Thursday, 7 July 2011

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Motorola Droid 3 Now Available From Verizon”

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Motorola Droid 3 Now Available From Verizon”

Motorola Droid 3 Now Available From Verizon

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 04:17 AM PDT

Verizon has put up Droid 3, the grandchild of Motorola’s legendary Droid smartphone, up for sale on its website.

The Droid 3 sports a 1 GHz dual-core CPU, a 4-inch qHD (960 x 540 pixel) screen, an 8-megapixel camera and a slide-out, full QWERTY keyboard.

It runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread and offers 16 GB of storage, as well as all the other standard bells and whistles that adorn the Android smartphones of today, including Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi, UMTS and aGPS support.

The device costs $199 with a two-year contract on one of Verizon’s new data plans. It is also available contact-free for $459.

[via Verizon]

More About: android, droid, Droid 3, Motorola, Motorola Droid 3, smartphone, verizon

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Nexus S 4G Update Paves the Way for Google Wallet?

Posted: 07 Jul 2011 01:04 AM PDT

The Nexus S 4G smartphone from Sprint will receive several important updates, including NFC support, on July 11, according to a screenshot unearthed by SprintFeed.

Since the Nexus S 4G was to be the first phone to support Google’s wireless mobile payment solution, Google Wallet, the fact that the device is finally getting NFC support might mean it’s time for Google Wallet to finally go live.

Google Wallet uses NFC (Near Field Communication) for contactless payments, and Google promised the first trial would be available this summer in the U.S. Google’s partners for the launch are Citi, MasterCard, First Data and Sprint.

The July 11 update to Nexus S 4G should also, among other things, bring improved Wi-Fi connectivity, speakerphone audio quality, signal acquisition, a 4G settings widget and TTY support.

[via SprintFeed]

More About: contactless payments, Google, google wallet, Nexus S 4G, payment, payments, sprint, Wallet, wireless payments

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First iPhones in Space: Final Shuttle Astronauts to Deliver $1 App

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 10:13 PM PDT

If every government program were this cheap, we’d have the debt problem licked in no time.

The final, much-delayed mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis, which has a 30% chance of lifting off this Friday, will be carrying with it the planet’s first astro-phones — a pair of Apple iPhone 4s, ready for a first-of-its-kind experiment aboard the International Space Station, using a $1 app.

The app, SpaceLab for iOS [iTunes link], uses the iPhone 4′s in-built three-axis gyroscope to replace far more expensive custom-built equipment. It will measure altitude, the curvature of the Earth, and locate itself by looking for recognizable coastline via the iPhone camera. (Astronauts aboard the ISS will be taking the snapshots; no word yet on whether they’ll also be choosing filters and posting them to Instagram.)

The idea is to help future spacecraft that might get knocked out of position, lost in low-Earth orbit. In other words, this may be the beginning of a GPS for space.

But that’s not all. NASA is also interested in discovering how well iPhones can withstand the rigors of space travel, particularly how much radiation they are exposed to. The phones will also be taking snapshots of QR codes to help calibrate their sensors, and because QR codes are impossible to avoid these days, even in orbit.

The one experiment that must be on the mind of every iPhone user — seeing whether you can pick up an AT&T or Verizon signal from space — is not an official part of the ISS experiment. But the iPhones will be hooked up to bulky external batteries, so astronauts won’t need to worry about a weak signal draining their phones or finding somewhere to plug them in.

[via Macworld]

More About: experiment, iphone, iphone 4, ISS, NASA, space, space shuttle

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Find a Job in Social Media, Communications or Design

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 09:21 PM PDT

If you’re seeking a job in social media, we’d like to help out. For starters, Mashable‘s Job Lists section gathers together all of our resource lists, how-tos and expert guides to help you get hired. In particular, you might want to see our articles on How to Leverage Social Media for Career Success and How to Find a Job on Twitter.

But we’d like to help in a more direct way, too. Mashable‘s job boards are a place for socially savvy companies to find people like you. This week and every week, Mashable features its coveted job board listings for a variety of positions in the web, social media space and beyond. Have a look at what's good and new on our job boards:

Mashable Job Postings

Business Development Coordinator at Mashable in New York, NY.

Community Director at Mashable in New York, NY.

Community Intern at Mashable in New York, NY.

Editorial Intern at Mashable in New York, NY.

Tech Reporter at Mashable in San Francisco, CA.

Communications Coordinator at Mashable in New York, NY.

Campaign Specialist at Mashable in New York, NY.

Mashable Job Board Listings

Director of E-Commerce at Chronicle Books in San Francisco, CA.

Social Media Content Manager at Relevent in New York, NY.

US OPEN Social Media Team Member at United States Tennis Association in New York, NY.

Account Director (digital exp. needed) at VML in Kansas City, MO.

Social Media Director/Community Manager at The Estee Lauder Companies in New York, NY.

Executive Producer at MTV World in New York, NY.

Director, Strategy and Business Development at MTV World in New York, NY.

Director of Online Programming and Product Development at MTV World in New York, NY.

Algorithm Engineer at WhaleShark Media in Austin, TX.

Social Media and Community Strategist at Community Gatepath in Burlingame, CA.

Communications Specialist at Advancement Project in Washington, D.C.

Marketing Manager at HelloWallet in Washington, D.C.

Freelance Digital Producer/Project Management at Digitas in Stamford, CT.

Community Mktg Specialist(Freelance) at A+E Networks in New York, NY.

Director of Customer Enchantment at TourChimp in Golden, CO.

Consulting Manager at NM Inicte in New York, NY.

Blogger Evangelist at Shutterstock in New York, NY.

Community Manager at Shutterstock in New York, NY.

International Management Trainee at Meltwater Group in Sydney, Australia.

SVP, Performance Marketing at E-commerce Start-up (US & Asia) in Hong Kong, China.

Web Application Developer (Telecommute) at Branagh Information Group, Inc. in San Francisco, CA.

Associate Communications Strategist at Oxford Communications in Lambertville, NJ.

Mac/iPhone Developer (Oklahoma City & Salt Lake City) at a la mode, inc. in Oklahoma City, OK.

.NET Developer at a la mode, inc. in Oklahoma City, OK.

Vice President – Digital at Edelman PR in San Mateo, CA.

Web Designer at Pueblo Community College in Pueblo, CO.

Junior Account Manager at Dailymotion in New York, NY.

Junior Traffic Manager at Dailymotion in New York, NY.

Junior Social Media/Digital Communications Professionals at APCO Worldwide in New York, NY.

Front-End Social UX/UI Web Developer at AfterCollege in San Francisco, CA.

VP of Technical Operations and IT at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Design Intern at in Marina del Rey, CA.

Web Software Architect at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Associate Product Manager/IA at in Marina del Rey, CA.

Engineer- Front End at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Director of Engineering, TV/Videoat Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Lead Engineer, Value Added Services at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Javascript Engineer at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Director of Product Management, Mobile Products at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Quality Engineer at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Account Manager, Marketing Tools at Metia in Kirkland, WA.

Social Media at Confidential in Chicago, IL.

Web Developer at Cambrai Solutions in Ottawa, Canada.

Social Media Marketer (Junior Level) at Churnless in Washington, D.C.

Web Designer at in Englewood, CO.

Social Media Account Assistant at Beyond Marketing Group, LLC in Irvine, CA.

Mgr., Interactive Marketing at SeaWorld, Orlando in Orlando, FL.

E-Fundraising Manager at Autism Speaks in New York, NY.

Senior Front End Developer at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Program Manager at Synacor in Buffalo, NY.

Visual Designer at Fjord in San Jose, CA.

Senior Interaction Designer at Fjord in San Jose, CA.

Senior Visual Designer at Fjord in San Jose, CA.

iOS Developer at Pixable in New York, NY.

Mashable‘s Job Board has a variety of web 2.0, application development, business development and social networking job opportunities available. Check them out here.

Find a Web 2.0 Job with Mashable

Got a job posting to share with our readers? Post a job to Mashable today ($99 for a 30 day listing) and get it highlighted every week on (in addition to exposure all day every day in the Mashable marketplace).

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, YinYang

More About: COMMUNICATIONS, design, job listings, jobs, social media

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Startup Switches Facebook Into Study Mode

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 08:53 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: Hoot.Me

Quick Pitch: Hoot.Me helps students create study groups on Facebook.

Genius Idea: Channeling Facebook for a productive purpose.

As a sophomore at the University of Texas, Hoot.Me CEO and co-founder Michael Koetting decided to enter a business plan competition. But he didn’t have a solid idea for a company until he stayed up late one night stuck on his calculus homework.

“I thought, I know that there are 100 other kids working on this right now,” he says. “I wish I could see who they are — I know they’re all on Facebook, but I just don’t know which of them are actually working on this.”

Thus the idea for Hoot.Me. The startup “switches Facebook into study mode” by allowing anyone to create study chat rooms, invite friends to them and join existing rooms that are displayed in a study newsfeed. The “smart” chat rooms can handle math symbols and youtube video embeds, and through a partnership with TokBox, they also provide group video chats.

By the time the business competition rolled around, Hoot.Me was already an LLC.

The team launched a beta version in February and won $25,000 of seed funding with a spot in startup accelerator DreamIt Ventures‘s summer program.

Hoot.Me is not the only startup aiming to create a social study product that makes sense for college students. It’s not even the only student-founded startup with that goal: A team at the University of Pennsylvania recently launched CourseKit, a course management tool with Facebook-like features.

Meanwhile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given its financial blessing to Inigral, a company that makes a customized Facebook app for schools.

What sets apart are video chat — a feature that until earlier today was rare on Facebook — and universality. You can theoretically get help with your Calculus homework from anyone in the world who is using Hoot.Me at the same time as you.

This last aspect also introduces a complication, which is that unlike both CourseKit and Intuit’s app, is not a service that an instructor will use for her class or a school will provide. The burden of inviting people to participate is for the most part on the users.

In the startup’s beta test of the product, about 500 users made an average of five public posts when they used the app by either posting their study room as their statuses or inviting friends to join.

If this type of posting drives enough engagement, Hoot.Me plans to monetize by allowing tutors to offer tutoring sessions on the app.

“Creating a monetization model on top of this is easy if we can get the users engaged and get the students working with each other, which is our real concern,” Koetting says.

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: bizspark, Coursekit, education, facebook,, intuit, startup

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Foursquare Surpasses 500,000 Merchant Accounts

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 07:46 PM PDT

Fresh off celebrating 10 million members, Foursquare is now commemorating a new achievement — more than 500,000 merchant accounts.

The startup made the announcement in a blog post Wednesday, highlighting several creative brands who are currently using Foursquare for marketing purposes.

2011 is proving to be a big year for the two year-old Foursquare; it recently raised another $50 million in funding and just announced a nationwide partnership with American Express.

More About: foursquare, MARKETING, merchants, social media

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Google to Businesses: Don’t Create Google+ Profiles Yet

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 07:15 PM PDT

Google has revealed that it is working on a Google+ experience for businesses and is asking brands not to create Google+ profiles just yet.

In a post and accompanying YouTube video on Google+, Product Manager Christian Oestlien says that the Google+ team is working on creating a unique experience for businesses that includes deep analytics and the ability to connect to products like AdWords. “How users communicate with each other is different from how they communicate with brands,” Oestlien argues.

As a result, Google is asking businesses to put their Google+ ambitions on hold.

“The business experience we are creating should far exceed the consumer profile in terms of its usefulness to businesses,” Oestlien says in his post. “We just ask for your patience while we build it. In the meantime, we are discouraging businesses from using regular profiles to connect with Google+ users. Our policy team will actively work with profile owners to shut down non-user profiles.”


Several prominent brands have already joined Google+, including Ford, Breaking News and yes, Mashable, which is now one of the top ten most popular users on Google+.

While the new Google+ experience for businesses won’t be ready until “later this year,” the company intends to launch a “small experiment with a few marketing partners” to test the brand-oriented accounts over the next few months. It even has opened up a Google Spreadsheet where “non-user entities” can apply for the program. It’s unclear when Google will shut down non-user profiles or how the process will work.

We’re not surprised that Google is building an optimized Google+ experience for businesses, but we are surprised that Google wasn’t more prepared for the wave of brands that have been joining its social network. The same thing happened with Google Buzz and has happened on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and countless other social networks. Brands like to go where their customers are.

More About: business, Google, Google Plus, MARKETING

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The Online Reaction to the Casey Anthony Verdict [STATS]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 06:35 PM PDT

The online reaction to Tuesday’s verdict in the Casey Anthony case was fast, furious and angry.

The high-profile case, which has been covered exhaustively by cable news networks for the last three years, was broadcast on television and online and news organizations like and saw spikes in traffic in conjunction with the announcement of the verdict.

Mashable reached out to NM Incite, a Nielsen McKinsey company and social analytics company Topsy to gather some information online reaction to the case itself.

In terms of pure sentiment reaction, Nielsen tells us that 64% of users on Twitter disagreed with the verdict, 35% were neutral and only 1% agreed with the verdict.

This coincides with Topsy’s data, which shows a switch in sentiment in case-related tweets — from positive to overwhelmingly negative, when the not-guilty verdict was announced.

Nielsen also broke down the tweets into various categories and topics.

Here, you can see that half of the users on Twitter disagreed with the verdict. Disbelief and death wishes for Casey Anthony were also common opinions.

Nielsen’s NM Incite data backs up the increased traffic to various news websites. Nielsen attributes 12% of info sharing tweets to general news link sharing.

Thanks in part to a tweet from Kim Kardashian about the verdict, OJ Simpson references were frequently cited. Kardashian’s father, the late Robert Kardashian, was a member of Simpson’s “Dream Team” in his 1995 murder trial.

I frequently saw humorous references to the television show Dexter and its protagonist, serial killer serial killer Dexter Morgan, in my Twitter stream and Nielsen’s data notes that as well.

ABC News Digital tells us that it saw a significant spike in web and video traffic following the verdict. Visits to jumped five times the average for that time frame from the previous month, with video traffic three times the previous month’s average. ABC News says that 1.2 million videos were streamed on its website between 12:00pm ET and 4:00pm ET on Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

ABC News also says that 1,000 tweets were sent with the hashtag #ABCCasey and that Facebook page views were up 45%.

Representative of a New Era

Over the last 24-hours, I’ve seen a lot of references and parallels to the OJ Simpson case. To be clear, the cultural significance of this trial doesn’t even come close to approaching OJ-levels, but the prolonged level of media attention, as well as the disparity in media coverage with the jury’s verdict, makes it easy to compare.

What strikes me as most interesting in this context is not the similarities between the trials themselves, but the differences in how the information is disseminated.

In 1995, most viewers watched the OJ verdict on television. I was in the 7th grade and remember watching it live in school. Similarly, I know that elementary schools also broadcast the verdict. The reaction to the verdict took place in person, via traditional media like television, talk radio and in the newspaper.

Sixteen years later, the traditional media was still a catalyst in the early Anthony coverage, but much of the conversation has shifted to social networks.

My colleague Emily Banks made a brilliant observation yesterday when she noticed that many local newspapers updated their Facebook pages with news on the verdict before updating their site homepages. She went on to remark, “Facebook is the new newspaper front page.”

I think she’s right. The Casey Anthony trial will be studied as a cultural phenomenon in the future for a variety of reasons, but I hope that someone in academia will study the shift to the Internet and social media as not only the source of news, but the primary reaction zone for these kinds of stories.

More About: casey anthony, data, legal, mainstream media, Nielsen, nm incite, stats, topsy, twitter

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10 Fascinating Facts About Phone Numbers

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 05:56 PM PDT

You probably dial a few of them every day, but do you ever stop and think about the history behind a phone number? When were the first numbers introduced? How did you end up with a particular area code?

We’ve got the answers to these quandaries and more in our collection of 10 fascinating facts that you might not know about the common phone number.

Take a look through the gallery and let us know which facts you found interesting (as well as any gems we may not have included) in the comments below.

1. How Phone Numbers Were Invented

In the early days of phone service, you'd call the operator and ask to be patched through to a particular line. This system was first questioned in 1879 by Alexander Graham Bell's friend, Dr. Moses Greeley Parker of Lowell, MA. The town was suffering from an epidemic of measles and the doctor quite sensibly suggested that if the town's phone operators fell ill, replacement operators would struggle to run the system. Numbers instead of names was seen as a better solution which, as you all know, is the system we still use today.

2. The First U.S. Area Codes

Conceived in the late Forties, area codes were not established until the introduction of New Jersey's 201 area code in 1951. The area codes we use today are an evolution of the original "North American Numbering Plan."

Initially there were under 90 codes. Codes were dished out based on population. The areas with the largest populations received codes that were quick to dial on a rotary phone. New York was given 212, Los Angeles 213 and Chicago 312 while more rural areas like Texas and Kansas got 915 and 913.

3. All About Emergency Numbers

Emergency numbers differ from country to country. While 911 was eventually adopted as the standard number in the United States and Canada, in Europe you'll need to dial 112, although 999 also works in the UK, where there's been an emergency number system since the 1930s.

In contrast, 911 was not official until the late '60s, when it was first known as "nine-eleven," and then later changed to "nine-one-one" to avoid confusion with people wasting precious time looking for the "11" button.

Prior to the one-number system, you'd call the operator to summon the correct emergency service, although in the States some fire departments could be reached by dialling "3-4-7-3" -- which spells "FIRE."

4. The Most Expensive Phone Number

The most expensive number sold was cell phone number 666-6666, auctioned off for charity in Qatar. It sold for a dizzy $2.7 million, far and away surpassing the previous record holder. The Chinese number 8888-8888 sold for $280,000.

5. Woz Owned 888-8888

Legend has it that Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak (who was really into repeating digits, hence pricing the Apple I at $666.66) once owned the phone number 888-8888.

The only problem with such a cool number was that it earned over a hundred prank calls a day. Although not malicious in nature, being dialed repeatedly by mischievous children must have taken its toll.

6. Fictional Numbers Are Set Aside For Films

The "Klondike" or "KL" phone exchange was first used to generate fictional phone numbers in American TV and films. This later evolved to the current "555" prefix, some of which have been set aside purely for fictional purposes. In the UK, 01632 is the fictional area code recommended by Ofcom, although it does also provide non-working suggestions for major cities, as well as fictional cell, freephone and premium rate numbers.

7. However, Some Films Ignore the Convention

Some have bucked the 555 trend. Universal Studios owns (212) 664-7665, which has appeared in The Adjustment Bureau, Definitely Maybe and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. If you call the number, it just rings and rings. Fight Club uses the 288 area code, which is not yet in use, and Bruce Almighty caused controversy for using a real phone number supposedly belonging to God. After complaints, the original "776-2323" was changed to the more traditional 555-0123 in the DVD release.

8. Famous Phone Numbers in Music

Phone numbers famously appear in songs as well, perhaps the most memorable being Glenn Miller's Pennsylvania 6-5000. Today the number still exists as (212) 736-5000 ("73" replaces the "PE" of the old number) and will get you through to the Hotel Pennsylvania of the song title. The hotel happily claims that it's the "New York phone number in longest continuous use."

Other numbers to have appeared in song (much to the annoyance of folks who own that number in various area codes) include Tommy Tutone's 867-5309/Jenny. More recently, Alicia Keys mentioned that 489-4608 was her number in the song Diary, after which excited fans attempted to call her.

9. How to Find Your Personalized Phonewords

Thanks to services like PhoneSpell, you can find out if any of your phone numbers offer interesting "phonewords." Enter your digits and the site will generate a list of interesting combinations. If you've lucked out, it may provide a better way to remember your number in future.

10. Finally, a Neat Phone Number Magic Trick

There's a neat phone number-related trick you can impress your friends with, thanks to the magic of math.

Take a seven-digit phone number, for example, 941-7990. Multiply the first three digits by 80. Add one. Multiply by 250. Add the last four digits of the original phone number. Add the last four digits again. Subtract 250 and divide by two.

Cool, huh?

Images courtesy of Billy Brown, Nate Steiner, raindog808, Collin Allen, Chris Dlugosz, Saxon, Orin Zebest, flattop341, reibai, Clare Bell, Kevin Spencer

More About: facts, List, Lists, Mobile 2.0, phone numbers

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Amazon Fires Back at Google & Apple With Unlimited Cloud Music Storage

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 05:22 PM PDT

Amazon Cloud Player, the online retailer’s cloud-based music service, is striking back at its competitors with unlimited music storage and a web app for iPad.

The changes affect all new purchases of Cloud Drive storage plans. If a user spends $20 for a year’s worth of storage, he or she will still get 20 GB of space. However, MP3s and AAC files no longer count against the limit. This applies to all Cloud Drive plans, although Amazon says the deal is only available “for a limited time.” Non-paying users of the service will still get 5 GB of space for free.

In addition, Amazon has also announced that all MP3s purchased through Amazon will be stored for free as well.

The move is clearly a shot across Google and Apple’s bows. Google Music has a limit of 20,000 songs, while Amazon has no limit. Apple’s iCloud doesn’t offer uploads, but instead has an iTunes Match feature that finds a high-quality copy of your music library for $25 a year.

In addition to unlimited music storage in the cloud, Amazon also announced that it has optimized its web-based Cloud Player for the iPad, allowing users to access their music library from their Apple tablets. It’s the next best thing to an official Amazon Cloud Player app. Given the animosity between the two companies, we don’t expect an iOS app anytime soon.

Which cloud-based music system has your loyalty? Let us know in the comments.

More About: amazon, Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon Cloud Player, apple, cloud, Google, google music, icloud, music

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MySpace Released Skype-Powered Calls … In 2007

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 04:41 PM PDT

How soon we forget. MySpace, the mostly-abandoned, Justin Timberlake-owned social network of yore, was the first to ink a VoIP deal for member-to-member calling — more than three-and-a-half years before Facebook.

This little tidbit of truth was dug up by none other than MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson, who was also quick to point out that the “place for friends” also had one-on-one video chat in 2004.

In the Mashable archives we find that on December 11, 2007, MySpace released a feature that would allow its members to Skype via MySpace IM with a single click (sound familiar?), albeit without the video functionality of today’s Facebook release.

Interestingly enough, Skype was an eBay property at the time. Now, it belongs to Microsoft.

“The point is that people weren't really ready for it back then,” Anderson, a Google+ user and newly self-professed fan of the competing Facebook offering, writes of video and voice chat on MySpace.

While this trip down social media memory lane might make it seem like Facebook is launching an antiquated tool, we certainly don’t think this ironic uncovering is cause for concern. After all, Facebook now has 750 million active members — Skype, by comparison, has 170 million regular users and 663 million registered accounts — and most of whom will care little about the social network’s seemingly late release, so long as it connects them to friends and family members.

[via Hacker News]

More About: facebook, Facebook Video Chat, myspace, Skype

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Smartphone Attachment Diagnoses Cataracts

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 03:52 PM PDT

Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab have created a smartphone attachment called Catra that can diagnose cataracts in a matter of minutes. The screening tool is currently being tested on subjects.

Catra clips on to devices such as phones and iPods, and scans the lens of the eye to create a map of the position, size, shape and density of cataracts. “I like to think of this as a radar for the human eye,” says Ramesh Raskar, director of the MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture group.

The device is capable of picking up changes in parts of the lens that have not yet become opaque, and thus able to detect cataracts at an earlier stage than standard tests.

Media Lab researchers hope Catra’s portability will allow physicians and self-testers better diagnose cataracts, especially in developing nations. Ultimately, Catra’s purpose is to decrease the cases of preventable blindness.

MIT’s Media Lab is working on a series of projects around eye care. It developed and released Netra, an application and smartphone attachment for eye exams via mobile phone, last year.

More About: Catra, MIT Media Lab, Mobile 2.0, smartphones, technology

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Obama’s Twitter Town Hall By the Numbers [STATS]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 03:33 PM PDT

Behind-the-scenes details are starting to pour in after the #AskObama Town Hall event earlier this afternoon, where Twitter users got to pepper the President with 140-character questions.

According to both Simply Measured and TwitSprout, more than 70,000 tweets were sent during President Obama’s first Twitter town hall.

The most frequent points of discussion in these tweets, which included either the #AskObama hashtag or mentioned the @townhall username were jobs, the economy, housing and the legalization of marijuana.

The jobs, economy and housing questions make sense in the context of the town hall parameters, but the mention of marijuana legalization might surprise some.

According to TwitSprout’s #AskObama Twitter Dashboard, the most retweeted question asked: “Would you consider legalizing marijuana to increase revenue and save tax dollars by freeing up crowded prisons, court rooms.” The President did not address that tweet.

When it comes to the location of tweets, the majority came from major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, with the most coming out of Washington D.C..

Check out more statistics from the folks at Simply Measured.

Tweet Volume

Throughout the event, the number of tweets stayed steady.

Data from Simply Measured.

Conversation Topics

The bulk of the conversation on Twitter focused on jobs, debt and taxes.

Data from Simply Measured.

Follower Growth

Most of the growth in followers to Twitter's new @townhall account took place in the hours leading up to the event. During the town hall itself, growth was steady.

Data from Simply Measured.

Tweet Location

Big cities led the conversation, with 14% of tweets coming from Washington D.C. alone.

Data from Simply Measured.

More About: #askobama, barack obama, obama, politics, president obama, stats, twitter, twitter town hall

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Kurt Vile’s “Baby’s Arms” Shot Entirely on Windows Phone [VIDEO]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 03:17 PM PDT

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

Phone-made videos and movies are becoming increasingly popular. And on Wednesday, musician Kurt Vile premiered a dreamy vid for “Baby’s Arms” that’s definitely worth checking out.

The video — for a tune from Vile‘s fourth album, Smoke Ring For My Halo — tells the tale of a young couple from Los Angeles. They don’t do much but bike around and graffiti some walls, but the imagery is beautiful, and warmth emanates through every frame.

The video was directed and filmed by Todd Cole, and is a part of the Windows Phone Me series, which depicts a single day in an everyday person’s life (check out the “making-of” here). The couple in the video is the real deal, which adds another lovely layer to the whole story.

More About: kurt-vile, Mobile 2.0, music, video, viral-video-of-day, windows phone, youtube

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Need to Share Giant Files? MiMedia Increases Upload Size to 3GB

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 02:57 PM PDT

File storage and backup service MiMedia has rolled out a new version of its web-based upload utility, in the hopes of making it easier for users to back up and store content in the cloud.

The new Java-based web upload client is unique because of its high file size limit. Most web-based uploaders limit users to a few hundred megabytes — or if you’re lucky, a gigabyte. MiMedia will let users upload files up to 3GB in size. That’s great for uploading large video files, especially if they are from a pocket HD camera or smartphone. (Previously, the web uploader’s file size limit was less than half a gigabyte.)

MiMedia exited beta in May and gives users 7GB of free cloud storage. The company also offers monthly and yearly paid plans for more space.

MiMedia is similar to Dropbox, but with a focus on media storage and automated backups, along with social sharing features.

MiMedia’s major limitation: the company only offers a desktop client for Windows users. Mac OS X or Linux users can still upload files and folders and access media from the web interface, but the automated backup features are unavailable.

The new web upload tool doesn’t remove the need for a separate desktop client, but it does make backing up large files and media from other machines — or from a Mac — easier.

The 3GB file-size limit for web uploads opens up some interesting possibilities for users looking for a free web-sharing tool. Recently, for example, a colleague needed to upload a 2.5GB video file. His Dropbox account didn’t have enough space, and none of our video upload hosts would support such a large file. Faced with creating an FTP upload drop for him, I just gave him temporary access to my Dropbox account. MiMedia would have saved us a bunch of time.

The company has also added enhanced folder and file sharing capabilities, similar to Dropbox. Users can choose to share a file or folder with a user via email or social networks.

With Amazon’s news Cloud Player and Cloud Drive products competing with Apple’s upcoming iCloud service, the consumer cloud storage market is heating up. We’d still really like to see a Mac client for MiMedia for automating backups, better, more robust web uploads is a great start.

How do you upload and share your media files? Let us know in the comments.

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Versace Deletes Facebook Protest, Prevents 500,000 Fans from Posting to Page

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 02:15 PM PDT

Versace has revoked free publishing rights to its Facebook Page after activists covered its Wall with messages protesting the Italian fashion house’s use of sandblasting, a technique for giving denim a worn look.

Dozens of messages linking to the campaign appeared on the brand’s Wall last month after a petition to stop Versace’s “killer jeans” appeared on protest platform

The anti-sandblasting messages on Versace’s Facebook Wall have been deleted. The company’s half a million Facebook fans can no longer freely post to the brand’s Wall, although they can still leave comments on content posted by Versace itself.

Sandblasting is highly dangerous to workers, says, which hosted the petition on behalf of human labor rights group Clean Clothes Campaign.

The process requires firing sand under high pressure, and has been known to kill workers in Turkey and Bangladesh. (Turkey banned sandblasting in 2009.) Anyone who inhales large amounts of silica dust can contract a lethal pulmonary disease called silicosis.

Several major brands, including Levi’s, H&M and Gucci, have already cut sandblasted denim from their collections.

Patrick McGregor, group director of communications at Versace, told Mashable that Versace’s denim is manufactured in Italy in accordance with the country’s safety regulations. No lawsuits have been filed in the matter, he said.

Should Brands Let Fans Post on Their Walls?

The incident underlines a broader debate about best practices for brands on Facebook, particularly those in the luxury market.

In a recent survey of luxury brands, researchers at digital think tank L2 criticized Burberry for preventing fans from posting on its Wall. L2 saw that as a sign that Burberry was not yet ready to “abandon command and control.”

Fashion brand DKNY, which briefly prevented fans from posting on its Page after a PETA protest, reached a compromise by allowing fans to post freely on its Page — but keeps their content half-hidden in the “Most Recent” tab on its Wall. Posts by the brand are displayed on the main Wall tab.

That sounds like a decent compromise, but not one Versace is willing to try. For now, Versace fans will only be able to leave messages in the comments sections of Versace’s posts, says McGregor.

How do you think brands should handle interactions on their Facebook Walls? Should fans’ posts appear on the default tab of a brand’s Facebook Wall, or in a separate tab?

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Hulu Plus Is Set To Hit A Million Paid Subscribers

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 01:39 PM PDT

Amid continued rumors that Hulu is considering a sale to Google, Yahoo or Microsoft, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar has revealed some eye-opening second-quarter statistics. The company, it seems, has never looked healthier.

Hulu Plus, Hulu’s premium all-you-can-eat video offering, is fast-approaching 1 million subscribers; it currently has upward of 875,000 paid subscribers and will pass the milestone before the end of the summer, Kilar says in a blog post.

“We added more paying subscribers in June than we did in April and May combined,” he says.

Hulu Plus has a combined installed base of more than 100 million users across its mobile, consoles and connected TV apps. “Expect that number to grow aggressively over the balance of 2011,” Kilar says.

He also addresses the company’s financial well-being, stating that Hulu is still on track to make half a billion dollars in 2011 and is the U.S. market share leader in online video advertising revenue. We now know that Hulu pays its content providers $8 per Hulu Plus subscriber — and make a profit on each, Kilar says.

Kilar also mentions the company’s growing content catalog. “Since the launch of Hulu Plus in November 2010, the number of total hours of content on the service has grown 67% from 9,000 to 15,000,” he says. “The total number of full episodes on the service has grown 115% from 13,000 to 28,000. The number of TV series on the service has grown 129% from 950 to 2,180 … The number of clips has grown 85% from 13,500 to 25,000, and the number of movies has grown 222% from 450 to 1,450.”

The rosy outlook painted by Kilar, however, ignores the company’s start-and-stop IPO efforts — derailed last year due to concerns about its network deals — and its rumored quest for a buyer.

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Eminem Sends Facebook Users to Hell in Violent Promotional Game

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 01:25 PM PDT

Rapper Eminem recently released an EP titled Hell: The Sequel with his side project, Bad Meets Evil, a hip-hip duo including Royce Da 5'9. To celebrate, Eminem is launching a violent Facebook game.

The aim of the game is pretty simple: Become so evil that you go to hell. Users choose an avatar while tracks from the EP play. Then they gain points (by watching music videos and interviews or spending Facebook Credits) in order to buy weapons. Players use the weapons to kill friends. Get enough points and kills, and you get to go to hell.

While the game is likely to rile some Facebook users (the Weeds social game also had a few detractors), it does fit Eminem‘s image, as well as the album’s theme. And it’s a novel way to get fans listening to new tracks while they’re messing around on Facebook.

Lady Gaga had a similar idea with GagaVille, partnering with Zynga to create a music-themed social game. Within the game, fans were able to get an advance listen of Gaga’s last album, Born This Way.

What do you think of premiering tracks via social games? Is this a good way to snag new fans or just so much hype? Let us know in the comments.

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Advertisers Announce Boycott of UK Tabloid on Twitter

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 01:14 PM PDT

Marketers are using Twitter and Facebook to vent about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and to announce that they're pulling advertising from the UK tabloid.

Renault UK, for instance, told its 2,800 followers that the brand "has no media advertising planned with NOTW” and doesn't plan any until a formal investigation has been executed.

Mitsubishi used Twitter as as forum to announce — at a Facebook user's suggestion — that it is donating its NOTW ad spend to a charity.

Ford UK, meanwhile, didn't announce its pullout on Twitter, but directed a follower to the company's release on the matter.

The flurry of activity is being spurred by campaigners who are using Twitter as a vehicle to lobby the brands to take a position on the matter. One site even has a list of ready-made tweets that users can fire at the advertisers.

According to Marketing Week, a consumer campaign of 6,000-plus tweets prompted The Co-Operative to pull advertising after it had initially planned to stay the course. Other advertisers have been lobbied via Twitter as well, including bookseller WH Smith, which has gotten close to 6,000 tweets, and Virgin Media, which has received more than 4,000.

The pressure comes as UK Prime Minister David Cameron called for a public inquiry over the News of the World's "absolutely disgusting" phone hacking allegations. The tabloid publication, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, is accused of hacking into the voicemail of a missing teenage girl, Milly Dowler, in pursuit of a scoop. Serial killer Levi Bellfield was found guilty last month for the 2002 murder.

The Guardian ignited the outrage Monday with a report outlining how NOTW reporters listened to the voicemails and deleted messages, possibly obstructing the police investigation and leading the girl's parents to think she was still alive.

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7 Winning Examples of Game Mechanics in Action

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 12:57 PM PDT

Gabe Zichermann is the author of Gamification by Design and chair of the upcoming Gamification Summit NYC, where top leaders in the field – such as those profiled here – get together to share insight, key metrics and best practices. Mashable readers are invited to register with special savings at using code MASH10.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. In other words, it means taking the best lessons from games like FarmVille, World of Warcraft and Angry Birds, and using them in business. Whether targeted at customers or employees, across industries as diverse as technology, health care, education, consumer products, entertainment and travel, gamification's impact can already be felt.

While some have criticized the concept of gamification as shallow or demeaning, the initial findings from gamification specialists are nothing short of astonishing. Regardless of your business model, the following seven gamified innovations should inspire you to strategize via game analysis.

1. Make a Market: Foursquare

The first incarnation of the location-based networking field was littered with carnage, leading many to write off the entire concept. But Foursquare's founders, veterans of the now defunct Dodgeball, succeeded with an ace in the hole: game mechanics. Exposed to the concept while working at Area/Code (Zynga's recently acquired New York City-based game design shop), Dennis and Naveen concluded that mobile social networking would work if you were to change the dynamic from multiplayer to single player.

Instead of depending on the action of the crowd to provide intrinsic reinforcement (e.g. "Hey, you're around the corner. Let's grab a beer!"), Foursquare overcame the empty bar problem by becoming a single-player game. The user competes for badges and mayorships whether or not anyone is there to meet him. In the process, Foursquare proved that location-based networking wasn't doomed to fail, that simple game mechanics can affect behavior, and that you can engage 10 million customers — all while raising $50 million.

2. Get Fit: NextJump

When you listen to NextJump CEO Charlie Kim describe his zeal for physical fitness, you immediately understand the energy that has propelled this interactive marketing platform into one of the nation's fastest growing businesses. But keeping fit isn't just Kim's personal goal — he told me it's also a practice he believes his employees should value as a tool for improving their lives, reducing company insurance costs and preventing employee absenteeism. To achieve those goals, NextJump installed gyms in its offices, and built a custom application that enabled employees to check in to each workout. Ultimately, they rewarded the top performers with a cash prize. After implementation, around 12% of the company's staff began a regular workout regimen.

But Kim wasn't satisfied. By leveraging the power of gamification, he retooled the fitness "game" to become a team sport. Now NextJump employees could form regionally based teams, check in to workouts and see their team performance on a leaderboard. Leveraging the game themes of tribalism and competition had an astonishing effect on behavior. Today, 70% of NextJump employees exercise regularly — enough to save the company millions in work attendance and insurance costs over the medium term — all the while making the workplace healthier and happier.

3. Slow Down and Smell the Money: Kevin Richardson

In many countries, speed cameras snare thousands of drivers each year — a quick shutter flash earns a miserable ticket in the mailbox. In some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, ticket amounts correspond with the driver's salary, rather than his speed. But Kevin Richardson, game designer at MTV's San Francisco office, re-imagined the experience using game thinking.

His innovative Speed Camera Lottery idea rewards those drivers who obey the posted limit by entering them into a lottery. The compliant drivers then split the proceeds generated from speeders. Richardson used gamification concepts to turn an negative reinforcement system into a positive, incremental experience.

When tested at a checkpoint in Stockholm, average driver speed was reduced by 20%. If the plan were scaled across the U.S., the results could mean thousands fewer injuries, millions of dollars worth of reduced costs and substantial environmental benefits.

4. Generate Ad Revenues: Psych & NBC/Universal.

Psych is a popular program on the USA Network, but these days, creating value for TV advertisers means connecting to the web and social media in creative ways. Enter Club Psych, the online brand platform for the show, and among the first major media platforms to get gamified.

The brainchild of NBC/Universal executive Jesse Redniss, Club Psych implemented gamified incentives to raise page views by over 130% and return visits by 40%. The resulting rise in engagement has generated substantial revenue for the company, bringing registered user counts from 400,000 to nearly 3 million since the launch of the gamified version. The media conglomerate has since embraced the strategy across properties, bringing gamification to ratings leaders like Top Chef and the The Real Housewives.

Other content publishers, like Playboy, have seen similar results. Their Miss Social Facebook app has achieved an 85% re-engagement rate and 60% monthly revenue growth with gamification.

5. Make Research & Evangelism Count: Crowdtap

Getting product feedback is a costly and challenging effort. Therefore, most marketers have come to loathe ineffective surveys and expensive focus groups. Enter Crowdtap, the hot New York City startup launched earlier this year that reached $1 million in revenue and 100,000 users in just over 90 days. The company offers consumers gamified rewards to complete research tasks and to share brand advocacy with others — something mere market research simply cannot do.

Through the use of gamified, virtual rewards, the company has been able to raise average user participation by 2.5 times, thus reducing research costs by 80% or more for key clients. By targeting consumer rewards along a motivational (not demographic) axis, CEO Brandon Evans reports that competition-oriented users are four times more likely to create quality comments and 12 times more likely to refer others to the platform. Instead of competing against the system, they challenge themselves and peers to excel — an extraordinary achievement by any measure.

6. Save the Planet: RecycleBank

Modern life is wasteful, and easy fixes are rare. By tapping into people's desire for reward and competition through gamified experiences, governments, utilities and entrepreneurial powerhouses are rewriting the rules of sustainability — and making the world a better place.

In a Medford, MA pilot program, households competed in an energy smackdown in which the winning family managed to lower its carbon footprint by 63%. In a program called Putnam RISE, Indiana families are making thousands of pledges to reduce power usage through a competition. The schools whose families conserve the most energy receive a cash prize. And across the country, incentives experts at Recyclebank are using the power of gamification to radically improve home environmental compliance. So far, they've utilized game mechanics such as points, challenges and rewards to drive breakthroughs. For example, the project has seen a 16% increase in recycling in Philadelphia, where the recycling rate has broken 20% for the first time in history.

7. Make Teaching Fun: Ananth Pai

As former globetrotting business executive turned elementary school teacher, Ananth Pai has seen it all. But when he inherited his class in White Bear Lake, MN, Pai realized there had to be a better, more engaging way to teach. So he grouped students by learning style, and retooled the curriculum to make use of off-the-shelf games (both edutainment and entertainment) to teach reading, math and other subjects. Students play on Nintendo DS and PCs, both single and multiplayer, for example. Their overall point scores are tabulated and shared using leaderboards.

In the space of 18 weeks, Mr. Pai's class went from below third grade average reading and math levels to mid-fourth grade. The classroom success is supported by video interviews with his kids, who say "Learning with Mr. Pai is fun and social."

In addition to these seven great tips, dozens more success stories pour in each week, underscoring the tremendous investment of time and money into gamification. Gartner Group estimates that by 2015, 70% of the Forbes Global 2000 will be using gamified apps, and M2 Research forecasts that U.S. companies alone will spend $1.6 billion on gamification products and services by that same year.

Gamification spans the gamut — from the hundreds of startups that launch with game mechanics incorporated into their products, to the big brands that make gamification a hallmark strategy. Regardless, the message is the same: the future will be more connected, more social and more fun than ever before.

More About: competition, foursquare, game mechanics, games, gamification, incentives, social media

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HOW TO: Launch Facebook Skype Video Chat [PICS]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 12:25 PM PDT

You can now make video calls on Facebook, thanks to a new Skype-powered feature the social network launched Wednesday.

During the product announcement, Mark Zuckerberg described how his elderly neighbor in Palo Alto asked if he could to video chat his grandson on Facebook — without the hassle of setting up a new account or downloading a program. “Tune in,” Zuckerberg told him.

SEE ALSO: Facebook’s Announcements | Facebook Video Chat | Facebook Skype Chat Video | Facebook Group Chat

It’s not quite as seamless as Zuckerberg’s neighbor was hoping, however. The first time you try to video chat someone or answer a call, you will indeed be asked to download a program. The chat window will then ask you to select some Flash settings.

After that, the feature works like “a mini-Skype client,” as Skype CEO Tony Bates mentioned during the announcement. It also has a neat option to record a video message if the person you’re calling doesn’t answer. Here’s a brief walk-through in pictures. Is it working for you? Let us know in the comments.

Before you can participate in a video chat call, go to to enable your account. Click on "Get started."

You'll need to install a program. The install option will pop up when you click the video camera icon on the upper-right corner of the chat window or receive a call.

As with a standard Skype call, no video launches until the second party answers the call.

If the person who you're calling doesn't answer, you can leave a video message. This message will appear in their "messages" tab, the same place that text messages do.

This is what the video chat window looks like.

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Video Chat Faceoff: Google+ Hangouts vs. Facebook [POLL]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 11:55 AM PDT

Now that Facebook has unveiled its Skype-powered video chat service, we can ask: How does it compare to Google’s new video chat product, Google+ Hangouts?

Last week, the search giant unveiled its social network, which in turn is a collection of new Google products. One of them, Hangouts, allows up to 10 people to simultaneously engage in a group chat. The main video feed switches based on who is speaking in the microphone. We’ve previously said that Hangouts may be Google+’s killer feature.

SEE ALSO: Facebook’s Announcements | Skype-Powered Video Chat | Skype Chat [VIDEO] | Video Chat [HOW TO] | Group Chat

On Wednesday, Facebook responded with one-on-one video chat powered by Skype. (You can access the video-calling feature here: The social network touts how easy it is to initiate a Facebook video chat. And since Facebook has 750 million users, it’s likely to be a popular product with the masses.

So who has the right idea with video chat: Facebook or Google? Vote in our poll, and let us know what you think of both products in the comments below.

More About: facebook, Facebook announcement, facebook chat, Facebook Video Chat, Google, Google Hangouts, Google Plus, poll, Skype

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President Obama Sends First Live Tweet at Twitter Town Hall [PIC]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 11:43 AM PDT

President Barack Obama is answering questions from Twitter users in a live Twitter Town Hall event hosted by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. The President kicked off the event with his first ever live tweet to commemorate the occasion.

Obama referred to himself as “the first president to live tweet.” He then took to a nearby computer to tweet the following: “in order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo.”

While Obama’s Twitter account has been active for several years, the president first sent a “real tweet” on behalf of the American Red Cross Twitter account in January 2010. In June of this year, the office of the President announced that Obama would begin to pen his own tweets with the -BO Twitter signature and do so regularly.

Today's Twitter Town Hall is only the latest example of the president's interest in social media. In May, the president named Twitter CEO Dick Costolo to his National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.

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Facebook Shows What Skype Chat Looks Like [VIDEO]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 11:31 AM PDT

On Wednesday, Facebook announced its long-rumored partnership with Skype to bring video chat to the world’s most popular social networking site. Video chat is just one of the new features Facebook introduced as part of its Facebook Chat overhaul.

SEE ALSO: Facebook’s Announcements | Skype-Powered Video Chat | Video Chat [HOW TO] | Group Chat

Facebook created this video, which reminds us a bit of both Google’s search ads and Apple’s ads for FaceTime, to show off the new feature and the partnership between the two services.

What do you think of Facebook video chat? (You can get started using it here:

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Zuckerberg on Google+: It’s a Validation of Facebook’s Vision

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 11:22 AM PDT

What does Mark Zuckerberg think of Google+, the search giant’s new social network?

We were curious, so we asked Zuckerberg two questions at Facebook’s video chat event in Palo Alto, California: Will there be group video chat in the future? And what does he think of Google+ Hangouts, Google’s new group video chat feature?

On the first question, Zuckerberg simply said that he “wouldn’t rule out anything,” but argued that we shouldn’t knock the value of one-on-one video chat, especially with a platform as large as Facebook. He also used the opportunity to make it clear that the partnership with Skype has been going on for a long time, even before Tony Bates became the CEO of Skype. “We’ve been working with Skype for a while,” he told the audience.

SEE ALSO: Facebook’s Announcements | Facebook Video Chat | Facebook Group Chat

Facebook’s CEO danced around the second question. He reiterated his key talking point: that the next five years are about building apps on top of the social infrastructure that has been built during the past five years. Zuckerberg predicts that a lot of companies that haven’t traditionally looked at social networking will be focused on integrating it into their apps. He cited Netflix as one example, and was clearly alluding to Google as another.

While he didn’t give Google+ a thumbs up or a thumbs down, he did say that the rise of social in more companies was in line with his view of the world. “I view a lot of this as validation as to how the next five years are going to play out,” he noted during his talk.

Zuckerberg doesn’t seem concerned by the potential threat Google+ presents. “Our job is to stay focused,” he said.

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President Obama Answers Questions in Twitter Town Hall [LIVE VIDEO]

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 11:07 AM PDT

President Obama is set to answer questions from Twitter users during a town hall moderated by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. The live stream, embedded above, kicks off at 2 p.m. ET / 11 a.m. PT.

Users are able to submit questions via the website or by using the hashtag #AskObama. Twitter has also setup an account @townhall for tracking the event.

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How the Private Space Race Has Taken Off

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 11:01 AM PDT

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Those famous words, uttered by President John F. Kennedy at Rice University in 1962, kicked off a decade of innovation and scientific progress that culminated with the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, a moment that has since defined humanity’s tenacity for science and exploration.

The last manned mission to the moon was in 1972, though. No man or woman has set foot on the moon for 39 years. Not only that, but NASA is retiring the Space Shuttle fleet. Space Shuttle Endeavour has flown its last mission and Space Shuttle Atlantis will fly the last Space Shuttle mission (STS-135) next month.

If you fear that innovation in space aviation is coming to grinding a halt though, think again. While the government is taking a break from manned space flight, the private sector is gearing up for a new kind of space race — one that made SpaceShipOne, the first manned commercial spaceflight. That’s only the beginning, though — companies across the world are working on everything from space tourism to commercial space stations.

Private manned spaceflight is set to revolutionize aerospace and give future generations the ability to visit the stars on the cheap. Here’s some background on what has been accomplished so far and what space technologies humanity can expect to come to fruition in the near future.

The First Private Manned Spaceflight & the Ansari X Prize

Space flight and commercial launches have been the domain of world governments for decades, particularly NASA and the U.S. government. It wasn’t until 1984 that commercial satellites could be launched with private expendable vehicles, thanks to the Commercial Space Launch Act.

In 1995, entrepreneur Dr. Peter Diamandis founded the X Prize Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the creation of “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.” Here’s how Diamandis explained the original X Prize during the foundation’s first press conference:

“We’re announcing something called the X Prize, a $10 million contest to privately build a spaceship that’s able to carry three individuals, fly to 100 kilometers in altitude and do that twice within two weeks.”

Diamandis was inspired by the 1919 Orteig Prize, a $25,000 award for completing the first nonstop flight from New York City to Paris. It was eventually won by Charles Lindbergh with The Spirit of St. Louis. More importantly, the prize sparked a wave of innovation in aviation that Diamandis wanted to emulate in space travel.

The prize, eventually renamed the Ansari X Prize after donors Amir and Anousheh Ansari, was won finally won in 2004 by SpaceShipOne, a ship designed by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

By the time SpaceShipOne made its victory lap, more than two dozen teams had competed for the original X Prize. According to the foundation, these teams spent more than $100 million towards the pursuit of private spaceflight, sparking the beginning of a new era in space travel.

Virgin Galactic

Just a month before SpaceShipOne made its historic flight, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group signed a deal with Paul Allen and Burt Rutan’s joint venture (Mojave Aerospace Ventures) for the rights to create a fleet of ships based on SpaceShipOne’s original design.

Eventually a joint venture was created by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites and Branson’s Virgin Galactic: The Spaceship Company. The joint venture would create SpaceShipTwo, a ship designed to carry six passengers and two pilots. Virgin Galactic would use the fleet of ships to create the world’s first private spaceliner, giving its customers the chance to make the trip into space and experience “zero G” from 110 kilometers above the earth.

The first SpaceShipTwo was unveiled in 2009 and has since made several test flights from Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial spaceport, based out of New Mexico. The joint venture is creating a fleet of five ships, with the first two already named (VSS Enterprise and VSS Voyager).

The first public flights are expected to take off by the end of this year or early 2012. More than 400 people have booked flights with Virgin Galactic for the not-so-small sum of $200,000 per ticket.

The Private Space Race

While Branson’s Virgin Galactic may be the best-known company in the private space race, it faces competition from a small group of companies trying to get their own spaceships into the air and above the earth. Still, the tremendous effort of getting anything into orbit, especially people, has proven to be a challenge of the highest order.

The only other commercial company to actually get a reusable spacecraft out of the Earth’s atmosphere is SpaceX, a private aerospace company founded by PayPal and Tesla Motors cofounder Elon Musk. The company achieved this with Dragon, a craft designed to carry seven people.

Dragon made its first flight in December 2010 and was successfully recovered, making it the first orbital flight by a private company (SpaceShipOne was a sub-orbital ship). Dragon has yet to make a manned spaceflight, but intends to make several in the next two to three years.

Dragon, along with the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rocket, form the core of SpaceX’s commercial spaceflight business.

While the company focuses on space transport (it has several lucrative contracts with NASA and others), Musk has made it clear that he wants to put a man on Mars. In the meantime, with the end of the NASA Space Shuttle fleet approaching, it will be up to companies like SpaceX to provide crew and cargo to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

Other companies, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Bigelow Aerospace, are also in the private space race. Bigelow in particular plans to create two space stations in the next five to seven years.

What’s on the Horizon?

While we may not be living on the moon or going on interstellar adventures with Captain Jean Luc Picard, countless milestones have been achieved in private spaceflight during the last decade. And while a flight on Virgin Galactic will only be available to the rich and famous at first, the barriers to manned spaceflight will continue to drop as more companies innovate in the space (pun intended).

Concepts like the space elevator may seem far-fetched now, but so was the idea that traveling into space was even possible. And we doubt that the human race, known for its penchant for exploration, will be fazed by the challenges of reaching the final frontier.

The private space race is on.

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

Lead image courtesy of Flickr, densaer

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Facebook Releases Group Chat

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 10:44 AM PDT

In a press conference at Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social network is releasing Group Chat to its 750 million members.

The multi-person chat feature was inspired by the chat functionality inside Facebook Groups and will be incorporated in the new design of Facebook Chat. Group Chat will be rolled out to users beginning Wednesday.

“Now when your friends can’t figure out what movie to see, you can just add them to a chat and decide together,” Facebook video chat engineer Phillip Su says of the new feature. “To include more friends in your conversation, simply select Add Friends to Chat.”

More than 50% of users on Facebook are active in Facebook Groups, and Groups have an average of seven people, the company revealed Wednesday. The idea, then, is to make Group Chat more ad-hoc and accessible to all Facebook users.

In addition to Group Chat, Facebook is also releasing its highly-anticipated Skype-powered video chat feature Wednesday.

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Facebook Hits 750 Million Users

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 10:30 AM PDT

Write this down, pundits: Facebook has officially hit 750 million users, says Mark Zuckerberg.

The Facebook CEO dropped that stat at a Facebook event during which he is expected to announce a Skype-powered video chat platform.

Zuckerberg says that Facebook didn’t unveil this stat separately because the team doesn’t think counting users is important anymore.

SEE ALSO: Facebook’s Announcements | Facebook Video Chat | Facebook Group Chat

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Facebook Reveals Video Chat Powered by Skype

Posted: 06 Jul 2011 10:26 AM PDT

Facebook video chat is real: the social network has unveiled its rumored video chat product, powered by Skype.

“A few months ago, we started working with Skype to bring video calling to Facebook,” Facebook announced on its blog. “We built it right into chat, so all your conversations start from the same place. To call your friend, just click the video call button at the top of your chat window.”

SEE ALSO: Facebook’s Announcements | Skype Chat [VIDEO] | Video Chat [HOW TO] | Group Chat

The new chat product, according to Facebook’s blog, will allow users to call their friends right from Facebook. The revamped chat system now includes a sidebar with “the people you message most.” It automatically appears when your browser is big enough.

More About: facebook, Facebook announcement, facebook chat, Facebook Video Chat, microsoft, Skype, trending, video chat

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