Rdio launches Vdio for TV and movies on demand

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Music streaming service Rdio has launched a new Vdio site for streaming TV shows and movies on demand. Unlike Rdio, Vdio adopt a pay-per-item approach rather than a monthly subscription model, with content available to buy or rent. The service is currently only available to existing Rdio Unlimited subscribers, or those who sign up in the next 60 days, who each receive £20 worth of credit to spend on Vdio. A more widespread roll-out is expected in the near future, though an exact date has yet to be specified.

It’s been a busy couple of years for on-demand video in the UK. Netflix jumped over the Atlantic at the start of 2012, while the Tesco-owned BlinkBox has been busy expanding its catalogue of content for those who prefer to pay as they go. Long-standing DVD rental firm Lovefilm, now run by Amazon, also offers a comprehensive collection of television shows and films to stream to your computer or mobile device, and on top of all this are the services offered by the traditional channels (Sky, the BBC, ITV) and the big players (Apple’s iTunes and Google Play).

As with Rdio, there are aspects to Vdio to help you manage your favourite films and programmes, and discover new material easily. “It’s not just that we’ve got amazing content,” wrote the Rdio team in a blog post, “but that the experience is now geared to get you from searching to watching faster. We’re introducing the notion of Sets — playlists for TV shows and movies — so anyone can make and share lists of their favourites, making it easier than ever to discover new stuff. Or, you can just check out what your friends are watching in the moment and jump in.”

Vdio is Web and iPad-only for the time being, though there is the promise of support for more platforms down the line. Log into the site at www.vdio.com and you’ll find some big headliners, including Argo, Skyfall, Breaking Bad, Doctor Who and The West Wing, though the catalogue currently lacks depth — only seasons 1 and 4 of Mad Men are available, for example. As with Rdio, the Web app is slick, well-designed and intuitive, and if Vdio can get the right content in place it could be a serious challenger in an increasingly crowded field.

Facebook Unveil Mobile Inspired Design for News Feed

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Any company with a billion customers can justifiably regard itself as being successful, but one drawback of such popularity is that even minor product changes can become hugely controversial if they don’t meet with general approval. Having faced a barrage of criticism over previous changes like its infamous Timeline adjustments, Facebook is taking a more cautious approach to the recently-announced updates to its News Feed service, which can be regarded as the company’s home page for each individual member.

Facebook has described the updated News Feed as “brighter and more beautiful”, although in truth, the aesthetic benefits are chiefly aimed at advertisers rather than end users. Arguably more beneficial is the fact that news feeds now display in the same way regardless of which device they’re being viewed on, and this is the first time Facebook has been able to boast such cross-platform consistency. Several specialised feeds have also been introduced to augment the default one, allowing users to segregate updates into distinct categories including posts containing photographs, or those involving musical news and events.

As always with changes to Facebook, the key question is whether these modifications will ultimately improve or detract from the user experience. Despite major changes to its functionality over the years, today’s News Feed is a classic case of evolution rather than revolution, since its look and operation hasn’t radically altered from the original 2006 feed. These latest tweaks will undoubtedly improve the browsing experience, particularly on mobile devices, but they don’t transform Facebook into a “personalised newspaper”, as CEO Mark Zuckerburg claimed during last Thursday’s press conference.

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Corporate advertisers will be the biggest beneficiaries of Facebook’s News Feed changes, and that emphasis hasn’t gone unnoticed by the media. The Financial Times summed up the modifications quite succinctly, saying they will “appeal to advertisers who have been looking for more ways to capture the emotional impact of visual advertising.” Meanwhile, TechCrunch noted the conspicuous silence regarding advertising during last week’s press event: “It will be interesting to see how advertisements evolve with this new design, and if we’ll see more of them.” Many industry observers regard the News Feed announcement primarily as an opportunity for Facebook to further engage with big business, in the pursuit of additional revenue streams.

The News Feed changes are being rolled out during March and April, but early adopters can add themselves to a PR-friendly “waiting list” by registering at www.facebook.com/newsfeed. Apple aficionados can also take satisfaction from the knowledge that iOS users will be able to use the latest News Feed before it arrives on Android devices.

Via.Me: The Social Media App that Does it All

Via.me, a new social publishing platform from developers RadiumOne, launched on March 1st. The app enables you to publish content to different social media accounts, without having to log in to separate websites or apps to do so. The first of its kind on the app market, Via.me shares text, video, images and voice notes with a single tap. In a world where very few people have just one social media account, and businesses are utilizing social networks for publicity and promotional purposes, Via.me is a useful tool for professionals and consumers alike.

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Instead of adding another social network an already crowded market, Via.me provides an easy way to publish to several different networks at once. As well as being compatible with the big name networks Facebook and Twitter, Via.me also rivals the mega-popular photo app, Instagram, with 17 built-in photo filters that enable users to edit and stylise their photos before sharing them.

Designed for both consumers and businesses, Via.me helps people send information to their networks faster and with more convenience. Users can view comments others leave on their posts through the app, and it also provides detailed analysis and statistics for brands and businesses on their social media presence and reach.

Users can create an account at www.via.me and publish to any of their social networking profiles from a computer, in addition to using the app. Both the app and desktop versions are simple to use, with a sleek, intuitive interface, and allow users to choose which websites they want to publish to with each individual post.

We created a great product that not only is fun to use for consumers, but becomes a game changer for brands and publishers,” said Gurbaksh Chahal, CEO of RadiumOne. “Via.me is the easy, simple solution that enables publishing multiple types of content from one place across all your social profiles.

Via.me is currently only available as for iPhone and as a desktop app, however RadiumOne are looking to release the app to other platforms in the near future. The app is free and available from the iTunes store. To fine out more, visit www.via.me, or watch a short video that demonstrates the app here.

HTC’s ChaCha and Salsa handsets go Facebook crazy

HTC have well and truly embraced the notion that everyone is now using Facebook to manage their social lives. Their new ChaCha and Salsa (exclusively on o2) handsets promise to bring you “Facebook like never before” and come complete with a dedicated Facebook button to help you share photos and video the moment you capture them.

In addition to the button, you’ll also find a Facebook chat widget that allows you to switch between multiple private conversations in real time. You can sync the phone with your Facebook account so you won’t miss birthdays and other events and also they’ll both provide a real-time status ticker which will stream your friend’s latest updates.

Both handsets run the Android Gingerbread 2.3 OS which is complemented by HTC’s Sense ‘experience’. The o2-exclusive Salsa also comes with a 5MP camera complete with Carl Zeiss lens, dedicated capture key, autofocus and dual LED flash. There is also a forward facing camera which comes in handy for video calls. Connectivity-wise you have support for HSDPA (7.2Mbps), Bluetooth, Wifi (b/g/n) as well as an internal GPS antenna.

The ChaCha comes with a Blackberry-esque QWERTY keyboard which may come in handy given the number of messages and updates you’ll be likely to be posting to your Facebook account. Again it comes with a autofocus 5MP color camera as well as a VGA front camera. Connectivity is similar to the Salsa, with HDSPA support, Bluetooth, Wifi and GPS all provided.

To find out more about either handset, head over to this page on o2 or their dedicated Facebook page. You can also view examples of how the handsets integrate with FB on this YouTube page.

Adding a ‘social layer’ to the travel industry with the Gekko Facebook app

Who can blame companies, no matter how big or small, wanting to integrate somehow with Facebook, after all the social networking giants have got more than 750 million active users worldwide. Gekko, the personalised international hotel booking service, is the latest company to join the Facebook integrating trail, unveiling a one-stop Facebook application that simplifies travel planning and purchasing, via the world’s biggest social networking site.

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When it comes to travel we do often turn to our friends and family, our ‘trusted’ sources, who often have similar tastes to us, about where to go and what to see, so why not exploit this valuable information ahead of your travel plans?

The new Gekko Facebook app is the first all-in-one Facebook travel app, with a social twist. By collecting and organising travel recommendations from friends, users are tuned in to the best locations, deals and places to visit from their valued and reliable sources. The app also features a “Request-a-Deal” button, which, by just one click, allows bars, restaurants and hotels reply to users directly with personalised offers, enabling users to be informed of the best prices and book accordingly.

Talking about the new app, Gekko’s CEO Michel Cassius said:

“Gekko is evolving the hotel discount model. Consumers get the best price and are offering highly personalised deals by hotels worldwide and by restaurants, clubs and bars. And with our full Facebook integration we add the social layer to the booking process, making it both engaging and fun.”

And being fun is what social networking is all about, right? Being able to interact with others virtually and share thoughts, information and advice is at the core of social networking, forums and other online interactive sources and Gekko is evolving this trend into the travel industry. Users of the Gekko Facebook app can exchange useful tips of travel, track and trace new travel discoveries and share lists of favourites and personal insights about particular bars, beaches or walks, anything associated with travel.

Find Gekko here: www.facebook.com/gekko

Minuscule over massive: Xperia mini and the Xperia mini pro

Bigger is better, they say – or is it? When it comes to technology and gadgets, minuscule is usually chosen over massive, so when Sony Ericsson tells you that they’re launching the world’s smallest HD recording video smartphone, you’ve got to open your eyes and ears and take notice.

The phone manufacturer have unveiled two new additions to their Xperia smartphone range – the Xperia mini and the Xperia mini pro.

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They both run on Google Android’s Gingerbread 2.3 via a 1GHZ Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, meaning that they are self-proclaimed “turbo charged” pieces of well-oiled machinery.

The jewel in the crown, perhaps, amidst all the app-laden japery, is that the Xperia mini holds the moniker of the world’s smallest Android smartphone with HD video recording. The Xperia mini pro, however, errs on the side of the office pen-pusher rather than the avid videomaker, with a fold-out keyboard and pre-installed antivirus and office software.

The enterprising chaps at Sony Ericsson have also unleashed ‘Facebook in Xperia’, which will allow users of the new smartphones even greater interactivity with Facebook whilst on their phone. Want to tell people about the song you’re listening to on the phone’s media player? Well, you can ‘like’ it straight from the player. It claims to offer a high level of integration between the social networking website and the phone’s functions, but we’re left however pondering how often it might actually be utilised.

Soundcloud and Bandcamp: Usurpers of MySpace’s online music throne

A music blogger recently tweeted, “Tried to play a song by a band on MySpace but it didn’t work cos’ MySpace is a mess.”

That one sentence, in essence, encapsulates the downfall of social networking website MySpace in one fell swoop. It was once the first-choice destination for music fans to listen to new tunes, but now, with a new, muddled interface and lagging numbers, its death is on the horizon.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user lizbadley

Figures revealed last week showed that MySpace lost a staggering ten million users between January and February this year. It was once the place where every band uploaded their music, but with MySpace seemingly on the verge of toppling, who is in line to take their throne?

Soundcloud is emerging as a leader in the field. Once slightly confusing, its clean interface and social networking integration has made music streaming easier than ever before. And with the ability for users to send tracks in a DropBox style way to record labels, it brings bands ever closer to the higher powers.

Bandcamp brings commerce into the equation and allows punters to stream bands’ music before they buy either digitally or physically. It ignores off the clunkiness of MySpace and is a one-stop-shop for bands to ply their wares.

And to Facebook – the social networking website with MySpace blood on its hands. It stole their users, but did it steal its bands? Facebook traditionally lags behind on band pages and it seems heavily reliant on third-party apps to let bands list their events and stream music. Advances on Facebook’s pages always seem to be slowly rolled out, but it is clear the website’s strength is in social networking, not music.

MySpace is still alive, but barely breathing. Soundcloud and Bandcamp however, seem to be billowing with life.

MySpace and Facebook team-up: Flogging a dead horse?

It might be akin to flogging a dead horse, but the more eagle-eyed social networking fans out there may have noticed that MySpace has had a bit of a facelift in an effort to reassert its position as a web heavyweight.

MySpace is a veteran of the social networking scene but the emergence of Facebook and Twitter has seen its popularity wane to a point where some of it’s most devoted users – especially bands and musicians – have begun to jump ship.

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A lot of MySpace’s roots lie in music and entertainment, but with the likes of Bandcamp and Soundcloud offering simple, clean homes for streaming music, MySpace have been left wondering where to go next to reclaim all its lost souls.

And where does the revamp point to? Well, a lot of music it seems. In comes a new ‘Discover’ section, littered a smorgasbord of links to bands, music videos and other promotional gubbins. It’s all pretty clickable, and compared to its once clumsy looking interface, it looks sleek with a mature black and grey colour scheme.

Allied with the ‘Discover’ section is the ‘My Stuff’ tab, treading upon the finer details of social networking – giving you a chance to customise your profile, upload photos, search for new friends and indulge in all the usual networking.

Delve into this new-look portal deeper and its flashy make-up begins to dissipate, leaving you with the bare bones of a floundering social networking website.

On the other side of the spectrum however, Facebook has recently announced a new, all-inclusive messaging system which incorporates chat and texts alongside your traditional messages – a logical addition in the website’s quest to truly dominate the market.

Twitter, of course, has phased in a new layout, providing greater integration, navigation and smoother interaction.

With Facebook and Twitter covering most social networking bases, plucky entrepreneurial pizzazz is needed to break into the market. Perhaps most notably, foursquare has gained popularity in 2010 and its interactivity – like a distant cousin of social networking websites – sees users check in at various locations as they move around cities, doubling up as a travel guide and also a game.

MySpace’s deviation into what seems more like a social media hub rather than a social networking website is an interesting one, but with the likes of streaming program Spotify becoming hugely popular, it’s left to ponder whether MySpace has any sort of real future.