Life

Posted: 05 May 2011 08:24 AM PDT


The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has launched a contest with Gamify to get the general public involved in the search for alien signals.

SETI, best known for the giant radio dishes and telescopes that provide it interstellar data that could be from an extraterrestrial source, needs help analyzing the signal data coming from the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and other sources. The ATA is in hibernation, but it’s expected to be operational again sometime this summer, and it has already collected a massive amount of data that needs to be analyzed.

The competition enlists the public’s help in searching through the signal data. SETI wants to make sure that it isn’t missing important radio signals and that radio frequency interference (RFI) isn’t fooling its signal analysis algorithms. To do that, it needs eyeballs to examine the signal data, looking for new kinds of signals that SETI’s software (SETIQuest Explorer) hasn’t detected yet. This will help SETI train its software to find these types of signals for potential analysis.

Sifting through waterfall plots (the method SETI’s software uses to visually represent signal data for humans) is dull and tedious work on its own. So to get people involved, SETI has enlisted the help of Gamify, adding game play mechanics to make searching for hidden signals more fun and engaging.

“We have a big challenge that involves a large amount of data,” SETI senior software engineer Jon Richards told Mashable. “To properly address our challenge we need to enlist the eyeballs and brains of a lot of people. Gamification will be necessary to deliver the data in a way that will engage the gaming community with enough entertainment value to get people hooked.”

The contest is simple. SETI and Gamify are asking users to answer one question: “How would you gamify SETI?” Each person is allowed to answer the question up to three times on Gamify’s website. The community will then vote up the answers they like best, though SETI will get the final call on who is the ultimate winner of the contest.

The winner and 10 runners-up will get a prize package (including a SETI-branded Astro A30 Audio System for the winner). And of course the winner also could earn the potential legacy of being part of the solution that eventually found alien life.

Searching for extraterrestrial signals has been romanticized by books and films like Contact, but in reality, a small group of scientists can’t possibly go through all the data. That’s why SETI is hoping game mechanics (like the ones you see in SCVNGR or Foursquare) will get more people involved.

"We're huge fans of SETI and are super psyched to be working with them on solving such an epic problem,” Gamify CEO Nathan Lands told Mashable. “This is a great experiment for us, because we believe if you can gamify the search for ET, you can gamify almost anything.”

What would you do to make searching for alien signals more interesting, engaging and fun? Let us know in the comments.

Lead image courtesy of Flickr, C G-K

More About: aliens, ETI, scienceS, technology

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