Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Zynga Slingo Combines Past and Present in New Social Game [PICS]”

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Zynga Slingo Combines Past and Present in New Social Game [PICS]”

Zynga Slingo Combines Past and Present in New Social Game [PICS]

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 04:59 AM PST

Take a spin on Facebook with Zynga’s new Slingo game — that’s slots and bingo combined.

On Wednesday, social game creator Zynga launched Slingo for Facebook. If you’ve been a fan of online games for a long time, you might have played Slingo in the past — the game started on America Online 15 years ago.

“Anybody who’s played Slingo in the past will feel right at home,” says Rich Sawel, product manager for Zynga Slingo.

Zynga Slingo combines the classic features of Slingo with the glitz and pizzazz of Zynga games.

Players click “spin” and match numbers to fill a bingo card. They can bump up their score by earning balls and coins. Get a “bingo” by matching five numbers vertically, horizontally or diagonally. Players can wager their points — the whole loot or just a percentage — and flip the devil v. cherub coin to potentially win big or lose it all.

There are five “worlds” in which to play Slingo and lots of visual appeal — confetti, flashes, bright colors, a moving joker in the bottom right corner. Zynga kept the cherub and devil images from the original version.

And just like other social games, you can play for a bit at a time then walk away and pick up the game later on. Unless, of course you’re addicted.

“It’s like recess for adults,” Sawel said.

Slingo was one of the first free casual games on the market 15 years ago, said Slingo Inc. CEO Rich Roberts. The game has been played by more than 55 million people over the years.

“Zynga has the experience on social games and this certainly fits what Zynga does,” Roberts said. “We think that with this relationship the game will appeal to user.”

The game is available in 14 languages, including: English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Turkish, Danish, German, Swedish and Norwegian.

Want to try Slingo on Facebook for yourself? It’s right here.

Check out this gallery to see what the game looks like:

Zynga Slingo

Zynga rolls out Slingo -- an AOL classic game that started 15 years ago. The combination bingo and slots game of chance also requires some strategy to earn points and move-up levels.

Click here to view this gallery.

Will you play Zynga Slingo? Tell us in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, pixhook

More About: aol, aol games, Facebook, Slingo, social games, Zynga

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Today’s Top Stories: Apple Cuts iAd Prices, HTC’s Streaming Music Service

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 04:56 AM PST

Social Media News

Welcome to this morning's edition of "First To Know," a series in which we keep you in the know on what's happening in the digital world. Today, we're looking at three particularly interesting stories.

Apple Reportedly Cuts iAd Prices Again

Apple has cut prices on its iAd advertising system again, according to a report from AdAge. Apple is now asking advertisers to commit $100,000 to iAd to become part of the program, down from the original amount of $1 million.

HTC Working on a Streaming Music Service

HTC has big plans for the immediate future: the company is working on new smartphones and tablets, as well as a music streaming service, claims GigaOm citing sources familiar with the company's plans. HTC has recently acquired a 51% stake in Beats Electronics, and rumors have it it will be the first mobile manufacturer to get PlayStation certification.

Sony Claims it Raised Prices of Two Whitney Houston Albums by Mistake

Shortly after the death of Whitney Houston, the price of some of her albums on iTunes went sharply up, then down again. Sony now claims it was a mistake. "Whitney Houston product was mistakenly mispriced on the U.K. iTunes store on Sunday. When discovered, the mistake was immediately corrected. We apologize for any offense caused," Sony said in a statement.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, DNY59

More About: apple, first to know series, htc, iAd

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Is This the Funniest YouTube Video?

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 02:34 AM PST

Can humor be quantified? Google thinks it’s possible, having recently developed an algorithm which ranks the funniest videos on YouTube. It takes into account certain elements of the video, user comments and votes on the recently launched YouTube Comedy Slam section of the site.

Google engineer Sanketh Shetty explained the methodology for finding the funniest YouTube video in a blog post.

“We focused on videos uploaded in the comedy category. We captured the uploader's belief in the funniness of their video via features based on title, description and tags. Viewers' reactions, in the form of comments, further validate a video's comedic value,” he wrote.

This is where it gets interesting, as Google engineers tried to analyze what exactly makes a user comment indicative of a video being funny. “We noticed that viewers emphasize their reaction to funny videos in several ways: e.g. capitalization (LOL), elongation (loooooool), repetition (lolololol), exclamation (lolllll!!!!!), and combinations thereof. If a user uses an "loooooool" vs an "loool", does it mean they were more amused,” asks Shetty.

You can see the results of the experiment on Google’s Comedy Slam leaderboard.

While Google’s methodology seems sound, humor is a very subjective category – we’re sure that many users won’t agree with Google’s choice. We can’t help but wonder how easily can this algorithm be abused, for example by adding and upvoting comments that mimic positive reactions. As the project gains popularity, we’ll probably see an increasing number of attempts to somehow game the system.

Right now, the funniest video on YouTube of all time, according to Google algorithm, is this collection of pranks (we advise you to lower the volume on your speakers, as the video gets quite loud).

According to the same method, the funniest video this week is a video of a man trying to reach a tomato through fan blades.

What do you think about these videos? Do they deserve the title of “funniest YouTube videos”? Do you think Google’s “humor algorithm” needs more work? Share your thoughts in the comments.

More About: funny youtube video, trending, Video, YouTube

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Does Sony Want to Make You Pay to Charge Your Gadgets? [VIDEO]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 08:28 PM PST

Sony is developing power outlet technology that will track energy consumption. The next logical step? Charging users by how much energy they consume while charging their smartphones, laptops and other devices.

The technology uses IC chips to authenticate users of power outlets, according to a press release, determining the identity of people who plug in and whether or not they should be allowed to do so. While that advance in hardware capability could lead to better energy conservation, it could also be used to gouge digital-minded travelers and people who work out of cafes and other public places.

“Such as deployment to the waiting room or airport lounge cafes and restaurants, the station can be expected,” reads a Google translation of Sony’s Japanese press release.

Sony demonstrated the technology on Tuesday in Tokyo, according to IDG News. IDG News reports that Sony has not set a date for when the technology will become available, but that the company “hopes to cooperate with appliance makers, power companies, and large infrastructure developers in rolling it out.”

While Sony says the authenticating power strips will utilize technology and hardware already in use elsewhere, implementing such a plan would require adding adapters to outlets if not replacing the outlets themselves. But Sony is also developing technology that could enable just one “reader” to monitor an entire household, IDG News reports.

Would you be willing to pay to charge your smartphone like you do to fill up your gas tank? Let us know in the comments.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr, ramsey everydaypants

More About: sony

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Google Street View Takes You Inside Ancient Japanese Caves [VIDEO]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 07:14 PM PST

Stalactites and stalagmites galore! Google wants to take you spelunking without your even having to step away from the laptop. The company set loose photography crews to gather 360-degree documentation of a couple underground Japanese wonders.

Click here to check out the old Okubo-mabu mine, a series of dank-looking tunnels and passageways surrounded by lush greenery outside. Then click here to check out the Akiyoshi-do limestone cavern, a beautiful underground seascape.

Taking Google Street View off the street is a great idea. It offers people averse to the outdoors — or Westerners who can’t get themselves over to Japan — an up-close look at the natural wonders of a foreign land.

Street View currently offers more pedestrian immersion experiences in most of the United States and Europe, as well as parts of Japan, Australia and South Africa. Small parts of other countries are covered too, and Google announced in August that it would soon bring Street View to the Brazilian Amazon.

In December, Google used street view in Japan to provide users with a striking before-and-after portrait of the devastation wrought by the tsunami that caused thousands of deaths there. In that instance, Google paired archival footage of damaged areas with updated shots for comparative 360-degree views.

"In the case of the post-tsunami imagery of Japan, we hope this particular digital archiving project will be useful to researchers and scientists who study the effects of natural disasters," Street View’s senior product manager Kei Kawai wrote in a blog post at the time. "We also believe that the imagery is a useful tool for anyone around the world who wants to better understand the extent of the damage."

Where would you like to see Street View next? Let us know in the comments.

More About: Google, google street view

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High School Football Coach Resigns After Nude Facebook Photo

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 06:37 PM PST

A high school football coach in Maine lost his job after accidentally posting a nude photo of himself to Facebook.

Paul Withee said he intended to send the photo privately to a friend but it ended up appearing on his Facebook page for his entire social network to see.

Withee was the varsity football coach at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and a middle school science and math teacher. He resigned from all three positions on Monday, a week after the photo went up, according to the Associated Press.

Withee said the photo was posted for less than half an hour before he realized his mistake and took it down. But a parent had already seen the nude shot and reported it to school officials.

“I’m embarrassed, I’m ashamed, I’m humiliated,” Withee told Maine’s Sun Journal newspaper.

School Superintendant Rick Colpitts told the AP that he believes Withee’s claim that he did not intend for his students or players to see the photo. No students were among Withee’s Facebook friends, according to Colpitts.

"You have to be careful with what you do with social media,” Withee told the Sun Journal. “You can get yourself into a lot of trouble and something you love can be taken away from you just like this.”

Assuming this was an accident, do you think Withee should have lost his job? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

BONUS: 10 Athlete Gaffes Aided by Social Media

Online snafus in the sports world are not uncommon. Here are a few recent memorable digital mistakes.

Cappie Pondexter

After a tsunami devastated Japan this March, Cappie Pondexter of the WNBA's New York Liberty tweeted, "What if God was tired of the way they treated their own people in there own country! Idk guys he makes no mistakes." Later she continued hypothesizing with this tweet: "u just never knw! They did pearl harbor so you can't expect anything less." Predictably, Pondexter's tweets sparked a strong backlash, and she eventually took to Twitter again, this time to apologize (left).

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: Facebook, sports

Why Zoosk Wants to Make Online Dating More Like LinkedIn

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 06:04 PM PST

The Internet dating routine is relatively straightforward, if tough to progress from step to step: Make a profile, find some dates, pick a mate, get offline.

But the dating site Zoosk wants to change that by incentivizing its members to stay online after they’ve found romance. The company is beginning to unveil a host of new features and services designed to make its service more sticky.

“I use the example of LinkedIn versus Monster,” co-founder Alex Mehr said in a Valentine’s Day interview. “Monster just focuses on the job-seeking phase of your professional life, whereas LinkedIn covers your entire professional career. We want to provide a service like that for your entire romantic life.”

Mehr said that Zoosk will be able to do this with relationship-enhancing bonuses such as reminders of key dates including birthdays and anniversaries, deals on events and activities for two, and advice centers for couples.

While Zoosk is looking to add a new twist to the online dating world, the site is already successful. Founded in 2007, it now claims some 15 million monthly active users and company representatives say that its sales revenue surpassed $90 million in 2011.

Zoosk works differently than most dating sites already, Mehr says. It integrates a variety of social networks as well as functionality as a social network of its own with a news feed and interest graph. But it’s the new features, set to debut over the next month, that Mehr thinks will truly set Zoosk apart.

“What we want is for it to have 2 benefits,” he says. “It will capture more value for the customer so that they don’t just turn it off when they find someone. At the same time, we’ll know the transition points, we’ll know when you will want to find someone else if it doesn’t work out, so that gives us a natural advantage.”

When a Zoosk user finds a boyfriend or girlfriend, they will be able to change their relationship status to begin capitalizing on the couples’ features. Change that status back to single, and personal ads will reappear.

Mehr said that reviews of the new features with small groups of test users have been “very positive.” Between now and the end of March, Zoosk plans to roll out a host of different iterations of its new features to see which ones most users prefer and then finalize the site’s added element.

Relationship advice, for example, could be syndicated from outside sources or user generated — though Mehr said he hopes Zoosk eventually relies more on content provided by its members.

And, just as Zoosk already integrates with other social networks, all of its new features will as well. Post a photo of you and your significant other to Facebook, and Zoosk will pull it to your profile there. Post that photo to your Zoosk profile, and the site will push it to Facebook.

“One way to think of it will be as a romantic filter for all your social networks,” Mehr said. “There is no other site out there where, if two people are in a relationship, it provides this type of service to them.”

Do you think Zoosk’s idea will become successful or be a flop? Let us know in the comments.

More About: Facebook, online dating, Startups

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Cow Collar Texts Ranchers When Animals Are Sick, In Heat [VIDEO]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 05:30 PM PST

Even cows can benefit from having a mobile device. A new collar being developed for cattle ranchers could send cow health updates to farmers’ cellphones. The device could help ranchers save money in the long run, monitoring the health of their animals and prevent accidental deaths.

The Silent Herdsman collar will track the movements of the cow using the same type of sensors found in Wii devices. That data is relayed to the rancher via a cellphone using a variety of technologies including 3G. This technology could also send farmers instant notification if their animals are in heat, going into labor or in distress.

Researchers also hope to determine which movements the sensor will pick up to determine when cows are in heat.

The collar is being developed by researchers from the University of Strathclyde, Morrisons, Scottish Agricultural College, Harbro, Well Cow, National Milk Records (NMR) and Embedded Technology Solutions. A three-year grant for the project co-funded by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board equals roughly more than $2 million.

The project is taking place at Morrisons farm and Dumfries House for technology research in Scotland.

As reported on, David Alvis, director of the Technology Strategy Board's sustainable agriculture and food projects, said, “Addressing animal health and welfare challenges and improving animal performance monitoring are vital pieces of the food security jigsaw. The technologies developed through this project have the potential to benefit farming communities in the UK and around the world and we wish the partners every success.”

This isn’t the first invention to connect cattle to monitoring technology. As the world population expands and the need for sustainable food sources grow, solutions involving technology and urban farming become more prevalent.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, JayKay57

More About: cows, farmville, mobile technology

Anti-Piracy Agreement ACTA Is Falling Apart in Europe

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 04:59 PM PST

Bulgaria won’t be ratifying the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) any time soon.

On Tuesday, Bulgaria followed some of its European neighbors, including Germany and Poland, in halting approval of the controversial intellectual property treaty.

Bulgaria will “practically stop its participation” until it sees a clear and unified European stance on the treaty, according to Traicho Traikov, the Bulgarian economy and energy minister.

“I’m a pessimist when it comes to regulating an industry, which hasn’t adapted to the digital age, through sanctions rather than market means,” Traikov told the press, according to Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, ACTA also stalled in the Dutch parliament. Lawmakers in Holland want time to examine the treaty’s potential effects on Internet privacy before moving forward with ratification, reported Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

The decisions by Bulgaria and the Netherlands come after anti-ACTA protests spread across Europe over the weekend. Thousands of people in nearly 200 cities took to the streets to protest the treaty.

SEE ALSO: What is ACTA? | ACTA ‘Is More Dangerous Than SOPA’

ACTA was written by the U.S. and Japan in 2006 to provide countries with a new way to cooperate on counterfeiting and intellectual property investigations.

However, opponents say the treaty was negotiated largely in secret and could have disastrous consequences for free speech and an open, international Internet. ACTA has also been criticized for bypassing existing international trade groups, such as the World Trade Organization.

Eight countries have signed ACTA, but none have ratified it. Six countries will need to ratify the treaty for it to activate.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, kparis

More About: ACTA, europe, internet, internet censorship

Zynga: We Want to Teach the World to Play

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 04:28 PM PST


Zynga doesn’t just want to create and market games that people play in their down time. It wants that down time to be front and center.

In the company’s first call with investors, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus said he wants to use his company’s influence to elevate the importance society puts on playing games. The measure of Zynga’s future success, he said, would depend more on its ability to do that than anything else.

“We really want to see ‘Play’ become a mainstream behavior in the West for everyone,” Pincus said. “We’d like to see Play reach the level of Search, Shop and Share. Our growth will be driven by the world making play part of their day rather than the next monetization mechanic.”

Nonetheless, Zynga has a couple of those monetization mechanics running quite well, seeing large growth with its advertising and user-payment revenue streams. Its fourth-quarter earnings saw a couple of big-name advertisers — Best Buy and McDonald’s — get on board with the company, and its user base (monthy unique users) grew from 111 million to 158 million.

Zynga COO John Schappert said that growth has a lot to do with how the company develops and markets its products.

“We develop games as live services, more like TV series than one-off movies,” said Schappert, clearly alluding to the typical launches and lifetimes of console games. Schappert noted that Zynga Poker, launched four years ago, continues to deliver excellent revenue for the company, with growing user base.

SEE ALSO: Facebook: Zynga Generates 12% of Our Revenue and We Need Them

Although the company’s growth is healthy, Zynga posted a net loss of $435 million for the last quarter. The company chalks that up to investing heavily in infrastructure and development of future titles, many of which haven’t launched yet. While the company spent $727 million total in R&D in 2011, the last quarter accounted for $445 million of that.

Zynga also spent a lot of time in 2011 working on its back-end infrastructure. The company now hosts 80% of its users in its Z Cloud, a proprietary cloud service that links users and holds game software — up from 20% at the beginning of 2011. As it works over 2012 to bring all of its users on board, some infrastructure costs will go down.

Among its 2011 titles, Zynga execs admitted that Mafia Wars 2 was a disappointment for the company, but that CastleVille, the latest title in the “Ville” franchise, was a surprise hit. Shappert noted that cross-promotion in other Zynga titles was a key ingredient in CastleVille‘s success.

As for what future titles are in the works, all Schappert would say was that Zynga “would like to be in every major category of Play,” and that they company was “excited” about what it had in the pipeline.

More About: Facebook, Gaming, social gaming, Zynga

Chris Brown Curses Out Twitter Critics Then Tries to Delete the Evidence

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 04:04 PM PST

Chris Brown has a special Twitter message for those who hated on his Grammy performance: “F___ Off.”

The hip-hop performer lashed out on his Twitter account, addressing his critics in a series of missives ending with a final “F You.” A few minutes later, Brown (or his handlers) thought better of it and attempted to delete all evidence of his Twitter tantrum.

Fortunately, our own Stephanie Haberman captured the most offensive tweet before it was deleted.

After promoting his new single, Brown took a moment to address those that criticized the star’s air time at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. Brown made a series of tweets (since deleted) discussing that “we select who to hate” and seemed to liken his own felony-assault conviction to rappers who sell drugs and are still idolized.

Brown may have been awarded with a Grammy — and plenty of air time — on Sunday night, however the sentiment in the social TV space was largely negative. In 2009 Brown plead guilty to one-count of felony assault against then-girlfriend Rhianna. The altercation leading up the assault happened the night before the 2009 Grammy ceremony.

A trending topic on Twitter during the Grammys was the phrase “wife beater,” referring to Brown. Many have criticized the award show for giving Brown a platform to perform and be celebrated.

Understandably Brown’s tweet — and subsequent attempt to cover his tracks — have caused users on Twitter to respond in outrage. Brown’s current tweet? “Lol.” Charming.

What do you think about Chris Brown’s Twitter antics? Do you follow him on Twitter? Tell us in the comments.

More About: chris brown, grammys, Twitter

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Pinterest, Meet Arab Spring: Clone Site Collects Videos of Protest

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 03:42 PM PST

arab spring thumb

News website Middle East Voices has created a digital forum for footage from Arab Spring protests, focusing on Bahrain — and the result looks very much like hot startup Pinterest.

Lulu Live, launched on the one year anniversary of Feb. 14 protests in Bahrain, is a grassroots social journalism site, curated by Middle East Voices editors. Lulu is the square in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, where protesters have continuously assembled throughout the last year, functioning — much like Cairo’s Tahrir Square — as a meeting place for revolutionaries.

The site is both a space for Bahrainis to see and exchange media and a resource for the site’s English language audience to get a grasp on the situation. The site avoids featuring edited video clips in order to provide non-biased coverage and to allow viewers to make their own conclusions.

“This is a way to document the protests in a way they weren’t a year ago,” Davin Hutchins, managing editor of Middle East Voices, told Mashable. “We want to create a site through the hashtag #lululive to show what they’re witnessing throughout the country and turn this around very quickly.”

Middle East Voices started with Bahrain’s protests because, according to Hutchins, Bahrainis are the site’s largest audience and are incredibly social media savvy. One post over the weekend garnered more than 50,000 visits, mostly from Bahrain. A separate poll on divisions within the country received more than 15,000 online votes. Two-thirds of traffic from Bahrain comes from iPhones — according to Hutchins’s Google Analytics — which are the very devices many protesters are using to shoot and upload video.


The site, built on Tumblr, mimics Pinterest‘s popular layout — featuring small rectangular elements — which has been resurfacing widely across the web. Videos and photos are arranged chronologically.

SEE ALSO: 7 Pinterest Clones: Can You Tell the Difference?

Middle East Voices hosts other multimedia social journalism initiatives, such as an interactive map of deaths in Syria. Hutchins says there are more projects to come following Lulu Live’s launch. Middle East Voices itself is relatively new, launched Nov. 13 by Voices of America as a social journalism project.

Do you think Lulu Live is a good way to monitor the situation in Bahrain? What countries do you think future projects should spotlight? Let us know in the comments.

More About: Arab Spring, pinterest, web design

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Sorry, Google: Apple is America’s Valentine This Year [STUDY]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 03:24 PM PST

Love is in the air — and in the hearts of the American public, it runs deep for Apple products, according to a new study.

Harris Interactive’s annual Reputation Quotient study found that Apple is the most loved and respected brand around, beating out last year’s winner — Google.

The company surveyed 17,555 people about the 60 most visible companies and measured the following areas in terms of consumer influence: social responsibility, emotional appeal, products and services, workplace environment, financial performance and vision and leadership.

Raking in a score of 85.62 of 100 — the highest for any company in the history of Harris Interactive’s study — Apple triumphed over Google this year, which fell slightly from 84.05 to 82.82. Rounding out the top ten includes Coca-Cola (no. 3), Amazon (no. 4), Kraft Foods (no. 5), The Walt Disney Company (no. 6), Johnson & Johnson (no. 7), Whole Foods Market (no. 8), Microsoft (no. 9) and UPS (no. 10).

Amazon — which climbed in rank from eighth to fourth place this year — scored highest for “emotional appeal.” Meanwhile, Whole Foods was recognized as the leader in the “social responsibility” category. Apple, however, cleaned up in the other four categories.

Two automotive companies — General Motors and Toyota — experienced the biggest jump in reputation scores this year. Harris Interactive noted that General Motors’ reputation has been steadily moving upward for four consecutive years, and after a series of quality and safety issues resulted in a ten-point drop last year, Toyota rebounded five points.

“We are seeing the emergence of a group of companies that garner reputation equity by being positively associated with multiple industries,” said Robert Fronk, executive vice president and Global Corporate Reputation Practice Lead for Harris Interactive. “Companies like Apple, Google, and combine innovation and leadership across multiple business areas, giving them true competitive advantage.”

Which brand do you think is most reputable? Why? Let us know in the comments.

More About: apple, Google, verizon

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Online Role-Playing Games Can Harm Your Marriage [VIDEO]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 03:03 PM PST

All those hours spent wielding a sword as your avatar in a fictional universe might be hurting your marriage, according to a forthcoming study.

Brigham Young University researchers found that 75% of spouses married to people who partake in role-playing games wish that their gaming spouses spent less time playing and more timing working on the relationship.

Says Recreation Management Professor Neil Lundberg: “It’s common knowledge that many couples experience challenges around gaming. Particularly when husbands are heavy gamers, it clearly has a negative impact on their marriages.”

On the other hand though, spouses who play together stay together — or reported being happier than when just one played. Seventy-six percent of couples who both play said gaming actually had a positive effect on their relationship.

SEE ALSO: Did Words With Friends Make You More Than Friends?

“Not all video games are bad,” said Michelle Ahlstrom, a graduate student involved in the study. “Some are fun leisure pursuits that when played together may strengthen your relationships with others. With any type of gaming, consider the content of the game. Consider what you are doing in the game, how much time it is taking, how it is affecting you, your schooling, work, sleep, body and especially how it is affecting your spouse and marital relationship.”

Check out the video above to learn more about the study. And tell us in the comments: Do your gaming habits affect your relationships? And if so, how so?

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr, Adactio

More About: Gaming, mashable video, rpg, study

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Pinterest: Everything You Wanted to Know About 2012′s Hottest Startup [INFOGRAPHIC]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 02:43 PM PST

Pinterest has emerged as the runaway social media hit of early 2012. You probably knew that already. But did you know the company just has 12 people? Or that 97% of Pinterest’s Facebook fans are women?, a visual marketing firm, took a deep dive into the data to catalog Pinterest’s stunning rise and produced the infographic below. What’s clear is that with 10 million users, Pinterest has already made its mark in terms of web design influence, if nothing else.

It also has the potential to become a forum for satire, as this fake Mitt Romney account illustrates.

Since the company appears to be the hottest thing going — at least at this writing — consider this a snapshot of the next social media giant or the answer to tomorrow’s trivia question.

More About: infographics, pinterest

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You’ll Love Sharing TED Talks With New Quotes Feature

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 02:26 PM PST

Look at any social network and you’re bound to find countless quotations strewn throughout the sea of posts, tweets and status updates.

TED — the non-profit that brings you 18-minutes-or-less speeches by influential leaders — wants to capitalize on the trend of people sharing others’ words with the Valentine’s Day launch of TED Quotes.

The new feature displays TED’s vast library of 1,147 talks. It uses standout quotations from each recording to make them more accessible, digestible and shareable. TED Quotes allows users to search all quotes, view only top quotes or browse by topic.

Under each quote are two buttons: a play symbol that takes you takes you directly to that specific TED talk and a share button that lets you push a talk to Facebook, Twitter or email. TED also touts the feature on the regular search page.

Previously, TED focused on distributing its recording through emails, blog posts and apps.

“As media habits have evolved, we've added opportunities for people to share the talks through Twitter, Facebook and other platforms,” TED Media director June Cohen told Mashable. “But this is our first fundamental shift in how we think about sharing. It's not just the level of video but at the more micro level of the quote.”

TED Quotes is a permanent feature, but TED plans to highlight specific types of quotes in a seasonal and current ways from time to time — for example, during holidays or breaking news events.

As part of its Feb. 14 launch, TED promoted some of its “heart-fluttering favorites” for Valentine’s Day:

  • “A world without love is a deadly place,” said Helen Fisher.
  • “My wife could turn to me and she may say, 'Why do you love me?’ And I can with all honesty look her in the eye and say, ‘Because our pheromones matched our olfactory receptors,’” said Robin Ince.
  • “People live for love. They kill for love. They die for love. They have songs, poems, novels, sculptures, paintings, myths, legends. It’s one of the most powerful brain systems on Earth for both great joy and great sorrow,” said Helen Fisher.
  • “[You need] eight hugs a day. You’ll be happier and the world will be a better place,” said Paul Zak.

Zynga’s First Post-IPO Earnings: Stable, Not Stellar

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 01:54 PM PST

Social games company Zynga has just reported its first financial earnings since going public back in December.

For Q4 2011, Zynga reported record bookings and 153 million monthly unique users. The company reported non-GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) earnings per share of $0.24 for fiscal 2011 and $0.05 for Q4 2011. Like many other companies, Zynga believes that non-GAAP accounting methods more accurately represent its true financial status.

Zynga’s bookings for 2011 were up 38% year-over-year and its revenue was up 91% year-over-year. In financial terms, bookings represent future sales commitments and can act as a predictor for future revenue (which is what happens after a sale becomes final).

Still, thanks to continued investment in its game properties, Zynga saw its adjusted EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) fell by 23% year-over-year.

Some of the highlights from the earnings report:

  • Daily active users (DAUs) increased from 48 million in Q4 2010 to 54 million in Q4 2011.
  • The mobile titles Dream Zoo, Words with Friends and Zynga Poker were among the top 10 iOS games for Q4 2011.
  • Zynga is predicting that bookings in 2012 will be in the $1.35 billion to $1.45 billion range. Zynga says it expects more growth in the second half of the year and slower sequential growth in the first half.
  • Zynga recognized a net income loss of $435 million in Q4 2011, which included $510 million in stock-based compensation.
  • Advertising revenue was up 230% year-over-year.

The big takeaways are that while revenue is up, so are expenses. Additionally while revenue was up significantly year-over-year, it was up only 1% in Q4 2011 compared to Q3. That could be a cause for concern, especially since Q4 included the holiday gaming season. Mobile looks like an area that is ripe for potential for future revenue.

Zynga didn’t break out its earnings based on social platform, but we assume that most of its revenue came from Facebook. In Facebook’s IPO documents, it revealed that Zynga is responsible for 12% of its revenue.

Zynga will be holding a conference call at 5:00 p.m. ET and Mashable will be listening in for any additional bits of information.

More About: apple earnings call, earnings, ipo, quarterly earnings, social games, Zynga

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Top 12 New Toys at Toy Fair That Make You Want to Be a Kid Again [PICS]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 01:27 PM PST

1. iCade 8-Bitty

This retro-styled game controller controls your iPhone, iPad or Android device and fits into your pocket. The iCade 8-Bittyfeatures an eight-button control, wireless capability and supports iCADE's growing list of hundreds of retro game apps, including Atari Classics collection, Pac-Man and Super Mega Worm. Price: $29.99.

Photo from ThinkGeek.

Click here to view this gallery.

As Waldo and the Care Bears celebrate big anniversaries this year — 25 and 30 years, respectively — it’s mind-blowing how much the toy industry has changed in the past few decades. Nowadays, Barbie takes pictures via a built-in webcam and displays it on her shirt, and some toys are even solar powered.

The 109th American International Toy Fair kicked off this week, and the floor was filled with flying gadgets, toy tablets and even a prototype that allows kids to text with others. TIA’s trend expert Adrienne Appell said at a press event on Monday that among the biggest trends in toys this year is app-cessories and bridging the gap between the online and offline world.

“Toymakers continue to innovate at the speed of light to keep up with trends in other areas – from pop culture to technology – because they know that kids want to be a part of the mix and mimic what’s happening in the world around them,” Appell said.

SEE ALSO: The 10 Coolest New Toys at 2011 Toy Fair

Although physical toys continue to thrive among kids today, many companies have developed products that interact with popular devices that are already in so many homes, such as tablets, smartphones and TV. A new licensing deal with Jazwares and popular app Fruit Ninja brings the mobile experience to life with a wireless Plug ‘N’ Play version of the game that lets kids play on their TV screens. Kids hold a toy sword to slice virtual fruit — no video game console necessary.

Meanwhile, digital-based brands are also taking the leap into the physical space, such as best-selling mobile app Cut the Rope which is stepping into the board-game business with Mattel. The company also unveiled an app-tivity game, allowing kids to use physical toys to interact with the screen of an iPad.

Check out our picks above for the best tech toys at the show this year. Which toy would you have wanted most while growing up? Let us know in the comments.

More About: cut the rope, ipad, Mobile, smartphones, toy fair, toys, TV

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition: Now More Digital than Ever

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 01:13 PM PST

Sports Illustrated‘s 49th annual Swimsuit edition isn’t just hitting physical newsstands Tuesday — it’s also making its way onto more digital platforms than ever before.

In addition to the iPad, the issue is also available on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Nook Color, Kindle Fire, Motorola Xoom and Android smartphones for $6.99. A redesigned iPhone edition, which strips the magazine to the issue’s photographic and rich media content, has also been released.

Chris Hercik, creative director of the Sports Illustrated Group, made a few tweaks to the tablet edition of this year’s Swimsuit. Horizontal and vertical layouts now align perfectly, making it easier for readers to switch between modes. The issue is also more interactive, with 65 streaming videos, scrollable text and galleries, and 360-degree rotating models. (Unfortunately for many readers, zooming capabilities are severely limited.)

About a third of the video content is exclusive to the tablet edition. Still more are available on and YouTube. Videos of the week’s launch events are also livestreaming to the magazine’s Facebook Page.

Elsewhere, SI has teamed up with Gilt Groupe for a themed sale: think swimwear, surfboards and posters (already sold out). The sale isn’t for profit — 100% of purchase prices are going to benefit The Nature Conservancy — but rather a promotional exchange.

It’s also an opportunity for SI to test online consumers’ appetites for branded merchandise. A spokesperson for SI said that an ecommerce extension “is on the to-do list in the coming year or two” but that the publication is “still thinking deeply about what that means.”

There are a few places Swimsuit is conspicuously absent this year. Despite the attention it garnered in 2011, SI has not formatted a special Swimsuit issue for Flipboard. Nor is the publication releasing any 3D video. “You need such a wide band to shoot 3D. When you’re out on mountains and on the water, that’s really hard to do,” a spokesperson explained. That being said, Apple TV owners will still be able to view digital content on their flatscreens using AirPlay.

Swimsuit is big business for SI, accounting for about 7% of the publication’s annual revenue. With more platforms and ecommerce on the horizon, that stake could grow.

More About: Sports illustrated, sports illustrated swimsuit edition

Facebook Statuses Reveal Top 10 Cities for Getting Engaged

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 12:58 PM PST

Yen Lee is the founder and president of Uptake, a social travel company that pairs personalized recommendations from friends with an extensive, searchable catalog of expert and consumer travel insights.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, check out the world’s most romantic cities — according to Facebook, that is.

My travel planning company dove into Facebook's vast stream of status updates in order to bring you the top U.S. cities where couples are getting engaged (and subsequently talking about it on Facebook). Perhaps these cities are more romantic than the rest, or maybe they just put something in the drinking water – in any case, check out this list and see if a proposal is more likely to come your way this Valentine's!

SEE ALSO: Social Media Marriage Proposals: 10 Clever Ways to Pop the Question

Technology behind the data: My company analyzed over 29 million Facebook status updates in our database for excerpts and phrases related to “engagement.” Then, we created a list of cities by mapping the resulting text to users' locations. Finally, we ordered this list according to frequency of occurrence.

1. Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia may be on their collective mind, but Atlanta Facebook users have love in their hearts and engagement on their lips -- the marrying kind.

Maybe it's the southern charm, or all those peaches, but people in Atlanta are thinking sweet and kindly these days; they're just as likely to propose to the one they love as they are to dance the dirty bird.

Image courtesy Downeym, Flickr.

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Image courtesy of iStockphoto, kzenon

More About: contributor, Facebook, features, marriage proposal, Social Media, valentine's day, wedding

There Will Be More Smartphones Than Humans on the Planet by Year’s End [VIDEO]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 12:41 PM PST

A prediction for the future of smartphone growth makes some bold projections: By the end of this year, there could be more smartphones on the planet than humans, and by 2016 there could be 10 billion smartphones. That’s 1.4 mobile devices per capita.

In its global mobile data traffic forecast, Cisco predicts that a solid chunk of growth will come from the Middle East and Africa, with a compound annual growth rate of 104%, followed by Asia Pacific with 84% growth.

What will people be doing with their smartphones in the coming years? Cisco predicts that by 2016 two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be from videos, increasing 25-fold between now and then. Mobile network connection speeds will increase as well, according to the company.

Check out the video above to learn about what changes in smartphone data traffic we might expect in the coming years.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr, Tabor Roeder

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‘Occupy Valentine’s Day’ Tumblr Protests the Romantic Industrial Complex

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 12:24 PM PST

Valentine’s Day is often filled with candy hearts, red roses and cutesy rhyming cards. But let’s be real — that’s not exactly what the day was intended for in the fifth century.

Today, we know there’s a mixed review of the holiday — women are worried about buying gifts for their significant other, while men are sharing their dislike for the holiday.

What’s supposed to be an innocent celebration of love has, to some, turned into a day of dread due to loneliness or pressure to buy the perfect gift. In light of this, Tumblr users have been flocking to a site called Occupy Valentine’s Day.

“Celebrating love and romance is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn't depend on buying certain products for the perfect experience (hello, romantic industrial complex) or on your gender, sexuality, race, class status or marital status,” the site states.

Although the site has been up since January, creator Samhita Mukhopadhyay (who is also author of Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life) says she’s seen a significant spike of 15,000 unique visitors in two days. Normally there are about three to four thousand.

“I think that Valentine’s Day is frustrating for people because it puts unnecessary pressure on the state of your relationship, single or coupled,” says Mukhopadhyay. “It’s also a little corny — people have lots of ways to celebrate love. ”

Some of the ways Occupy Valentine’s Day suggests to celebrate love include making a commitment to have healthy, loving relationships in all areas of your life, or not settle for anyone who is not good enough for you just to avoid spending Valentine’s Day alone. In other words, Occupy Valentine’s Day hopes to change the culture of romance.

“The site is definitely to celebrate love and all the different ways that we find love in our lives — not just romantic love,” explains Mukhopadhyay. “It is more a criticism of the romance industry than it is about interpersonal love.”

According to Mukhopadhyay, the site has received an “overwhelmingly positive” response from an even amount of males and females.

“People seem to really appreciate a place to creatively express their criticisms and frustrations of Valentine’s Day while celebrating love,” she says.

Image courtesy of iStock, pearleye

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The iPad 3 Will Have 4G [REPORT]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 12:06 PM PST

It’s mid-February, when every true geek’s heart turns to rumors of the upcoming Apple iPad. Here’s Tuesday’s scoop: the iPad 3, set to launch next month, will run on AT&T and Verizon’s superfast 4G networks.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which cites the usual “people familiar with the matter,” the hotly anticipated tablet will be sold with 4G versions that are capable of picking up LTE signals from one of the nation’s two top carriers. Verizon and AT&T both currently sell 3G versions of the iPad 2 that are equipped to run on their networks.

LTE technology is hardly ubiquitous; it’ll take until the end of 2013 for 80% of the U.S. to be covered. But the report suggests the iPad 3 will revert to 3G signal when there’s no LTE available, which makes a lot of sense. (We also expect Apple will continue to sell cheaper Wi-Fi-only versions of the tablet.)

The other problem with LTE, known to just about anyone who has used a 4G smartphone, is that it’s a battery hog. We’ll be very curious to find out if Apple has figured a way to maintain the much-prized 10-hour battery life — fast becoming the industry standard for good tablets, not to mention smartphones — while still running LTE. If so, we expect a 4G iPhone — the iPhone 5, most likely — is not far off.

SEE ALSO: What is 4G? An FAQ on Next-Generation Wireless

If anything, the news will be a boon to Verizon. The carrier may be playing catch-up to AT&T overall, but when it comes to LTE, they’re streets ahead. Some 200 million American consumers are in the Verizon LTE coverage zone, while AT&T only covers 74 million with the 4G technology. AT&T has been late to the LTE game, having made a bet on a rival 4G technology, HSPA+. But it’s catching up fast.

That may be way too many acronyms for one paragraph, so let us state it again more plainly: the iPad 3 is coming, likely within a month. The version that sells with pay-as-you-go Internet access should be much faster in most areas, especially if you buy it from Verizon. As for whether it will have a better battery life: stay tuned.

1. Minor Upgrades

iLounge recently reported that it saw a prototype of the next-generation iPad at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and that it looks just like the iPad 2, only thicker by about 1 mm. The camera in the top left corner is expected to be a bit larger than the iPad 2 and similar to the improved camera featured on the iPhone 4S.

It's also been rumored that the next-generation iPad will have a high-resolution screen – possibly even double dpi -- and a stronger interior. However, the updates seen by iLounge seem to be more cosmetic than structural. Could the next-generation device be an upgrade similar to that of the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S?

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: 4G, apple, att, ipad, ipad 3, LTE, trending, verizon

Tech’s Next Bubble: Where Will It Come From? [VIDEO]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 12:02 PM PST

John Frankel is the head of FF Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm that includes some of the web’s hottest startups in its portfolio, including Hashable, Klout and IndieGoGo.

Check out our interview with Frankel to learn what motivates him as an investor, why he’s so attracted to early stage companies and his thoughts on where the next tech bubble will manifest.

This Venture Studio Classic was originally released on October 24, 2011.

Follow Venture Studio, in association with Mashable. The show is hosted by Dave Lerner, a 3x entrepreneur and angel investor. To join Venture Studio’s Facebook page, click here.

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More About: bubble, investing, mashable video, Startups, Venture, venture capital, venture studio, Video

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Adorable Puppy Rescue Has Happy Ending, Goes Viral [VIDEO]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 11:23 AM PST

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

So you’re unmoved by Valentine’s Day? Feeling all “bah humbug” about human relationships? Here’s something to melt even the coldest heart: A tale of love between human rescuers and trapped puppy.

Five days ago, a 4-week-old pugle dauschund got himself trapped in an underground pipe in Detroit, and was stuck overnight. Workers could hear squeaking sounds coming from the tiny pup, but could not see it.

The Michigan Humane Society called plumbers who brought camera to look inside the pipe and a Bobcat excavator was brought in to dig around the pipes. By about 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 9 workers reached the section of the pipe where the little critter was stuck.

The pugle dauschund mix was in surprisingly good health after his rescue, just a little dehydrated and cold.

Kevin Hatman, spokesman for the Michigan Humane Society, said it’s too early to tell how this video has affected donations. But he said he’s been receiving calls and messages from people around the world who were moved by the video. It has received more than 200,000 views since it was uploaded on February 10.

Have you seen any other touching animal rescue videos? Tell us in the comments.

More About: animals, dog videos, humane society, trending, viral-video-of-the-day, YouTube

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Lost at the Supermarket? Grocery App Will Light Your Way [VIDEO]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 11:05 AM PST

The grocery store will no longer be able to fool us by rearranging aisles, once a new indoor navigation smartphone app goes live.

The app, called ByteLight, will direct you to the items you’re looking for — presuming the store has added the cheap LED light bulbs it requires. Just point your smartphone at the lights, and they provide directions to items on your shopping list.

Maybe you wouldn’t need the app to find must-have items like milk, but it could also be used to find less frequently purchased merchandise, especially items in clothing stores. ByteLight not only leads you to the salad dressing, it also will tell you about nearby items on sale and give you electronic coupons.

The app is in its prototype phase. Creators Dan Ryan and Aaron Ganic of Cambridge, Mass., hope to have it ready for consumers within one year. The app will work only in stores using the energy-efficient LED bulbs, which slip into regular bulb sockets. The LED technology will be able to find your location in the store within three feet.

Recent grads Ryan and Ganic say there’s a lack of indoor navigation systems. Google plans to show people the inside of businesses via Google Maps, but the photos won’t be precise enough to lead you to specific items.

“We want people to think about light bulbs in an entirely new way,” Ganick told Technology Review.

Do you think an indoor navigation app would improve your shopping experience? Tells us what you think of ByteLight in the comments below.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flikr, Redjar.

More About: ByteLight, mobile coupons, navigation, turn-by-turn navigation, Video

Hashtag Marketing: 9 Ways to Avert Disaster

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 10:37 AM PST

David Berkowitz is vice president of emerging media for digital marketing agency 360i, where he develops social media and mobile programs for marketers spanning the media & entertainment, retail, travel, and CPG industries.

Marketers creating campaigns centered on hashtags need to be cautious. Hashtags can easily turn into flashing targets that scream, "Hijack this brand!" In the past few weeks, McDonald's launched a hashtag campaign that was promptly hamburgled, and then Research In Motion’s #BeBold campaign was similarly brandjacked.

Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid these types of situations. Hashtag campaigns happen all the time without any press coverage, usually because there's no horror story. Here are nine ways to prevent your brand from winding up in a story about social media mishaps.

1. Figure Out Why You’re Using Hashtag

Brands tend to use hashtags, predominantly on Twitter and sometimes other services like Instagram, either to create a centralized discussion around their campaign or event, or to jump into conversations that are already happening. Assess what you want to get out of the hashtag before diving in.

2. Be Upfront About the Risk

No matter how good your intentions are and how well you execute the campaign, hashtags can get hijacked in unexpected ways. Make sure any relevant brand managers, agency account executives, and other relevant parties are aware of what can happen, and share some real examples like those noted above. Also be clear that brands use hashtags in campaigns every day, and there are very few that generate any negative publicity.

3. Determine What Kind of Hashtag Makes Sense for Your Goals

Branded hashtags like #McDstories are very transparent and often descriptive, but they might turn off people who don't want to include that brand in their messages. They also can give brand haters more motivation to upend the hashtag's meaning.

Generic hashtags like RIM's #BeBold have more creative potential both for the brand and for consumers, but the hashtags can be brand-jacked just as easily, especially if the brand isn't perceived as a match for the tag. Either way, the hashtag should be informative and concise rather than conceptual. You only have a few characters; make them count, and don't make consumers think too hard.

4. Be True to Your Brand

Jeff Bezos once said, "Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room." What do people really say about your brand? If you're a fast food burger chain, having salad on the menu wouldn't justify a #BeHealthy campaign. Airlines shouldn't try using #ComfortingThoughts unless their coach seats are really more comfortable than a typical passenger's living room sofa.

5. Think of the Worst-Case Hijacking Scenario

Then share it with some of your snarky and cynical colleagues. Does it hold up? Would more conservative brand managers be comfortable with it? If it's too easy to hijack and the brand bashing is too harsh, this is a good time to come up with other ideas.

6. Avoid Piggybacking on Humorous or Risqué Hashtags

Very few brands can credibly contribute to conversations around tags like "#ThingsWomenWant" or "#WorstMondayEver."

7. Have Your Crisis Plan Ready, With Key Members on Speed Dial

No matter how cautious you think you are, people can be pleasantly unpredictable, even if that can create the occasional unpleasant experience for brands. Make sure it's absolutely clear what everyone's roles are should an unfortunate event happen.

8. Monitor the Campaign Religiously

It should also be clear upfront when determining everyone's roles and responsibilities. When creating an original hashtag that hasn't been used before, hashtags can simplify reporting on buzz generated, as community managers and analysts can view all relevant tweets in one shot.

9. Spring Into Action

If you wind up in a snafu, be ready to do whatever you can to stop the bleeding, such as ceasing any media support, engaging consumers to steer the conversation back to the original idea, or perhaps taking it on the chin and acknowledging when consumers are right. McDonald's realized, for instance, that by pulling its Twitter ad, negative comments using the hashtag stopped almost immediately.

Brands shouldn't overreact to the potential downfall of using hashtags, but marketers need to accept that there will always be a risk when using them. Many more marketers will choose to accept that risk. Twitter's only growing, and hashtags are a fundamental element of Instagram, Tumblr, and other services. Brands can learn from their peers who tried to #BeBold before them, some more successfully than others.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, tumpikuja

More About: Business, contributor, features, hashtags, Marketing, Social Media, Twitter

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10 Reasons Twitter Is Sexier Than Facebook [INFOGRAPHIC]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 10:16 AM PST

It’s no secret people behave differently, depending on the social network. Sometimes it’s the audience you’re speaking to. Sometimes it’s the people you know are following your every move (hi, mom).

The differences are especially apparent in regard to sex. In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, marketing agency Euro RSCG surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults who use either Twitter or Facebook daily. The agency discovered where people talk about sex, and whether they identify themselves as “sexy” or “sexually adventurous.”

The survey also explored how tweeters and Facebookers perceive themselves sexually in relation to others. On the whole, Twitter users appear to be more consumed with sex than their Facebook counterparts.

While the sample size of this survey is relatively small, anecdotally, you might find these results ring true. I have a working, unscientific theory — that people shy away from flirting and sex talk on Facebook because they are connected to family and hometown friends within that space. Twitter can be a more anonymous place, especially since it still lags behind Facebook in terms of true mainstream adoption.

What’s your experience? Do you flirt on Twitter? Is it different from your interactions on Facebook? Share your stories (the more embarrassing, the better) in the comments below.

Graphic courtesy of Euro RSCG.

More About: Facebook, features, infographic, sex, Social Media, trending, Twitter

Is Obama Leaving NASA Lost in Space?

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 10:00 AM PST

When President Obama released his 2013 budget on Monday, we looked for the science and tech winners of the proposal. But one part of the plan is leaving some space geeks adrift: NASA’s Mars goals are being put on the back burner.

Obama’s plan would reduce NASA’s planetary science funding by approximately 21 percent while putting more money into human exploration, new spacecraft and space technology. That moves NASA away from researching Earth’s neighbors and towards finding new ways to launch men and women into space.

The overall message to NASA? Times are tough, so we’ve got to shift priorities.

“Some important, but currently unaffordable missions are deferred, such as large-scale missions to study the expansion of the universe and to return samples from Mars,” reads Obama’s budget.

Instead of sending people to Mars, the Obama plan would focus on a “lower cost program” that would use robots, not humans, to explore our galatic neighbor. That means the planned U.S.-European joint venture to Mars would get the ax.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden acknowledged the agency’s need to keep its budget down to earth, even while blasting astronauts and satellites into space.

“This budget in-sources jobs, creates capabilities here at home — and strengthens our workforce, all while opening the next great chapter in American exploration,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a statement. “And as we reach for new heights in space, we’re creating new jobs right here on Earth, helping to support an economy that’s built to last.”

The Obama plan bets on America’s burgeoning commercial space industry by investing nearly one billion dollars into private attempts to blast mankind into the final frontier. With the iconic space shuttles retired to museums across the U.S., American astronauts are relying on Russian help to break Earth’s gravity. But some Americans are itching for a new homegrown spacecraft.

“Too many men and women have worked too hard and sacrificed too much to achieve America’s preeminence in space, only to see that effort needlessly thrown away,” wrote a group of former astronauts and NASA employees in a public letter to President Obama in April of last year, when the future of NASA’s shuttle replacement was uncertain.

Obama’s plan may put those concerns to rest by funding the Space Transport System, a multi-stage rocket that echoes the Apollo design and is the cornerstone of NASA’s future human exploration of space. In a press conference about the new budget, NASA administrator Bolden said the first flight of a manned commercial vehicle would likely happen before 2017. The first human-crewed mission using the Orion system would occur no earlier than 2021, he said.

And what about the James Webb telescope, being designed to replace the aging Hubble? The president’s plan bankrolls that, too.

However, Obama’s space plans aren’t putting smiles on the faces of everyone in the known universe. Bill Nye, famous science educator, thinks NASA is headed down the wrong path by focusing on new technology over exrra-terrestrial research.

"I encourage whoever made this decision to ask around; everyone on Earth wants to know if there is life on other worlds," said Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, a space exploration advocacy group. "When you cut NASA's budget in this way, you're losing sight of why we explore space in the first place."

What do you think of Obama’s proposed refocusing of NASA? Sound off in the comments below.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, adventtr

More About: 2012 presidential campaign, barack obama, NASA, space

Twitter Investors, Including Employees, Can Only Sell 20% of Their Stock [REPORT]

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 09:48 AM PST

In a move designed to forestall an IPO for as long as possible, Twitter has a rule barring any investor, including employees, from selling more than 20% of their stock, according to a report.

Twitter initiated the rule about a year ago, but it hadn’t been made public, according to CNNMoney. The guideline is somewhat controversial within the company and allegedly prompted Senior Technical Engineer Evan Weaver to resign last August.

According to the article, Weaver’s departure prompted an explanatory email to staffers from CEO Dick Costolo. The email outlined Twitter’s reason behind the policy: To keep to the SEC-dictated limit of under 500 investors. Beyond that number, Twitter would have to go public. “We don’t want to be public until we have very predictable quarterly earnings growth,” Costolo wrote in his August email, according to the article. “We’re not ready to be a public company for a couple years… There is one reasonable way to do this: Let everybody with vested common stock sell only some fraction of their shares,” Costolo added.

Twitter reps could not be reached for comment on the report.

Costolo’s stance on going public mirrors his other recent public statements. Like other social media firms, including, for a time, Facebook, Twitter appears to be holding off an IPO as a way of limiting outsider investors’ influence. That approach has hardly dimmed enthusiasm for the stock, though. Last March, Twitter’s valuation hit $7.7 billion on Sharespost, which trades shares on the secondary market.

Limiting shareholders means catering to deep-pocketed investors, including Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who sank $300 million into the company in December. Like Facebook, Twitter has also stopped giving out stock to employees instead offering them restricted stock units (RSUs), which can only be converted to actual shares after an IPO or a corporate buyout, according to the report.

Image courtesy of Flickr, eldh

More About: Facebook, IPOs, Twitter

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