Engineering leader Kevin Marks leaves Google for the social web

Software engineer Kevin Marks has helped push Google’s social efforts for years, working on diverse products like the company’s Orkut social network, its user profile feature, and the OpenSocial social web standard. Now, he’s leaving to work on other projects, including opening technologies he has been helping to spearhead — and maybe a startup.

Six Apart bloggers get VideoEgg’s interactive ads

Here’s another way to make money from blogging — maybe. If you’re a blogger who uses Six Apart’s software and services, you can now start running VideoEgg’s interactive “AdFrame” format. These ads, like the toolbar-style “Twig” that VideoEgg introduced in April, contain more interactive elements than traditional banner ads. They intend to get more attention from readers than traditional online banner ads do.

Jaxtr acquisition part of Sabse’s plan to offer cheap global phone service

Two weeks ago, a quiet Silicon Valley-based voice company named Sabse bought Jaxtr, a “voice-over-internet-protocol” startup that lets you make cheap calls anywhere using your computer instead of a phone. It wasn’t totally clear why. While formative web voice companies like Skype have gone on to make money, many others have struggled. In Jaxtr’s case, it had raised more than $20 million, gained some 10 million users, but wasn’t — apparantly — seeing the sort of traction and revenue it was hoping for. So I talked to Sabse chief executive Yogesh Patel, a serial entrepreneur with a background in the mobile industry, about why he made the purchase.

NSFW: Google, not Baidu, getting punished for China porn searches

The Chinese government has disabled some search functions in Google’s China search service today, accusing the company of not providing adequate safeguards against searches for pornography. But a source in China also pointed us to a search for porn on search engine Baidu — Google’s larger search competitor in China. The search reveals the screenshot above (the uncensored, not-safe-for-work version is viewable here). Pretty strong safeguards, huh?

Playdom nabs EA executive, social gaming growing up fast

Playdom is one of the larger game developers on social networks, and it’s making lots of money from virtual goods. Unlike older, more established gaming companies like EA, its business outlook is looking good. This explains how the company has pulled off a coup and hired EA chief operating officer John Pleasants as its new chief executive.

Offerpal adds analytics service to help game developers make money

Offerpal, a company best known for providing advertising offers within social games, is making its service a little bit more comprehensive today. It’s introducing an analytics tool that lets game developers track a variety of information about users themselves, and what they do inside of a game.

Data: Online, Iranians turning to Facebook during crisis

All the recent media coverage about Twitter’s central role in covering Iranian political news got me wondering — on Twitter, of course — how many people are actually using the service inside of Iran. I got a couple responses, in the form of anecdotal statistics from web companies. It seems that Iranians are mostly using Facebook.

Search: Another way for Facebook to steal Twitter’s thunder?

Facebook’s search feature, to date, has let you search for friends’ names, or use Microsoft’s search engine to search the web. Now, it’s beginning to test out ways of searching information from your friends, from Pages you’re a fan of, and from anyone who has made their content publicly available. In the company’s example, you could search for “Iran” and see the latest from your friends and from anyone else using Facebook to publicly discuss the turbulent events in the country.

Investor virtually sneaks into Second Life’s equity pool

Second Life, the sometimes-mocked yet formative and still-popular virtual world, has a new investor: Private equity firm Stratim Capital, according to peHUB. The firm wanted in because the company is, it seems, making good money from its mix of virtual currency and virtual goods.

Digg developer upgrade includes better search, story-finding tools

Social news aggregator Digg just expanded its set of application programming interfaces — the services that allow third-party developers to build software using information from the site. Changes in the APIs include better search and article discovery. Digg has been working to make more of its data available to third parties, as part of its plan to be the largest news aggregator on the web.

MySpace confirms layoffs, up to 30 percent cut

Last week, sources told TechCrunch that up to 25 percent of MySpace’s staff could be laid off. The News Corp.-owned social network has basically confirmed the news today, with new chief executive Owen Van Natta taking a dig at past management in the company press release: ” Simply put, our staffing levels were bloated and hindered our ability to be an efficient and nimble team-oriented company.”

Mobile payment startup Boku rolls up social rivals, raises funding

Mobillcash, Paymo and Zong have spent the last year or so competing to offer mobile payment services, most prominently for social gaming applications and casual gaming sites. Now, as social gaming continues to grow in users and revenue, the competition is getting fiercer — and that means consolidation. Mobillcash and Paymo have been rolled up into a new, fourth company: Boku.

Live music: Imeem gets better licensing deal from Warner

Music startups have had trouble making money, partly because of high licensing fees they pay to record labels. But Imeem, a popular streaming music service had so many fees to pay that it was having trouble staying in business. Now, though, past investor Warner Music Group has worked out a new licensing deal with the startup, according to MediaMemo.

Against real-time: Facebook to sort of bring back the old site design

Facebook is backing away from its March site redesign, a source tells me. That’s the redesign that focused users’ homepages on a quickly updating “stream” of status updates — and was trying to take on microblogging service Twitter, as the source put it. A Facebook spokesperson has confirmed that it is “iterating” in this direction, although it adds that nothing has been finalized.

Social game company Zynga says it’s not planning for IPO

Rumors circulated earlier today that leading social game company Zynga could have an initial public offering within 18 months. Here’s what chief executive Mark Pincus says in response: “Zynga is a young company focused on building great social games and creating a sustainable long term service business. IPO is not our goal nor our focus.”

Two local startups may help AOL find the road to salvation

As part of Tim Armstrong’s big turnaround plan for AOL, the online media conglomerate he recently became chief executive of, he’s buying two local-focused startups. One is Going, an events organizing site, another is Patch, a local news site.

Facebook bans scammy ad networks but problems persist

On Monday, Facebook banned SocialHour and SocialReach, two of the larger advertising networks on its developer platform. A main reason: These companies were running banner advertisements within applications that purported to show users things that their friends had done — but actually hadn’t. A common example: “Hey Anthony! Dean’s IQ is 156 and he challenged you to an IQ quiz, are you smarter than Dean?” but without Dean ever having taken the quiz in the first place.

Facebook, MySpace still better than Twitter for connecting people to your site?

Major television events are continuing to see good results when they integrate social media, especially using services that let people take their social networking identities with them around the web. The latest example is media conglomerate Turner Networks, which recently told AdAge about its experiment in letting users log in and chat to each other using Facebook, MySpace and Twitter while watching the NBA Eastern Conference Finals and last weekend’s NASCAR race, the Pocono 500, on Turner’s home site.

Facebook vanity URLs: First-come, first-served this Friday night

For some time, Facebook has been handing out vanity URLs ( for personal and public profiles piecemeal, but now it’s letting everyone jump in. These URLs are easy to remember and will show up in search results — they help individuals and brands get more traffic.

Meebo toolbar gets new sharing features

Instant message service Meebo is rolling out new features for the toolbar it runs on partner sites, including a simple way to share links with the people you’re IMing to. As other companies, like Facebook and Twitter, help make real-time information sharing a mainstream activity, this is Meebo’s way of getting in on the action.

Buzzstream: A contact manager for PR people (and bloggers?)

Buzzstream is a new sort of “social media” customer relationship system going into private testing today. It’s designed for public relations employees, so they can see who is talking about their clients online. You can do things like BCC emails to people, and have the BCC’d copy appear next to a contact’s name in Buzzstream’s web application. You can do the same thing for tweets on Twitter. Because this is public relations, the software is focused around letting you see how important the person you’re talking to is, so you can see details like how many Twitter followers a person has, or how high their publication’s rank is on web site-ranking service Technorati.

WWDC roundup: New hardware and software, lower prices point to a big year for Apple

VentureBeat readers may be wondering why more than half our staff is obsessively covering Apple’s Worldwide Developer conference today. Sure, Apple is a publicly-traded company while we cover startups and innovation. But Apple, especially through its iPhone developer platform, has put itself at the center of some of the most exciting changes in the tech industry. Today, it did a lot more of that.

As if iPhone users didn’t hate AT&T enough already

Apple discussed two new features for the iPhone today at its developer conference that many people have been wanting for a long time. One is tethering, where you can access the internet on your computer through your phone’s connection (which hadn’t been announced before). The other is multimedia messaging, or MMS, which lets you send media like audio or video within text messages.

Playfish excels with quality cross-platform games

In the dimly-lit world of social networking applications, companies tend to privately trash each other — often quite accurately. You hear things like “so-and-so always sends spammy invites” or “so-and-so has a suspect means of making money.” Social game developer Playfish is one of the few big app companies that is universally praised by its peers. It has only built a few gaming applications, but it focuses on quality — nurturing each of its seven apps into long-running, profitable titles.

Could social gaming run afoul of gambling laws?

A variety of social network gaming applications are making lots of money from virtual goods. But could these services soon find themselves in trouble for allowing gambling — and get slapped with large fines or other punishment? The question matters like never before, and the answer’s not clear — although from my research, the risk seems relatively low.

Digg users to get ads they can vote on (and price)

Digg is planning to introduce a new form of advertising in a few months, where ads appear within the social news aggregator’s river of content. Like stories themselves, these ads can be “dugg” (voted up) or “buried” (voted down). The company has cleverly priced these ads so that the more people digg an ad, the cheaper it is; the more the buries, the more expensive. So companies have the incentive to offer ads that users will like.

Fine-tuning: Facebook makes Pages, Events ads more interactive

While Facebook has already displayed self-service advertising on events and public profile pages, now those ads are getting more interactive. You’ll be able to become a fan of an advertised public profile page by clicking on the “Become a fan” button without leaving whatever Event or Page. Same with RSVPing for advertised events. If you take one of these actions, like most other activity on Facebook, an item about it will appear for your friends to see.

Google Trends shows drops in Twitter news coverage, search volume

After a day of intriguing claims about Twitter — younger people don’t use it so much; men follow each other and nobody tweets — here’s something else. Google Trends, the search engine’s automated site analysis service, is showing a drastic drop in “news reference volume” about Twitter, with a relatively less but still noticeable drop in the volume of searches for the micro-blogging service.

Profitable: Sugar Inc raises $16M, buys Shopflick and those NBC shares, expands to LA

Sugar Inc, a women-focused media company, is in the middle of a big expansion. It has closed a new, $16 million round from existing investor Sequoia Capital and used some of that money to buy back shares from another investor, NBC Universal. It also used some of that money to purchase of women-focused “indie” video-driven shopping site Shopflick. The founder and chief executive of that company, David Grant, is becoming the president of a new, Los Angeles-based unit of Sugar Inc. Grant, also a former FOX Network executive, will be working with Hollywood media companies to expand Sugar Inc into movies, television, videogames and other formats.

Google Docs snipes at Office with .docx, .xlsx format uploads

Docs, Google’s online word processing application, has gotten a little bit more useful today. It now lets you import files from Microsoft Office 2007, including Word files in the .docx format and Excel files in the .xlsx format.

Universal virtual currency wars begin: Facebook payments system now testing live

Third party applications on Facebook are beginning to test out the social network’s new, in-house payment system, presaging what has been described as a wide-ranging war among many companies to offer a single, universal virtual currency. There’s been no formal announcement of a launch yet, but an implementation is already live on an app called GroupCards, as spotted by TechCrunch earlier today.

Facebook opens public profile comments and likes to the public

Facebook made a seemingly minor change to how its public profiles work earlier this week. Previously, if you were logged out of Facebook you could still see public pages and the first names and thumbnail photos of fans but not any of the comments from users. Now, when fans of these promotion-focused profiles leave a comment or click on the thumbs-up “like” button, these comments are publicly viewable. Similar to the previous logic, last names of commenters are omitted, though they are included for those who simply “like”.

Games: Another reason why Twitter needs filters

There’s a game on Twitter right now called Spymaster — I’m not exactly sure what it is because I haven’t joined. I just know about it because a lot of people I follow on Twitter are playing it, and one gets the impression that any action they take in the game (“assassinating” each other or whatnot), gets tweeted back into their followers. Apparently, there are settings in the game to limit the tweetspam, but nobody seems to be doing that.