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Article from GigaOm.

Despite concerns that Kickstarter wonder Ouya, an Android-based TV gaming console, might not deliver, the project is hitting its deadlines with the release on Friday of 1,200 developer consoles.

Ouya announced that the development kits were being shipped to developers, who can also access the Ouya SDK (ODK) online under a free Apache license.

The release of the hardware and software should give developers time to prepare games for the platform, which is expected to be released to the public around March. That’s still the milestone that everyone will be watching but the signs look good for Ouya to make it there.

Ouya

An early look at the Ouya UI

The company has been under a lot of scrutiny since it debuted as a Kickstarter project in July. The $99 console, built off the Android platform, raised $8.6 million from more than 63,000 backers. That has raised expectations and also concerns about whether the system is for real and can deliver as promised. We chatted with CEO and founder Julie Uhrman shortly after the launch — she assured us that it wasn’t rocket science putting Ouya together and that she was confident Ouya will hit the market by this spring.

The developer console still has plenty of bugs, Ouya has warned developers, and the triggers and D-pad on the controller are not final. Developers will also get a look at an early version of the console UI.

Following a recent CNN report that most of the biggest Kickstarter projects were shipping late, it’s nice to see that Ouya is keeping to its promise. We still don’t know what the quality and experience is like and what the game library will ultimately be. And as Kickstarter has pointed out, it’s not always important that projects ship on time if the end result suffers. But this thing looks like it’s for real.

Read more here.

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Bunchball, gamificationArticle from GigaOm.

Gamification is thought of as a hyped buzzword by skeptics, but it’s increasingly being used by corporations to incentivize consumers and motivate employees. As enterprise adoption of gamification grows, that could make gamification startups the next hot acquisition target in the coming years.

Social enterprise acquisitions have been the all the rage in the last year. But if you want to find the next big acquisition target, consider gamification startups.

Bunchball founder and Chief Product Officer Rajat Paharia told me he expects it won’t be long before gamification companies will be buyout targets soon by the SAPs, Oracles, Microsofts and Salesforces of the world. Obviously, he has a vested interest in this, but there are some compelling reasons for why this theory may come true in the near future.

Badgeville, gamificationGamification, with its reliance on points, badges, leaderboards and rewards, appeals to some basic human desires for fun, competition, interaction and achievement. The concept has been around for year and has been traditionally used to incentivize consumer behavior; think of frequent flyer programs and other loyalty systems. But corporations are increasingly seeing this as an effective way to get more productivity out of workers. As more work moves online and goes virtual, firms are looking for new tools to encourage their employees and push them toward their goals.

“Gamification is a core offering for the enterprise,” said Gabe Zichermann, the chairman of the Gamification Summit. “Today it’s a tactic but over the the next couple of years it’s going to be a core feature set for enterprises driven by the consumerization of IT.”

Zichermann doesn’t think there will be a lot of immediate acquisitions of gamification startups this year. But in the next 12-24 months, he believes big enterprise companies will start to make moves in this space as their top executives realize the strategic benefits of gamification.

Bunchball, gamificationFor many big software companies, adding gamification can complement social collaboration tools such as Yammer and Chatter and can work alongside existing HR performance software and customer relationship management programs. It can become part of a complete suite of services that software companies offer their clients, who want to engage both consumers and their own workers. Many of the big players are already making investments in this area.  Salesforce last year bought Rypple, a social performance management platform that employs game mechanics. IBM has been working on its own product called Innov8, which has been effective in generating leads and traffic to its website.

Gartner has predicted that by 2014, more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one “gamified” application and half of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes by 2015. While some companies are already dabbling with their own in-house gamification efforts, many other enterprise companies are turning to startups like Bunchball, Badgeville, BigDoor, Gigya and others to implement game mechanics into their processes.

Paharia, who founded Bunchball in 2007 before the term “gamification” took hold, said his company now has more than 200 customers including names such as Warner Brothers, Comcast, Hasbro, Mattel and others. About 90 percent of the business through the end of last year was selling to corporate customers, who used gamification to engage consumers. But now, about 35 percent of Bunchball’s deployments are for companies using game mechanics to motivate enterprise workers.

badgevilleHe said enterprise software companies and their customers are realizing that gamification can be an effective tool in addressing the constant struggle over getting workers to use software.

“They’re all making software but whoever figures out how to get their software used regularly will win. It’s a problem of motivation,” he said.

A year ago, Bunchball introduced a product called Nitro for Salesforce’s AppExchange, giving Salesforce customers an easy way to add on gamification tools. Bunchball has also teamed with Jive to integrate its game mechanics into Jive’s social business platform. Rival Badgeville has partnered with Yammer to improve employee performance and launched its own program to integrate with enterprise software applications from Jive, Omniture and Salesforce.com.

The big question is will the big enterprise software players be content to partner with gamification startups or will they seek to buy the technology or try to build it themselves. If these companies can develop the gamification knowhow in-house, that could keep them from looking to acquire any of the dedicated gamification startups.

Gamification still faces plenty of hurdles. It will need to prove it can produce consistent, tangible results. And it will also need to overcome the skepticism of critics, who see a lot of hype and buzz in the concept. Many still see gamification as a passing fad or old methods dressed up in new terminology.

But if this crop of gamification startups continue to win over corporate customers and prove their worth in the enterprise, don’t be surprised if we see them get snatched up in the next couple years.

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Article from TechCrunch.

Your Powerpoint pitchdeck is so boring. So. Freaking. Boring. Although tech bloggers aren’t sent startup’s actual pitchdecks as often as investors are (thankfully), we’re still walked through them on dreadful, “let me read to you from my Powerpoint” phone calls more often than should be socially acceptable. That’s why when image aggregator Piccsy, which is simultaneously a competitor to Pinterest as well as a top 20 content source for the site,  pinged us to take a look at its pitch deck, we were pleasantly surprised. A pitchdeck that’s actually fun to read? Can such a thing exist?

Piccsy.com/investors hosts the company’s public pitchdeck, and it’s a striking, visual representation of the data that would be typically found in bullet-pointed slideshows. The format leads you to wander through content and explore, much like Piccsy itself does. CEO Daniel Eckler admits that he doesn’t even know how to use Powerpoint. “I’ve only ever opened the program once or twice in my life,” he says. But it wasn’t just lack of know-how that led the company to ditch the idea of the traditional deck. As outsiders from Toronto, they wanted to stand out, Eckler says.

“We began with a problem (how to get investors to see our deck) and came up with a solution (create something unique, beautiful, informative, and easy to share), as opposed to going with the status quo,” Eckler explains. “This is conceivably the first thing investors are going to relate to when they see a company. Lots of companies that are innovative in other areas are sticking to an old model with their deck, even though they have the resources (dev/design) to do something special.”

Plus, he adds, a generic, Powerpoint-style deck wouldn’t be right for a site that’s all about discovering beautiful imagery.

For what it’s worth, the novel deck has been working. 50,000 pageviews and 15 inbound investor requests came in over the weekend, and the site got linked on Hacker News (where discussion delved into criticisms over content, however, but not the style.) Said one commenter, “it’s a beautiful presentation. I’m jealous….I’d absolutely pay to get a site like that.”

Say, Piccsy – if that whole image aggregation thing doesn’t work out…

The screenshot above is just a snippet. The full site is here.

Read more on Piccsy at www.piccsy.com.

Read the original article here.

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Article from SF Gate.

“Chamath Palihapitiya, a former executive at Facebook Inc., made the first two investments for his new venture fund, buying stakes in business-software maker Yammer Inc. and private-stock exchange SecondMarket Inc.

Palihapitiya’s fund, called the Social+Capital Partnership, led a $17 million investment in Yammer, a San Francisco company that makes social-networking programs for businesses.

The fund, which announced both deals separately Tuesday, bought its SecondMarket stake from existing investors. SecondMarket lets investors trade shares of closely held companies before they hold an initial public offering.

After a four-year career at Facebook, where he worked on mobile products and expanded the company internationally, Palihapitiya left this year to form Social+Capital.

The Palo Alto fund is raising about $300 million, with an eye to investing in Internet technology, health care, education and financial services. Before joining Facebook, Palihapitiya spent a year at venture-capital firm Mayfield Fund.

“The things I like tend to have very disruptive elements to an existing established infrastructure,” Palihapitiya, 35, said.

“SecondMarket disrupts the IPO process by giving you completely different alternatives. Yammer is highly disruptive to established enterprise software companies.”

With Tuesday’s investment, Yammer has now raised $57 million. The company, started by PayPal Inc. co-founder David Sacks, provides software to more than 100,000 businesses in 160 countries, serving clients such as Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Ford Motor Co. Existing investors include Charles River Ventures, Emergence Capital and U.S. Venture Partners.

“Social networking is destined to have as significant an impact on the enterprise as it has already had in our personal lives,” Palihapitiya said in a statement.

The SecondMarket deal, meanwhile, involving buying stock from employees and early investors, Chief Executive Officer Barry Silbert said in a blog posting.

Shareholders of the New York company sold about $13 million of stock at a valuation of about $160 million, in what the company expects to be an “annual liquidity event,” Silbert said.

SecondMarket helps investors in privately held companies buy and sell their stock. The company has handled transactions totaling almost $1 billion, Silbert said Tuesday. Shareholders of Facebook, Twitter Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. have sold stock on the exchange.

Palihapitiya was joined by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and actor Ashton Kutcher in buying the SecondMarket shares.”

Read more here.

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Article from SF Gate.

“Facebook began bringing video calling to the masses Wednesday, partnering with Skype to provide the free chat service to its 750 million members.

Video calling comes to the world’s largest social network as part of a larger overhaul of Facebook’s chat features. The updated service will allow users to create group text chats by adding multiple friends into the same window. The chat window also becomes more prominent, taking up the right side of the screen by default.

Speaking at the company’s Palo Alto headquarters, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the updates marked a shift for the company away from simply adding users at an ever-faster clip.

“The driving narrative for the next five years or so is not going to be about wiring up the world, because a lot of the interesting stuff has actually been done,” he said. “It’s about what kind of cool stuff you’re going to be able to build, and what kind of new social apps you’re going to be able to build, now that you have this wiring in place.”

Zuckerberg said the shift was prompted in part by a surging demand for sharing information. Facebook users share twice as much today as they did a year ago, as measured by photos posted, comments written and other items.

Facebook’s announcements come on the heels of Google rolling out a new social offering, Google+, that duplicates many of the sharing functions found in Facebook. Google+ also includes a feature called Hangouts that enables group video chatting.

For starters, the Facebook-Skype partnership will only allow one-on-one chatting. Group video chat could be forthcoming, executives said, although on Skype’s stand-alone product, that feature costs money to use.

Zuckerberg said Google’s new product validated Facebook’s own works, and that in the future social features would become an expected part of every application.

The question is which Internet company will prove better at retaining users. Google has more unique users, but they spend less time on the site than Facebook users do. The more time users spend on a site, the more valuable it is to advertisers.

Susan Etlinger, an analyst at Altimeter Group, said Facebook’s large user base would make its video-calling feature instantly competitive with Google’s and other video chat services.

She said the company’s plans to build new services on top of their platform signaled a newfound maturity for the 7-year-old company.

“What I heard Mark say today is that Facebook is starting to focus more on the social aspect of social networking, whereas in the past they focused more on the networking and engineering,” she said. “It’s a really healthy shift.”

Executives at Skype, which was acquired by Microsoft in May for $8.5 billion, said the acquisition would introduce them to an enormous new audience and sell add-on services to them.

“We think this makes a lot of business sense as well,” Skype CEO Tony Bates said. “We get huge reach. In the future we’re talking about potentially also having Skype paid products available within the Web format that we saw here today, so we’re very excited about it.”

Every month, Skype’s users spend 300 million minutes making video calls, Bates said. At peak times, video represents more than half the company’s traffic. (Skype has 170 million regular users.)

Video chat should be available to everyone within a week, Skype product manager Mike Barnes said. Making calls requires users to download a small Java application through the browser.

At first, users will not be able to link their Facebook and Skype accounts. But that integration is in the works, Barnes said. Users who have microphones but not webcams will be able to make voice-only calls on Facebook, he said.”

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Article from GigaOm.

I have some news for Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, co-founders of Instagram, a San Francisco-based, photo-oriented, social network: They are the fastest growing photo sharing service on Twitter. I’m not surprised. As you know, many folks take photos and share them via Twitter, thanks to services like Twitpic, Yfrog and even Twitter itself. However, Instagram is slightly different; if you’re an iPhone user, you take a photo, upload to Instagram, then share it on Twitter.

Skylines, a Dutch startup focused on real-time photo search, has been analyzing the Twitter feed and has some unique insights into the market. From May 23 to June 26, 2011, Skylines found Instagram usage has gone up 38 percent: from 538,000 photos shared weekly to 740,000 photos shared each week.

Instagram CEO Systrom had recently observed that only 11 percent of Instagram members were using Twitter and by that metric, Instagram members might be adding about a million photos a day to Instagram. Add those two data points together, and one can extrapolate that Instagram is gathering steam. The service recently passed the five million subscriber mark. This level of engagement is one of the reasons why I believe Instagram has a chance of becoming the mobile social hub.

Skylines also shared some other data for the five-week period analysis.

  • From May 23rd to June 26, 2011, there were 33 million photos shared on Twitter via Twitpic, Yfrog, Instagram and Mobypicture (the four services indexed by Skylines).
  • Twitpic is no slouch. It was responsible for sharing of 3.295 million photos during the week of June 20, making it the largest photo-sharing service.
  • Yfrog was used to share 2.98 million photos during the same week.
  • The growth in the total number of photos shared in the five-week period measured was 17 percent.
  • Only 4 percent of the pictures are geo-tagged, while 15 percent have a hashtag.
  • Not surprisingly, weekends are the most popular days to share photos.

As the data shows, while Twitter might have launched its own photo sharing service via Photobucket, the independent photo-sharing services have not seen any kind of slowdown, though there are some dark clouds looming ahead for the likes of Twitpic and Yfrog.”

Read more here.

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As a technology scout, I often look for new behaviors of consumers in order to predict technology evolutions. After some time looking into the GroupOn trend, I have started to form a mental understanding of sorts. The stakes are high and the social shopping trend presents a new prosperous businessmodel and most large online companies are making the move to harness the trend. Let me explain the separate parts that forms my picture and what it all means.

1. eBay – the online fleamarket.

Looking at what today is widely accepted as a stunning success and moneymachine – eBay took the private entrepreneur online. Craigslist and similar services continue to provide broad audiences for the private seller. The shift from paper to online generated a larger audience and more interest for the second-hand market.

2. Facebook – networking our life.

Through the introduction of online social networks like Friendster, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter and Facebook, personal networks got joined together online. The effects of “Faceboking” you social life is a transparency that newer been visible before. New “check in” services from GPS enabled mobile devices further expose our location and automatically connects us with unknown people on the same location.

3. iPhone – making applications smarter.

As mentioned above, “check in” services like “Places” on Facebook, Loopt, Gowalla and Brightkite brought the social context to the mobile device though their “check in” features. Together with Twitter and Facebook mobile, the social and contextual dialogue is more and more becoming a way of using the technology.

The New, New Market!

So, based on these three separate innovations,a new market is emerging – Social Shopping. Sure, not all new in its core – Amazon have for long had recommendation and 3:rd party providers of used products. But, if I look closer on the trend, and take into consideration the companies that have announced that they are testing similar products – it will be a fierce battle ahead.

GroupOn is the one stealing all the headlines right now, IPO rumors are spreading and the race is on for becoming the leader of the pack. Nr. 2 on the market – Living Social are playing catch up. Recently I was invited to sign-up for Facebook Deals, a service originally launched last year and currently going through updates similar to GroupOn and Living Social. Goggle is testing its Google Offers. Microsoft is using it´s Bing to for similar services.

What does it mean?

What does all this mean you might think. I fell it’s a contextual shopping trend that moves the web 2.0 into a truly social value experience. If you are shopping for something and have the mobile device, you will be able to utilize your location and seek out good deals close to where you are, when you want it. The technology evolution exemplified by iPhone and Android phones with location awareness embedded is the technology enabler. Facebook networks are the social context and audience for spreading the word and eBay entrepreneurs can chase deals and post them on the social shopping sites to generate a self-serving ecosystem that becomes a machine in it self.

One might think that this technology trend, contrary to social networks of relationships (which are personal and limited) like Facebook, have enough room for more than one or two major services. As the trend relies on action rather than relation, its a active usage and active user who drives the equation – on Facebook, it’s all a matter of who you know.

Implications

The biggest question for me is if Facebook will succeed in incorporating their Facebook Deals service into the private social networks as a natural extension of smaller, often local groups of a few hundred people, as seem to be the norm of the personal networks on Facebook. If they succeed, they will steal the market from the pioneers like GroupOn and Social Living and further solidify their position as the premier social destination on the net, if not Facebooks value will decline as a result and focus might shift. Google, Amazon and Microsoft will steal their fair share of the market place, as they own large audiences and often “host” a mature audience searching for little less cool and less hip offerings – with high trust and reliability.

The race is on!

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