Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Google To Lease Chrome Laptops for $20/Month [REPORT]”

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “Google To Lease Chrome Laptops for $20/Month [REPORT]”

Google To Lease Chrome Laptops for $20/Month [REPORT]

Posted: 11 May 2011 04:22 AM PDT

Google will begin leasing Chrome laptops for $20 per month in a “student package” that includes both hardware and access to online services, a senior Google executive has reportedly told Forbes.

The report aligns with earlier rumors that Google would begin offering Chrome OS-based notebooks for between $10 and $20 per month this summer. The official announcement is expected to hit the wire sometime Wednesday.

"Small and medium-sized businesses are banging on our doors to get something like this," the executive said, suggesting that the “student package” initiative could be a way for Google to test the waters before releasing a comparable offering for the enterprise.

Google already offers businesses access to its online suite of productivity apps, which includes a word processor, spreadsheet application and calendar, for $50 per year. Perhaps the tech giant will bundle the hardware and software offerings for enterprise users in the near future.

No further details about the hardware or contracts that may be associated with the lease are available at this time.

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Google Prepared to Pay $500M to Settle Department of Justice Investigation

Posted: 11 May 2011 01:16 AM PDT

Google has quietly disclosed that it has been the subject of an investigation by the Department of Justice into its advertising program.

The search giant revealed very few details about the investigation in a regulatory filing with the SEC. However, it’s clear that Google thinks the investigation could be costly because it has set aside $500 million from its first quarter income for a potential settlement.

“In May 2011, in connection with a potential resolution of an investigation by the United States Department of Justice into the use of Google advertising by certain advertisers, we accrued $500 million for the three month period ended March 31, 2011,” Google said in the regulatory filing. “Although we cannot predict the ultimate outcome of this matter, we believe it will not have a material adverse effect on our business, consolidated financial position, results of operations, or cash flows.”

This investigation was not something that Google included in its Q1 earnings report last month. The search giant has now modified its earnings report, dropping its GAAP net income from $2.3 billion to $1.8 billion. The change means that Google only earned $5.51 per share, rather than the $7.04 it reported last month. That’s far below analyst expectations.

It’s unclear exactly what sparked the DoJ’s newest investigation into the search giant. The Justice Department recently approved Google’s acquisition of ITA software and reached a settlement with Google, Intel, Apple, Adobe, Intuit and Pixar over anticompetitive no poaching agreements. However, the DoJ’s interest in Google’s advertisers isn’t something we’ve heard about until now. We bet this won’t be the last time we hear about this investigation.

More About: advertising, Department of Justic, DOJ, Google, google adsense, investigation

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5 Branded YouTube Channels That Get it Right [VIDEOS]

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:39 PM PDT

By now, pretty much every major brand has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but the latter is definitely more of an afterthought.

A surprisingly high number of branded YouTube channels — like Amazon's and UPS's — are sparingly updated and have few followers. Meanwhile a handful of brands — including Visa, Oracle and ExxonMobil, don't appear to have branded YouTube channels at all.

The following brands demonstrate why Amazon et al. are missing out on a big opportunity. As these examples show, a YouTube channel doesn't have to merely be a vehicle for new commercials. It can house games, behind-the-scenes stories and, best of all, a new, visual way to interact with your fan base.


Until recently, Starbucks didn't do much -- or really, any -- TV advertising. That's changed, but Starbucks doesn't see its YouTube channel merely as a dumping ground for new ads. Instead, there's a lot of extra content, including some exclusive stuff with musicians like Jakob Dylan, James Mercer of the Shins, and Broken Bells.

In the video above, Mercer plays Broken Bells' track "The High Road" to a focus group of British kids. "I didn't like the synthesizer bits in the chorus," says one of them, "and it's a bit dark."

In addition, there are commercials for the brand, information about where Starbucks gets its coffee, and interviews with Starbucks employees.


Orabrush is a real product, but you still might want to check out the brand's YouTube channel even if you're not in the market for a new oral care solution.

Since 2009, Orabrush has been cranking out one zany video after another that resemble Funny Or Die bits more than standard commercials. For instance, Orabrush the Movie, shown here, presents the company's creation story as a gritty independent flick. Best of all perhaps is Orabrush's iPad 2 parody, which will change the way you look at Apple's ads forever.

Choice quotes: "We have a great product that's revolutionized the world. So what? Are we going to sit around in front of a white screen in turtlenecks bragging about it all day?" and "Give me a choice between the cure to cancer and the cure to bad breath and I'd take the Orabrush."


Some brands have all the luck. GoPro has an advantage over many other brands in that its product line -- wearable HD cameras for sports -- happens to be the perfect one to be shilling in the age of YouTube.

Naturally, the brand's YouTube Page features video after video of POV shots from athletes recording their feats on one of the cameras. Some of them are even in 3D. Spend some time on the site and you'll never look at an avalanche cliff jump the same way again.


Call it propaganda, if you will, but there's no denying that this is really good propaganda.

Watch enough of the content Walmart's channel - which ranges from TV commercials, to stories from Walmart employees, to testimonials from "Walmart Moms" who save money at the store - and you'll be ready to conclude that this is the best company in the world.

Like Starbucks, Walmart's YouTube site is a great example of a brand that's providing a range of content that never strays far from its marketed image. There's nothing on either site that feels like it doesn't belong or doesn't promote the brand in some way.

Pepto Bismol

Procter & Gamble's stomach care brand is on this list because it's one of the few (and maybe the only) brands to use its channel to host a game.

On Cinco de Mayo, the brand introduced Pinata Smash, which let you make your own pinata-smashing video with variables for the pinata, the filling and the smasher. The program didn't set the world on fire -- each video got in the five-digit range for views -- but it did suggest some new possibilities for YouTube as a social media marketing vehicle.

More About: gopro, List, Lists, MARKETING, orabrush, Pepto Bismol, social media, social media marketing, starbucks, video, WalMart, youtube

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Google +1 for Websites Nears Launch

Posted: 10 May 2011 08:28 PM PDT

Google’s answer to the Facebook Like Button will make its debut “in the coming weeks,” according to Google’s development team.

On Tuesday at the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco, the search giant gave developers a sneak peek at the Google +1 button. It’s very similar to Facebook’s Like Button or the Twitter Tweet button — it provides a way for website visitors to endorse and share an article or web page.

According to Search Engine Land, the buttons will be available in seven different shapes and sizes with and without counters. Publishers can create one of these +1 buttons from a simple form where they can generate the embed code.

As you might expect, Google’s +1 button also comes with a suite of analytics that look similar to the Google Analytics dashboard. Once enough people have used a website’s +1 button, the data will be graphed. Demographic information such as age, gender and location are recorded. The analytics even include +1 data from Google search pages, which could prove useful for publishers that want to improve their presence on the world’s largest search engine.

Google played coy with the exact launch date of the +1 button, but you can expect it to make its debut at the end of May or in early June. The company has a signup form if you want to get notified about the button’s launch.

More About: 1, Facebook Like, Google, Google +1, like button, social media

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Watch, Learn & Shop With Online Guitar TV Network

Posted: 10 May 2011 08:02 PM PDT

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: Guitar TV

Quick Pitch: Guitar TV is an interactive streaming video service for musicians featuring guitar performances, interviews, live broadcasts and lessons.

Genius Idea: All guitar content, all the time — with a side of interactivity.

Guitar TV, created by Grammy Award-winning music artist Steve Vai and musician/and tech guy Andy Alt, was designed to inspire and educate everyone who has ever wielded or wanted to wield an ax.

“When I was a kid, the first time I saw a guitar it held this great mystique,” says Vai. “I was instantly attracted to it. I loved watching people play it.”

For years, Vai dreamed of creating a TV channel entirely devoted to the guitar, but seeing as how that would be a costly endeavor, the idea was tabled until he met Alt, who, in the past, had worked for Sun Microsystems, Paypal, Intel and Belkin (in addition to playing in bands).

Alt shared Vai’s dream of creating a station devoted to guitar players, to inspire musicians — “To move from the bedroom as a guitar player to a stage takes a lot,” he says. “I think there are a lot of amazing talents yet to be seen and I want to be a part of it as a big movement.”

Alt and Vai plan to have no shortage of content curated for aspiring musicians on the site; it will feature both on-demand videos (show footage, lessons, etc) ad well as live video events (via a partnership with Livestream).

While the content promises to be interesting enough, the format of the site is pretty slick. Designed to look like a guitar, you can click on any of the six strings next to the video to bring up even more content: 1). Artist info (via Wikipedia), 2). Links to buy tracks Amazon and iTunes, 2). The tablature of whatever song is playing (via, 3). A link to buy concert tickets (via Ticketmaster), 4). Info about what guitar and amp s/he is playing, and a link to buy them (via All of these features are made possible using an advertising platform called InEVO, and Guitar TV will take a cut of all sales executed through the site.

In addition, the site is also integrated with Facebook and Twitter, allowing users to chat about the videos and share them via social networks. Livestreams will feature that platform’s chat module as well. Users can’t comment on videos yet, but Vai and Alt plan to add these features. Bands can also submit their own videos for possible inclusion in the programming.

The site just launched, so there’s not a lot of content to play around with as of yet. Still, Steve Vai recently set the Guinness World Record for most massive online guitar lesson, so we already know he has pull in the online music realm. We’re interested to see how the site grows and changes as more videos are added.

“It fulfills that original dream that I had to watch one amazing guitar performance after another,” says Vai. “For a guitar player, that’s a really exciting thing.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr, southerntabitha

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.

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Scam Warning: Only Google Can Give You a Google Music Invite [ALERT]

Posted: 10 May 2011 06:56 PM PDT

Be careful, webizens: Anyone offering you a free Google Music Beta invite is setting you up for a scam.

The beta doesn’t let current users give out invitations to their friends, so no one has spare invites to give you. That includes Mashable writers, your friends online, and any website claiming to be giving away Google Music invites.

Any person or website claiming to be “giving away” Google Music invites is lying, a fact we’ve just confirmed with Google representatives. Because of the way invites are handed out, they’re linked to specific Google Accounts. In other words, one person can’t request an invite and pass it on; the invite has to be requested and accepted by the same Google Account.

So far, we’ve seen all kinds of scam and spam out there around Google Music, from CPA surveys to data gathering apps that prompt you to enter personal information. We should be more surprised at the alacrity of these scam-hounds, but with every great product comes great potential for fraud. Free iPod, anybody?

If you see links out there for Google Music invites, don’t click them. Don’t tweet them, and don’t post them on Facebook or anywhere else. The only link you need is, the official website of Google Music.

More About: alert, Google, google io, google music, scam

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Inside Google Music [PICS]

Posted: 10 May 2011 05:54 PM PDT

We’ve just cracked the seal on Google Music, and so far, we’re pretty impressed.

First, the service’s Music Manager desktop app scraped our iTunes (it can also go through other apps to find your full music collection); it will automatically add new songs to a Google Music account (in the cloud, of course) as soon as they’re added to iTunes.

After a few minutes, the songs uploaded to Google Music from iTunes on the desktop automatically appeared on our Android phone and tablet. It took five minutes or so for the first 150 songs to upload. We imagine getting one’s entire musical library onto Google Music could take some time, especially for the hardcore music fans out there. The service can store up to 20,000 songs per user on up to eight authorized devices.

But as for the wireless syncing between devices, the experience doesn’t get much more simple or convenient than this one. We’d love it if our iTunes playlists synced, as well, but we’ll take what we can get for the time being.

UPDATE: A couple hours later, the iTunes playlists are showing up just fine. Thanks, Google!

Here’s a gallery showing you a step-by-step walkthrough of Google Music. Sign up while the service is in beta — especially in you’re an Android user, the benefits are definitely worth a short wait.

Google's Desktop Music Manager

Here, the Music Manager is combing through iTunes to grab our songs and start uploading them.

Google Music Interface

The UI is simple and intuitive, like a lot of other Google products.

Google Music UI Close-Up

Google Music Album

Here's what an album looks like inside Google Music -- nothing fancy, everything familiar. There's a thumbs up/thumbs down feature, too.

Google Music on Android

We wrote a whole post about how Google Music looks on Android devices, but here's a super slick carousel featuring music that was uploaded from our desktop iTunes to the Google Music cloud and automatically synced to the Android phone.

Google Music Genres

Google sorts music by a few standard criteria, including genre, artist and album. It can also create "instant playlists" of similar songs once you've got a large enough database of songs uploaded.

Top image based on photo from iStockphoto user filonmar

More About: android, Google, google io, google music

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Celebrities on Twitter: 30 Famous First Tweets

Posted: 10 May 2011 05:28 PM PDT

When Twitter was born in 2006, it asked a simple question: “What are you doing?”

In November 2009, the prompt changed to “What’s happening?” The subtle difference paved the way for Twitter’s explosive growth and use as a real-time information network. The site has grown into a platform whereby people exchange links, share photos, break news and learn. No one cares if you’re eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; we do care what article you’re reading, what products you’re playing with, and what you think about President Obama’s latest speech.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter enables us to engage with public figures, from bubble-gum pop singers to heads of state — they’re all on there. We thought it’d be fun to take a look back and see what celebrities first tweeted when they joined the site. Some got the hang of it, others poked fun at it, some were witty, and one didn’t even know “wtf i’m doing” (thanks, Snooki!).

Read on for some of our favorites.

Neil Patrick Harris

The actor formerly known as "Doogie Howser" -- who's experienced a comeback of sorts on How I Met Your Mother -- joined Twitter with a comedic message that pokes fun at the 140-character limit.

Ashton Kutcher

Kutcher, who's acting career has taken a backseat to Nikon peddling and his interactive agency, Katalyst Media, is one of the early Twitter celebrities. Two years ago, Kutcher was in a race with CNN to be the first person to reach one million followers, which he did on April 16, 2009. This moment was an indication that Twitter had gone mainstream, and Kutcher went on Oprah that week to help Winfrey post her first tweet.But Kutcher had humble beginnings -- his first tweet merely expressed that he was sharing his first tweet.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah came on board on April 17, 2009, with the help of Ashton Kutcher and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. Days later, it was announced that Winfrey's segment generated a 43% spike in traffic on the microblogging site.

Tom Hanks

Veteran actor Tom Hanks made a charming entry with his first tweet on January 11, 2010 -- the classic mic joke.

Britney Spears

Like much of her career, Britney Spears' first tweet on October 10, 2008, seems to have been handled by her management team. It's a straightforward welcome to Britney's Twitter world.

Barack Obama

Obama joined Twitter two months after he announced his candidacy for the 2008 presidential election. Appropriately, his first tweet was optimistic and self-promotional, including a plug for his website.

Roger Ebert

Film critic Roger Ebert is one of the more insightful, poignant tweeters on the social platform, and he's been that way since he joined the network. His first tweet on October 4, 2009, was a touching comment on aging.

Conan O'Brien

Funnyman Conan O'Brien first tweeted on February 24, 2010. It was in the aftermath of the NBC shakeup that booted the redhead from The Tonight Show and launched his fan-powered social media presence.

Charlie Sheen

Sheen launched a #winning social media campaign by joining Twitter on March 1, 2010. He went on to garner a Guinness World Record for "Fastest Time to Reach One Million Followers" in just over 25 hours.

Queen Rania

The beauty of Twitter is that it enables us to communicate with celebrities, politicians and even royalty. Queen Rania joined Twitter on May 7, 2009. Since then, she has explored Twitter as a diplomatic tool, even posting a Twitvid to promote tourism in Jordan.


NASA launched a Twitter account to share news of space exploration, historical tidbits and shuttle updates. Its first tweet, on December 20, 2007, reminisced about the launch of Apollo 17.

Clarence House

Clarence House's first tweet came on November 15, 2010 -- just one day before the announcement that Prince William and Kate Middleton were engaged. It's almost like they knew word of the Royal Wedding would spread quickly on Twitter...

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga loves her "little monsters," but her first tweet came before she knew of "The Fame" that would come her way. Gaga tweeted about rehearsing for a music video and performing at a party -- appropriate for the "What's happening?" prompt.

Hugo Chavez

Twitter, of course, isn't just a tool for English speakers. Last year, a study found that just 50% of tweets are in English. Thus, it's no surprise that just as President Obama tweets, so too does Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. His first tweet, on April 28, 2010, reads: "Hey how's it going? I appeared like I said I would: at midnight. I'm off to Brazil. And very happy to work for Venezuela. We will be victorious!!"


The Jersey Shore's most famous guidette made a splash with her honest and oh-so-typical first tweet on April 3, 2009.


Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh has himself become a brand, and though he peddles shoes, Zappos has become synonymous with impeccable customer service and "delivering happiness." Zappos first tweeted on March 8, 2008, during SXSW, although Hsieh's first tweet indicates confusion about how to follow.

David Pogue

New York Times tech reporter David Pogue first tweeted on October 19, 2007, dropping a line about heading to a tech expo in the morning.

Steve Martin

Steve Martin's first tweet on September 11, 2010 proves that Twitter is a great platform for pithy punchlines.


Kesha of "Tik Tok" fame took her 'tude to Twitter on March 23, where her handle is @keshasuxx. Keeping her habits of odd characters and intentional misspellings of words, her first tweet makes little sense.

Bill Gates

Tech honcho Bill Gates jumped on the bandwagon relatively early. On February 9, 2007, he suggested that Microsoft get in on the Twitter game, perhaps foreseeing the platform's rise to prominence.

Jack Dorsey

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the very first tweet on March 21, 2006 - the first of many billions to come.

Dalai Lama

Though the Dalai Lama is known for peace, serenity and holiness, that didn't stop him from joining Twitter. His first tweet, on February 22, 2010, served as a modern day press release -- he announced an appearance and provided a link.

Martha Stewart

The domestic goddess Martha Stewart could barely contain her excitement about "using Twitter for the first time!" on February 20, 2009. It's reminiscent of the tone she used in Twitter's fifth birthday video.

Bill Cosby

Jello-peddling, sweater-sporting Bill Cosby changed "sweet" to "tweet" in his first 140-character update on July 7, 2009.

Richard Branson

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson is known for being an outdoorsy thrillseeker, but his first tweet shows a softer side. On October 22, 2008, Branson tweeted about his children, Holly and Sam, and how they're "coping" as they sought to break the trans-Atlantic sailing record.

White House

President Obama has his own Twitter account, and so too does his home. On May 1, 2009, the White House established that @whitehouse is the official feed of the presidential residence.


It seems pretty meta, but Twitter tweets, too. On July 11, 2007 -- more than a year into Twitter's existence -- the company tweeted about working on mobile apps Hahlo and Pocket Tweets.

Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg joined the Twitterverse on February 12, 2009, but it seems like he's chosen his own social network over Twitter -- he hasn't tweeted since March 13, 2009.

Justin Bieber

Before Bieber Fever infected the Twitterverse, the teen idol used Twitter to direct fans to his MySpace page. His first tweet, on May 12, 2009, was a promotion for his then-new single, "One Time."

Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman jumped right into the jokes when she joined Twitter on April 13, 2009.

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Robots, Androids & Geeks at Google I/O [PICS]

Posted: 10 May 2011 04:41 PM PDT

We’ve been enjoying a busy, news-filled day at Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference in San Francisco, and we’ve got the pics to prove it.

We spotted some of our favorite people, as well as a few good robots, around the convention center. Here’s our digital photo album of Google I/O memories — and fair warning, those memories are pretty Android-heavy.

In fact, the Googlers and Android devs have been using the Android OS as a versatile means to some pretty interesting ends. As you’ll see below, Androids are powering player pianos, hydroponic gardens, super-sized labyrinth games and a lot more. Plus, the Android mascot itself has been brought to life as everything from mobile charging stations to miniaturized C3PO-like bots.

Wee Android

This tiny bot was scooting around the third floor of Moscone West all by himself.

Chris Taylor, Mashable's San Francisco Bureau Chief

Chris blogging and editing in a sunny corner of the Google I/O Press Lounge.

Droids On Wheels

Salesforce's Kevin Marks at Google I/O

Giant Tablet-Controlled Labyrinth Game

This game took up several hundred square feet and was controlled by a player with an Android tablet. The whole thing rose, fell and tilted just as a smaller version would.

Google SVP Mobile Andy Rubin

Rubin during a panel on the many Android announcements today.


The Happiest Place on Earth... if you're a fandroid, that is.

Android Charging Android... How Meta

These charging stations were strategically positioned throughout the conference center.

Android-Powered Piano

No rolls required.

Google Swag

We each received a T shirt and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

Rackspace's Robert Scoble

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Hall of the Androids

Hugo Barra, Product Management Director, Mobile at Google

Barra onstage during the Google I/O keynote

Android-Powered Garden

This hydroponic garden was monitored and controlled from an Android phone.

Androids For Your Health!

Just Another Robot


Not Something We Expected to See

If your Android phone is going to get borked, Google I/O would be the place to take it.

Developers at Google I/O

More About: android, gallery, Google, google io, pics

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Say Hello to Groupon Now & Right Here, Right Now Deals

Posted: 10 May 2011 04:02 PM PDT

Groupon has just launched Groupon Now, the company’s much-anticipated time-based deals app that wants to redefine how society eats and shops.

Groupon Now, which was first revealed in March, is a simple application within Groupon’s mobile apps that gives a user the ability to find local deals in realtime. This is accomplished by mapping a list of time-specific daily deals in the user’s vicinity. These daily deals can last anywhere from a few hours to a full day, depending on when and how long a business wants to run a deal.

The goal of Groupon Now is to give businesses the opportunity to bring in new customers during slow periods of business. If a restaurant knows that it gets weak business on Wednesday afternoons, it can set up a daily deal for that time frame. When a user checks the Groupon iOS or Android app at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, he or she will see that deal, creating a financial incentive to visit a new restaurant.

Unfortunately, Groupon Now is only available in Chicago (the location of Groupon’s headquarters) for now, but we bet it won’t be long until it rolls out to other cities around the world. It’s now available in Groupon’s iPhone and Android apps through an update in the iOS App Store and the Android Marketplace.

What do you think of Groupon Now? Would you choose a local business based on a time-specific deal on your phone? Let us know in the comments.

More About: daily deals, groupon, Groupon Now

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Google I/O for Developers: New App Engine, Go Runtime & Eclipse Plugin

Posted: 10 May 2011 03:38 PM PDT

Although Google’s developer conference was awash with consumer product news, the company actually made some announcements relevant to developers.

App Engine is being graduated from a preview to version 1.5 this summer. The new version offers Backends, better Task Queues and an experimental runtime for Go, Google’s homebrewed programming language.

In addition to the App Engine upgrade, Google also unveiled a Google Plugin for Eclipse, the popular IDE.

Within App Engine, Backends for both Python and Java will support apps with long running requirements and high memory processes, such as custom search engines.

With the new Go runtime, Go apps will be compiled to native code, and the compiling is optimized to be super fast. You can download App Engine SDK for Go now, and you’ll soon be able to deploy Go apps in App Engine.

For Eclipse users, the Google Plugin for Eclipse will help Java devs more easily set up their apps in the Google cloud. The plugin helps devs in “generating high quality Ajax code using the Google Web Toolkit, optimizing performance with Speed Tracer, and effortlessly deploying applications to the App Engine.”

Python announcements regarding support for more current version should be coming “real soon,” according to a Google rep at I/O.

On the official Google Code blog blog, App Engine Senior Product Manager Greg D’Alesandre wrote: “when we take App Engine out of preview in the second half of this year, we will provide a 99.95% uptime service level agreement, operational and developer support, offline billing, and a new Terms of Service agreement geared towards businesses. We will also introduce a new pricing structure for App Engine based on more transparent usage-based pricing.”

image courtesy of iStockphoto user nullplus

More About: developers, eclipse, Google, google io, IDE, java

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How Microsoft Will Change Skype

Posted: 10 May 2011 03:24 PM PDT

Lots of questions still surround Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype.

Did Microsoft pay too much? What does this mean for Skype’s competitors? And how will the software giant change the VOIP service we know and love?

After Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Skype CEO Tony Bates discussed the deal with the press, we have a better idea of what Microsoft hopes to gain.

After separating itself from eBay in 2009, it was clear that Skype was well on its way to an IPO. But Ballmer saw more value in buying the company outright. Microsoft tendered an unsolicited offer in April. When Bates saw that offer, he made the decision to sell.

So why was it such a good fit for Ballmer? During its press conference, Microsoft reiterated three talking points:

  • Skype’s immense size — 170 million active users — and growth plan.
  • The fact that 40% of Skype’s activity is video.
  • Skype’s role in mobile communications.

It is in this third area — mobile — that Microsoft has the most to gain.

Skype: Microsoft’s Key to the Wireless Carrier Kingdom?

Microsoft never seemed to miss an opportunity to tout the “170 million active users” figure in relation to Skype. It’s clear the user base attracted Microsoft to the company.

Microsoft, of course, is no stranger to huge user numbers. But momentum is shifting from the PC to smartphones and tablets. The lead that the software giant has on the desktop won’t magically translate to these emerging platforms –as the success of iOS and Android and the relatively poor start for Windows Phone 7 proves.

This is where Skype’s role as a cross-platform tool — both on the desktop and on mobile devices — becomes attractive. Skype instantly gives Microsoft a better foothold into platforms and ecosystems that it doesn’t control, in a market where it is not a leader.

Moreover, it also gives the company access to carriers that might not be Windows Phone 7 operators now, but want to use Skype. That’s not to say Microsoft will use its leverage with Skype to try to force carriers to adopt Windows Phone 7 (at least, not yet). This is more about building relationships, especially important in the context of the Microsoft/Nokia partnership.

It’s no secret that Nokia’s presence in the North American smartphone market is nonexistent. that’s one reason Nokia partnered with Microsoft. But when Nokia brings its first Windows Phone 7 handsets to market in a year or so, solid relationships with carriers by way of Skype can only help Nokia gain traction. And a successful Nokia makes Microsoft more successful by proxy.

Prepare for Video Ads in Your Skype

A very small percentage of Skype’s 170 million users actually pay to use the service. Skype’s IPO plans indicate that this was not a pressing concern.

But the company was looking to expand video advertising within Skype itself — and CEO Tony Bates mentioned video ads numerous times during the press conference.

Under Microsoft, Skype’s advertising muscle is far stronger. Microsoft has spent lots of time investing into ad platforms with Bing and the Windows brands, and that is sure to extend to Skype.

Skype users — especially those who use Windows — should expect to see video ads and portal homepage information coming to the app in the future. This makes sense. If Google or Facebook had purchased Skype, chances are they would take a similar approach.

Skype and the Enterprise: Wait and See

One of the final questions posed to Ballmer and Bates was what impact Microsoft will have on Skype’s enterprise ambitions.

During the past year, Skype has tried gaining traction in the enterprise space. While it is virtually unrivaled in the consumer space, Skype is hardly a key player in business. Skype’s infrastructure is less secure and less stable than offerings from competitors like Cisco.

When Skype experienced a major meltdown back in December, the company’s explanations for the outage might have been good enough for consumers who use the service for free, but would have been unacceptable for business and corporate customers. Meanwhile, Microsoft is entrenched in enterprise and has developed its own tools for internal corporate communications.

On the call, Ballmer skirted the question of how Microsoft would integrate Skype into its corporate solutions, only saying that he saw lots of potential to connect secure corporate communication with friends-and-family usage. That doesn’t mean that the technology can’t be adapted for the enterprise — in fact, we’re sure that’s is part of Microsoft’s long-term goal. But today’s Skype will likely differ significantly from the Microsoft Skype product aimed at enterprise users in the future.

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Yonkers Looks To Revitalize With the Help of Startups [EXCLUSIVE]

Posted: 10 May 2011 03:00 PM PDT

Located just north of Manhattan along the Hudson River in New York, the city of Yonkers probably does not come to mind as a center for technology innovation and entrepreneurship.

The city is working to change this perception with its new Y-Enterprise incubator space and a contest designed to solicit applications from startups and attract top talent to the city.

The “Y-Your Enterprise?” contest, announced Monday by Yonkers Mayor Philip A. Amicone, is offering one startup six months of free and furnished office space in the new 8,000-square-foot Y-Enterprise Business Center.

The contest is open to entrepreneurs whose startups have been in business for at least one year and have up to eight employees. Interested parties need to complete an application and submit a 60-second or less video pitch on who they are and why they should win the free office space.

Submissions are accepted now through June 15. Finalists’ video entries will be posted online for a public vote beginning June 30. The finalist with the most votes by July 15 will win the contest and the rent-free space in the Y-Enterprise Business Center.

The Y-Enterprise Business Center space is designed to help entrepreneurs launch their companies. It’s outfitted with common areas, legal and accounting advisory services, administrative staffing, conference rooms, and a lounge and reception area. Y-Enterprise tenants also receive business development assistance from the city of Yonkers, as well as federal and state tax credits and incentives.

“Yonkers is a city on the rise and the Y-Enterprise program will have a major role in that upward momentum,” says Yonkers City Commissioner Lou Kirven.

The city started the Y-Enterprise program and built the business center to attract new, high-growth enterprises, he says. Kirven also speaks of the city’s investment in the surrounding community and a larger city-wide revitalization project. “We’ve spent over $1 billion in public and private monies to bring forth a wonderful environment for technology people,” he says.

“Yonkers is a great place to socialize, live and do business,” says Kirven. “The last piece for us is to the plant the flag, and say, ‘Come to Yonkers. This is where you can build your successful company.’”

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Why Career & Technical Education Should Be a Priority for the U.S. [OPINION]

Posted: 10 May 2011 02:32 PM PDT

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

degree imageBob Regan is the Director of Worldwide Primary and Secondary Education at Adobe Systems. Bob works closely with educators, students, and school administrators to ensure that Adobe strategies and solutions align with the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing schools today.

For today's students, the experience of going to school can feel like flying in an airplane, minus the excitement of travel. Students enter a world cut off from their own where they are asked to turn off all electronic devices. They can feel trapped, simply staring straight ahead for hours. Without a clear sense of where they are going, many U.S. students simply opt to get off the plane.

In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama said, "… If we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids." However, the United States now graduates less than 75% of its students. Worse, in sixteen of the biggest cities, the graduation rate is less than 50%.

To win the future, the United States needs a well-educated workforce that will drive tomorrow's innovation. We need students who graduate ready to take skilled positions in high-growth sectors of the economy. At all levels, businesses need employees that are more creative, more technical, and more connected than ever. This means that technical literacy is no longer "nice to have," but a requirement for success.

Unfortunately, the high-skilled labor required to drive economic innovation remains elusive. The U.S. unemployment rate is currently at 8.7%, nationally. At the same time, a recent study found that 14% of employers in the U.S. reported having difficulty finding employees to fill high-skill positions, including jobs like technicians, sales people, office support, and skilled tradespeople.

While education and educators have made many tremendous strides over the years, it's also clear that what we are still doing is not working. In political discussions, No Child Left Behind was intended to increase accountability — to ensure every child has a great teacher and has access to college. But the reality in many of our schools is quite different.

By placing so much emphasis on testing, the curriculum became centered around those tests. Since students' day-to-day lives are vastly different from what they see on standardized tests, they have little context for the content they are asked to learn. The result: 21st century skills involving creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication are devalued or absent from classrooms.

Our students deserve better, and our schools are capable of more. The ways to keep students engaged in school don't need to come from far-flung theories. Instead, we need to look at our schools and recognize the programs that are working.

Career and Technical Education

Today's vocational programs, often referred to as “Career and Technical Education” or CTE, have seen significant gains. The programs start with a specific career focus, such as health sciences, business, or technology. CTE programs provide students with preparation to take careers in specific fields or to continue advanced study in post-secondary programs. The courses are often project-based with outcomes aligning to skills needed for the workplace, not a multiple choice test. Students still memorize content, and they often take college preparatory courses. However, the rationale for this material is connected to the context of their courses.

A notable CTE example is the Career and Professional Education (CAPE) Academies in Florida. Implemented in 2006, the goal of the program was to address a statewide graduation rate of only 71%. The CAPE academies are small schools, often schools within schools, with a specific career focus. They are required to have an explicit industry partnership and provide industry certification, along with a college preparatory curriculum. Students in these programs earn credentials as nursing assistants, Adobe Certified Associates, or law enforcement trainees.

Disclosure: The author is employed by Adobe.

Too often, vocational programs have been thought of as alternatives to college. However, Florida has shown that CTE programs can open the door to further education. After only five years, the graduation rate is 88.3% among students enrolled in CAPE academies (and 97.4% for those graduating with technical certifications). At the same time, these students graduate with a significantly higher GPA. While the average GPA in Florida is 2.5, the average among CAPE students earning industry certification is 3.0.

The contrast between programs focused on testing and others like CTE that bring a more solid context to learning is clear. In many cases, program content is similar. However, immersing students in a specific career provides a stronger context for learning. Students can connect the rationale for learning new content to a career skill or objective. Instead of being viewed as a distraction, technology becomes a critical tool to give students 21st Century skills in creativity, critical thinking, and communications.

The Obama administration has been vocal in its support of CTE programs. In February of 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that "CTE has an enormous, if often overlooked impact on students, school systems, and our ability to prosper as a nation." He called for educators to focus on preparing all students for college and career. However, as part of the 2011 budget, the primary vehicle for funding CTE in the United States was cut by $138 million, or roughly 12% — with more cuts pending. It highlights the disconnect between political rhetoric and reality.

For our students' success and for the future of the U.S. economy, we need to retire outdated notions of vocational programs. Cutting CTE programs that keep students engaged in school, while providing vital 21st Century skills, isn't sound financial planning for our schools, students, or our economy. CTE has proven successful at engaging students in learning by putting subject content into a real-world context — and we need to continue to fully fund these essential programs.

Interested in more Education resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of Flickr, smemon87

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Moby Streams New Album With Help From Soundcloud & Instagram

Posted: 10 May 2011 02:15 PM PDT

Musician Moby has taken the album stream to a whole new level, launching a microsite to premiere his new album, Destroyed, that ties in Soundcloud and Instagram.

Destroyed is an album/photo book — Moby wrote the album late at night while touring, the book features photos from tour. Both will be released on May 17.

The site deftly merges music and images into one intriguing, interactive experience. Upon visiting the site, tracks from the disc begin playing — you can listen to the album in its entirety (thanks to Soundcloud’s API).

The site also contains a map of the world littered with pins. When you click on a pin, you can check out Moby’s photos from around the world. Fans can also add their own images to the map by snapping pictures on Instagram and adding the tag “#destroyed.” There’s already a couple of fan photos up on the site.

Oddly, though, Moby doesn’t appear to be on Instagram — we reached out to his camp to check on this, but a search for “Moby” doesn’t yield an account. Instagram has yet to be really embraced by musicians — The National has a pretty popular account, and we’ve seen a few other band members up there, sure — but we can see it functioning as a great place to follow bands if more music types hit “install.”

But I digress. Destroyed is a lovely, inspired microsite, and fits with a growing trend we’re seeing among musicians: pre-releasing music in interesting ways. From puzzles to “Like” gates to Instagram-studded maps, the days of premiering a song on the radio have truly been surpassed by digital artistry.

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6 Companies Aiming to Digitize the Textbook Industry

Posted: 10 May 2011 01:45 PM PDT

The world’s readers purchased an estimated $966 million of ebooks in 2010, and Amazon has been selling more ebooks than paper books since January. But students have yet to catch on to the digital book revolution with the same fervor.

A 2010 study by OnCampus Research found that 74% of college students surveyed still prefer to use a printed textbook.

Where some see non-adopters, others see untapped markets, and thus large and small players alike have long been targeting the digital textbook niche. Here are some of the ways they’re looking to get students to trade their print for pixels.

1. CourseSmart

CourseSmart was launched in 2007 as a joint venture with five publishers, including McGraw-Hill and Pearson. The advantage of being backed by major textbook companies is that the site claims to offer “90% of the core textbooks in North American Higher Education as eTextbooks.”

The CourseSmart approach is pretty standard (as the products of huge companies tend to be). Students can choose between a downloadable and online format of their texts. In either version, searchable pages look identical to print copies. As with a print copy, readers can highlight and take notes in the books. Availability on Android, iPhone and iPad apps make the books even portable.

2. CafeScribe

Follett-owned CafeScribe sells books with built-in study networks. Using the company’s software MyScribe, which it calls “iTunes for eBooks,” students can sort, highlight and take notes on the ebooks they buy. But the software also comes with less-standard social features.

Students can join groups to automatically pool their notes and make studying collaborative (professors can also create groups for their classes). Generous students can even make their notes available to everyone else through the platform. When ready to study for the exam, a quick button compiles a summary of selected note sets.

Since Follett runs bookstores on more than 850 campuses in the United States, CafeScribe has some notable advantages in the marketplace. Four hundred campuses use the system in at least one course, according to RWW.

3. VitalSource

VitalSource is a combination between CourseSmart and CafeScribe. Like CourseSmart, it provides access to textbooks online, in a downloadable format, and from mobile iOS apps. Like CafeScribe, students can choose to share their notes and highlights with just friends or with anyone else who uses the same book.

The platform also has support for videos, web resources and multimedia that are embedded within a limited number of ebooks.

4. enTourage Systems

While other companies are formatting their digital textbooks for ereaders and tablets, enTourage Systems has created its own $500 ereader for that purpose. The company sells the Edge, a device that looks something like a Kindle and a tablet sandwiched together, as well as the textbooks to read on it.

The dual-screens allow students to choose between typing or scribbling notes directly onto the text, attach links to text, search terms within texts online and switch between color views and easy epaper reading. The two screens interact.

In November, the company released a $200 mini version of the product called Pocket Edge that runs on the Android.

5. Inkling

Inkling’s iPad textbooks are more than mere print copies. The company packs its titles with quizzes, interactive infographics and tappable key terms. Like CafeScribe, readers can follow each others’ notes, but on the iPad those notes pop up in real time — which means your buddy might answer a question that you have before class actually ends. It also allows students to purchase books by chapter.

"We have a very sophisticated set of software tools that help us gently disassemble a textbook and then reconstruct it from the ground up to make something that really makes sense on an iPad," Inkling founder and CEO Matt MacInnis told All Things Digital in March.

The downside of this disassembling and reassembling is that a bulk of textbooks aren’t on the platform yet. As of March, there were 14 offerings. A recent multi-million dollar round of funding from McGraw-Hill and Pearson should help expand its library.

6. Nook Study

Barnes & Noble focused on the etextbook game in 2010 with the release of its free desktop ereader, Nook Study. The software allows students to read, search and annotate textbooks, as well as keeps track of course-related documents. Students can also use the Internet to look up definitions and other information, like formulas, directly from the text.

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More About: digital textbook, education, etextbooks, gadgets, tech, technology

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Next iPod Nano To Reinstate a Camera [RUMOR]

Posted: 10 May 2011 01:17 PM PDT

A photo of an alleged iPod nano prototype, published on Taiwanese site, shows a camera on the device, which is approximately the same shape and size as the current sixth generation of Apple’s miniature music player.

Crediting “Ray from California” for the news, the site claims (via Google Translate) that the new nano will feature a 1.3-megapixel camera, which sounds slightly disappointing but reasonable, given the device’s tiny screen size.

If the rumor is true — and this particular Taiwanese site has a good track record when it comes to predicting the next iPod nano — this would be the second time the iPod nano gets a camera. The current generation doesn’t have the feature, but the fifth generation nano did have one, coming much closer to the iPod touch in size and features.

Are you one of the users that misses the camera on the current nano, or do you think it’s unnecessary? Please, share your opinions in the comments.

[via AppleInsider]

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Lady Gaga & Zynga Found GagaVille

Posted: 10 May 2011 12:52 PM PDT

Two social media heavyweights — Lady Gaga and Zynga — will partner for GagaVille, an offshoot of FarmVille.

GagaVille, a uniquely designed neighboring farm to FarmVille, that sports unicorns and crystals, according to Zynga, launches May 17. GagaVille visitors will get a first listen to unreleased songs from Gaga’s album Born This Way, available May 23. The full album also comes bundled as a free download when you buy a $25 Zynga game card at Best Buy.

The deal also includes a "Words With Gaga" contest in Zynga's mobile Words With Friends game. Playing the designated Gaga word of the day — which will be announced on Gaga’s Facebook Page each day — will give players the chance to win concert tickets and a signed copy of Born This Way. Zynga is also giving players limited edition Lady Gaga virtual items on RewardVille that can be used across Zynga games.

Such a deal had been predicted after Gaga and Zynga collaborated on an earthquake relief effort for Japan in March. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Zynga and Gaga were in discussions about a tie-in effort.

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Topshop Lets Shoppers Try on Clothes Virtually in Moscow Store [VIDEO]

Posted: 10 May 2011 12:30 PM PDT

International fashion retailer Topshop set up a virtual fitting room in its flagship Moscow store last week, an experimental move for the retailer.

The fitting room, which was built by Russian agency AR Door, uses Microsoft Kinect and augmented reality to let shoppers try on clothes without going into a fitting room. A built-in camera recognizes a human body and superimposes a 3D model of a garment; users can switch clothes using simple gestures, powered by Kinect.

Like virtual fitting rooms on the web and in mobile apps, the 3D fitting is awkward at best, but it does give an idea of what clothes shopping might be like a decade from now.

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Airbnb Taps Facebook, Lets You Crash With Friends Of Friends

Posted: 10 May 2011 12:05 PM PDT

Airbnb, the vacation rentals site where users can rent couches, countries and everything in between, is personalizing the rental search experience with the help of Facebook’s social graph starting Tuesday.

“Social Connections completely transforms the search experience on Airbnb,” the startup says. “We’ve added a new filter, allowing you to quickly and easily find connections you have in any city around the world.”

Social Connections is a new filter that returns places where there is a link between the user and the host through a Facebook connection. The idea is to give users insight and information about how they are connected to hosts and other travelers.

Users can opt into Social Connections to more easily find places to rent from hosts who are direct Facebook friends, hosts who are friends of friends or hosts who share the same alma mater as they do. Airbnb users can also get a quick glimpse at whether a Facebook friend has reviewed a host, as well as view the places that Airbnb employees have stayed at or reviewed.

“With over 1.5 millions nights booked through Airbnb so far, chances are someone you know has already used Airbnb,” the company says.

Airbnb’s implementation of Facebook’s social graph adds an important layer of context that will likely give users more confidence in the booking process. It makes us wonder why the startup didn’t release the feature sooner.

More About: AirBNB, facebook, social graph, vacation rentals

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Pomplamoose Covers the Angry Birds Theme Song [VIDEO]

Posted: 10 May 2011 11:45 AM PDT

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

YouTube darlings Pomplamoose recently covered the theme song of popular game, Angry Birds, and I think the question on everyone’s lips is: Why didn’t this happen sooner?

I for one have been trying to get musician friends to sample this track for a while now, so hopefully other bands will follow Pomplamoose’s lead. I see a whole new genre in the making here, guys.

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Sneak Peek: Google Music on Android [PICS]

Posted: 10 May 2011 11:23 AM PDT

Google took the wraps off its cloud-based, mobile-friendly music service Tuesday.

Google Music is still in private beta (you can request your invitation now), but we thought we’d give you a look at the service as it appears on an Android device.

We were able to download Google Music from the Android Market and run it on an HTC Evo. The app came pre-loaded with a range of songs and gave us a taste of how Google Music will work.

In a panel at Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference, Google executives said Google Music will launch first in the U.S. and will run on all Android devices, including tablets and mobile phones. Tunes stored in the app will be available when you’re offline, and songs and playlists will automatically and wirelessly sync between the service’s web and mobile applications.

Also, the Android team noted that the service is only for “lawfully acquired music.” Google plans to work with rights holders to ensure all Google Music tracks are not in violation.

Artists List in Google Music on Android

Selected Alice Cooper From List

Songs by Artist

"Now Playing" Screen on Google Music for Android

Track Options for Google Music on Android

Creating a Playlist

Playing While Browsing

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7.5 Million Facebook Users Are Younger Than 13 [REPORT]

Posted: 10 May 2011 11:17 AM PDT

Some 7.5 million Facebook users over the past year were younger than 13, according to a Consumer Reports survey.

The report, made public on Tuesday, is based on a survey of 2,089 members of a TNS interactive consumer panel. Using that sample, the magazine was able to estimate that more than 5 million Facebook users are 10 years old and younger, making up the bulk of the 7.5 million figure. Facebook’s terms of service require users to be at least 13 years old. To join, though, users merely have to enter their supposed birth dates when they sign up.

But Facebook’s screening requirements for minors may be a moot topic. In a statement, Jeff Fox, technology editor for Consumer Reports, said the majority of parents of kids 10 and under “seemed largely unconcerned by their children’s use of the site.”

Reps from Facebook could not be reached for comment.

This isn’t the first time Facebook’s policies on minors have been called into question. A class action suit filed in August in Los Angeles alleged that Facebook’s “Like” button triggered instances in which minors were endorsing products without their parents’ consent.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Bennewitz

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10 Proven Strategies for Greater Likeability on Facebook

Posted: 10 May 2011 10:53 AM PDT

Dave Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable, a social media agency that has worked with more than 200 leading brands including, Verizon and Neutrogena. He is author of Likeable Social Media.

We all intuitively know what likeability means. We have friends who are easygoing, good listeners and there when we need them. But what does it mean for a brand to be likeable online? Now more than ever, when a “Like” is arguably more important than a “link,” brands must demonstrate core values of responsiveness, transparency and likeability across Facebook and other social networks.

Listen to your customers and prospects. Deliver value, excitement and surprise. And most importantly, truly engage your customers and help them spread the word. Here are 10 universal laws for brand likeability in social media.

1. Never Stop Listening

The number one benefit of a brand's involvement in social media is the ability to listen to conversation about its brand, competitors and target audience's wants and needs. Listening is 50% of communication. Just as nobody wants to be out on a date with someone who isn't a good listener, consumer don’t want to feel ignored by brands on social networks.

For a good case study on how listening in social media has impacted millions of dollars worth of sales, check out IBM's Listening for Leads program.

2. Leverage Facebook's EdgeRank Formula

EdgeRank, Facebook's algorithm for determining what appears at the top of people's News Feeds, might be the single most important online innovation of our time. EdgeRank uses multiple factors to determine what’s relevant and appealing to users. So unlike email, through which we receive a constant barrage of pushed messages all day, every day, Facebook updates surface to the top of our feeds based on how likeable and relevant the updates are.

At any given time, as a brand, you're competing with all of your fans’ friends and other brand pages for attention. This is a great thing for consumers because it means they're not spammed with irrelevant, sales-heavy messaging. But it's also a challenge to marketers. You'll want to use photos and videos, keep the text short and drive as many Likes and comments as possible.

3. Improvise Your Engagement

There is a difference between talking at people and engaging with them. I often use the analogy of a Broadway show versus an improv show. TV advertising is like a Broadway show — a one-way communication in which a huge production and great creative can make a strong impact. Social media marketing is more like improv comedy — a back-and-forth between performers and audience, different every time yet totally effective at a fraction of the cost, when done right.

One brand that does an excellent job of engaging in social media is Zappos. Zappos goes back and forth with customers on Twitter and Facebook, discussing its product — shoes — or anything else customers want to talk about.

4. Respond Quickly to Negative Comments

Customers have taken to social networks to share their frustrations. Unlike 10 years ago, when you could get away with putting people on hold for an hour or responding to letters on your own schedule, negative sentiment can spread lightning-fast on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The faster you can respond, the better.

The best practice is to respond publicly, indicating that you're addressing the issue through a private message. The customer will feel that he or she is heard, and most important to your brand, the public sees that you care and are responsive. "I'm sorry" are the two most powerful words for brands in social media.

5. Respond to Positive Comments, Too

Many brands are not yet leveraging this opportunity, but your positive comments on Facebook and Twitter are likely from your biggest brand advocates, capable of spreading your messages far and wide and defending you against naysayers at no cost. If you owned a retail store and a customer walked up to you and said, "I just love all your products and have been shopping here for years," would you ignore them? Don't ignore them on Facebook either. "Thank you" are the other two most powerful words for brands in social media.

6. Be Authentic and Transparent

Take a guess at what actor has the most likes on Facebook. Is it the most famous, most talented or best-looking actor?

With more than 21 million fans, Vin Diesel is the most-liked actor on Facebook, probably because he's the most authentic. He shares pictures of his family, videos and inner thoughts. Brands can learn from Vin: Share insights from real people, behind-the-scenes footage, and your brand's personality.

7. Provide Value (for Free!)

Brands that provide real value to consumers will see long-term dividends, build trust and credibility, and grow contagious excitement. While 10% off is not value (it's marketing), 50% off is value. Free is value. Business-to-business brands can give away white papers, share articles or do free webinars. Business-to-consumer brands can give away products or deep-discounts, hold contests and share entertaining content.

Extra Gum gave away a pack to every fan on Facebook — now that's value.

8. Share and Inspire Stories

Stories bring brands to life in a way that nothing else can. Stories can be about the founding of the company, an employee who has overcome struggle, or a customer experience with your product. In order for brands to tell a story at scale, they used to have to buy a 30-second TV commercial. Today, you can tell a story through tweets, photos and Facebook groups.

Check out this Facebook group, inspired by a local McDonald's employee in Chandler, Arizona. More than 1,000 people sing Mary's praises and organically spread the word about McDonald’s.

9. Consistently Deliver Surprise and Delight

This is a marketing principle more than a social media principle. When brands surprise and delight on social networks, it's public and part of an ecosystem where things can spread very quickly. When Cumberland Farms' Chill Zone Facebook Page had 30,000 fans, they announced that if the page topped 75,000 fans, they'd give away a free Chill Zone to everyone on the Page. A few weeks later, without any advertising, the page was at 100,000 fans.

10. Don't Sell

Just make it easy and compelling for customers to buy. While it's essential for brands to create likeable, engaging communities on social networks, every CMO needs to move the sales needle. But there's a huge difference between using social networks to aggressively sell versus making it easy for consumers to buy.

Flash sales provide urgency and excitement on social networks. One way to make it easy is in-Facebook commerce.

Ultimately, the most important rule for brands to remember is the Golden Rule: Take off your marketing cap and put on your consumer cap — would you click Like or RT?

Disclosure: Cumberland Farms is a client of the author.

Interested in more Business and Marketing resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

More About: business, facebook, like, MARKETING, social media, twitter

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Adobe Launches Photoshop Companion Apps for iPad

Posted: 10 May 2011 10:23 AM PDT

In April, accompanying the launch of Photoshop Touch SDK, Adobe announced three Photoshop CS5 companion apps for the iPad. The apps — Adobe Color Lava for Photoshop, Adobe Eazel for Photoshop and Adobe Nav for Photoshop — are now available in Apple’s App Store.

Adobe Color Lava costs $2.99. It lets users mix colors on the iPad using their fingers. Users can also create color swatches and themes that can be transferred into Photoshop or shared with friends directly from the app.

Adobe Nav costs $1.99. It gives users the ability to control Photoshop tools on the iPad through a customizable toolbar as well as browse through open Photoshop files and create new ones.

Adobe Eazel is the most expensive app in this bunch at $4.99. It lets users create realistic paintings with their fingertips. The paintings can be transferred via Wi-Fi back to Photoshop or shared with friends.

The apps, while primarily interesting to Photoshop professionals, showcase a new way of using the iPad and other tablets: as a companion to desktop software, providing additional screen real estate and letting users perform certain tasks with their fingers.

Have you tried out the apps? Let us know in the comments how you like them.

More About: adobe, ipad, Photoshop, Photoshop Touch SDK, Tablet

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Android@Home Lets You Control Your Lights & Appliances Wirelessly

Posted: 10 May 2011 10:05 AM PDT

Google has just unveiled the Android@Home framework, a set of protocols for controlling light switches, alarm clocks and other home appliances through any Android device.

The search giant’s ambitious plan intends to turn the home into one connected device. During a demo Tuesday at Google I/O in San Francisco, the company showed off the capability to control lights via an Android tablet. Android@Home essentially makes it possible to control wireless or connected devices.

Google also showed off a new type of Android device: a home theater system called “Project Tungsten.” Google rigged several speakers to the Android OS and, using an Android tablet, controls the speaker system. Google also demonstrated how the system can start playing music just by swiping a near-field communication-enabled CD case in front of the “Project Tungsten” setup.

Don’t expect to be controlling your home light switches with Android@Home next week, though. Google has partnered with companies such as Lighting Science Group to bring compatible appliances and devices to the market, but they won’t debut until the end of the year.

Google unveiled the framework now so that developers can get a head start on building apps on top of the new protocols.

Mashable’s Google I/O Coverage

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How Google’s Music Service Works [VIDEO]

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:50 AM PDT

Google’s long-awaited music service, Google Music, is in an invite-only beta stage, but the company has released a video highlighting some of the most important features.

The video shows the service running on the web, as well as an Android tablet and mobile device. Click here to see screengrabs of Google Music on Android.

The player stores your music in the cloud, but the songs you’ve recently played will be cached and available even if you go offline. You can also easily select specific artists and albums you want to have available.

The entire experience is synced across all your devices. For example, if you create a playlist on your desktop computer, it’ll also be available on your mobile phone and tablet.

Are you excited about Google Music? How do you like what you’ve seen so far? Please, share your opinions in the comments.

Mashable’s Google I/O Coverage

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Google Launches Movies for Android

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:43 AM PDT

Google has unveiled Google Movies for Android, a new app that allows users to rent and play movies on their tablets or phones.

The news is an extension of Monday’s announcement that YouTube is offering 3,000 additional movies for its on-demand rental service. Google revealed that it struck deals with Sony Pictures, NBC Universal and Warner Brothers for the rights to their movies.

That vast movie library has now made its way to Android. Movie rentals will start at $1.99 and be available directly from the Android Market. Once users rent a movie, they have 30 days to start watching the film and get 24 hours to watch it once it starts. The films can either be streamed or temporarily downloaded to Android phones so they can be watched offline.

The rental service will become available later today for all Android devices.

Mashable’s Google I/O Coverage

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Photographer1773

More About: android, Google, Google Movies, Moies, youtube

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Starwood Hotels Adds Foursquare to Loyalty Program

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:41 AM PDT

Foursquare has partnered with Starwood Hotels and Resorts to begin offering members of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program additional points, badges and rewards for their checkins at participating hotels.

Beginning Tuesday, Foursquare members who connect their SPG and Foursquare accounts will earn 250 bonus Starpoints when they check in with a confirmed reservation at one of more than 1,000 hotels.

Starwood first announced the new program Tuesday morning via its SPGInsider Twitter account, tweeting: “Checking-in just got even more rewarding. Link your SPG acct with foursquare and earn bonus Starpoints, visit”

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Starwood on what will be one of the widest reaching loyalty integrations on any location-based service,” says Tristan Walker, director of business development for Foursquare. “Foursquare is focused on helping businesses reward loyal customers, and few companies truly understand customer loyalty like Starwood, so the partnership is a natural fit.”

Starwood properties include the St. Regis, W Hotels, Four Points, Westin, Le Meridien and Sheraton hotels.

The promotion runs through July 31, 2011, and members who check in during the promotion period will be eligible to win a resort getaway. SPG members will receive one entry per checkin.

Starwood is also hiding a Free Resort Night Award at some hotel locations. SPG members may find and unlock the reward by checking in between now and May 31, 2011.

SPG members who check in frequently at Starwood locations may be anointed as the “SPG Mayor.” Each month, Starwood will declare the member with the most checkins across all its properties as the SPG Mayor. “Mayoral duties will include sharing your favorite insider travel tips and destination hotspots with fellow frequent travelers around the globe,” according to Starwood promotional materials.

Starwood plans to kick off additional Foursquare promotions in August, but details are unknown at this time.

The partnership furthers Foursquare mission to reinvent loyalty programs and most closely resembles a similar program it started with Safeway last year.

More to come …

More About: checkins, foursquare, loyalty, loyalty program, MARKETING, SPG, starwood hotels

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Ice Cream Sandwich: Android’s Newest, Sweetest Flavor

Posted: 10 May 2011 09:36 AM PDT

The newest Android OS has been announced, and it’s called Ice Cream Sandwich.

This new OS is supposed to run on all types of Android devices, converging the Android operating system into one sweet package, easing the issue of OS fragmentation and creating new opportunities for developers.

The version number will be 4.0, and we can expect to see the OS rolling out by the end of 2011.

At Google’s developer conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Google execs said this would be Google’s “everywhere” OS for mobile phones, tablets, and other connected devices.

When exactly this convergence will take place — especially in light of the Honeycomb 3.1 announcements just moments before the Ice Cream Sandwich reveal — is up for debate. But we’re hearing from Google reps that Ice Cream Sandwich will eventually close the 2.X/3.X fork and be the one OS for all Android devices.

We’d heard earlier this year that an OS called “Ice Cream” would be arriving this summer after a Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc was spotted running the OS at CES. At the time, most reporters were uncertain whether Ice Cream would be a continuation of the 2.4 fork and would function for mobile phones only.

One of the most consistent complaints about developing for Android is the ecosystem’s fragmentation. The hardware is a diaspora; the OSes in use are a crazy quilt. Hopefully, the new OS represents a more consistent direction for Android — one that will once and for all put to rest the more valid criticisms of the “fragmentation” camp.

Mashable’s Google I/O Coverage

More About: android, Google, google io, honeycomb, ice cream, ice cream sandwich

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