to Sell Movie Tickets On the Xbox 360

In a lateral move that is akin to a car company selling buggy whips, will start selling movie tickets through an Xbox 360 interface, thereby allowing players to experience a thing called “real life” and perhaps take part in a common courtship ritual known as a “date.”

As you see from the description, you don’t actually buy the movie tickets via the interface but instead are connected to a “Microsoft tag” that brings you to a payment system for tickets using a mobile phone.

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Raptr Leaves Beta, Makes It Easier To See Which Games Your Friends Are Playing

Online gaming service Raptr has just dropped its beta tag and launched its 1.0 release, and it’s safe to say that it’s finally living up to its mission statement: to make it easy to play games with your friends.

A year ago, Raptr rolled out a multi-protocol chat client that allowed gamers to see what games their friends were playing (this included support for both PC games and console games).That worked fairly well, but CEO Dennis Fong says that it came with one big caveat: it only worked if you got your friends to sign up for a Raptr account, which was obviously a significant hurdle. Raptr’s latest release fixes this, allowing you to see if your friends are playing games on their PS3, Xbox 360, and PC (including casual Flash games, Steam and Xfire) — even if they don’t have Raptr accounts. In other words, the service is now far more useful than it used to be.

When you see that one of your buddies is online and in a game, you can send messages to them from the Raptr client regardless of which platform they’re on. For some games, you can see even more supplementary information — for example, if someone is playing Madden 2010, you can see which teams your friends are playing as. Another recently added feature is a chat overlay, which PC gamers can pull up on top of the game they’re playing without having to switch — or “alt-tab” — out of their gaming session.

Raptr does all of this with its own technology, not through APIs sanctioned by Sony, Microsoft, and the other gaming platforms. This obviously isn’t the ideal solution, but these gaming networks tend to be walled gardens and give third parties minimal access to their communication channels. Still, the fact that Raptr had to build the technology itself makes the barrier to entry that much higher for competitors (assuming the gaming companies don’t try to block Raptr).

Fong, whose past companies include Xfire and, says that Raptr has quietly rolled out some of the service’s biggest improvements in the last few months, and that user growth has reflected this. Overall, he says the service has “north of 1 million users” and is growing by half a million users a month. Given the second statistic it sounds like the service probably has significantly more than 1 million users, but Fong wouldn’t get any more specific.  He did give some predictions for the future, though: he hinted that a year down the line, we may see a ‘Raptr Connect’, which would allow games to tie directly into the service.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Honda Announces Plug-In Hybrid & Electric Car Plans For The 2012 Model Year

Honda isn’t exactly the first Japanese car company that comes to mind when thinking about hybrids. Toyota, thanks to its Prius and hybrid Lexus line-up, won the general populus a few years back, but Honda is set to make another run with the third generation of Honda Civic Hybrids along with a new line of electric vehicles.

These new lines should start hitting streets in both Japan and the US sometime next year for the 2012 model year. This comes on top of the current plans to introduce a hybrid version of the B-segment Honda Fit later this year. Details about the up-coming electric car wasn’t announced, but a few tantalizing specs concerning the next-gen Honda Civic Hybrid leaked a few weeks back and seem to confirm today’s report. Can we say Prius-killer? Yup.

Social Travel Planning Service Kukunu Launches, Raises Funding

Kukunu is a social travel planning service that puts you, your fellow travelers and your friends in the driver’s seat when it comes to planning your vacation(s). The company, which was one of the winners of Seedcamp Week 2009, has been operating quietly so far, having launched a private beta version at Le Web 2009.

Kukunu is now available in public beta, and the fledgling company has also announced that they’ve raised $400,000 from Seedcamp, Jaina Capital (the fund of Meetic founder and angel investor Marc Simoncini) and Kima Ventures (Xavier Niel).

Quick Look At the Dell Streak

The Dell Streak, the 5-inch tablet that won the hearts of the technorati last month, is coming to the US and we had a chance to play with it over the past few days. The Android-powered tablet is no iPad but a worthy entrant in the tablet olympics.

The device has a 5-megapixel camera, touchscreen, and built-in GPS. You can use it to watch movies and listen to music and it has a fully-featured webkit browser running on a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, making it quite speedy. The device features a built-in GSM modem so you can connect to 3G networks and make calls, making the Streak look like a comically big EVO 4G, except without the 4G.


Hyperlocal News Site Fwix Debuts Local Trend Search

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Fwix, a news site that offers a stream of hyperlocal, realtime news by location, is launching a new portal today that aims to give anyone a real time view of what’s happening in a location. You can access the new search portal here.

Fwix Local Trend Search allows users to search for anything that is happening at any geo-point. The search feature rounds up news, events, government data, business reviews, check-ins from Foursquare or Gowalla and more on a map of a given area. You can expand the sphere of location to show coverage from a greater area or a more localized location. For example, you could see all of the hyperlocal news from the city of San Francisco, but can then pinpoint the Mission neighborhood and see all of the most recent news relating to that given area.

One question I had for Fwix’s CEO and founder Darian Shirazi was how the site determine an article’s “location.” Dhirazi tells me that Fwix’s proprietary technology analyzes and indexes nearly 40 million pieces of content to determine and scan for any reference to location within the text of a document. So if a restaurant review refers to an establishment in the Financial District of San Francisco, the content will be geolocated to that area. The site will also serve hyperlocal, targeted ads on top of search results.

Of course, with the introduction of a news search portal, Fwix now competes with Google News. But Shirazi thinks there can be mutiple players in this space, especially considering Fwix’s emphasis on hyperlocal news. And Fwiz already has a number of well-known media partners on board to integrate the technology, says Shirazi (the partners will be announced in a few months). Fwix just inked a deal with The New York Times Company to deliver local and hyperlocal content across the publisher’s properties.

Fwix, which also recently launched an iPad app, is getting into the geolocation game, adding geo-tagged status updates (from Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, and Brightkite), geo-photos (from Flickr, yfrog, Smugmug, and Twitpic), local events (from Eventbrite, Eventful, Upcoming, and Zvents), nearby reviews and restaurants (from Yelp and Citysearch), concerts (Songkick), local crime and government data, weather, listings (Oodle, Trulia), and deals from local merchants (Groupon, Town Hog, and Living Social) to its feeds. Clearly, Fwix wants to be a destination that you go to not only for news, but for all contextual information around a given locality. The new search portal makes it much easier for consumers to sort through this flux of information.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Offerpal Moves On, Gives Game Developers New Ways To Distribute Notifications

Last week, Offerpal Media announced that, as a direct result of Facebook transitioning games and applications from their proprietary currencies to the newly-launched Facebook Credits and partnering with rival Trialpay, the company saw itself forced to lay off people who worked on its Facebook monetization initiatives.

Today, the company is launching a new product that should make it clear it would be unwise to consider that event a lead-up to its eventual demise.

With SocialKast, which the company will be presenting later today at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle, Offerpal aims to relieve many a game developer that was hurt by Facebook’s recent decision to seriously cut down on the many ways they could distribute notifications via the social networking site in order to get new users to sign up.

Dubbed a ‘user acquisition and re-engagement solution’, SocialKast aims to enable game developers to connect with audiences across social networks and media platforms such as Yahoo and Google, opening the doors to massive distribution of game-related notifications to roughly 1 billion users in over 150 countries.

George Garrick, Chairman and CEO of Offerpal, says it has proven costly and difficult for game developers to find new means of distribution in the current environment, and that the new product aims to solve that problem and allow them to accelerate viral growth and at the same time lower the cost of acquiring new users.

SocialKast allows game developers and social platforms to ‘write once’ in order to interact with multiple platforms using a set of lightweight REST messaging APIs and Javascript calls, allowing them to distribute both user-to-user and app-to-user invites, gifts, notifications and other types of text-based or graphical messages directly into the activity streams and email inboxes of Offerpal’s partner sites.

Messages from a game on any platform or Website using SocialKast will be distributed through Yahoo’s Updates API, for example, which will make it possible for those actions to be shared by users in a variety of formats across Yahoo properties.

A new generation of spam, or a legitimate way to reel in new users across multiple platforms? Time will tell how users feel about it, but for sure game developers will be drooling over this.

Access to SocialKast is available for free – for now – as a value-added service to select game developers and social platforms using Offerpal’s monetization platform, which allows gamers to earn virtual currency by taking part in alternative payment options such as advertising offers, surveys, shopping rewards and other brand engagements.

Teams Released Ahead Of Mini Seedcamp London

Pan-european startup programme Seedcamp has released the names of the teams appearing at the Mini Seedcamp London next week. Seedcamp says they “saw many teams applying with innovative ideas in the mobile space and we are seeing more and more dedicated, smaller applications adressing very specific markets.”

Teams applied from all over Europe and beyond, and there is a trend towards self-financing and bootstrapping but the “quality [of teams] is growing from strength to strength each year”. Personally I am not surprised they are doing that given the dearth of early stage funding right now, but, perversely this lack of funding, especially in Europe, does rather concentrate the mind on what startups should be doing. There’s nothing like a downturn for sorting out the wheat from the chaff.

The below is a run-down on what the teams are doing, supplied by Seedcamp:

A Facebook Game With a Mission: Waste Management to Launch Oceanopolis

Oceanopolis LogoWaste Management and its subsidiary Greenopolis are diving into social gaming with a new Facebook app called Oceanopolis. The game will launch in beta, with a full rollout expected in the coming weeks.

In the game, players maintain their own island by recycling trash to build a sustainable community and interacting with friends. Points earned virtually turn into printable coupons that can be used at movie theaters, restaurants and stores. Alternatively, they can be turned into cash donations. Points can also be earned in real life through recycling or through blogging on Greenopolis‘ site.

When Greenopolis, a environmentally themed social networking site and blogging community launched two years ago, Michael Arrington wrote that it would be better suited as a Facebook application. Oceanopolis seems to fit that bill.

According to the site, Greenopolis members have earned 6.7 million rewards and the physical recycling kiosks have recovered 3.5 million bottles, cans and other items thus far.

Greenopolis and Oceanopolis Creative Director Anthony Zolezzi said the reason for creating Oceanopolis was to virtually engage consumers. “It’s critically important that large companies get involved in the solution,” he added. “One thing Waste Management does is lets Greenopolis operate independently as part of a solution.” Waste Management is the largest recycler in North America.

Oceanopolis is kicking off its beta launch with a fundraiser for Ocean Aid, which will hold an annual concert to fund research on pollution-filled ocean gyres. Greenopolis will donate a dollar on behalf of anyone who tweets: “Make waves. Fight ocean pollution with #Oceanopolis.”

It remains to be seen whether recycling on a virtual island can inspire real-life recycling, and whether Oceanopolis will be able to gain a significant user base. At the very least, Oceanopolis could be an addictive game to feel good instead of guilty about playing.

Brightkite Gets Down To Badges

Location-based social networking service Brightkite has experimented with the concept of badges in the past, threading in the footsteps of Foursquare and Gowalla, who have popularized if not pioneered the now-familiar virtual loyalty and rewards system.

Last May, the startup partnered with coffee chain Starbucks to create a set of branded badges, self-reportedly the biggest brand integration they had done until then.

Today, they’re ramping up their badging efforts.

Brightkite badges now have levels. For example, if you use their mobile website or one of their many mobile apps to post 10 photos, you’ll earn a ‘Slick pic’ badge at level 1. You can monitor your progress in a status bar on the badge, which will be visible on the web or your iPhone. Once you get to level 1, Brightkite will tell you what to do to get to level 2, and so on.

According to Brightkite, the biggest reason to introduce levels to its badges was so stores, bars, restaurants and brands gain ways to reward users / customers. The company is setting out with a number of partnerships: check in to stores that sell Sharpie products, and you’ll earn their custom badge and automatically enter into a sweeps to win $1,000.

Get down to some serious social networking via the Brightkite service, and Dentyne will be sponsoring your ‘social swagger’ badge. Read the August edition of Redbook magazine, and there’ll be a surprise there for you, as well.

Brightkite says it is currently working out the details for more branded badge programs with the likes of McDonald’s, Visa and the CW. The company says they also have a “bunch of home-grown badges live and plenty more to follow” and invites users to discover them and “level up”.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Cloud Wars: HP Poaches Salesforce Executive Mark Angelino

Mark Angelino, formerly vice president at IBM and President at Sprint, was responsible for the adoption of Salesforce’s sales, call center and platform services in North America from May 2009 until last month.

As you can tell from the screenshot above, he left in June to become Senior Vice President at another company, but he played coy and marked his new employer’s name ‘Guess Who!’.

No need to guess any longer, in case you were interested: turns out Angelino has joined HP as SVP of Global Distribution for its roughly $54 billion Enterprise Business.

Angelino will be responsible for managing HP’s relationships with ISVs, system integrators, managed services providers and channel partners for the business unit, which includes the technology giant’s portfolio of servers, storage, networking, software and services.

MOG Launches All-You-Can-Eat Music Service For iPhone And Android

After months of waiting, it’s finally here. Streaming music service MOG has launched its mobile applications for Android and iPhone, giving subscribers unlimited access to its library of 8 million songs, which can be streamed or downloaded over both 3G and WiFi. If you listen to a lot of music, or just like being able to listen to music on-demand without having to sync to your PC, this is definitely worth checking out. Access to the mobile service costs $9.99 a month, but MOG is offering free 3-day trials when you download the apps (no credit card is required).

When MOG launched its All Access music service back in December, we gave it a rave review, but it was missing one key feature: mobile. These applications bring all of the functionality of the desktop service and they do it one better, by allowing you to store as many songs and albums as you’d like to your phone’s storage for offline access.

Navigating the application should come naturally to anyone who has used the iPhone’s music player (and it’s actually a big step up over the music player that comes stock on Android). After first firing up the app, the first feature you’ll want to try is search. You’ll find the regular options here, like searching by artist and song, but there’s also an option for Playlists, which allow you to search through user-curated playlists created by MOG’s large community of music fans. This is part of a recurring theme in the application: discovery, which is important if you’re keen on tapping into the service’s broad music library. The main navigation screen also includes a list of New Releases, top songs and albums across the service, and a collection of songs handpicked by MOG’s editors on a daily basis.

MOG really shines when it comes to actually getting the music you want to hear onto your phone. When you find a song or album you like, you have two options: you can stream it (just tap the song or album title), or you can download it and store it locally. Next to each song and album is an arrow pointing downward; hit that, and MOG will start downloading the files the background (it’s really nice to be able to download an entire album or playlist in one tap).

There isn’t any restriction on how much music you can download, other than the amount of storage you have available on your phone. By default downloads clock in at 64 kbps AAC+, but you can elect to download files at a much higher quality 320 kbps MP3 bitrate if you’d like (this obviously takes up more space).

You can also use MOG mobile to create custom digital radio stations, sort of like Pandora, but without the learning algorithms. Input a seed artist or song titles, and MOG will start playing similar music. Using a sliding scale, you can tell MOG to play only music by that artist, or you can increase the amount of variety you want to introduce into the station.

The applications have been a long time coming. MOG showed them off at SXSW in March, only to have its iPhone application sit in App Store limbo waiting for Apple’s approval for a month. Now that they’re out, you can expect MOG to push them hard, with help from the new $9.5 million funding round it raised earlier this year. Note that this release doesn’t include support for iOS 4′s multitasking; MOG says that it will be coming in the next two weeks in an update.

Of course, MOG isn’t alone in this space. The service will be competing against the likes of Rhapsody, and more competitors like Rdio and Spotify are on the horizon (the latter two have received plenty of press, but are not yet available in the US). Also note that MOG offers a version of its service that omits mobile access for $5 a month. Update: As the commenters point out, US users can request an invite code to Rdio from its site, but it’s still in private beta.

Information provided by CrunchBase

SCVNGR Looks To Make ‘Checking In’ Less Antisocial, More Physical

Foursquare may be helpful for seeing what your friends are up to, but the act of checking in — standing in a bar, face buried in your phone’s screen as you hunt for the right venue — is anything but social. Now, hot on the heels of its partnership with the New England Patriots, location-based gaming service SCVNGR is announcing a nifty new feature that could go a long way toward resolving this issue (and we’ll probably see other services copy it). If you’ve tried Bump, it will sound very familiar: a social check-in involves getting a group of friends to physically tap their phones together at the same time (it’s more fun than it sounds).

So why would anyone actually want to do this? First, it’s more fun than your standard check-in — I could see this working as a decent, albeit nerdy, icebreaker at bars. And it’s probable that the Patriots will be trying it out during a game as part of a stadium-wide social checkin. SCVNGR is also incenting users to do this by offering in-game bonuses that make social check-ins worth significantly more than most other actions.

SCVNGR CEO Seth Priebatsch says that he initially hoped to implement the feature using Bump’s API, but found that that service couldn’t properly handle multiple phone taps at once — he says it’s designed for 1-to-1 transfers of contacts and other media. So SCVNGR designed a system that would allow many (even thousands) of people to tap their phones together in order to achieve a group checkin.

Of course, physically hitting devices that cost upwards of $500 isn’t always the best idea, especially when you’re trying to get a bunch of people to do it at once (some of whom may not be especially sober). Fortunately there’s an alternative: Priebatsch says that some well-timed phone shaking when you’re in the vicinity of your friends will work just fine.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Report: Mobile App Store Downloads To Hit 25 Billion By 2015

The app store train seems unstoppable. According to a Juniper Research report out today, the number of “consumer-oriented handset downloads” is expected to rise from less than 2.6 billion per-year in 2009 to more than 25 billion in 2015.

The trend, notes the report, is being driven by industry players who are seeking to emulate Apple’s success with the App Store by launching their own branded storefronts, such as ‘Mobile Market’ from China Unicom, ‘Airtel App Central’ from Bharti and the ‘Apps & Games Shop’ on Vodafone 360.

And let’s not forget Google’s Android, Nokia Ovi, Palm, Windows Phone etc. or the independent giant GetJar, which passed 1 billion downloads earlier this month.

In other words, app stores are here to stay. Juniper has a warning, however: Copying the Apple model isn’t as straight forward as it would seem.

PopScreen Aims To Surface Viral Videos Before They Go Viral

Viral video monitoring startup PopScreen aims to save you from the disgrace you deserve when you email all your friends and relatives a link to that super funny video on YouTube only to find out they’ve all seen it a couple of times yesterday.

The company is today launching what they dub a ‘video prediction engine’, which they claim is capable of detecting which videos will spread across the Web before they actually do.

PopScreen measures online videos from over 10,000 sources, including YouTube (duh), Vimeo and DailyMotion but also content networks like Revision3 and FunnyOrDie.

Its video prediction engine indexes around 15,000 videos per day based on those sources, and analyzes them in order to collect a number of unique data points – it’s unclear which ones exactly but the number runs in the ‘hundreds of thousands’ according to PopScreen – and processes them through a proprietary algorithm in an effort to accurately predict the viral potential of videos and to identify newsworthy content before your sister finds out about it.

Its main strength lies in filtering out duplicates, repeats and similar videos that are far less likely to scale up, tapping a network of influencers to determine which videos are most likely to go mainstream in the near future.

Not interested in content related to movies or music? Simply un-check the relevant boxes in the sidebar and have PopScreen cater potential hit videos according to your interests. Find anything you like in particular? Share away via the Twitter and Facebook buttons.

PopScreen says its engine will be rolled out on a larger scale over the coming months to allow partners across all industries including news, publishing, and search, to syndicate predictive data and provide their users with access to the most timely video content on the Web, tailored speci?cally to their personal interests.

Founded in 2008, PopScreen is privately-held and based in Houston, Texas. The startup was founded by Kevin Nguyen and Glenn Gutierrez, who in 2003 launched Zapmeta, a meta search engine which processed 25-35 million searches a month and self-reportedly generated over $15 million in revenue.

Information provided by CrunchBase