Zynga Discontinues Mafia Wars Game On Myspace

It’s not a good sign for a social network when game developers begin to shut down applications all together. And it appears that Zynga is shuttering its Mafia Wars game on beleaguered social network Myspace.

According to a notice on the Mafia Wars homepage within Myspace, Zynga is discontinuing Mafia Wars on Myspace beginning today but is encouraging users to continue playing Mafia Wars at MafiaWars.com. Interestingly, Zynga leads users to its own independent gaming portal as opposed to directing users to the Facebook version of the game.

We’ve reached out to Zynga for comment, but it’s likely that the social gaming giant shut the game down because there simply weren’t enough players to justify keeping the game alive. While the page for the game says it has 13 million active users, this is unlikely considering Mafia Wars on Facebook currently has 16.8 million monthly active users. It’s no secret that Myspace is hemorrhaging users and it really doesn’t make sense for Zynga to put resources into something that has an incredibly low user count.

For those of you who still play Zynga games on Myspace, it appears that Zynga hasn’t shut down all of its titles. Zynga Poker, YoVille, Vampire Wars, Fashion Wars, Special Forces and Pirates are still alive. For now.

RIM, Caught Between Work And Whimsy, Has Lost Its Way

I’ve been using the Blackberry Playbook since Friday and I find it to be a unique and very usable device. The obvious problems aside – no native email client, poor browsing, wonky Flash support – it’s clear that RIM took lots of care to produce a device that would appeal to their core audience of crackberriers. Even the ill-advised Blackberry Bridge makes a certain kind of sense. Why? Because the removal of all points of security failure from the tablet gives the folks in IT a reason to OK the device on their networks. The same can’t be said of any of the other tablets, iOS and Android devices included. In fact, without the Bridge the Playbook is a simple and compelling media consumption device.

But Blackberry is now trying to survive a period marked by a rapid and permanent change in smartphone usage. Back when Blackberries were pagers, the best a business user on the road could hope for was a fax sent to a hotel room. A few short years later and Blackberry ruled the mobile messaging space. Their email product and messenger allowed countless people to remain connected everywhere, at all times, an accomplishment that brought about a sea change in the way we interact online. The Blackberry is a unique artifact that defined how a generation lived and worked. Blackberries made it OK to be always on call, much to our own detriment.

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Apple Sues Samsung, Claims Its Android Devices Are Copycats

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has just filed another lawsuit in its legal crusade against Android: a ‘look and feel’ complaint against Samsung phones including the Galaxy S 4G, Epic 4G, Galaxy Tab, and Nexus S, that have allegedly copied “Apple’s technology, user interface and innovative style”. The suit was filed in the Northern District of California on April 15. The fact that the Nexus S is included is important, as this features Google’s stock build of Android 2.3.

And, as the report notes, Samsung is actually a chip supplier for Apple products.

This is only the latest attack in Apple’s war against phone manufacturers who have created popular Android devices.

In March 2010, Apple launched a patent infringement case against HTC that went for the jugular: it cited infringements on “20 Apple patents related to the iPhone’s user interface, underlying architecture and hardware”. The suit was a clear attack on Android (many of HTC’s most popular devices run Google’s mobile OS), and Google was quick to say that it had HTC’s back.

Because the suit was filed with the International Trade Commission, an Apple victory could mean that infringing HTC devices are banned from importation in the US. This morning, the staff of the ITC announced that it recommended against siding with Apple. This is pleasant news for HTC and Android fans, but it doesn’t actually have any consequence — this was just a staff recommendation, and it’s still up to the judge to decide whether or not to ban HTC devices.

And Apple isn’t the only one looking to fend off Android with lawsuits. Microsoft has filed suit against Motorola claiming nine cases of patent infringement (and got HTC to license its patents, likely to avoid a legal dispute).

Groupon Acquires Whrrl Creator Pelago

Daily deals site Groupon has acquired Whrrl parent company Pelago this afternoon. The iFund-backed Pelago is most famous for its Whrrl product, which is a Foursquare-like LBS services app that allows people to check into places.

Pelago CEO and former Amazon executive Jeff Holden will be now be overseeing product development at Groupon and members of the Pelago team will be taking on roles in “Grouponnovations” after Whrrl shuts down on April 30th 2011 . No word yet on the price of the acquisition.

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason writes:

“Here’s a great way to start the week…  We’re excited to announce that the minds at Pelago, creators of Whrrl, have officially joined the Groupon family.

We’ve always liked CEO Jeff Holden, the Whrrl team and the technology they’ve developed.  Their obsession with real-world serendipitous discovery, or Anti-Search, is core to Groupon’s mission.  It’s about discovering what you didn’t know you didn’t know, right in your own backyard. Jeff intimately gets consumer buying behavior and the importance of a great user experience, and his team is this awesome combination of data-driven creatives…the people who create smart products that are really fun to use.

With Jeff overseeing Groupon product development and many Pelago people taking integral roles in future Grouponnovations, Whrrl will be retiring on April 30, 2011. You can read more about that on Pelago’s blog at http://www.pelago.com/blog/announcements/2011/04/big-day/.

So here’s a warm welcome to Jeff and the team!”

Pelago had $22.4 million in funding from T-Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Bezos Expeditions, DAG, Reliance and Trilogy Equity Partners. Groupon of course is funded to the gills (hence the shopping spree) with $1.14B from NEA, DST and others.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Stealth NYC Startup Kohort Raises $3 Million Seed Round From IA Ventures, RRE, And More

A stealth startup in New York City called Kohort has raised a pretty hefty “seed” round of $3 million from a large group of VCs and angels. IA Ventures led the round. But other investors getting in on the action include RRE Ventures, Countour, FF Venture Capital, and both David Cohen and David Tisch of TechStars (investing personally).

CEO Mark Davis is well-known in New York City venture circles. He is himself a former VC with DFJ Gotham. Davis is also the founder of both the Columbia Venture Community and the New York Venture Community. His co-founder and CTO is Steve Blood.

Davis won’t say what kind of product Kohort will be, other than it will be related to social media. The Kohort site is just a landing page which lets you reserve your Kohort name. You can also follow Kohort on Twitter.

Letting Go: How Sharing Your Data Can Transform Your Life (TCTV)

It’s time for the much-awaited part two of our sit down with Internet big-thinkers Reid Hoffman and Tim O’Reilly. We invited the two in the studio last week to talk about what Hoffman has called “Web 3.0″– the use of an explosion of data being collected about our real lives online.

Last week, we talked about the undeniably scary aspects of Web 3.0– data and privacy and how we can trust companies or governments in a Web 3.0-era. This week, we talk about the good things: The realm of innovation that all this data opens up. From self-driving cars to sustainable mega-cities, in this segment Hoffman and O’Reilly give us their Web 3.0 wish list.


The Tiny HP Veer To Get A Big Launch Party On May 2nd

Here comes the Veer! Is the world ready for a 2.6-inch touchscreen phone? Who knows! That’s the fun part. HP just sent out invites to a May 2nd “Launch Party” which, as the name suggests, is likely for the launch of the Veer. However, Monday May 2nd might not be the day the Veer hits the general retail market although the first week of May sounds about right. Now this doesn’t seem like a press event — at least we didn’t get an invite. Instead it seems that this is for retail associates of some level because after registering, a note pops up indicated that a Best Buy or AT&T ID or business card is required to attend. AT&T, eh? Yeah, the small phone hitting the ol’ telephone & telegraph company.

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Real Estate Listings Site Zillow Files For $51.75 Million IPO

As expected, real estate listings and search site Zillow has just filed its S-1, which indicates that the company will be pursuing a public offering. Zillow wants to raise $51.75 million in the offering, according to the SEC filing. It’s important to note that this is a placeholder amount that could change in the coming months. It appears that Citigroup is one of the underwriters of the IPO (others include Allen & Company, ThinkEquity, Needham & Company, and First Washington Corp.).

Zillow, which saw 19 million visitors in March, is now listing 100 million U.S. homes, including homes for sale, homes for rent and homes not currently on the market. For the years ended December 31, 2008, 2009 and 2010, the company generated revenues of $10.6 million, $17.5 million and $30.5 million, representing year-over-year growth of 49%, 65% and 74%, respectively. Unfortunately, in terms of income, Zillow has been taking a loss for the past three years, according to the filing.

Zillow, which launched a mortgage marketplace in 2008, expanded into rentals and mobile. The company’s traffic to its web and mobile sites is up 90 percent year-over-year and in March 2011, Zillow was used on a mobile device more than 8 million times, with more than 1.4 million homes viewed on mobile devices each day.

In terms of financial specifics, Zillow appears to be losing less money each year. The company lost $12.8 million in 2009, and lost roughly half of that ($6.7 million) in 2010. The company, which launched to the public in 2006, also revealed that as of December 31, 2010, it has an accumulated deficit of $78.7 million. Zillow forecasts that its revenue growth rate will decline in the future as a result of the “maturation” of its business.

Costs are also expected to rise for the company has it invests more money into product development; sales and marketing; technology infrastructure; strategic partnerships (Zillow powers Yahoo real estate listings) and acquisitions (Zillow just bought Postlets), and the general administration, including legal and accounting expenses related to being a public company.

From the filing, “If we fail to continue to grow our revenue and overall business and to manage our expenses, we may continue to incur significant losses in the future and not be able to achieve or maintain profitability.”

Marketplace revenues grew from $3.9 million in 2009 to $13.2 million (increase of 238 percent), and represented 43% of total revenues in 2010 compared to 22% of total revenues in 2009. Zillow says the increase in marketplace revenues was primarily due to the growth in the number of subscribers in its Premier Agent program from 2,764 as of December 31, 2009 to 8,102 as of December 31, 2010, which is an increase of 193%. Marketplace revenues also increased as Zillow began to charge mortgage lenders for participation in the mortgage Marketplace in January 2010.

Thanks to more traffic, display revenues increased from $13.6 million in 2009 to $17.2 million in 2010 and represented 57% of total revenues in 2010 compared to 78% of total revenues in 2009.

According to Experian Hitwise, Zillow.com isthe #3 most visited Real Estate site in the U.S and received 5.36% of Real Estate visits in March 2011, which is a 53% increase compared to March 2010.

Zollow’s IPO follows a number of technology companies that have filed S-1 filing to go public, including Pandora, LinkedIn, Boingo Wireless, and HomeAway.

Information provided by CrunchBase

MOAT: A Search Engine For Ads, And So Much More

If you work in online advertising, until recently there hasn’t been a very good way to find out which ads are running across the Internet. Search engines like Google index the underlying web pages, and strip out the display ads. But if you work at an ad agency or are a sales guy at an online publisher getting ready for a meeting with a big brand, it helps to know what display ads they are running. You could click the refresh button on a bunch of big sites a few dozen times, or you can go to Moat, which is a search engine for display ads.

Type in Apple, Android, or Blackberry, and it shows you all the creative ad units running right now across the web. It’s a pretty handy tool for anyone in the industry, or even casual observers.

But the ad search engine is just eye candy. Moat is working on so much more, including heatmap engagement analytics and a crowdsourced marketplace for display ad designers. The New York City startup is self-funded with $3 million from co-founders Jonah and Noah Goodhart (who are brothers), and Mike Walrath. All three were involved with Right Media, the ad exchange Yahoo bought for $850 million in 2007 (Walrath was the founder and CEO, and the Goodharts were investors).

“Part of the problem with digital advertising,” says Walrath, “is that we think we know what is happening with an ad and what makes it successful. Right now, all you have are clicks and conversions.” Walrath thinks the industry is measuring the wrong things: impressions on one end, and clicks on the other. Big brand advertisers care more about attention. (Walrath has discussed this before on Founder Stories).

Moat has a proxy for attention. It can generate a heat map of where people hover their mouse over an ad, and where they click as well. What you end up with is something like the heatmap shown above for HauteLook. An image of a woman in the ad, while more attractive, turned out to be too distracting, whereas an image of a shoe results in 2.6 times more clicks on the join button. Moat offers these heatmap analytics to brand advertisers, to help them figure out which display ads are the most engaging and to give them tools to fix the ones that are not working.

According to Jonah Goodhart, typical clickthrough rates on display ads are less than 10 out of every 10,000 visitors (or 0.1%), whereas about 500 of every 10,000 people (5%) spend at least half a second hovering their mouse over an ad, and 1,000 out of 10,000 (10%) touch the ad in some fashion without clicking on it. Moat wants to capture all of this data and deliver it to marketers so that they can test different images and wording in their display ads just like they do today with keyword search ads. The answer in display is to just make the ads bigger, instead of changing the elements inside the ad.

The final piece of the puzzle is a crowdsourced marketplace of designers that advertisers can tap to pump out different versions of their display ads. Each designer will be rated and ranked and placed into different categories. The marketplace for display ad designers was actually the initial idea for the company, but the founders realized that they first needed to provide a better way to measure engagement.

Information provided by CrunchBase

AutoTech Video: We Drive Elon Musk’s Personal Tesla Roadster Sport

Unlike other automakers, Tesla is headquartered in the hills of Palo Alto next to beautiful rolling hills with lush green scenery and horse crossing signs. As you can imagine, a place like this would have some of the best driving roads in the country. We were slightly disappointed that the man behind it all, Elon Musk, was out of town. But coincidentally this gave us the perfect opportunity to borrow his personal Roadster Sport while he was gone.

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Walmart Ventures Into The Social Media Space With Acquisition Of Kosmix

Walmart this morning said it is buying Mountain View-based Kosmix, a heavily funded social media technology provider that has built a platform that enables users to filter and organize content in social networks, in order to connect people with information that matters to them, in realtime.

The platform powers a site called TweetBeat, essentially a realtime social media filter for live events that saw more than five million visits last month alone according to its maker.

Additionally, the technology is used to power RightHealth, a popular health and medical information site as well as Kosmix.com, which lets you ‘explore the Web by topic’.

So what is the retailing juggernaut doing picking up a social media startup, which has raised $55 million in funding from a slew of investors over the past few years?

According to a statement, Kosmix’ founders and team will operate as part of a newly formed group dubbed @WalmartLabs and remain based in Silicon Valley. Walmart expects them to create technologies and businesses around social and mobile commerce that will support its multi-channel strategy, thus blurring the line between offline and online shopping.

The founders of Kosmix, entrepreneurs and investors Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, can be considered ecommerce pioneers. Their first company, database tech company Junglee, was acquired by Amazon for a boatload of stock back in 1998.

They later created crowdsourcing Internet marketplace Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Eduardo Castro-Wright, Walmart’s vice chairman, comments:

Social networking and mobile applications are increasingly becoming a part of our customers’ day-to-day lives globally, influencing how they think about shopping, both online and in retail stores. We are excited to have the Kosmix team join us to accelerate the development of our social and mobile commerce offerings.

It’s worth noting that Walmart has a director on its board that knows a thing or two about social networks and online commerce, namely Jim Breyer, partner at Accel Partners and an investor in companies like Facebook, Etsy, Brightcove, Art.sy and Prosper.

But notably, Accel Partners is also a major shareholder in Kosmix – the VC firm has participated in three of four rounds of funding according to CrunchBase. Other Kosmix investors include Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Lightspeed Venture Partners and DAG Ventures.

The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions – Walmart anticipates the deal to close during the first half of this year. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

ContentAide: Get Daily Reports About Your Rival’s Facebook Page

Facebook Pages — the social network’s profiles meant for businesses, celebrities, and public entities — are becoming an increasingly important way to establish a long-term relationship with customers and fans. Many businesses are sprucing up their Pages with applications, and everyone is always on the hunt to get more Likes and Comments on their Updates (posts with higher user engagement will show up in more News Feeds).

Facebook’s built-in Insights tool does a decent job helping you keep tabs on your Page’s performance, but there’s some data that may be even more important: how your arch-rival is doing. Which is where ContentAide, a new startup from VentureBeat writer Cody Barbierri, comes in handy.

The service is pretty straightforward: tell it what Facebook Pages you’d like to keep an eye on, and the site will automatically generate a daily report on how that Page is performing. This isn’t just a Page’s overall ‘Like’ count either — ContentAide will also send you each individual status update and photo posted, along with how many Likes and Comments they received. You can receive reports for your own Pages and for competitors’ Pages as well.

Barbierri says that ContentAide uses an algorithm to figure out the relative success of each status update — if your page has hundreds of thousands of fans, then obviously it’s much easier to get 50 ‘Likes’ on a post than if you only had 1,000 fans, and the reports take this into account. Down the line, Barbierri hopes to add some deeper analysis, like automatic reports on what types of updates have been most effective.

ContentAide is charging $20 per month for one daily report and goes up from there — Barbierri says that in addition to individuals and small businesses, the service is looking to cater to consultants and firms that may want to receive multiple reports every day.

Bidmyway Raises $1.35 Million In Funding To Build An ‘eBay For Local Deals’

Exclusive – Elite Media Worx, the startup behind local deals bidding site Bidmyway, has secured $1.35 million in financing as it gears up for the public debut of its ‘eBay for deal-of-the-day sites’.

Four Directions Holdings led the round, joined by senior management and other investors, including Brad Ohlemacher, President of EMC Precision.

Bidmyway is billed as an ‘online-to-offline bidding service’ that basically allows people to name their best price, in true Priceline.com fashion, but for local goods and services, specifically.

Unlike collective purchasing sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, Bidmyway lets people individually determine what an offering for a specific restaurant, spa, hotel, or other local merchant is worth to them, based on their budget. Participating merchants can accept or reject bids based on an undisclosed threshold, and winning bids are kept confidential.

Bidmyway is also similar to the two fast-growing local commerce sites mentioned above, and many others who’re trying to emulate their business models, in the sense that you can also use the site “get daily deals now” at a given price. Elite Media Worx, the company behind Bidmyway, also operates a straight-up deal-of-the-day site over at Elite City Deals.

The startup, we should note, is the latest venture of telecommunications industry vet John Shave. The entrepreneur sold his previous company, telecom carrier Globalcom, to First Communications for close to $60 million a couple of years ago.

Shave says Elite Media Worx plans to raise a much larger round of funding in the near future, which will allow it to expand into 10 markets across the United States.

As far as I can tell, Chicago’s the only city where Bidmyway features deals for now.

MXP4?s Bopler Games App Turns Lily Allen Songs Into (Social) Gaming Music

Alright, who is up for a round of Lily Allen Tetris? Yes, that’s right, now you challenge your friends to various games on Facebook and select the music as well. But this is about more than just background music. MXP4‘s new social music gaming app – called Bopler Games – uses the company’s “automated level design” technology to automatically synchronize the game with the song, based on its melody, rhythm and structure. Translation: the difficulty of the game will reflect your selection in music.

The application currently features 4 different games – including previously released Pump it, which hit 1 million users within its first month. MXP4 is also in the process of developing another 6 games, which should be released shortly.

Apple’s Subscription Bait And Switch

When Apple announced back in February that The Daily would be the first subscription news app on iTunes, it was seen by other publishers as the model going forward. Some like it, some don’t, but at least Apple knows how it wants to treat subscriptions going forward. Or does it?

Some subscription news apps seem to be in limbo right now while Apple figures out how to handle special situations. If you are a single-title publication like the New York Times, The Daily, or Businessweek, then it is pretty straightforward and the current rules apply. But what if you are a news reading app that brings together articles from many sources, some paid and some free? In other words, what if you are an aggregator app like Flipboard or Zite, but you want to charge a subscription for the app? How should that subscription be split up between the app and the publishers, and should Apple even be involved with policing those types of licensing and copyright issues? It’s all getting sorted out right now.

One of the issues revolves around Apple’s rules for listing subscription apps under free apps. They obviously aren’t free apps, but it helps with the marketing and getting people to try them out if they can start out free. In order to justify the free app description, subscription apps must offer something of value for anyone who downloads the app—perhaps a free issue of a magazine, or free top stories. Then the in-app subscription unlocks the full experience.

It’s a bait and switch because the apps become pretty much useless without the subscription. A free issue is a sample which becomes stale within a few weeks at most, then you have what amounts to a dead app on your iPad if you don’t subscribe.

For aggregator apps that want to go the subscription route, it is not clear what the free portion of the app would be. Is it just the open RSS stuff that comes free, and the subscription unlocks and articles behind a paywall? Or maybe you get the full app for a week and it doesn’t update unless you subscribe. But then you encounter the bait-and-switch problem.

Wouldn’t it be more honest if subscription news apps were listed under paid apps? Or at least under a new category: subscriptions.

Information provided by CrunchBase