Facebook employee to face a gruesome demise in George RR Martin's Game of Thrones books

George R.R. Martin, author of the beloved “Song of Ice and Fire” series, auctioned off $20,000 for the chance to be brutally murdered in one of his future books.

Martin is a big supporter of the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary and The Food Depot in New Mexico. He and his wife, Paris, have especially been donating to the wolf sanctuary for a number of years, and they feel very strongly about giving these precious animals a comfortable, safe home. Martin is looking to enhance the habitats of the wolves in the sanctuary even further, and to do so, he asked for some help from his fans on Prizeo.

Fans can donate far and wide from $10 to $20,000 to the sanctuary and the food depot and receive a range of prizes based on the amount of cash they donated, including personalized handwritten thank you notes, a script signed by the Game of Thrones cast, t-shirts, and one of Martin’s hats.

Upon auctioning off the big $20,000, fans were entered into a sweepstakes where they would be given the opportunity to be killed by Martin in a future “Song of Ice and Fire” novel. The winners even get to select their character station — lord, prostitute, lady, peasant, knight, sexton, meister, anything — in the fantasy world.

One of the two incredibly lucky winners — or, you know, losers, maybe — has already been announced: David Goldblatt, a Facebook employee.

Golblatt’s name may not fit in as well with names like Ygrette or Daenerys, but we’re sure Martin and his creative genius will make it work.

Goldblatt told Hollywood Reporter, “I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to do this cool thing, and it’s going toward a good cause — I don’t think I’m doing anything extraordinary.” Goldblatt insists that he would love to be a “Valyrian if at all imaginable, but [Martin] figures it out himself. I wouldn’t want to impinge upon his creative process.”

Martin is known for creating some violently memorable Game of Thrones deaths. And at the same time as it might seem like he just carelessly kills off our favorite characters without regard and cackles evilly in his writer’s chair after doing so, Martin in fact feels pretty sad about it.

“Despite my sinister repute, I in fact find it hard to kill off characters that I’ve been writing about for some time. Good guys or bad guys, they’re all my children.”

This time, though, he promises to make these sufferers’ deaths relatively peaceful. “The slaughter should be easy,” Martin says, “since the sufferers will be laying down their lives in a good cause.” Only George R. R. Martin could make a connection between donating to charity and getting killed without making it super weird.

According to Hollywood Reporter, the campaign has already raised over $350,000, well over Martin’s original $200,000 goal. Martin is ecstatic.

“We have already met and exceeded our original goals, and the donations are still pouring in. Every gift, large or small, is much appreciated, and will help feed hungry people and provide shelter, habitats, and care for the wolves and wolf-dogs at Wild Spirit.”

If you’re not one of the most two lucky murder sufferers, don’t fret. Many of these prizes are still available if you make a donation to Martin’s cause, and everybody who enters is eligible for another top prize of a dinner and helicopter ride to the sanctuary with Martin himself. And, when you make a donation, you’ll delight in the fact that you’re contributing to one of Martin’s ultimate goals: beating One Direction and Justin Bieber as the highest grossing Prizeo campaign ever.

Teeny weeny pop stars versus a man who created an entire elaborate universe based solely off of his imagination? There’s no competition. After all, as Martin said, “It is good to be the king. Of course, no man sits easy on the Iron Throne.”

LinkedIn’s one-click endorsements are crazy popular


It took LinkedIn nine years to reach 187 million members. It took the professional social network about one month to pass 200 million endorsements.

Endorsements are LinkedIn’s lightweight version of recommendations. The one-click, vote-of-approval option was once released in late September; it offers members a quick and easy way to tell the world that a friend or co-worker is skilled in any area conceivable, say journalism, social media, or even kettlebells. Received endorsements are listed on member profiles in the skills and expertise section.

Apparently, the people of LinkedIn love these little recognitions and just can’t get enough. More than 200 million endorsements have been doled out by members since release, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said in an earnings call with investors and analysts Thursday afternoon.

Above: Endorsed skills

LinkedIn has designed the endorsements product to be both addictive and viral. The company pitches endorsements to people visiting member profiles, and then follows up with additional folks to endorse will have to people take the initial bait.

But the downside to endorsements is that LinkedIn’s algorithm automatically suggests skills, every now and then slightly unusual skills, this means that your pals are being guided to endorse talents you can not want publicized — or even have. VentureBeat executive editor Dylan Tweney, for instance, has in some way managed to glean a couple of endorsements for his rumored “kettlebells” talents. I can confirm that he does not have kettlebell skills.

Weiner said that new LinkedIn products, including endorsements, are contributing to a compound effect of increased engagement with the professional social network’s web and mobile apps. With the rollout of notifications and the new homepage, comments on LinkedIn have increased four fold since June, he said.

Photo credit: nanpalmero/Flickr

Flurry’s knowledge is power as it raises a whopping $25M for mobile app analytics

You know what they say about how knowledge is power? Mobile analytics firm Flurry knows everything about everybody who uses mobile apps. It keeps tabs on app usage on about 700 million mobile devices every month.

The San Francisco company has parlayed that knowledge into services that advertise games and apps to the users who in reality want them. And that’s why Flurry has just raised $25 million in a fourth round of funding led by Crosslink Capital. The funding brings the company’s total amount raised to $51.6 million. The number of users that Flurry measures has grown 47 months in a row, said Simon Khalaf, chief executive of Flurry, in an interview with GamesBeat.

Just about anyone who has an app uses Flurry to measure how it gets used. Over the past year, Flurry has quadrupled the number of data points it measures to over 32 billion per day. Each day, the company measures 1.9 billion app user sessions across more than 250 million devices. Flurry tracks 250,000 apps, up from 120,000 a year ago. About 80,000 companies use Flurry across iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and other platforms. From that data, Khalaf (pictured above) says he knows that media entertainment, especially on tablets, is starting to become huge on mobile devices, in addition to games and other apps.

Flurry makes money by using its data to recommend apps to users based on what they already have on their phones and what sort of they use certain apps. Flurry’s AppCircle ad network advertises apps for targeted users. Over the past year, AppCircle has grown its volume three-fold and helped Flurry become cash-glide positive. AppCircle now delivers more than 120 million monthly ad conversions  (the number of times when a user installs an app based on a Flurry ad).

These ad services are generating some huge cash for developers, Khalaf said. The average revenue per daily active user is rising. If an app reaches 100,000 users, it can start to generate real numbers that can reinforce a small company, Khalaf said.

“There is a real long tail now,” he said.

Nick Mignano, a partner at Crosslink Capital, will join Flurry’s board. Other investors included Menlo Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, InterWest Partners, Union Square Ventures, First Round Capital, and Draper Richards.

“Flurry is powering a new wave of digital advertising with big data for the mobile app economy in an exciting way,” said Mignano.  “The scale at which the company is operating relating to data volume, ad serving, and revenue generation impressed our team.  This enables some of the exciting uses of data for business customers since our private investment in Omniture in 2006.”

Khalaf said that Flurry wasn’t considering raising money since it had $9 million in the bank and was already profitable. But the in-bound demand to invest in Flurry was strong, and the board determined to make the most of it, Khalaf said.

“We had so much in-bound interest that we change our minds,” he said. “The good thing is that Flurry is what it was and is what it wants to be. We have done phenomenal with mobile analytics.”

Rivals include Google Analytics, Kontagent, Swrve, and others. In ad services, Flurry competes with ad networks like Tapjoy. Flurry will use the money to accelerate its newly introduced AppSpot supply-side platform and other products. Khalaf said that Flurry has 110 employees.

“Analytics and AppCircle will continue to grow,” Khalaf. “We add more to our platform.”

Flurry faces the occasional risk of angering platform owners such as Apple. A whilst back, it discovered new devices operating out of Apple’s headquarters, and it unmasked the original iPad. Apple got pretty angry about that. But by and large, relations with platform owners are good, Khalaf said.

“Apple is a rational company,” he said.

Facebook for iOS now lets you make free calls to friends


Facebook’s mobile app for iOS has been up to date with several new features these days, including placing free calls over data.

Facebook’s less-popular Messenger app for iOS up to now got free voice calling, but now it looks love it wants all of its members to call their friends through the principle FB app as well. As long as you may have an active Wi-Fi or data connection, you’ll be capable to place a call through Facebook with the ease of an app like Skype or Vonage. Calls only work in the U.S. and Canada up to now.

On top of free calling, the application has also improved buttons to like, comment, and share posts.

Woman the use of call me gesture by the use of Shutterstock

Zynga shuts Baltimore studio and consolidates three other locations

Cityville 2

Following up on its promise to be more cost efficient, casual and social game publishing giant Zynga is shutting down its Baltimore studio today and consolidating locations in three other cities. About 1 percent of its work force, or maybe 30 people, will be out of work on account of these moves.

The Baltimore shutdown isn’t a surprise since its leader, Brian Reynolds, the former chief game designer at Zynga, recently resigned. Zynga also shut down the game that Reynolds and the studio made: CityVille 2 (pictured above). Zynga is also consolidating studios that it acquired in locations that are near each other. So the two Austin studios are now one, two studios in New York are merging, and the McKinney, Texas, studio is moving to Dallas. In all of those moves, Zynga will save on real estate costs, but it’s not laying off large numbers of staffers in those areas.

In a observation for GamesBeat today, chief operations officer David Ko said, “While these decisions are all the time difficult, these steps will have an effect on approximately 1 percent of our workforce and enable us to focus our resources on the most significant growth opportunities.”

The move is consistent with comments made by Ko in an interview with GamesBeat just after Zynga’s last quarterly earnings report, when Zynga announced the CityVille 2 shutdown and closures of other poorly performing games. Ko said that Zynga’s focus for 2013 is on emphasizing game franchises — or titles like FarmVille that are developing more loyal followings and brand recognition — in addition to Zynga’s network and profitability. To be more profitable, Ko said Zynga has set up “guard rails,” or controls that tell it when to shut money-losing ventures.

The latter isn’t easy to do in a service-based game, where companies launch a title and then steadily update it on a weekly basis to keep up with fan feedback and to draw players back into the game. When a game peaks and starts to lose players, Zynga has normally scaled back its investments or doubled down on them. Ko said that the company will pay more attention to the signs for shutting unsuccessful games down earlier.

A Zynga spokesperson said that the company is making an attempt to find jobs within Zynga for the Baltimore employees. The moves impacting the other locations aren’t as severe. Zynga’s McKinney, Texas employees (acquired with the Words With Friends developer Newtoy) are about an hour from the Dallas location.  And the two offices in Austin, Texas, are just about a mile apart. The same is true for the New York locations.

In any event, these offices closures may lead to some turnover. Ko had said that the company would make tough decisions when it want to do so. Both the McKinney and Baltimore studios were essentially leaderless. The Bettner brothers who started Newtoy left last fall, and Paul Bettner started a new game startup to create titles for the Android-based Ouya game console.

Social video startup Viddy lays off a third of its staff

viddy camera

Social video startup Viddy has certainly seen better days.

Viddy is it sounds as if planning to reduce its operations and marketing workforce by cutting 12 positions (or a third of its total employees), reports TechCrunch. The news comes just weeks after CEO and cofounder Brett O’Brien was canned for reportedly turning down an insane buyout offer from Twitter.

Viddy produces mobile applications (iOS and Android) for shooting 15-second clips that you’ll be able to fortify with video effects called “production packs.” The startup reported massive growth back in May that brings the total number of registered users to more than 40 million, as VentureBeat prior to now reported. The company, which launched about a year ago, has a star-studded list of celebrity investors, including Biz Stone, Shakira, Will Smith, and Jay-Z. But the service also has its share of notable users, such as Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Katie Couric, Mark Zuckerberg, and an continuously shirtless Justin Bieber.

But now that Twitter has Vine for all its social video needs (not to mention the large number of social video competitors on Facebook), Viddy seems love it’ll have a hard time gaining enough popularity to stay relevant one day.

Viddy’s board has confirmed the job cuts, and sent us the following commentary:

As the board continues to review Viddy’s business, we’ve identified specific how one can streamline costs which come with eliminating some positions. These changes will allow the Viddy team to be focused on bringing the most innovative and engaging social mobile video product to market. Viddy has a strong balance sheet and an exciting product roadmap ahead, including an upcoming new product release, and we have the right team in place to execute moving forward.

What’s the secret behind Oscar-winning screenplays? The Black List

black listBefore Argo won the Oscar for Best Picture, before the script was even made into a movie, the story circulated on The Black List.

The Black List is a network that connects scripts with the people who turn them into films. It started out as an informal survey of not-yet-produced screenplays, grew into a trusted annual list of the best 75 scripts in Hollywood, and is now a full-fledged marketplace.

Three out of the past five Best Picture winners and seven of the past 12 screenwriting Oscars victors were on The Black List before they went into production. Over the years, films on The Black List have been nominated for 148 Academy Awards and earned over $16 billion in worldwide box office sales. Of the 600 scripts which have been on the list, more than 200 have been produced as movies.

So what is the name of the game to The Black List’s success? Picking screenplays to become movies is in many ways a riskier endeavor than picking startups to invest it. Hollywood does not have the same process of due diligence as Silicon Valley does, and success is ultimately up to the whims of the viewer.

Franklin Leonard is the man at the back of The Black List, and he said crowdsourcing is the answer.

On one side of the marketplace, screenwriters submit their work which is evaluated by a team of readers. If it is good, they post the scripts on the site. On the other side, over 1,000 film industry professionals are registered members of the community. They have access to the curated selection of screenplays and vote to create a ranking system that surfaces the best content.

“Over 30,000 pieces of material are registered at the Writers Guild of America every year,” Leonard said in an interview at VentureBeat’s office. “Of that number, only 200 are released. How do you make sure those 200 are the best? The current filtering mechanisms are inefficient. By taking a systematic, crowdsourced approach to identifying quality, regardless of executive considerations or making money, and aggregating that, the scripts end up being successful.”

Leonard started The Black List to solve his own problem. He was working for Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company and spent quite a lot of time reading bad scripts. He sent out an informal survey to 75 of his colleagues asking them to respond with their 10 favorite screenplays that had not yet been made into movies. The document continued to circulate and grow to such a degree that Leonard made up our minds to turn bring The Black List to the next level.

Eight years after the initial survey, The Black List has grown into much more than a place to compare notes on scripts. Now, the network involves a real-time list that tracks the entire activity on the site as well as a screenplay-recommendation engine. In October, The Black List extended its mission to make it easier to screenwriters from around the world to upload their scripts into the database, giving them access to the closed circles of Hollywood’s elite.

“We are expanding beyond the highly insular, incredibly opaque universe that is Hollywood,” Leonard said. “In a world where if you don’t have the right network or connections, you don’t have the opportunity to tell your story in film, we are saying that in case you are good, the only distance between you and becoming a full-time Hollywood screenwriter is your talent. The things The Black List is highlighting are things will see in movie theaters in two, five, 10 years down the road and at the Oscars.”

Hollywood is a prime example of an industry where business is primarily done offline in closed circles and the Internet is creeping in to democratize it. Leonard also envisions a future where data is a key component of making movies.

“The industry is going to have to start being a little more data-intensive about how they make decisions,” he said. “Everyone in Hollywood likes to quote Bill Goldman, who said, ‘Nobody knows anything.’ This is a good way to justify an expensive movie no one goes to see. This may have been true five years ago, but data and statistical analysis can provide insights that are an advantage over a willful, no-knowledge perspective on making business decisions.”

Argo is the latest to enroll in the ranks of The Black List trophy case, along side The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire. While The Black List does not take responsibility for the success of any movie that comes out of its list, Leonard said the “correlative relationship” is undeniable. Rather, it acts as a catalyst to bring certain projects into the spotlight.

Photo Credit: Jenni from the block/Flickr

Sephora: Our Pinterest followers spend 15X more than our Facebook fans

large_532646290Pinterest just raised $200 million at a $2.5 billion valuation. But if the company seriously starts to monetize what marketers like Sephora are finding in the social shopping platform, two and a half billion dollars is too cheap.

Far too cheap.

Beauty products retailer and digital trailblazer Sephora says that per-capita, its Pinterest followers spend more money than its Facebook followers, and not just a little bit more. In fact, Pinterest users spend 15 times more on Sephora products than Facebook followers, Sephora’s head of digital Julie Bornstein told me this morning.

“The reality is that when you’re in the Pinterest mindset, you’re in reality interested in acquiring items, which isn’t what people go to Facebook for,” Bornstein said. “Facebook continues to be just a great customer interaction tool that gives us the real-time ability to dialog with our customer; it’s a big customer-service venue for us.”


If you’re Facebook, that’s gotta hurt. You’ve just been downgraded from the bright and shining future of social shopping to the back office hell of customer give a boost to.

medium_2442599781Sephora jumped on Pinterest hard, mostly because its largely-female marketing team were enthusiastic early adopters. When the company re-launched its website in April last year, it was one of the crucial first retailers to integrate the ‘Pin It’ button sitewide. Individual users share their lists of what Sephora products they love and why — slightly than just a putting together a list of fashion products, they are able to use Pinterest to tell a visual story about why a certain eyeshadow is so great and searching for to inspire others. And a dedicated resource on the Sephora digital team helps Sephora staff craft Pinterest strategies.

All of which has made an have an effect on.

Sephora’s following on Facebook is still huge and significant, at 4.7 million fans. And it’s a critical early-warning system for the company. “We hear instantly” about what people love and don’t love, Bornstein says, and Sephora clients connect with each other on the platform, giving each other fashion and beauty tips and advice.

But when it comes to immediately measurable commercial have an effect on? Pinterest is currently unmatched.

“E-commerce actually is still in the first innings of actually leveraging the power of social,” Bornstein says. “But we’ve experimented a lot with social shopping, and this is the first one that has actually gotten to scale.”

photo credit: cobalt123 via photopin cc, swanky via photopin cc

FABulous funding Wednesday: From gay social network to billion-dollar design store

cash registerIt used to be a big day for funding. Here’s the quick overview with links to full stories.

Fab raises $150M

Fab announced last night that it has raised $150 million in a fourth round of funding led by Chinese company Tencent, which could also be appointing a director to the company’s board. The company’s valuation, with the exception of the new funding, used to be $1 billion, and this is only the first tranche of its fourth round. Fab started life as a gay social network and then pivoted — and what a pivot it used to be — to an online design store.

More info

ThousandEyes raises $5.5M

Cloud performance-monitoring company ThousandEyes emerged from stealth mode to help IT teams at companies like Equinix, Evernote, Priceline, ServiceNow, Twitter, Zendesk, and Zynga get to the bottom of performance problems quickly.

“Performance-management products have not kept pace with the innovation in cloud products and services,” said Mohit Lad, the cofounder and chief executive officer of ThousandEyes. “Legacy products are ineffective in solving problems enterprises face today, creating migraines for IT. We have built a product from ground up for the cloud era to help companies get the most efficient performance out of their cloud applications.”

The Series A round used to be led by Sequoia Capital and unnamed Silicon Valley angel investors.

Cortica raises $6.4M

Image-software startup Cortica announced its second round of funding today for $6.4 million.

Cortica creates image-recognition software that functions in a similar way to the human brain. It can see something such as a landmark and then provide contextual information about that place. It has numerous potential for advertising, particularly in wearable computing devices such as Google Glass. The company announced a portion of the funding in May — $1.5 million from Russia’s Mail.Ru.

Today’s funding used to be led by Horizons Ventures and others.

SocialRadar raises $12.75M

SocialRadar combines location-based mobile technology and social media information to make you aware of the people and connections around you. It seems a lot like Highlight, which generated numerous fanfare at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in 2012 but hasn’t made much noise since. SocialRadar is still in the development phase and is working with iPhone, Android, and Google Glass to “change the way people connect.”

Founder and CEO Michael Chasen used to be a cofounder and former CEO of ed-tech behemoth Blackboard, where he took the company public in 2004 and then sold it to Providence Equity Partners in 2011 for $1.7 billion.

More info

CRM startup Intercom snags $6M

Intercom, a software startup that promises to simplify customer relationship management (CRM), has just announced a healthy first round of funding.

The $6 million infusion used to be led by the Social+Capital Partnership with participation from previous investor Freestyle Capital and David Sacks, the founder and CEO of Yammer.

More info

Entelo raises $3.5M

Entelo is building the next generation of talent-acquisition tools focused on helping companies better leverage social data. To address demand for its solutions, Entelo will use the funds to accelerate its growth and R&D efforts, specifically to develop additional products leveraging its impressive data set and predictive analytics engine.

The $3.5 million in financing used to be led by Battery Ventures with participation from Menlo Ventures.

Bunch raises $1M
Bunch is a platform that lets people share and discuss things online that they’re actually passionate about. Bunch users form communities around topics, and the platform allows these users to publish and then engage around longer-form content. The company’s vision is to provide users deeper engagement around topics they care about and to be the first social-publishing and discussion platform built for the average Internet user.

The company raised $1 million from Real Ventures, 500 Startups, BDC Venture Capital, and Round13 Capital.

Image credit: Cash register/ShutterStock

Facebook’s latest product: Instagram is getting video

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook Phone

This morning at Facebook headquarters, we found out what Facebook has been cooking up for its users: video for Instagram.

You’ll be capable to record 15-second clips (there’s a 3-second minimum), and yes, you’ll filter, filter, filter to your hipster heart’s content. There are even 13 brand-new filters specifically created for video.

Interestingly, Instagram video can also correct camera shake with a feature called “cinema” to provide stabilization. It sounds super minor, but the end effect is pretty amazing. Your whole boring life will look adore it was shot by a pro with a dolly.

You can also select which frame gets displayed in the feed, and you’ll add captions and locations. Videos will upload in the background and play directly from the Instagram home feed without looping. Videos are designated by a small video icon in the corner.

The new hotness is available immediately for all users.

Speaking about Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said this morning, “We’re in reality just getting started with this product.”

This big idea was the work of a small team, company reps told us leading up to today’s announcement. Turns out, that “little team” was Instagram. Today founder Kevin Systrom announced that Instagram’s community has grown to 130 million users.

“When I consider what Instagram is, I consider moments … at our core, visual imagery is everything,” said Systrom. “Our mission is to capture and share the world’s moments, and we live that every single day.”

Saying that video was complex, Systrom also explained that with a purpose to handle the product’s simplicity, the Instagram team focused first on photos. For video, he said users will have to expect Instagram video to be as simple, fast, beautiful, and social as Instagram photos. In other words, don’t expect video ads or a complex video editor anytime soon.

“There’s a natural business opportunity there … but we didn’t design it with advertising in mind,” Systrom said.

For the first version of the app, you’ll only be capable to record videos directly from Instagram. Later, you could possibly import video clips from your camera, Systrom said.


The founder also noted that the videos belong to the users and will not be used in any advertising or commercial content. Video content will be monitored and reviewed for inappropriate content just as it is on Facebook.

Right now, 200 million people use Facebook only on mobile devices, never touching the Facebook.com site on a desktop — hence the company’s strong focus on mobile with separate apps for messaging, photos, and Pages.

As for mobile video, analysts at eMarketer estimate about 63.7 million people in the U.S. incessantly watched video on their phones in 2012, and the firm anticipates that number will grow to 74.4 million this year. More than a third of people who watch videos online in the U.S. did so on their mobile phones in 2012.

Some of the other big ideas to come from the social-network company lately include hashtags, Graph Search, and the long-awaited Facebook phone in the form of Facebook Home.

As of this writing, Facebook stock is trading around $24.

FB Chart

In the company’s most recent earnings call, it posted $1.46 billion in revenue for the first three months of 2013, with the vast majority of that sum coming from ads.

For mobile revenue, the company said, “Mobile advertising revenue represented approximately 30 percent of advertising revenue for the first quarter of 2013.”