Betable, a startup focused on monetizing the social gaming industry, announced on Tuesday it had raised an $18.5 million Series A round of venture funding.

The startup partners with game development outfits that want to add a real-money component to their titles, offering an API to companies that want to integrate Betable’s game engine inside the fabric of the game’s mechanics. The bulk of the company’s business is in navigating and securing licensing deals with the U.K. Gambling Commission and related authorities – a tricky and potentially expensive task for any gaming company to undertake.

It is also an area that, until recently, was of intense interest to social gaming giant Zynga. That is, until the company’s new leader and CEO Don Mattrick decided to change Zynga’s strategy and focus on a core set of the company’s popular games, essentially abandoning Zynga’s headlong push into real-money gaming in the U.S. (Zynga gave no indication as to the fate of its existing real-money gaming licenses in the U.K.)

That’s good news for Betable, then, leaving the space wide open for the taking.

The round was led by Venture51, with participation from existing investors including Greylock and Founders Fund.


Do me a favor — listen to Facebook’s next earnings call and count the number of times CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the word “mobile.” If you played it as a drinking game, you’d be blotto before CFO David Ebersman even got on the line.

That’s no mistake (obviously). It’s the company’s mission to spread the “mobile first” mentality throughout the organization (a maxim oft heard and quickly becoming trite in the Valley), which means thinking about designing for mobile in all of the company’s product development.

How to do that, after the organization already has upward of 3,500 employees, with more being added every day? Part of the solution: Send ‘em to boot camp.

Facebook has contracted the services of Big Nerd Ranch, an 11-year-old outfit responsible for running a week-long, 40-hour crash course in mobile development that any and all Facebook employees can sign up for.

“Eighty percent of those who took the training were software engineers,” Facebook Director of Mobile Engineering Mike Shaver told reporters at a roundtable Monday. But surprisingly, folks from departments other than engineering were willing to sign up for the course, from marketing to sales to disciplines that wouldn’t require a comprehensive knowledge of mobile coding.

The way Shaver describes it, it’s part of Facebook’s grand, yearlong initiative to shift from a Web-centric model of thought to incorporating “native code” — or programming language specific to iOS or Android — into the company’s thinking. In short, it’s crucial in making Facebook’s apps actually perform well. (Remember how crappy the Facebook app was a year ago? I certainly do.)

Which is sort of important, given that Facebook is one of the most popular apps on smartphones across the world.

The program seems to be going well. More than 450 employees have gone through Big Nerd Camp’s sessions since last July, with nearly two-thirds of those opting to focus on Android rather than iOS. And that’s important to note, too, considering Android’s massive reach in the global mobile device market.

I’d imagine as Facebook continues to hire, the program will continue to expand. Facebook doesn’t require that folks have specific engineering experience in certain areas — “generalists are welcome,” Shaver said — but the ones who are already well-versed in either iOS or Android can move through the organization and act as “little seed crystals for different product groups,” Shaver said, which will hopefully beef up the mobile focus overall.

Until natural language processing improves, only humans can tell what’s important. So Facebook today starts rolling out the option to pay to promote a friend’s posts and get them seen by more people. This will help critical posts bubble to the top of the feed, and let Facebook earn some money too. The feature respects privacy controls, but could still make you look like a self-important prick.

Facebook began testing the ability to promote your own posts in May 2012 and rolled the feature out to the US in October. See, your average Facebook post only gets seen by about 16% of your friends because they aren’t online soon after you post, or you never interact with them on Facebook. Promoted Posts artificially boost your posts so they appear in the news feed to people Facebook wouldn’t have shown them to.

The option has enraged some people, making them feel like they’re being extorted to communicate with their friends. When it first came out, I said Facebook was recklessly endangering the meritocracy of the news feed, which until then only rewarded posts that got the most Likes, comments, shares, and clicks.

But there are real uses for Promoted Posts. If you’re raising money for a good cause, looking for an apartment, or have a big announcement for your company, paying to force it into more people’s news feeds can actually be really valuable, and worth the $7 or so. The price varies by geographic area and how many people it could reach.

Now you can do the same for friends’ posts, or at least you’ll be able to soon. A gradual global roll-out for the feature is starting now, and it’s only available to people with fewer than 5,000 total friends and subscribers.

When you see one you think deserves more attention, you can click the drop-down arrow next to a post to sponsor it, and it will reach a larger percentage of the original audience of the post. That means promoting a friend’s post won’t violate their privacy settings. If the post was set to only show up their friends, your payment will just make it show up to more of their friends. If their post is publicly visible, your promotion could appear to your friends too.

Facebook explains “If your friend is running a marathon for charity and has posted that information publicly, you can help that friend by promoting their post to all of your friends. Or if your friend is renting their apartment out and she tells her friends on Facebook, you can share the post with the people you and your friend have in common so that it shows up higher in news feed and more people notice it.”

One issue, though, is that you don’t need a friend’s permission to promote their posts. And depending on what they said, the extra eyeballs might not always be appreciated.

A friend could jokingly promote an embarrassing photo of me, or my status about something bad happening to me. If I post that I wrote an article or am selling something, a friend might innocently think they’re helping by promoting the update. But when people see the “promoted” tag on my self-serving post and realize money was traded for their attention, they might think I’m tooting my own horn a little too loud.

Facebook will have to keep an eye on this one. If people use it for evil, or people unwantingly end up looking like loudmouth used car salesmen in cheap plaid polyester suits that reek of even cheaper cologne, then it may want to give authors the option to prevent promotions.

Don’t worry, Pinterest isn’t ditching the grid-style “Masonry” design it’s known and cloned for. But today Pinterest announced tests of a new navigation system, bigger images, and more related content on pins to keep you clicking. The redesign is being tried with a small group of users that can sign up to join, but everyone could get the new way to nest online if it’s popular.

Here’s a quick look at what could change about Pinterest.

Navigation -> Exploration

Right now, the top of the site has a few navigation options but still requires users to click a drop-down arrow to see a full list of feed categories. Pinterest’s new design condenses the navigation into a button in the top right. Click it to pull up options like “Following Feed,” “Popular Pins” and “Every Pin,” as well as dozens of categories like “Outdoors” and “Men’s Fashion” (yes there is men’s stuff on Pinterest).

The new style gives Pinterest a cleaner look, and forcing users to view the categories whenever they move around the site could encourage more exploration.

Pins To Keep You Perusing

When you click to open a pin in the standard version of Pinterest, you see an image stuffed between big white sidebars. Pinterest figured there’s a lot more that could be done with that space. In the redesign, the pinned image is larger and surrounded with helpful content. You’ll see bigger thumbnails of other things pinned to the same board, and now they’re on the right instead of at the bottom. This is especially helpful for tall images that would bury additional content several folds down.

What I’m most excited about, though, is that the pin view will now show “a whole slew of related Pins.” This is where Pinterest will be able to flex its data chops to help you discover more things you’ll probably like. Rather than trapping you on one board, Pinterest could now lead you on Wikipedia-style click quests where you surf the related links all across the site. Or, your Pinterest could provide Amazon-esque recommendations of what fellow users viewed later.

For example, a sweet photo of a speed boat racing down the Hawaiian coast could show related pins of more outdoor photographs from Hawaii, instead of just more boats. If YouTube is any indication, providing people with related links to what they should view next is critical to keeping them from getting bored and bouncing. As if Pinterest didn’t have people addicted enough already, related pins could make sure you never leave.

Overall, Pinterest writes that “we’ve tried to take your feedback into account.” Beyond the look, it notes “we also made some improvements behind the scenes that we hope will make things faster.” If you want to get early access to the design, you can fill out this form.

Expect a flurry of meta-pins of the new Pinterest design as more people gain access. Then I’ll probably pin those people pinning Pinterest until we get Pinception or a rift in the time-space continuum — whichever comes first.

Not more than a few hours after Yandex launched Wonder — the Russian search giant’s social discovery app that aims to deliver relevant areas of interest to users based on search queries — Facebook has blocked the app from accessing the Facebook API, according to a report from TechCrunch. Facebook declined to comment, and Yandex did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it’s likely that Facebook is making good on the anticompetitive clauses in its platform policy as grounds for cutting off Yandex.