Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Mozilla Extends Search Partnership With Google”

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Mozilla Extends Search Partnership With Google”

Mozilla Extends Search Partnership With Google

Posted: 21 Dec 2011 01:49 AM PST

Mozilla has extended its search partnership with Google for at least three additional years, the company has announced.

Under the terms of the agreement, Google will continue to be the default search provider for Mozilla’s web browser, Firefox.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Google Search deal has been a key source of income for Mozilla, generating 84% of Mozilla’s $121.1 million revenue in 2010.

The original deal between Mozilla and Google expired in November 2011, and in October Mozilla launched Firefox with Bing, sparking speculation that it might switch to Bing as its search provider.

The new multi-year arrangement with Google squashes such rumors and shows that the rivalry between Firefox and Google’s web browser Chrome wasn’t enough of a hurdle for the two companies to strike a deal again.

More About: Firefox, Google, mozilla, partnership, Search

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New iPhone App Connects Strangers Around the World Through Instagram Photos

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:05 PM PST

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Wander

Quick Pitch: Wander is a free app that connects penpals and Instagram.

Genius Idea: Gives users the opportunity to immerse themselves in new cultural experiences through their iPhones.


Do you dream about traveling or backpacking through the world and meeting people from different walks of life? Well now you can get closer to that experience with Wander, a free iPhone app that connects penpals with Instagram.

Through photo-based conversation threads, Wander allows users to view and participate in the lives of foreign peers in different parts of the world while also sharing their own lives and surroundings. The one-to-one media-sharing makes the world smaller by connecting strangers on opposite sides of the world through cultural exchanges.

“We realized most social apps are only about saying hello” says Darien Brown, CEO of Wander. “What Wander does is create impossible connections with people who you would never meet, allowing users to explore life in other countries in an interactive, meaningful way.”

To get started with Wander, users have to download the free app to their iPhone and then create a simple profile that includes their age, gender, interests and a profile image. Users can also sign in with their Facebook accounts.

Each day, Wander shows you a new available “guide” or someone in the world who you can connect with. For example, a woman from Japan named Miho may show up on your screen and you can choose whether to connect with her or not.

New Available Guide

Connect with new guides across the world.

Once you accept a guide, the app connects the two of you together for a week with photo-based missions. For example, the app will suggest you take pictures of your daily routines such as what you ate for lunch that day, how you travel to work or what your favorite store is. After taking the pictures, you and your guide drop them into the conversation thread so that you can share and discuss the differences and similarities in your countries.


Share your world through photo-based conversations.

Wander’s built-in translation feature lets users translate text to be able to converse with their guides.

After the week is over, users are given a new guide in another part of the world to connect and share their experiences with.

The idea of Wander was inspired by YangoPal, an app that Brown started as a marketplace for foreigners to hire students from American universities to teach them english. The app however, wasn’t successful because users were using it as a social tool to meet foreigners rather than to teach them english.

Brown then decided to pair up two university students from two different countries in a chatroom and give them photo-based missions similar to the ones given in Wander. After seeing how much the strangers were conversing and sharing content, he pitched the idea of Wander during 500Startups and received funding to develop the app.

Now with up to 12,000 app downloads and nearly 1,100 photos shared each week, Wander is attracting aspiring travelers around the world.

“Wander feeds the fantasy of travel in a richer, more interactive way by connecting users with human beings,” says Brown. “The experience feels more real when there is a human on the other side letting you be part of their life and daily routines.”

Many of Wander’s users are Chinese foreigners who are meeting foreigners for the first time through the app, Brown told Mashable. Several users have also told Brown that they applied for their first passports after using Wander.

Although a business model for the app is still in development, Wander’s team is currently discussing charging a fee for users who want to narrow their search results by finding a guide in a specific location.

The app will soon be available for Android devices.

Image courtesy of Wander, Wander

Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: application, apps, bizspark, iphone, mashable, Wander

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What Lies Ahead for T-Mobile?

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 07:57 PM PST

T-Mobile sign

To anyone who doesn’t read the business pages, T-Mobile may seem like a powerhouse mobile company. Its clever holiday ad campaign has been ubiquitous this fall, touting the carrier’s impressive selection of smartphones and value-driven service plans. T-Mobile stores are everywhere, and winsome Canadian Carly Foulkes has become almost an iconic spokesmodel for the company. You might even think T-Mobile is a wireless carrier on par with AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

Now that AT&T has officially pulled the plug on its $39 billion acquisition, T-Mobile isn’t in a far weaker position than when the deal was first announced on March 20 this year. That was almost exactly nine months ago, and anyone who does read the business pages will tell you that that’s an eternity in the mobile world.

In that time, Verizon has expanded its 4G LTE network, AT&T launched one of its own, and Sprint laid out its long-term plan for one, too. Apple introduced a new iPhone and made a deal with Sprint, a bunch of cable companies made a deal to sell a vast swath of spectrum to Verizon, and even minor carriers MetroPCS and C Spire made some noise.

While all that was going on, T-Mobile was standing around watching. Sure, it was selling phones, and even debuting some pretty good ones, but the grand strategy was absent. It’s now clear that the company’s overseers at Deutsche Telekom (DT) were putting all their long-term eggs in AT&T’s basket. Company spokesman Andreas Fuchs in fact said exactly that to reporters today: "There's no Plan B," he said. "We're back at the starting point."

For Sale: One Wireless Carrier, at Discount

So what does a second-tier U.S. carrier do now that it’s just been left at the altar? The options for T-Mobile now follow one of two basic routes: 1) find a new buyer, or 2) Really make a go at being a carrier (with help).

Given DT’s clear desire to sell, the former is more likely, so let’s cover that first. T-Mobile may be in a weaker position than it was nine months ago, but because the deal collapsed, it’s now got $4 billion in cash and assets, plus has a pretty good roaming deal with AT&T. No new buyer will be willing to spend $39 billion on the company, but it’s far from death’s door.

Let’s first throw out the popular idea that Sprint might buy T-Mobile. Sprint’s CDMA technology is incompatible with T-Mobile’s network, it doesn’t have the money now that it’s just spent billions to get the iPhone, and such a deal would bring up the exact same concerns about competition that the FCC was so keen on on pointing out.

The major cable companies aren’t interested either. Now that they’ve made a pact with Verizon to sell their spectrum for services (as well as halting FiOS from advancing on their territory), they’re certainly quite happy to remove themselves from actually running a nationwide network.

More fanciful scenarios make a case for the likes of Apple, Google or even Microsoft to buy T-Mobile. There are actually good reasons for each to get into the wireless provider business — Apple to complete the end-to-end iPhone experience, Google to finally get Android out of the carriers’ hands — but the reasons not to buy are far more numerous and weighty: the iPhone is technically incompatible with T-Mobile’s spectrum, Android’s strength comes from its wide availability on carriers, neither is a “value” brand like T-Mobile is, and so on.

No, the more likely, and less sexy buyer is another foreign carrier such as Russia’s VimpelCom or Spain’s Telefonica. There are some rumors that foreign carriers werw mulling a bid for T-Mobile before AT&T swooped in with its $39 billion check. I’ll be they can get it now at a sizable discount.

A Better Solution: Finding the Right Partner(s)

T-Mobile is in trouble, but again, it could be worse. it just got $4 billion. The company is profitable and commands a large subscriber base, even if both of those things are shrinking. With the right partnerships — and some willingness from the company’s leadership to actually compete in the U.S. — T-Mobile could still be a player.

Dish Network is a primary candidate for a partner, since it was fingered as one of the parties interested in buying T-Mobile’s assets when AT&T was floating its “divestiture” option. It has some spectrum, and the company has a history of making big bets on partnerships and acquisitions (e.g. Slingbox, Blockbuster). More importantly, those moves have done all right for them. Of course, all these things also make Dish attractive to AT&T, which is still hungry for more spectrum and assets.

Another possibility is to get cozier with one or more of the minor carriers here in the States: MetroPCS, US Cellular, Cricket, and others. There would be some technical issues, certainly, since those networks don’t use T-Mobile’s GSM tech, but not nearly of the scale as a merger with, say, Sprint.

Then there’s the uncomfortable issue of 4G LTE. T-Mobile’s biggest problem right now is that it has no plan to roll out the service, which puts it in the position of making a deal with Clearwire, which is half-owned by Sprint, or LightSquared, whose 4G technology appears to have serious, potentially life-threatening technical problems. Still, they’re there, and both companies certainly could use some of the money T-Mobile just got. There’s also the possibility of acquiring more spectrum at auction.

So, yes, T-Mobile emerges from the AT&T non-deal with no iPhone, no plan for LTE, and a declining balance sheet. But it still has assets that many of its competitors can only dream of, and there’s that $4 billion it just got. If MetroPCS suddenly had the tools and money T-Mobile has at its disposal, you can bet it would give the majors a run for their money. If only the executives at Deutsche Telekom could learn to channel their inner entrepreneur, T-Mobile’s future might not be so bleak.

More About: att, sprint, T-Mobile, verizon, Wireless

BioWare Founders Talk Good and Evil in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 07:42 PM PST

As perhaps the biggest MMORPG to hit since World of Warcraft gaming developer BioWare’s newly-released game Star Wars: The Old Republic is certainly swallowed in loads of hype. An expansion of the company’s 2003 venture, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, SWTOR takes place thousands of years before the movies and invites users to step into the roles they’ve come to know and love from the franchise.

At its core, SWTOR is about a struggle between good and evil. The game not only divvies up between the followers of the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire, but invites the player to make their own morality choices. Do you want to be a Jedi with a burgeoning Dark Side, a la Anakin Skywalker? Or would you rather be a bounty hunter with a heart of gold? In SWTOR, every moral action counts, and can shift actions later on down the road. Unlike a traditional MMORPG, the game contains a very rich main questline that varies by class and promises to branch off based on decisions along the way.

Mashable sat down with BioWare cofounders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka to get the skinny on the newest (and biggest) chapter in the Star Wars saga. Pick up the game (PC only), which includes a free 30-day trial, for $60.

Q&A with Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka, Co-Founders of BioWare

People are saying that SWTOR is the biggest MMO since World of Warcraft. What do you think were your primary objectives in creating the SWTOR world?

Ray Muzyka: Basically we're bringing the Star Wars universe to life. Like, really create a social experience where you get to take on iconic roles, archetypes from the movies. It's inspired by the movies and it's set thousands of years before the movies, in time of epic galactic conflagration…You get to go to worlds you don't get to explore in the movies and other materials. You get to go to Alderaan and see the bickering and political intrigue and understand where that planet came from. You go to Tatooine thousands of years before Luke Skywalker set foot on the sand. It's really about bringing Star Wars to life in a social space, and capturing the magic to create your own personal Star Wars saga online.

Greg Zeschuk: I think another dimension to it as well is as game creators, we're not really interested in doing easy, small things. We like to take ambitious steps, do challenging projects, and do things that are really hard and really interesting. So I think this is, without a doubt the biggest things we've ever worked on and one of the biggest games ever made. It's certainly one of the most complex in terms of all the pieces that had to be put together. It's really rewarding to be at the end and everything hasn't blown up, which is great!

Muzyka: The feedback we've gotten from our players in beta test and online is that it's subtle how the way the innovations are woven to the fabric of the game

Zeschuk: Yeah, it takes some time to sink in.

Muzyka: But the best way to see it is to go back to other MMOs and try to play them after you've played The Old Republic. I've heard a lot of people who've said, "I can't go back." I think that's a testament to the team's effort in really trying to build some innovations in. I think we've succeeded, and our commitment is certainly not ending now. The adventure together with our players is just beginning for many many years to come. Committing to new content and new features and listening to player feedback and seeing what they're doing through telemetry and we're always striving to deliver higher and higher levels of service. That's what we're committed to.

What are the challenges in expanding the Star Wars universe, especially with parameters set from [2003 RPG release] Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

" I think from an overall product perspective on a long-term basis, that's one of the biggest things that The Old Republic has going for it : it really feels like Star Wars.”

Zeschuk: Probably the biggest thing we had to do was the tonality perspective. The actual writing and storytelling and the characters we created had to be consistent with the Star Wars ethos. And that was actually one of the places we collaborated quite a bit with LucasArts, really, just getting the character tone right… I think it was kind of touching on not only taking what you saw from the movies, but taking it as inspiration and really extending it in the direction they thought it should go in and we thought it should go in. When those things all aligned we thought, "Yeah, this is really Star Wars." I think from an overall product perspective on a long-term basis, that's one of the biggest things that The Old Republic has going for it : it really feels like Star Wars. There's the reason that it's the biggest IP [intellectual property] in the world, and it's amazing to have what could be one of the largest pieces of content and lifetime spent around Star Wars, and to have just launched it.

This MMO has a defined questline that branches and intersects depending on the user's character class. What are the challenges in making such defined borders? 

Muzyka: There were a few dimensions. One was, "How do we make a multiplayer conversation work? How do you make it work in either a single player or a multiplayer situation?" And that's actually a lot harder than it sounds on the surface, because you have to have an outcome that's appropriate to the class that's on the main story arc. Depending on whether it's a world quest or a main character class quest, they both have to weave together and feel equally emotionally compelling. We also have to figure out how to enable those story arcs to all be at equal level of fidelity. So, they have to capture the archetypes inspired by the movies and they all have to be different enough so that they can appeal to different audiences and different kinds of players. They all have to fit together and be balanced at the same time in terms of the abilities and progression levels as you play through the game. So it's a balancing act to enable all of those things to flow together.

You have a dialogue system that has threads based on moral decisions and actions. How do you think that enriches the Jedi/Sith struggle?

Zeschuk: I think it's interesting because one of the things it does do, because the way the dialogue unfolds, it actually provides context if there's light or dark choices. The thing I've always found interesting is that…the way you normally write it, just linearly, you'd play it straight, like, pure light and pure dark. But because we allow the player to customize it, it's really neat, I find myself making a choice on either side, whatever seems contextually appropriate. I think it's written almost a very grey kind of way. Some of the decisions are obviously really extreme, but some you can go with either one. What it tends to do is it provides dimension to characters that would otherwise be unidimensional…This way you can create a very personalized version of your character. What we've found as well, which is interesting, is that people get very attached to their character. The traditional MMO attachment comes from your loot and your achievements, but what really works for us is those things, because we have all that stuff, but also your personality…That's one of the key philosophies for us, is that people get very attached to the character, and that's what pulls them along as a long-term customer.

Muzyka: It's really interesting playing different sides, different classes…A lot of cases, in the movies, the Sith might appear pretty unidimensional. They're the bad guys, they have red lightsabers and are running towards you, trying to kill you. And they're all evil or mean. But actually, they have motivations and beliefs and they think they're doing the right thing. They actually believe that. They believe that force and power are the way to progress and to set the universe straight. You kind of learn that when you see the story through the lens of the protagonist, going through this hero's journey (or anti-hero's journey)…The Republic also doesn't always do the good thing. They do things that are challenging, too. Everything is interesting, and there's always personally impactful consequences…and that makes it all come to life.

Unlike most MMOs, SWTOR is sectioned off into different playing areas that are level-dependent. How does that change the game play?

GZ: We don’t restrict you. When you get your spaceship, you can go wherever you want.

RM: You can land on a planet that’s way too high of a level for you and you can get your ass handed to you…We recommend a level range, but if you have a higher-level player and a lower-level player, they can partner together too. That’s why it’s a social experience: you can have your friends help you through the more challenging things if you’re a bit lower level, and you’re going to find it really satisfying because you feel like it’s an epic challenge you get to take on.

Does the social aspect of the game open it up for veteran players to help newbies?

GZ: We have a really robust guild system, where people on the website could create their own guilds. There are tens of thousands of guilds made and hundred of thousands of people in them. And then what we did is we took those and we said, “Okay, we’ll place you on a server and recommend which server you go on.” So the guild program at the outset is really successful. And then one of the main things you want to cultivate in the game is a buddy system where people are actually willing to help out the new people…You try and create social situations where they cross paths. That’s one trick we use, is that we have these starting worlds. Everyone spends up to 10 levels on the starting world, but then we actually bring some people around the 30th level so you can see these other players…Once people start getting into it, you’re continually crossing paths and helping them out. We have a lot of social stuff we’re working on. Some of it is the usual chat stuff, but there’s some advanced stuff in terms of grouping. Over time, we’re going to expand that and have good reasons for people to get together. At a real high level too, a real world friend has a character in the game that knows the game really well, they can certainly get a friend and hold their hand. It’s very learnable and very accessible.

So what’s next in the pipeline for the game?
GZ: For Star Wars, we’re doing fairly early content for people that we’re going to give. And then the next phase is kind of watch what people are doing and prepare the new stuff based on what they’re actually going to want. Longer term, of course, if things go to plan, we’ll be looking at things like expansions and the usual stuff in that regard.

Wonderful! Looking forward to it.

More About: BioWare, features, games, mashable, MMOs, online gaming, pc games, Star Wars

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NASA Discovers Two Earth-Like Planets in the Same Star System [VIDEO]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 07:16 PM PST

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft may have just found Earth 2. Twice.

The space agency announced today that it had found two planets, each about the same size as the Earth, orbiting a star almost 1,000 light-years away. Kepler 20e and Kepler 20f, 0.87 and 1.03 times the size of Earth respectively, are the smallest exoplanets ever found.

Unfortunately, size isn’t the only factor when finding habitable planets. The two Kepler planets, part of a five-planet star system, are too close to their sun to support life as we know it. Our best bet for finding ET is still the Christmas Planet, a larger body that’s in what astronomers call the “goldilocks zone,” since the planet sits a distance from its star that’s not too cold or too hot for life to exist.

More in the video above.

More About: exoplanets, Kepler, NASA

PlayStation Vita Has Bumpy Debut in Japan

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:27 PM PST

Sony’s new PlayStation Vita handheld gaming device sold more than a quarter-million units in its worldwide debut in Japan this weekend. But that failed to match the initial push by its rival Nintendo 3DS device earlier this year, and the Vita’s release was partially marred by user complaints and error reports.

Thousands of eager consumers reportedly lined up to get first crack at buying the device on Saturday. Reuters reported on Tuesday that some 321,000 units were sold within two days. The relatively similar 3DS, meanwhile, sold more than 371,000 units in its Japanese debut this February.

The BBC also reported on Tuesday that Sony released an apology on its Japanese PlayStation site, as well as a software upgrade, following a series of complaints from users about problems including frozen displays, unresponsive touch screens and system crashes.

PlayStation did not immediately return a Mashable comment request.

The Vita and 3DS are trying to carve out a niche for handheld devices dedicated solely to gaming as smart phones and tablets have greatly increased their own gaming capabilities in recent years. After its strong debut this year, 3DS sales dropped off rapidly, but analysts have speculated that the Vita’s wide range of game titles will give it a longer-term appeal with consumers.

Mashable was able to try the Vita and several of its upcoming major games last week, and came away impressed with the device’s capabilities. An intuitive touch interface, impressive graphics, augmented reality and wireless connectivity all made the Vita a definite upgrade over phone or tablet games, although not a must-buy for casual gamers. But those assets will likely be overshadowed in consumers’ minds if technical malfunctions persist.

The PlayStation Vita will be released in North America, Europe and Australia on Feb. 22. The WiFi-only model will sell for $249.99, with the 3G version priced at $299.99.

More About: Gaming, playstation, PlayStation Vita, sony, sony playstation, video games

People More Likely to Lie Through Texts [STUDY]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 05:44 PM PST


People are more likely to lie through texts than other forms of communication, such as video chats and face-to-face interactions, a new study suggests.

A new study from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia found that people feel more comfortable hiding the truth through texts and those that are lied to this way get the most upset.

The study was conducted among 170 students who participated in role-play scenarios involving the stock market where they took on “buyer” and “broker” roles. The students partnered up in groups of two and were asked to conduct mock stock-sales through one of four different forms of communication: text, audio chat, video chat and face to face.

Researchers promised the students cash awards of up to $50 to increase their involvement in the role play. Here's how it worked: “Brokers” were promised more money for more stock sales, while “buyers” were told their cash reward would later depend on the determined value of the stock.

However, brokers were given inside knowledge that the stock was rigged to lose half of its value. Buyers were only informed of this after they conducted a mock sales transaction and then were asked if their broker lied to them throughout the selling process.

The researchers then analyzed which forms of communication led to more deception. Buyers who received stock information from their broker via text messages were 95% more likely to report deception than if they had interacted via video and 31% more likely than those that received face to face interactions.

This means that brokers felt more comfortable lying to their partners through text messages. However, what's interesting to note is that the brokers felt least comfortable lying to buyers through video chat.

"We expected there would be deception through texts, but we didn't think the most truth would come out of video chat interactions. Video heightened the student broker's awareness of being scrutinized, so they were more likely to feel under the spotlight and be honest,” study co-author and associate professor Ronald Cenfetelli told Mashable.

In another part of the experiment, deceived buyers were asked to rate their level of anger about being duped. Those that were deceived by text messages were 20% more likely to report feeling angry compared to those that were liked to their faces. They were also 47% more likely to report anger than those deceived in video interactions, and 10% more likely to be upset by lies told via audio chat.

“Rapport-building occurs when talking face to face and that is helped along by eye contact, body language and other factors," Cenfetelli said. "That helps soften the blow a bit when you find out you're being lied to. Through text, it's stripped of emotion and body language, and magnifies the depth of pain.”

Centfelli said this concept can be applied to life outside the study-group scenario: “A company a few years ago laid off a bunch of its employees through email, and the staffers were outraged,” Centefelli said. “Sure, they would have still been upset if the news was given in person, but just looking at the text and knowing they were wronged made the news that much worse.”

More About: Mobile, mobile phones, texting

Stephen Baldwin to Brother Alec: When Are You Coming Back to Twitter? [VIDEO]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 05:14 PM PST

Alec Baldwin, your brother Stephen wants to know when you're coming back to Twitter.

That was apparently the message Actor Stephen Baldwin texted to big brother Alec after his in-flight Words with Friends-fueled meltdown, which led to the actor walking away from Twitter and hundreds of thousands of followers.

The younger Baldwin shared this tidbit with Mashable as he walked the red carpet at the Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol premiere. Baldwin is not in the movie, so we have no idea why he was there. What we do know is that the actor, author and radio show host is a fan of Mashable. He's also on Twitter (@StephenBaldwin7) where his verified account has almost 12k followers. Though he has only tweeted 336 or so times, Baldwin told us he likes to tweet about "pop-cultural thoughts and spiritual thoughts. I think it's a great tool to be able to reach a lot of people in an instant."

Baldwin seems to be something of a technophile and told us he's an "iPhone Geek" and is on Facebook. His kids are, too. They're teens now, but he insists they did not get on the huge social network too early.

As for his brother Alec, Baldwin said that he didn't tell Alec anything when he dropped out of Twitter, but then offered that he may have texted him, "When you getting back on, man?" That's what we all want to know, too, Stephen. That’s what we all want to know.

You can see the entire exchange in the video.

More About: alec baldwin, Facebook, iphone, Twitter

Most Top Brands Have Google+ Pages, But Few Have Many Followers

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 04:42 PM PST

At this point, most of the top brands have Google+ brand pages, but only a fraction of them are getting many visitors, according to two research firms.

BrightEdge found that 77 of the top 100 brands (as determined by Millward Brown’s Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2011 list) now have G+ pages. In comparison, 93 of the top 100 have Facebook Pages. The total number of followers for those 77 brands is now 222,000 vs. 147,000 when BrightEdge took its first survey of G+ brand pages last month.

Meanwhile, Simply Measured, which looked at the Interbrand Top 100 Brands, found 61 had Google+ brand pages. However, only 13 of those top brands had followings of 5,000 or more, according to the researcher.

Among the standouts tracked by both: Starbucks quadrupled its followers over the past month while H&M and Pepsi each surpassed the 20,000 follower mark. Once again, Google had the most-followed brand page on Google+ with more than 100,000. (Simply Measured excluded Google’s brand page from results, arguing that it skewed the data.)

Brad Mattick, VP of marketing at BrightEdge, says the movement from 61 brands to 77 was a “big jump.” Mattick says he sees some momentum for Google+ over the past month. “I think brands are seeing more interaction,” he says. “There’s been a ton of growth.”

Meanwhile, Adam Schoenfeld, Simply Measured’s CEO, says he believes most brands are “just dipping their toes in the water” on Google+. Shoenfeld says he doesn’t see a lot to celebrate yet for Google. However, he says Google might be encouraged by the fact that the top 10 brand pages had 80% market share, which could prompt laggards to try to catch up. “I wonder if there’s a sense among the other brands that ‘If we don’t get on this, we could fall behind and lose ground,’” he says.

Google hasn’t released a figure for Google+’s total membership since October. At that time, the company claimed that the social network had 40 million users.

Simply Measured provided a deeper dive into brand activity on Google+ below:

Biggest Share

H&M, Burberry, Dell and Amazon are among those with the most-followed (non-Google) brand pages on G+.

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: Brand pages, Google, starbucks

5 iPhone Apps for Last-Minute Christmas Ecards [PICS]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 04:19 PM PST

1. Christmas Cards - 100+ Free Cards - Zaggle

While the "100+" in the app's title appears a slight exaggeration, there are some really nice contemporary card designs here.

Once you've chosen a design from the good-looking bookshelf-style menu, you can customize the text on the front of the card and then send it as an email.

Cost: Free

Click here to view this gallery.

If you’ve missed the last snail mail drop-off date before the Holidays, don’t panic! To save you trawling through the App Store, we’ve found five festive iPhone apps that let you send great greeting cards to friends and family via email and various social networks.

From simple vintage designs you can email from your handset, to completely customizable offerings you can share to Facebook and Twitter on the go, our five tried and tested apps offer a range of super solutions to suit.

Take a look through our gallery of sample card designs and let us know in the comments what your tactics are for last-minute Christmas card crises.

More About: apple, ecards, features, Holidays 2011, iphone, iphone apps

The 10 Most-Influential Retailers of the Holiday Season Online

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 03:52 PM PST

Amazon and Victoria’s Secret are among the top retailers — at least based on their Klout scores — that are getting shoppers to talk about them or go to their sites this holiday season.

Klout measured retailers’ online influence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Foursquare to determine the 10 retailers with the highest Klout scores. The graphic below, however, details just the retailers’ Twitter activity from the past 90 days.

Amazon‘s score of 82 places them as the clear leader, while the nine others fall in the 70s range. The rankings exclude food retailers such as Starbucks and Whole Foods, which have scores of 78 and 75.

“Brands with high Klout scores have large, highly engaged audiences,” Klout's marketing manager Megan Berry told Mashable Tuesday. “The retweet and mentions stats give insight into a brand’s social media activity — a retailer like Amazon is more @mention based, while a brand like ThinkGeek is much more retweet heavy, indicating that they are putting out great content that their audience wants to share.”

While the graphic lists the number of retweets and mentions each retailer is attracting on Twitter, Klout also looked at the the number of unique retweeters and unique people mentioning the retailers to find out whether the brands are reaching new audiences and whether those people are influential themselves.

SEE ALSO: Amazon’s 13 Milestones of 2011 | Klout Launches Sashes and 'Add a Topic' Button

Looking ahead to 2012, Klout is still building scoring models for seven more services that have already been integrated onto Klout users’ dashboards. Klout also plans to add Quora, Yelp, Posterous, Livefyre, Disqus, and other services.

Which brands have you been buzzing about this holiday season? Sound off in the comments.

More About: Business, Holidays 2011, klout, Twitter

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What Does Tom Cruise Do With His iPad? [VIDEO]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 03:27 PM PST

Mashable doesn't get invited to a lot of red carpet events, so we took advantage of our primo spot at the Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol premiere to ask big-name stars and celebrities what they do with technology. Tom Cruise was one of our last victims and he gave us approximately 28 seconds of wonder or is it wonderment?

The action star admitted to owning an Apple iPad, but was flummoxed when we asked about his favorite app. Eventually, Tom noted that he likes looking at pictures of his family on the device. That's actually a favorite activity for many iPad owners, who are also snapping photos with their iPhones. No word on whether or not Cruise has one of those. If he does, then iCloud is busy syncing all those pics between devices and he probably has a fresh batch of Suri pics to ponder every single day.

Tom Cruise is on Twitter, which means he could have selected Twitter as a favorite iPad App. However, most of the @TomCruise account Tweets are from Team Tom and not the star himself. At one point during our Red Carpet adventure, Tom Cruise actually retweeted us, or should I say, his account did since, at the time, Cruise was busy greeting the hundreds of fans huddled in the cold outside the premiere tent.

We also learned that the Jerry Maguire star is not on Facebook. Sorry, Cruise fans, no subscribing to the Tom Facebook feed for now.

You can see our super-fast Cruise interview in the video.

Plus, don't miss our chat with Ghost Protocol Director Brad Bird, who shared memories of the late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs.

More About: Facebook, ipad, Movies

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Tech Creeps Into Top Toy Trends of Past 30 Years [INFOGRAPHIC]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 02:55 PM PST

When it comes to the most-wanted toys of the holiday season over the past 30 years, one thing is clear: The toy market has become way more tech-centric.

Between 1981-1990, Donkey Kong, Lazer Tag and Nintendo’s Game Boy stood out as the lone tech toys desired by kids. In the following decade, the same number of tech toys were coveted, including Tickle Me Elmo, Tamagotchi and Furby.

The new millennium brought a change in kid’s most-desired gifts. Since 2003, every one of the top toys was either robotic or a tech gadget: Robosapiens, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iPod touch, Biscuit My Lovin’ Pup, Zhu Zhu Pets and the iPad. Of course, calling an iPod or iPad a toy overlooks the majority of its uses.

2011′s top contenders are not surprisingly all tech related, as well: the iPad 2, Let’s Rock Elmo and LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer.

SEE ALSO: Disney Marketing: The Happiest Social Media Strategy on Earth

This Ultimate Coupon infographic chronicles the most-wanted toys of the past 30 holiday seasons.

Which toys do your kids want this year? Which did you want most as a child? Let us know which toys you remember in the comments.

30 Years of Elf Handiwork - The most popular holiday toys to come out of the workshop since 1981

BONUS: Which Tech Toys Do Kids Want for the Holidays? [VIDEO]

More About: infographics, toys

Why Quora’s New Boards Feature Makes It a Better Network

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 02:34 PM PST

Quora's relationship with the Q&A format is no longer exclusive. As of Tuesday, you can also use the site to arrange content from around the web on Pinterest-like boards.

While the move seems like an odd one for a startup most often defined as a Q&A platform, it also opens up an opportunity for Quora to become the most prominent interest-based network — a chance the platform didn’t stand while married to Q&A.

“It’s like if it were really easy to create lots of sub-Twitter accoutns for yourself,” Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever tells Mashable about Quora’s new Boards feature. “Social services tend to pull you toward a set of shared interests within a group, but if you’re interested in something else, there’s not a great place to talk about it.”

On Cheever’s Twitter feed, for instance, a lot of people tweet about football throughout the weekend. About as many people complain they hate it when people tweet about football. With Quora boards, someone who likes football can create a board for it and spare their football-hating fans from quarterly game updates. Meanwhile, football haters can still follow the same person’s board about tech news. It’s different than following people; it’s following interests.

The Q&A site has actually been an interest-based community for some time. Users have been able to follow both others on the network and threads on specific questions as updates in their news feeds. But there have been a couple of factors that limited its capacity as an interest-based network. The first is that there has been no good way to curate questions under topics that can be followed. Quora introduced “topic groups” in June to solve this problem by creating feeds of questions relevant to certain topics, but they aren’t available for every topic and can’t be created instantly.

The other factor holding Quora back from functioning as an awesome interest network was that the feed was restricted to content created on Quora, whereas other social networks like Facebook and Twitter have the wealth of the Web to draw upon.

Boards hit both of these birds with one stone by allowing users to create new topics with content from both Quora and elsewhere.

Quora already allowed its decently sized userbase to share their expertise, approach topics from different angles and follow their interests rather than people. Now it does so in a way that makes it easier to follow more content, and thus more likely to scale.

More About: quora

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Twitter Takes TextSecure, Texting App for Dissidents, Open Source

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 02:23 PM PST

android security

A technology that helped start a global movement is now being put into the hands of the people. TextSecure, an Android app that encrypts text messages and is popular among activists in many countries, is now open source, thanks to Twitter.

Twitter acquired the company that makes TextSecure, Whisper Systems, last month. In countries where governments have more strict control over wireless networks, Whisper Systems’ apps have been extremely helpful to dissidents wanting to communicate and organize securely.

Now Twitter has just turned TextSecure into open-source software, meaning those same dissidents can engineer new features and adapt the software for their own purposes, potentially making them even more secure.

Whisper also has another app, RedPhone, which encrypts voice calls on Android devices, though that one hasn’t been made open source yet. Twitter says it’s going to open up Whisper’s products slowly, saying in a blog post that it needs to “make sure it meets legal requirements and is consumable by the open source community.”

Both TextSecure and RedPhone were unavailable when Mashable tried to download them from the Android Market earlier today. (See the clarification below.)

The apps certainly had their fans., a nonprofit dedicated to connecting “grassroots digital activists,” cites Whisper Systems’ apps in a how-to on securing Android devices. The company’s transition to Twitter wasn’t smooth for the users of its apps, though — the company had to take RedPhone offline right when Egypt’s elections were happening last month, leading to many complaints.

Clarification: After publication, Twitter told us that Whisper Systems “removed both services from the market, coinciding with their acquisition (and in anticipation of today’s news).”

More About: open source, texting, textsecure, Twitter

My Life Without Facebook: A Social Experiment

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 02:12 PM PST

Facebook magnifying glass

Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

In July, I deactivated my Facebook account as a sort of social experiment. With Facebook and real life becoming increasingly symbiotic, what would I miss? What wouldn’t I miss?

This didn’t begin as an impulsive decision with unexpected consequences, and I’m not a Facebook hater by any stretch. I love and use social media, and am fascinated by what its explosion has enabled in a variety of arenas. Facebook has obviously been a huge — and probably the single most comprehensive — part of that.

My experiment has continued longer than I expected. I haven’t quit, purposefully not deleting my account entirely. But through extended deactivation, I have learned some things: that I miss out on a lot of conversations now; that, somewhat ironically, I’m more focused now than before on my own life and needs; and that I’m not the only person who wonders, to-FB-or-not-to-FB?

A recent New York Times article titled “The Facebook Resisters” profiled young-adult Facebook abstainers who point to concerns about privacy, alienation and information overload. But I’m interested in a broader question: In a world where it now seems more generally accepted to be on Facebook than not be on, what’s it like to opt out?

Since July, I haven’t felt like I need Facebook socially, but there is plenty I’m missing out on. During the many times when funny Facebook photos from parties or nights out come up when hanging out with friends, I feel like the only kid on the schoolyard without a TV, lost at sea while other kids recite lines from The Simpsons. I also frequently find myself playing catch-up when someone brings up an article someone else shared on Facebook. And there’s a whole world of flirting and getting-to-know-you that no longer exists for me.

I miss the definite ease of communication with friends and acquaintances. I’ve used Facebook before to find sources for articles too, but no longer can. So, now my avenues of communication are more segmented: Twitter to keep in touch with some friends, mostly those I’ve met through work, and find cool articles people recommend; LinkedIn to organize my professional contacts; and old-fashioned phone and email to keep up and make plans with close friends.

But it’s what I’ve actually enjoyed about being off of Facebook that has surprised me most. I spend less time on my computer without Facebook’s source of infinite content. During real life experiences, what is or isn’t worth sharing on Facebook no longer lingers in the back of my mind, so I spend more time simply enjoying the present. And the false comparisons between others’ curated digital self-presentations and my own naturally widespread sources of pride, fulfillment, dissatisfaction and insecurity no longer exist.

In the final analysis, what my little experiment has shown me is that Facebook has become so ingrained in human life that it’s kind of like religion in a way. You can partake or not partake as much as you like, but the thing itself isn’t going anywhere. Your choice won’t change anything in the bigger picture, but I’ve found it fascinating to explore the differences in my own life.

After five months, I’m going to keep the experiment going. It’s been fun to be deactivated, but I’m not going to delete. I’ll be back one day. But, for now, I’m enjoying my life offline.

What do you think? Have you ever deactivated or deleted your Facebook account? Why, and what was it like? Just how ingrained is Facebook in your life? Let me know in the comments.

More About: deactivate account, deactivating, Deleting, Facebook, Social Media, social networking

Study: Happiness Is Trending Down on Twitter [VIDEO]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 02:04 PM PST

A recent study of Twitter use reveals that the general public appears to be less happy than previously. University of Vermont researchers surveyed more than 4.5 billion tweets and discovered which words were used the most and how they characterize our day to day mood.

"After a gradual upward trend that ran from January to April 2009, the overall time series has shown a gradual downward trend, accelerating somewhat over the first half of 2011," the researchers wrote in a recent issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

Check out the video above to learn more.

More About: mashable video, Twitter

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Google+ Brand Pages Begin Showing Up in Primary Search Results

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 01:52 PM PST

In a move that could raise some charges of anti-competitive behavior, Google has begun integrating Google+ brand page information in primary search results.

The inclusion, noted by researcher BrightEdge, appears only for some brands at the moment. BrightEdge, which has tracked Google+ brand pages since they went live on Nov. 7, just noticed the Google+ integration on Dec. 20.(Though Search Engine Land discovered it last month.) In particular, the company identified the following Google+ brand page results in a search for AT&T:

As Brad Mattick, vp-marketing for BrightEdge notes, the addition of G+ brand pages in this case allows the marketer to wedge in a promotional message. In this particular case, a call for a sweepstakes gets a much bigger audience via Google natural search results than it would have otherwise.

Though AT&T appeared to be one of the first brands to get such treatment, a search for Toyota showed two Google+ entries (from late November).

Other brands, including T-Mobile and Macy’s, also displayed G+ results in their searches. A Google rep offered the following statement about the search results: “Content from the +Page, such as recent posts, will appear as annotations attached to its associated web page under the sitelinks in search results if that site is eligible for Direct Connect. It uses the same bi-directional link and algorithmic criteria as Direct Connect.”

For Mattick, integrating G+ brand page information into search results is an obvious enticement for brands to join and be active on Google+. Mattick says he believes blurring the lines between G+ and search results parallels Microsoft’s inclusion of the Internet Explorer browser in its Windows OS in the 1990s. The U.S. Department of Justice accused Microsoft of using its Windows near-monopoly to beat Netscape in the browser segment.

However, Google’s share of the search market — 65.6% in October according to comScore — is lower than Microsoft’s 78.5% share of the desktop OS market at the time of the IE bundling.

Nevertheless, the move may attract some unwanted attention for Google. The search giant’s push comes as Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have called on the Federal Trade Commission to look into Google’s search business practices.

What do you think? Is Google using its power in search to cajole brands to be active on Google+ or is the company within its rights. Sound off in the comments.

More About: Google, Top Stories

Nuance Acquires Voice-Recognition Competitor Vlingo

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 01:39 PM PST

Voice-recognition giant Nuance announced on Tuesday that it is acquiring Vlingo, the creator of a voice-to-text and voice recognition app that has been the subject of various Nuance lawsuits over patent infringement.

But with the growth of virtual assistant and voice-enabled capabilities such as Apple's Siri, Nuance and Vlingo are putting their differences aside to join forces.

“Vlingo and Nuance have long shared a similar vision for the power and global proliferation of mobile voice and language understanding,” Vlingo CEO Dave Grannan said in a statement. “As a result of our complementary research and development efforts, our companies are stronger together than alone. Our combined resources afford us the opportunity to better compete, and offer a powerful proposition to customers, partners and developers.”

Although this is a different tone from what we've heard from the companies in the past, it's clear they both have their sights set on battling Siri and a combined effort is a strong place to start.

Nuance cited that a main reason for the acquisition is a “$5 billion market opportunity” that spans phones, PCs, tablets , cars, music players and navigation devices, and it plans to integrate natural language interfaces across these areas and devices.

With the gaining popularity of voice-recognition software, a report surfaced last week that Google may also be working on a voice-recognition assistant for Android under the codename of Majel.In addition, Google recently announced that it acquired a company called Clever Sense, the maker of the app Alfred, which serves as a digital personal assistant.

“Inspired by the introduction of services such as Apple's Siri and our own Dragon Go!, virtually every mobile and consumer electronics company on the planet is looking for ways to integrate natural, conversational voice interactions into their mobile products, applications, and services,” Mike Thompson, svp and general manager of Nuance Mobile, said in a statement. “By acquiring Vlingo, we are able to accelerate the pace of innovation to meet this demand.”

The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, and the announcement did not address its legal history with Vlingo.

More About: nuance, siri, vlingo, voice recognition

Puppies Prepare for Christmas [VIDEO]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 01:26 PM PST

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

Just when you thought cats had a patent on holiday cuteness, puppy power rears its adorable head.

In the aptly named “Puppy ChristmasYouTube video, director Devin Graham captures four adorable puppies enjoying a picturesque Christmas tree, complete with ornaments, wrapping paper and bows.

There really isn’t much more to say: Puppies + Christmas = Heart-melting delight. Your colleagues will “aww,” we guarantee it.

Share your holiday pet stories with us in the comments.

More About: Christmas, cute animals, Holidays 2011, viral-video-of-day, YouTube

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6 Amazing Tech-Inspired Holiday Decorations [PICS]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 01:10 PM PST

We asked you last week to show us how you were decking the halls with tech this year.

We teamed up with CNN iReport to consider submissions with the Twitter hashtag #holidaytech and uploads to iReport’s assignment page. After checking out all of the unique submissions, we chose some of the best to feature in our gallery below. In the captions, you’ll find what we loved most about each of the entries.

Light Show Extraordinaire

Scott Raposo, 39, says he has been making synchronized holiday light displays for 12 years. It takes seven days of setup and three days to program.

Raposo, who lives in Gonzales, Louisiana, says "we have roughly 45,000 Led lights synchronized to 8 different songs on 112 Light-o-Rama channels."

Click here to view this gallery.

John Storms of Round Rock, Texas, says he programs 25,000 lights to 20 different songs, from Korean pop to the Angry Birds theme song. "We do what we think is fun…what we think kids would like."

Kenneth Higgins took this video of a spectacular light display in Tallahassee, FL, saluting wounded U.S. Marine Corps members. “When you get by the house you simply tune into FM 92.3 and the music from the radio is synchronized with the lights around the house. This is hands down the best Christmas light show I have ever seen on a house,” he said. “It is very hard not to feel emotional!”

This is part of an ongoing partnership between Mashable and CNN iReport. We love working together, and if you have any ideas for projects we could organize together in the future, we want to know about them! Tell us your ideas in the comments below.

Thank you to our partners at iReport, and all those iReporters who participated! You can see more submissions at CNN iReport.

SEE ALSO: 20,000 Christmas Bulbs Bring Angry Birds to Light [VIDEO]

More About: Christmas, cnn, Hannukah, Holidays 2011, ireport, Kwanzaa

Should the U.S. Shut Down a Somali Militant Group’s Twitter Account?

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 12:53 PM PST

The U.S. government is concerned the Shabab, the Somali “specially designated global terrorist” group, is using its Twitter account to recruit new members from the West.

The New York Times reports the State Department said they are “looking closely” at the millitant group’s use of its Twitter account, @HSMPress, which it began using Dec. 7.

The account’s bio says, “Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen is an Islamic movement that governs South & Cen. Somalia & part of the global struggle towards the revival of Islamic Khilaafa.” In the past two weeks, @HSMPress has sent nearly 120 tweets and amassed more than 5,300 followers. Almost all of the posts are in English, suggesting they are intended primarily for a non-Somali audience.

Many of their tweets emphasize the group’s fight against the Kenyan military, who entered Somalia in October to battle the Shabab.

The Obama administration’s concern, however, is recruitment of new militants, the Times reports, not Kenyan provocation. Mashable has asked the State Department for comment and will update the story if we learn more.

SEE ALSO: Taliban, NATO Spar on Twitter After Kabul Attack

In the account’s early days, the bulk of its followers were journalists, terror researchers and aid workers, not Muslim youth interested in joining the movement, Wired reported.

Since the Times‘s report, the Shabab has responded to of the U.S. government’s concern over its account.

The Shabab’s embrace of Twitter is ironic in its own right, considering the group is infamous for its rejection of all things western, keeping foreign aid from reaching famine victims and banning signs of culture — from music to bras — from the regions it controls.

The group has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, and is known for tactics such as cutting off hands, starving the Somali population amid famine and ripping gold teeth out of mouths.

Whether or not the U.S. government chooses to shut down the Shabab’s Twitter account, it opens a larger discussion. Does the U.S. government have the right to shut down social media accounts? Twitter is an American company. Does that give the U.S. sovereignty over the entirety of its content? Share your reactions in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, belterz

More About: somalia, terrorism, Twitter

2011: Tech’s Biggest Winners and Losers

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 12:42 PM PST

Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Time is a funny thing. One minute I'm standing in a crowded room fondling HP's new 10.1-inch TouchPad tablet, the next, I'm writing its obituary, and a moment later I'm marking the rebirth of its OS as an open source platform. That's not really how it happened. This course of events took much of 2011. But it's a quirk of life that time, especially as you get older, goes by faster and faster, and a company's fortunes can change in the blink of an eye — even if that blink took 12 months.

As 2011 draws to a close it's the perfect time for me to decompress the year, to pull it apart like an accordion, stretching it wide so I can see the events, big and small, that gave 2011 its character. Those on the top edge of those accordion folds are the year's winners, while the others living in the channels are its losers.

That's a simple way of looking at it. The other possibility is that some companies and industry players like Netflix sit along the top edge because you couldn't ignore the meltdown — it was just too loud, too unbelievable. Either way, what follows is a look at the highs and lows. The victors and…the other guys.

Winner: Amazon

It's true, the Amazon Kindle Fire is a flawed, 1.0 product that may have been rushed out to market. On the other hand, it costs just $199, is incredibly effective for content consumption and is selling like hot cakes. Some analysts believe it will sell 4 million units by the end of this holiday season.

Loser: Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

It's getting tougher and tougher for old-school retailers to get consumers into their stores. This year Amazon managed to make the situation worse by offering consumers a special discount just for using Amazon's mobile shopping tool while in other people's stores. I've done my share of price comparisons on my smartphone while in my local Best Buy. Invariably, I find cheaper prices elsewhere. Yet, Amazon's move has garnered it this year's "Grinch Award."

Winner: Apple

No doubt 2011 will be remembered as one of Apple's most difficult years. Yet, even as it grapples with the difficult loss of its founder and leader, Steve Jobs, the company has been knocking it out of the park on almost every other level. The Apple iPad tablet may be the prime example of the company's success in 2011. While not a reimagining of the first blockbuster tablet, the iPad 2 turned out to be a near pitch-perfect follow-up and helped drive sales of the iPad to over 40 million units. No one else in the tablet space has even come close (though the Kindle Fire shows potential).

Though some may criticize Apple for the iPhone 5 no-show, I'd say Apple did what it always does — let the hype mill drive up near insane-levels of interest for its new phone. The iPhone 4S is a comparatively minor upgrade to the iPhone 4, but that didn't seem to matter as Siri sucked up virtually all tech coverage for weeks and Apple may be heading to a stellar iPhone 4S sales quarter.

Loser: Us

I finally finished the 600-plus-page tome that is Walter Isaacson's Steve Job's Biography. Jobs was, in some ways, a very odd and inscrutable man. However, I’ve also come to the realization that losing Steve Jobs robbed us of one of the truly singular minds in the tech industry. Apple marches on, but Jobs will never be replicated.

Winner: IBM

When it sold its desktop and laptop business to Lenovo nearly a decade ago, IBM dropped out of the consumer tech business. Yet here it is on my list, and all because it conducted perhaps the best tech stunt of all time: Watson versus Jeopardy. The nation was transfixed as IBM's powerfully smart supercomputer traded wits with former Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings. It was oddly exciting, but also no contest as Watson won handily. As a result, for the first time in ages, consumers were talking about IBM again and what Watson could mean for the world. Well done, IBM.

Loser: HP

The well-chronicled HP TouchPad debacle was a stunner, to be sure. As I said, I was at the launch event, a bright sunny day along the shore of San Francisco Bay, so full of promise. I have never seen such an abrupt about-face. The product rollout was in February. The TouchPad arrived in stores in mid-summer and was dead on arrival by August. Things only got weirder when HP conducted a rare hot-tech fire sale. Consumers and gadget freaks scooped up those $99 TouchPads faster than you could say "WebOS." Still, the temporary reprieve only served to confuse most in the industry, and it was clear that HP had bigger problems than just a failed tablet launch.

Winner: Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman lost her bid for California Governor, but that was so 2010. In 2011, the former eBay chief reentered the tech industry, taking over for misguided HP CEO Leo Apotheker (see above) and doing a number of things right:

  1. Making it clear that HP is not abandoning the PC business.
  2. Saving WebOS from oblivion by making it an open source platform, and
  3. Promising tablets in 2013. You'll pardon me if I take that last with a grain of salt.

Winner: Egypt

The Arab Spring gained momentum in Egypt and was, in part, propelled forward by an almost unprecedented use of social networks for disseminating information and gathering support. As the Egyptian government fought back, it actually blocked Twitter — a clear sign that the use of the micro blogging service during the uprising had it worried.

Eventually, other tech companies stepped in to help the Egyptian people get around these technological roadblocks. That compulsion to use social networks to drive social change ultimately helped spark other revolutionary acts throughout that part of the world, and some still play out today. Still, Egypt was the first to emerge with a new government and direction.

Loser: ICANN

Two big changes occurred in the World of Internet Domains: First ICANN decided to open up the world of TLDs (Top level Domains, which are the suffixes at the end of web site URLs) to a much, much wider variety of names. Second it finally made .XXX domains available for registration. ICANN's effort to simultaneously broaden the web and control some of its darkest corners, may have some unintended consequences. Too many TLDs could mean that brand names need to start worrying again about someone buying www.[SOMETHING].McDonalds or www.[SOMETHING].BestBuy. On the XXX front, all the wrong people are racing to buy porn domains, simply to protect themselves. ICANN may have seriously misfired in 2011.

Winner: Android

2011 was the year Android officially became the dominant smart phone platform. While Apple enjoys continued success and sales with its iPhone and iOS platform, it gets just a few major launches (iPad, iPhone, iPod) each year. For Google and Android, almost every day is launch day. Countless manufacturers and carriers are constantly rolling out new Android handsets. Sure, they're not all in alignment like iOS phones. There are phones running Android 2.2, 2.3, and even a few running 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

None of this bothers consumers, who are eagerly buying handsets like the Samsung Galaxy II, the Verizon Thunderbolt, EVO 4G and others. That strength is further illustrated by the Android Market's rapid growth — it reached 10 billion downloads in record time, a milestone Apple's App store celebrated at the start of this year.

Loser: Most Android Tablet Manufacturers

Sorry, but the number of Android Tablets sold this year simply isn't that impressive. Plus, the Galaxy Tabs, Motorola Xooms and Toshiba Thrives (perhaps the wrong name to go with) of the world have been embarrassed by the easy success of the Amazon Kindle Fire and, to a lesser extent, by Barnes and Noble's Nook Tablet, both of which run on Android 2.3 (That's right — nether runs the more tablet-friendly Honeycomb, A.K.A. Android 3.0).

Loser: RIM

Research in Motion (RIM) has had a tough year. Its proprietary OS-running PlayBook had all the earmarks of a breakout success, until RIM badly bungled the rollout (sorry, no email for you). The company continues to back the product, but no one seems to care or notice that the Kindle Fire is virtually the same hardware, but with a better ecosystem.

A massive service outage and RIM's late public response compounded the company's woes. All the while it has continued to roll out nifty new handsets that, at least, BlackBerry devotees care about. Yet, just when RIM was getting back on track, it misstepped again. Most recently, a couple of its exec got booted from an airplane for drunkenness and then it had to give up its own unified OS name "BBX" because another company already owned it. Nothing that's happened to RIM is truly ruinous, and I think the company can get back on track in 2012 — at least I hope it can.

Winner: Verizon

Millions of Verizon customers finally got their wish early this year when Apple and Verizon announced the first CDMA iPhone. The phone itself was almost exactly like the AT&T iPhone but with a few crucial differences, including a reconfigured Antenna Bar (less attenuation) and personal hotspots (tethering to an iPhone!). This was the beginning of a trend in the U.S. for Apple as it eventually spread the iPhone love to Sprint.

Loser: Netflix

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings will likely want to forget 2011, a year that started with such promise as he took the stage at CES 2011, saying how he planned on being CEO for the next decade or more. Even as late as June of this year, Hastings was still feeling good, talking casually about how the DVD business would eventually go away and sharing, perhaps too candidly, the hurdles Netflix faced as it tried to resign major studios to its unbelievably successful streaming business. Even when Netflix announced over the summer that it planned to essentially double fees by asking customers to pay $8 for the baseline DVD delivery service and another $8 for streaming access, no one sounded the alarm bells.

However, when the day of the big change arrived, customer reaction was decidedly negative. Every attempt Netflix made to clean up the mess only served to make it worse (Quickster, anyone?). Things have finally quieted down, but it's unlikely Netflix or Reed Hastings will ever be the same.

Winner: Google

Google is a winner this year for many reasons (see the Android surge above), but it’s Google's successful launch of a new social network, Google+, which deserves special mention.

No, it's not a huge success yet. The platform may have roughly 40 million users, but it's still too full of industry insiders, and most average Facebook users have likely never heard of it. However, I'm sure they will. Google+ is a well-thought-out, highly extensible platform. It's also one that increasingly ties into everything else Google is doing, like YouTube, Gmail, contacts and more. Google's grand vision is coming into focus, and Google+ may be at the center of it. It deserves high praise for launching it this year.

Loser: Zune HD Player

This misbegotten, yet elegant piece of hardware never stood a chance — not because the Apple iPod was so powerful, but because Microsoft never married its excellent Zune HD hardware to a brilliant ecosystem or a halfway-decent marketing campaign.

Microsoft learned from this and is showing signs of building something under the Metro interface design and Zune Marketplace that could comprise an ecosystem. Plus, I like what I'm seeing in their marketing campaigns. Better yet, the Zune lives, sort of, in all Windows Phones.

Winner: Microsoft

Microsoft is "winning" on many fronts in 2011. Though I do not yet understand how a Metro interface and standard Windows interface can live on one system, I love that Microsoft has finally adopted a universal design language for its consumer products. Metro on Windows 8, Windows Phone and Xbox is a very Apple-like move, and a smart one for the 21st century.

Microsoft also did stellar Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 10 business in 2011. These products are the company's bread and butter and strong numbers for them every single quarter are a necessity — and a reality. Kinect was a breakout hit, and the company has held its own on the browser front (this year's biggest loser in that department is likely Firefox), and Bing, though still second, has gained a bit of ground on Google search.

Winner: The Cloud

Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google are all in the cloud and competing for your "available wherever you are" business. Apple, in particular may have done more than any other company in 2011 to help the cloud. Its introduction of iCloud was not revolutionary, but helped refocus consumers and the industry on the cloud's possibilities. Microsoft, which gets little credit for being among the first to market the cloud to consumers (see above) could benefit from this new understanding. What's more, the cloud is a core part of the latest tablet darling: Amazon's Kindle Fire.

Loser: AT&T

It lost its iPhone monopoly and is this close to losing its bid to swallow T-Mobile and become a new communications near-monopoly.

Winner: Facebook

800 million users and counting, Facebook is, officially, an unstoppable force in our universe. 2011 marked some of the social network's most sweeping changes, not the least of which is Timeline, a reimagining of the Facebook Profile.

Facebook has had its share of troubles this year, nearly all of which revolve around privacy and have resulted in the company adding layers of management. Still, with its numbers growing and average users all but living their lives on Facebook, 2011 has been the social network's biggest year. With an expected IPO, though, 2012 could possibly surpass it.

Loser: Nintendo

Nintendo has sold millions of its Nintendo 3DS 3D and augmented reality gaming devices. That's the good news. The bad news is that number pales in the comparison to the nearly 150 million previous DS portable gaming devices (by one estimate) Nintendo has sold to date. The company is working hard this holiday season to drive up sales (Nintendo reps at every GameStop!), but it looks like another portable gaming device is eating Nintendo's lunch: The iPhone (and iPod touch).

Winner: Twitter

It woke up from its seeming slumber with a boat-load of year-end updates that radically altered our Twitter experience. Everyone's homepage changed, TweetDeck (the journalist's favorite Twitter tool) is brand new and brands now have a place to call home on the microblog network. We may well remember 2011 as the year Twitter grew up.

Loser: Twitter Cowards

Yet, even as Twitter matured, some of its busiest and most admired Tweeters stepped back from the service, unable to handle the audiences they helped build. Two and a Half Men star Ashton Kutcher (known as @APlusK on Twitter) made an unfortunate error on the service and was so shamed by it that he handed control of his account over to staff.

More recently, 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin walked away from nearly a million followers when his own airplane meltdown led to a number of caustic tweets and, perhaps, a less than positive response. Baldwin and Kutcher proved they have Twitter feet of clay, apparently forgetting that Twitter is an open forum where people can share their opinions, good, bad, ugly and, sometimes, en masse. Yes, it can be overwhelming at times, but these things have a way of working themselves out. Walking away should never be an option.

Loser: Cisco and Flip

As 2010 was drawing to a close, Cisco was gearing up for a more aggressive move into the consumer space. However, 2011 marked a number of reversals for the company, including shuttering the once popular Flip pocket camcorder brand (a business cannibalized by the rapid growth of high-res smartphone video cameras) and an almost complete lack of interest in its consumer video telepresence product: UMI. Eventually, the company would back away from consumer tech and lay off thousands of workers.

Winner: The Internet

Sure, the Internet business bubble burst in 2000, but the Word Wide Web has seen nothing but growth in the decade since. World Internet usage as reported by sat at just over 360 million in Dec. 2000. Today, Internet usage all but dominates many of our lives (78% of North Americans are online), though not the majority of its global population. A little more than one-third (2 billion) of the world's population use the Internet. The world population recently surpassed 7 billion, which means there are still billions of people out there who are not online. The good news is that Internet usage growth rates in emerging nations are accelerating. Africa, which has just 11% online penetration, has seen 2,527% online usage growth since 2000.

Loser: Sony

Sony's most recent earnings statement did not paint a pretty picture for the consumer electronics giant. It saw declines due to foreign exchange rates and, more importantly, declining LCD TV sales. Yet no event was more emblematic of Sony's troubles than the prolonged Sony PlayStation network outage and subsequent fallout.

Sony took way too long to tell its 70 million users exactly what was going on and, worse, may have been trying to hide the fact that it shut down the PSN to cut off a network intrusion. It may take Sony until well into 2012 to rebuild trust with its customers.

These are just a handful of the stories that mattered in 2011. We didn't even talk about Groupon, one of the rare companies that managed to both win and lose in the same year with a strong IPO that has lost a ton of stream in a very short period of time.

What about you? Surely you have your own list of 2011 winners and losers and I bet you disagree with at least half my picks. Let me know your side of the story in comments.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia and Flickr, Asim Bharwani

More About: 2011, amazon, android, apple, at&t entertainment, cisco, cloud computing, Egypt, features, Google, HP, IBM, ICANN, meg whitman, microsoft, netflix, Nintendo, RIM, sony, Twitter, verizon

Using Foursquare to Map the History of Rap, Starting With Tupac [VIDEO]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 12:10 PM PST

Want to walk in the literal footsteps of some legendary rappers? The work of one avid Foursquare user will let you do just that.

PR Manager Paul Rayment is mapping the history of famous rappers on the location-based service, adding note-worthy locations in the buildup to their careers. Rayment has mapped Tupac’s roots and he plans to chronicle Jay-Z next.

Check out the video above to learn more.

[via The Next Web]

More About: foursquare, hip-hop, mashable video

MasterCard Offers Discount for Small Businesses on Microsoft’s Office 365

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 11:53 AM PST

MasterCard on Tuesday announced that it was offering eligible small businesses a 10% discount on Microsoft‘s Office 365 cloud productivity service.

The program, open to businesses that have a MasterCard Easy Savings Program account, is the credit card firm’s latest overture toward the small business category. In October, the brand teamed with Dell to choose “America’s Favorite Small Business,” Shwood Handcrafted Wooden Eyewear. This latest program offers a monthly discount of $0.60 per user on Office 365, a MasterCard rep says.

Microsoft introduced Office 365 in June. That suite places Microsoft Office, SharePoint Exchange and Lync in the cloud and was first introduced in October 2010 as Microsoft’s way of bringing popular collaboration and productivity apps to the web.

Office 365 also comes with ActiveSync, a new tool that lets customers retrieve their cloud-based data from almost any device.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Håkan Dahlström

More About: mastercard, microsoft, Office 365, Small Business

Startups and VCs Parody Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ [VIDEO]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 11:41 AM PST

Startup founders and employees of GroupMe,, Birchbox, RockMelt, Path and a slew of other companies have just put their spin on the Internet’s biggest hit of 2011 — Rebecca Black‘s “Friday.”

The “holiday” parody from First Round Capital features 22 startups and a handful of venture capitalists belting out original lyrics set to Black’s inescapable auto-tuned song (listen to the original below).

Lyrics in this rendition of “Friday” highlight startups’ journey toward obtaining funding. “VCs in the front seat, VCs in the back seat,” they sing. “Gotta make my mind up, which one should I take. It’s the first round, first round. You only get one first round.”

Just like Black gave us a helpful tune to remember the days of the week, the startups use the song’s bridge to remind us how funding rounds work: “The next round is second round, and the third round comes afterwards.”

SEE ALSO: Best 10 Memes of 2011 [VIDEO] | Music Video References More Than 40 Memes

We spotted these startups (let us know if you spy any others): 33Across, AppNexus, Birchbox, Bitcasa, Cabana, FanBridge, Get Satisfaction, GroupMe, Hotel Tonight, Jelli, Kiwi Crate, Mashery, MemSQL, ModCloth, Monetate, Path, RockMelt, SinglePlatform, TaskRabbit,, Warby Parker and Xobni.

Bonus: The 10 Most-Popular Videos of the Year

In related Rebecca Black news, “Friday” topped YouTube’s list of most-viewed videos uploaded in the past 12 months. Flip through this gallery to see who and what she beat out to claim the pageviews throne.

1. "Friday" by Rebecca Black

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: parody, Rebecca Black, Startups, venture capitalist

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Microsoft in 2011: How 13 Big Developments Shaped the Tech Giant

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 11:33 AM PST

It goes without saying that Microsoft has come a long way from just purveying computer operating systems.

2011 proved to be a year of integration for Microsoft, and included partnerships with Nokia, Skype, Baidu, and perhaps most notably, Facebook. Xbox had a great year, nabbing a Guinness World Record title, and finishing 2011 with a bang — complete with a new interface, more features for Kinect and the addition of Verizon FiOS.

SEE ALSO: 10 Fun Microsoft Facts You Might Not Know

Check out the highlights below, and expect more big developments from Microsoft in 2012, including the launch of Windows 8, a new Kinect for Xbox that could possibly detect your emotions, and more.

1. Bing Sting

Google Fellow Amit Singhal accused Bing in February of copying some of Google's search results.

The controversy led to a public debate between Google and Microsoft on NBC Bay Area's Press:Here.

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: Business, features, internet explorer, microsoft, Tech, Windows, windows phone

RIAA Flunks Google in Anti-Piracy Efforts [VIDEO]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 11:23 AM PST

The Recording Industry Association of America claims Google hasn’t been keeping its promises when it comes to fighting online piracy.

“Google, as the overwhelming market leader in search and online advertising, has a special responsibility to lead and create a safe and secure Internet experience that works for consumers and the creative community,” the RIAA said in its report card.

Others, though, say Google is going above and beyond what’s expected of the company. Check out the video above to learn more.

Where do you stand? Do you think Google does enough?

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, mableen

More About: Google, mashable video, piracy, riaa

Facebook to Include Sponsored Stories in News Feeds

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 11:12 AM PST

Facebook plans to migrate its Sponsored Stories ad platform into users’ news feeds early next year, the company says.

Introduced last January, Sponsored Stories — a new ad format integrating your Facebook friends’ activities into small ads — began appearing in the column on the right side of the News Feed. Last month, the ads began appearing in the Ticker as well.

Though that addition received tepid reviews from Facebook users, it seems as though the company, which is planning a $100 billion IPO next year, is satisfied with Sponsored Stories as an advertising solution and thus a primary method to monetize the 800 million-strong social network.

Perhaps anticipating criticism for the latest migration of Sponsored Stories, a Facebook rep emphasized that the ads will be used sparingly. Most users, she says, will see the maximum of one ad per day in their News Feeds. The speed at which the ads cycle through the News Feed, meanwhile, will depend on various factors that Facebook hasn’t yet determined, a Facebook rep says.

Confusingly, Facebook has offered a product called Sponsored Stories before, the rep says. In 2006 or 2007, a different product by that name also appeared in users’ News Feeds.

For Facebook, the inclusion of ads in its News Feed has a recent parallel: In August, Twitter began including ads in users’ news feeds (a.k.a. Timelines.) Though some predicted that the move would prompt a rebellion from users, that protest never materialized and the move has gone smoothly.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Wonderlane

More About: Facebook, Sponsored Stories

Inside Facebook’s New Headquarters [PICS]

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 11:04 AM PST

On Monday, Mashable brought you the news that Facebook is all moved in to its new headquarter complex in Menlo Park. Now, we’re taking you on a virtual tour of the social networking giant’s new home.

Facebook’s 57-acre campus currently houses some 2,000 employees, but has the potential to comfortably accommodate nearly 9,000 workers as the company looks to grow rapidly in the coming years. The company bought the former Sun Microsystems property earlier this year, and gave it a Facebook-style makeover to help increase productivity and creativity. Scroll through the slideshow below to see what life will be like for Facebookers in Menlo Park.

Just "Like" Home

A giant thumbs-up marks the entrance to Facebook's new campus at 1601 Willow Road in Menlo Park.

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: Facebook, facebook headquarters, Menlo Park

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