Wal-Mart buys mobile app developer Small Society

Wal-Mart Stores - or rather @WalmartLabs, the Silicon Valley-based e-commerce unit of the largest retailer - unveiled its latest acquisition on Wednesday. 

Small Society develops apps for smart phones – something @WalmartLabs is very interested in. Wal-Mart did not disclose a purchase price, but the deal looks like a combination of an acquisition and the hiring of all or most of the start-up’s software developers.

The Portland, Oregon-based firm has developed apps for the Democratic National Committee, Starbucks and Zipcar.

The Zipcar app seems to have particularly impressed @WalmartLabs, led by tech entrepreneurs including Anand Rajaraman, Venky Harinarayan and Gibu Thomas.

“The app is a spot-on intersection of technology, brand and business,” @WalmartLabs wrote in a blog. “It enables Zipcar members to find and book a Zipcar quickly, but also to honk the horn and lock or unlock the doors—all from their iPhone.”

Tech wrap: PayPal darling takes Yahoo reigns

Yahoo named PayPal President Scott Thompson CEO as the company plows ahead with a strategic review in which discussions have included the possibility of being sold, taken private or broken up. Thompson, a former Visa payments software platform designer, joins the company five months after the firing of previous CEO Carol Bartz.

Thompson has been credited with driving growth at eBay’s online payments division. After the Yahoo appointment, some questioned if he could replicate his success as CEO of Yahoo. ”The risk element is that his background was in payments. And this is not a payment company, it’s a marketing, technology company,” said Lawrence Haverty, a fund manager with GAMCO investors, which owns Yahoo shares.

Eastman Kodak is working on a Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing that could be filed as soon as this month if it cannot sell its digital patents, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources. The newspaper said Kodak is in talks with lenders to secure about $1 billion in debtor-in possession financing to sustain it through any bankruptcy proceedings.

Despite tough economy, Wikimedia raises $20 million in donations

Wikimedia Foundation is marking the new year with a hefty deposit into its coffers.

The San Francisco-based non-profit group that maintains Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia, officially closed its annual fundraising drive on Tuesday. The total amount raised: $20 million.

That’s a record, and a step up from the $16 million Wikimedia raised last year during a nearly two-month-long fundraising effort.

New mobster series coming to Netflix next month

Bruce Springsteen guitarist and “Sopranos” actor Steven Van Zandt will star in an original series available exclusively to Netflix subscribers starting next month. “Lilyhammer” features Van Zandt again playing a mobster, this time one who enters the witness protection program in Norway after ratting on his boss.

The company describes the show as a “fish-out-of-water” story, and says all eight first-season episodes can be streamed starting Feb. 6 by subscribers in the United States, Canada and Latin America. The move is part of a Netflix push to attract more customers with original content, including political drama “House of Cards” due later in 2012. Last year Netflix angered a vocal chunk of subscribers with missteps that included a price increase and a quickly reversed plan to separate its DVD service. Will “Lillyhammer” help win some new business? Take a peek at the trailer.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Seth Wenig


Tech wrap: RIM co-CEOs seen losing chairman role

RIM is close to a decision on stripping its co-chief executives of their other shared role as chairman of the board, The National Post newspaper said, a change that could meet a key demand from angry and disillusioned investors. The Post’s sources said Barbara Stymiest, currently an independent member of RIM’s board, is leading the race to replace Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie in the chairmanship. RIM shares jumped more than 7 percent on the news. But some analysts doubted Stymiest, if named to the chairmanship, would actually assume the transformational role that activist shareholders are calling for.

Groupon shares closed the day down 6.6 percent after a Susquehanna Financial Group – Yipit survey of almost 400 merchants found that while 8 out of 10 merchants enjoyed working with daily deal companies such as Groupon and LivingSocial, 52 percent were not planning to feature deals in the next six months and nearly 24 percent intended to feature only one deal during the same period.

Apple is planning an event to be held in New York later this month that will focus on publishing and eBooks, AllThingsD and Techcrunch reported. The event will unveil improvements to Apple’s iBooks platform, Techcrunch wrote.

How long can Murdoch keep it up on Twitter?

You can say what you like about Rupert Murdoch, and most people have, but he doesn’t do things halfway. His decision to join Twitter on New Year’s eve has set the Twitterati and blogosphere alight not just because the 80-year old media baron joined but because unlike every other CEO or executive who’s joined Twitter, he’s actually expressed some real opinions — some of which are controversial given who he is. When Reuters asked CEOs at its Global Media Summit last fall most felt tweeting wasn’t for them.

In Murdoch’s first 24 hours he started off relatively gently praising an op-ed on Ron Paul in his Wall Street Journal, extolled the benefits of vacation, praised the founder of original founder of his New York Post and championed two of his Fox studios’ movies ‘The Descendants’ and ‘We bought a Zoo’.

He seemed to stick to some sort of neutral script for his first 24 hours but by Monday (Jan 2nd) he had praised President Obama for being “very courageous – and dead right” for his decision on terrorist detention, taken a poke at Glenn Beck’s old Fox News show and effectively endorsed Republican presidential candidate hopeful Rick Santorum: “Only candidate with genuine big vision for the country”. He also called on the “courageous” Obama to address what Murdoch sees as the United States’ biggest crisis, its education policy.

Cruise, ‘MI4′ lead box office at end of weak year

Tom Cruise’s fourth “Mission: Impossible” movie held on to the top of box office charts over New Year’s weekend as Hollywood said goodbye to a sluggish year at domestic movie theaters.

As 2011 ended, U.S. and Canadian revenue fell from last year and attendance slumped to its lowest level since 1995.

The year’s final weekend saw top movies add to ticket sales from the Christmas holiday one week earlier but no change in the top three chart positions. The “Sherlock Holmes” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks” franchise films took the No. 2 and 3 positions behind Cruise’s film.

Next mission for ‘M:I 4′ is New Year’s box-office crown

With no new movies coming to theaters nationwide, the New Year’s weekend box-office battle will be waged among the big crop of films released around Christmas.

Theaters are hoping to catch moviegoers over a long weekend starting Friday and ending on Monday’s U.S. government holiday, when many people will be home from work or school. Tom Cruise’s action movie “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” – the Christmas weekend winner – looks likely to lead the pack again, according to industry pundits. Distributor Paramount Pictures projects an estimated $40 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales over four days for the popular franchise’s fourth installment. Other films fighting for top spots include Warner Bros. detective sequel “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” 20th Century Fox’s family sequel “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” and Sony’s book adaptation and thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Three other family-oriented films also are in the mix - Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” released by Disney, and Paramount-distributed “The Adventures of Tintin,” plus “We Bought a Zoo” from Fox.

The movies will close out a disappointing year in terms of dollars at the domestic box office. Ticket sales for the United States and Canada will end the year down an estimated 4 percent from 2010 at $10.2 billion while annual attendance will rank as the lowest since 1995, according to forecasts from the box office division of tracking firm

Tech wrap: Verizon backtracks on $2 fee

Verizon Wireless has reversed its decision to charge a $2 fee for one-time telephone and online bill payments after a storm of criticism from consumers and the U.S. communications regulator.

Occupy protesters say they are making their own Facebook, reports.

If the last decade was all about open source, the next decade will be about open APIs. However, as with open source, APIs aren’t necessarily a guarantee of billions in the bank, Matt Asay writes in The Register.

“As baffling as it may seem, HP was trying to rid itself of Palm without taking a loss on its purchase”, a source with knowledge of the negotiations told MobileBeat.

Five 2011 tech earthquakes

By John C Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

Pick a year: It’s easy to look back and convince yourself That Was The Year That Was in tech, partly because the pace of change is so rapid and partly because we so readily embrace and then quickly depend on things that are completely different. Consider this: When the class of 2012 was applying to college, there was no iPhone. Until those students were just about at the end of their  junior years, there was no iPad. Both of these nascent devices now define the mobile Internet, which is where all the action is.

But 2011 had some pretty remarkable advances that seem to be the start of inexorable things to come, as well as some surprising and sad examples of demise, whose impact will surely be felt for years to come, in ways that are currently near-impossible to predict.

Some may argue that 2011 was the year of the tablet (redux), because of the spritely launch of Amazon’s Fire and Barnes & Noble’s reboot of the Nook color. I say, it was bound to happen, and that the only really interesting thing is that content companies are giving Apple a bit of competition, and not the hardware bigwigs.