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September 25 2013

How Mobile Phones Can Help Beat Malaria

What if mobile phones could help end a disease? And not just any disease — but malaria, one of the top three killers in the world, which infects nearly 3.5 billion people, roughly half of the world's population.

The organization Malaria No More is trying to put an end to malaria once and for all with its Power of One campaign, which converts $1 text message donations into one life-saving test and treatment for a child in Africa. The campaign will first start in Zambia and later move on to other African nations.

"Malaria is the first disease that will be beaten by mobile," Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More, said on stage at the Social Good Summit on Sunday. "There's a mobile revolution on the continent — by the end of 2015, there will be one billion mobile phones in Africa." Read more...

More about Social Good, Malaria, Venmo, Social Good Summit, and Us World

August 18 2012

5 Ways to Pay for Dinner With Your Phone

mobile payments
Mobile payment transactions are predicted to reach $1.3 trillion per year by 2017, and the restaurant industry appears ripe to scarf down a hefty chunk of that money flying around electronically.

But while news about the mobile payments space has intensified lately -- Square's deal with Starbucks, Discover's nod to Google Wallet and Dunkin' Donuts's new gifting/payment app -- pay-by-phone services have yet to hit mainstream status as many consumers are still confused about their options.

To help clear confusion, here are five ways you may start paying for your next dinner with your phone.

Order Meals With Digital Delivery and Takeout Services

Food delivery apps and websites su…
Continue reading...

More About: Food, Google, Pay With Square, Payment Services, Seamless, Squar, TheLevelUp, dwolla, eccomerce, google wallet, grubhub, levelup, mobile apps, mobile payments, paypal, venmo

June 01 2011

Venmo Now Overnights Funds To Your Bank Account

Social payments startup Venmo is meant to be both a practical and enjoyable way for friends to electrically exchange money, split bills and make good on IOUs. A recent service update might also make it the fastest way to cash out on funds friends have sent your way.

Venmo, which was previously working with an intermediary processing partner to handle bank transfers, is now working directly with U.S. banks. The net result for app users is the ability to cash out of Venmo and receive funds overnight.

The update, quietly announced Monday, is significant; Venmo is now faster than PayPal when it comes to transferring funds to bank accounts in the U.S. Plus, speedy money transfers could help the young startup win over users from its more formidable competitors and hook newbies on the service.

“The result is that you never have to worry about sending money to a friend who is new to Venmo,” CEO Andrew Kortina tells Mashable. “If you’re at dinner and send a friend 50 bucks, she can sign up, instantly verify her account, request a cash out, and the money will show up in her checking account tomorrow — that’s way faster than writing/cashing a check or using PayPal.”

The service update, which brings with it a big “Cash Out” button in the iPhone and Android apps, represents the startup’s desire to meet user demands. “The biggest complaint we heard from users was that this process was too slow,” Kortina says.

Now that users can verify their bank accounts instantly and cash out from Venmo to receive money overnight, Kortina believes the startup will be able to win more PayPal users over to Venmo.

“The reason we’re winning away ex-PayPal users is because we are working to build something better. That means building a service that’s more social and easily accessible on your mobile device. Now, we’re happy to be able to announce that it’s also faster and more liquid.”

An electronic money service, especially one aimed at helping friends split checks and resolve real-world money matters, is only as good as its ability to get money from one friend to the other. Venmo now does so overnight.

Venmo is still invite-only, but Mashable readers can sign up for the service using the invitation code “mash61.”

More About: personal finance, startup, venmo

For more Startups coverage:

February 16 2011

Venmo Refreshes iPhone & Android Apps With Social & Location Features

Social payments startup Venmo has long had iPhone and Android apps to support its pay-anyone-anywhere mission. The startup is releasing Wednesday new versions that add faster payment options, Foursquare and Facebook Places integration, new sharing controls and better tracking features.

Venmo strikes a different chord from the likes of PayPal or other micro and mobile payment companies by focusing on features that cater to existing interpersonal relationships, and creating a social experience around friend-to-friend transactions. With these latest applications improvements, the still invite-only startup (hint: Use the invite code “mash216″ to sign up) pumps up the volume on these assets.

The startup has introduced Venmo Places, for instance, so users can attach their expenditures to places, as pulled from Foursquare and Facebook. The feature lets users see how often and how much they’re spending — and how that stacks up against friend spending — at venues. Because users can also publish payments “tagged” at a place to their various social networks, Venmo sees this behavior as a “check out” — the checkin’s other half.

Sharing payments, in general, is now a much improved experience via the new Venmo application for iPhone and Android. Users can better control when and where they share payments, as well as configure push notifications for payments made by friends.

Venmo has introduced a Quick List feature in the app to make even easier paying or charging the people you transact with the most. Recent contacts are now called out separately, which should help speed up the payment process.

Also new is a Stats screen that highlights total payments, transactions per friend and payments per location. The micro spending report follows each payment to give users a bit more insight on their on-going payment activities.

The latest version of Venmo for iPhone is out now, and the Android update is slated for release later this evening. Altogether, the new and improved Venmo apps dramatically enrich the mobile application experience and help the startup maintain a personality distinct from its competition.

The latest crop of features are welcome additions, but even better is the startup’s continual efforts to speed up the exchange of funds to and from users’ bank accounts. Venmo was recently able to forge important bank partnerships thanks to the growing number of transactions it processes. “Last month we processed nearly half a million dollars in transactions,” says CEO Andrew Kortina.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, dem10

More About: mobile payments, social payments, venmo

For more Startups coverage:

November 10 2010

Why the “Dumbphone” Market is Still Ripe for Innovation

Mobile Phone Image

Shane Snow is a Mashable contributor and designer, founder of Printing Choice and Visual Economics.

At the recent New York Tech Meetup (a monthly event where 700+ geeks preview new technologies), some students from Brown University demonstrated a game where people in the audience could use their phones to battle each other in a real-time tank warfare game. The game was projected on the venue’s giant theater screen. It was not a game for iPhone or Android. The game could have been played on a payphone: Players dialed in and controlled their tanks using touch tone numbers on their keypads. The demo was awesome, even without a fancy touch screen.

News websites and tech blogs are brimming with stories about iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and dozens more smartphone varieties. Apple just topped 300,000 apps, and worldwide smartphone sales grew 50% in the past year.

But the non-smartphone industry (“dumbphones,” as some call the handsets), has kept pace with some fresh innovation of its own. New York-based group-texting startup GroupMe just raised $850,000 from high profile investors like First Round Capital (Mint, StumbleUpon) and Betaworks (Bit.ly, TweetDeck). Other dumbphone-friendly startups like Snaptu and Fast Society are making waves, and mobile donation platforms that cater to non-smartphones are skyrocketing in popularity.

Given the meteoric rise of the smartphone, why would anyone invest in dumbphones right now? For one, “dumbphone” is probably a misnomer; the real market for mobile innovation includes phones of all IQs. Here are four reasons why the “everyphone” space is bursting with potential.

1. Market Penetration

ushahidi image

People bought nearly 62 million smartphones in the second quarter of 2010 (according to Gartner research). But compared to the 264 million new “dumbphones” sold in the same quarter, all those iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerrys are just a drop in the bucket.

“The latest figures suggest that some 90% of the world’s population now has access to a mobile phone,” says Patrick Meier, a director at the crisis-mapping non-profit Ushahidi, which tracks human rights violations around the world by allowing people to report via SMS, Twitter, and even landlines. “We are designing the Ushahidi platform in such a way that there is no single point of failure.” By catering to the lowest common denominator in mobile communication, Ushahidi has been able to respond to disaster and violence situations from Haiti to Kenya, and beyond.

Dumbphones rule the developing world, and at current growth rates, it will be years before smartphones outpace the rest of the market worldwide. The limiting factor isn’t price, but rather the availability of mobile broadband. The lack of 3G broadband in developing countries will keep dumbphones on the map for a long time. Although smartphone sales are growing at double digit rates –- we noted 36% in the U.S. earlier this year –- smartphones won’t be as popular as regular phones in the U.S. until Q4 2011 or Q1 2012, according to Nielsen.

2. You Can Build Apps for Non-Smartphones

Don’t think that smartphones are the only mobile devices that let you check Facebook. Mobile startup Snaptu, as well as Microsoft’s OneApp, provide software that let feature phones access popular apps like instant messengers, social networks, feed readers, news and sports updates. Companies can build apps and port them to dumbphone platforms, or even develop cloud apps based on SMS.

Twilio, for example, provides tools to build apps for SMS or voice, and allows the code reside in the cloud so less capable phones can access it.

3. SMS Doesn’t Go Away When You Upgrade

mobile giving image

“I think we are going to see a lot of amazing things happening in the SMS space,” says Matthew Rosenberg, co-founder of Fast Society, which recently launched an app that allows users to throw together temporary groups for parties or events of any kind, with instant conference calling and group texting. Since Fast Society is based on SMS, it works on any phone — dumb or smart.

“People are people, and we wanted everyone to be able to come party,” Rosenberg says. “Why exclude anyone?”

Mobile donations are another area that could have been limited to a smartphone app, but by using SMS, organizations like the Red Cross have been able to raise millions for charity.

“Done correctly, mobile giving has the potential to raise [organization]-transforming amounts of money for a cause,” says Jim Manis, chairman and CEO of the Mobile Giving Foundation, which provided the technology for the more than $43 million donated via mobile during the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. “It has the ability to acquire and engage new, younger donors and at response rates higher than other channels.”

Companies like Venmo (slogan: “Text money to anyone with a phone”) are evidence that SMS-based payment for everyday goods and services is on the rise as well.

The model for this new wave of mobile innovators is to build apps and phones that work for everyone, but to include advanced features for those with more capable phones.

“We start on SMS as our fundamental building block, but we’re already building the layers on top of it,” says Jared Hecht, co-founder of GroupMe. “Data, location, planning, group buying — these are all things that necessitate a smartphone.”

He continues, “The best thing about [what we’re doing] is you only need one person in your group to have a smartphone, or be smartphone savvy, to utilize these tools [and] to make them effective for the whole group.”

4. There’s Money on the Table

There are more than 4.6 billion mobile phones in the world, and there is at least half a decade or more until dumbphones stop being relevant. That means billions of dollars are on the table for innovators in the feature phone space.

The future of mobile is here, and it’s even in the phones you’d least expect. “For years, people have been saying that mobile is right around the corner,” says Hecht. “That’s not the case anymore… It’s an exciting time to be here.”

Marketing to the lowest tech denominator isn’t shortsighted in the case of mobile devices; it’s grabbing more of the market. Even as the dumbphone market shrinks, clever companies with useful apps should be able to keep their converts no matter what phone they upgrade to.

More Mobile Resources from Mashable:

- Why Smartphone Adoption May Not Be as Big as You Think
- 8 Tips for a Killer Mobile Search Campaign
- Why Your Business Needs a Mobile Commerce Strategy Now
- The Rise of Text Messaging [INFOGRAPHIC]
- Top 5 Mobile Commerce Trends for 2010

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Ichabod

More About: android, apps, blackberry, dumbphone, fast-society, groupme, haiti, innovation, iphone, Mobile 2.0, mobile web, phone, smartphone, SMS, social good, texting, venmo

For more Mobile coverage:

October 07 2010

Pay Any Friend Any Amount from Any Device with Venmo [INVITES]

This post is part of Mashable’s Spark of Genius series, which highlights a unique feature of startups. The series is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark.. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Venmo

Quick Pitch: Venmo makes it easy and fun to spend money with your friends.

Genius Idea: When you’re out for after-work cocktails with co-workers and your friend picks up your tab because you’re out of cash, how do you pay him or her back? It’s a common conundrum that, in theory, is easy to solve with a check or a trip to the ATM, but the reality is much different. All too often, we forget to repay those generous friends simply because it’s too complicated.

Social payment startup Venmo was built with these scenarios in mind. This startup’s product makes the electronic exchange of money between friends both convenient and enjoyable.

On Venmo, once you connect your bank account and a credit card, you can seamlessly repay a friend via the web, iPhone, Andriod or SMS. You can even use the service to nudge those mooch friends of yours to pay you back.

The genius of Venmo is in the service’s subtle but significant distinctions from mobile payments competitors such as PayPal. One such feature is the Trust Request option, an additional layer of friendship allowing trusted friends to automatically recoup funds charged through the service.

With this extra layer of trust, Venmo really seems to understand the nature of human relationships. You may always trust Grandma to borrow $20 without asking, but you know that your buddy would abuse the privilege to buy himself some new sneakers.

Other standout extras include the ability to add your own flavorful commentary and publish payments openly to share the money exchanges with friends on Venmo, Twitter or Facebook.

Venmo is designed to be fun in nature, but their just-launched spin-off mobile application Gifi exponentially ups the fun factor. Gifi taps in to Venmo’s API (which will soon be released for developer use) and Foursquare’s API to turn mobile payments in to a game of hide and seek.

Basically, you use Gifi to leave hidden money gifts for your Foursquare friends. You select the venue, the gift amount and which friends are eligible to find it. The first person to checkin at the venue where you’ve stashed some secret cash will get it.

In practice, there really is no cooler way to make someone’s day then to leave them a gift of money at a coffee shop or bar you know they love to frequent. Talk about paying it forward.

Venmo is currently private to members, and CEO Andrew Kortina has no plans to change that — the only exception is that the startup might introduce a way for new members to join via Facebook or Foursquare. Right now, though, the service is set up so that new members must be invited by one of their friends, a structure Kortina feels ensures that each member is greeted by the socialness he intended when they sign up.

If you’d rather not wait on your social capital to net you an invite, then we suggest you snatch up one of Mashable’s invites. Frankly, we think you should; the service is as fun as it promises, and you might actually start paying your friends back. Go to the Venmo website and use the invite code “mash.” We have 100 invitations available.

Image courtesy of BluEyedA73, Flickr

Sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark

BizSpark is 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.

Reviews: Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Mashable, Twitter

More About: finance, Financial, micropayments, social payments, spark-of-genius, startup, venmo

For more Tech coverage:

May 17 2010

How Facebook Makes Edgy Concepts Mainstream

Facebook LogoAs the most popular social network in the world, Facebook has become the de facto destination for web denizens to share their thoughts, photos and videos, and connect with loved ones. With so many people using Facebook, the site has become like an online home to many, serving as a safe and contained environment where one can settle down.

In fact, Facebook has become so comfortable that most users don’t consider quitting, even after the newly introduced “Like” buttons were accompanied by semi-controversial privacy settings (which tend to be ignored), and multiple bugs in recent weeks put user privacy in jeopardy.

This brand affinity affords the social network significantly more implicit trust than startups with brighter ideas or bolder purposes. What Facebook seems to realize is that they have the power to introduce some of these bleeding edge notions to their hundreds of millions of members and make them feel safe, familiar and normal.

A Look at the Bleeding Edge

There are a handful of web services that are pushing the envelope of online mores and social acceptability.

In this bucket we can dump Google Latitude, Foursquare, and Gowalla, and categorize them in the location-sharing department. Blippy, and now Swipely, are taking purchase-sharing to the extreme, so throw them in the bucket too. You could even toss Square and Venmo into the mix, as their alternative mobile payment systems aren’t something the general population will race to embrace.

What it boils down to is that the majority of the population does not see the significance or utility of location sharing or going social with their credit cards. We’ve already explored in depth on Mashable why it matters, and what the future holds, but for the average person, telling the world where they are and what they’re buying is still a scary concept.

While these services appeal to early adopters by pushing the envelope, ultimately that boundary pushing helps to normalize the behaviors, so that Facebook can step in and make once bleeding edge concepts acceptable, or even logical, to mainstream users. Edge services introduce new concepts to early adopters, Facebook makes them normal for everyone else. It’s a pattern we’ve seen before.

Facebook is Familiar

When it comes to the web, users tend to gravitate towards the familiar. In search and e-mail sectors, Google is familiar, and Yahoo can be a comforting place for the everyday news seeker.

In the social media space, Facebook is like family. You may not always agree with your family, but at the end of the day, you trust them to have your back. On the other hand, for the average user, services like Foursquare, Swipely and Square are like a “friend of a friend.” You don’t really know her, so a face-to-face encounter might feel awkward and unnatural at first.

Fear of the Unknown

The psychological concept of the “other” highlights the basic human tendency to place what we experience into one of the two buckets — things we know, and things we don’t. It’s a common device of modern fiction, and very much a part of the mystery created by the hit television show Lost in its first and second seasons. Viewers know that The Others are people whose mere existence is completely foreign and troubling to the identify to the survivors.

In applying this concept to the web, social media, and the average individual, Facebook is what we know, and the bleeding edge sites fall into the category of otherness.

What’s especially interesting though, is that Facebook has the power to make the unknown known. For instance, Facebook’s “Like” button is not scary. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. For most users, it’s like a door mat that reads “welcome home,” and sends the message, “you know Facebook, you’re safe here,” regardless of whether or not that is actually the case.

Application developers and publishers recognize the power that Facebook familiarity carries, and proof can be seen in the fact that the new social plugins are now on more than 100,000 sites.

Facebook Normalizes the Extreme

With Swipely’s private beta launch, the conversation around real-time social shopping is bound to become heavily discussed and debated.

On one side you have early-adopters eager to share their credit card purchases with the world in the hopes of being first to a new trend (some of them are already doing so on Blippy). On the opposite side, you have web users horrified by the notion of being so public with their sensitive information.

In the middle, there’s Facebook and those welcoming “Like” buttons that are now plastered across the web. In much the same way that Blippy and Swipely create community around shared purchases, Facebook “Like” buttons give users the ability to share their favorite songs, movies, TV shows, sports teams, restaurants, and news items back with Facebook friends and integrate them into their profile.

You may not equate the behaviors as the same, and there are obvious differences, but essentially Facebook has normalized the practice of product-sharing in a way that users can and want to embrace. Behaviors of this variety, previously considered extreme, feel safe simply because of the Facebook brand name behind it.

Location-sharing and mobile payments can also feel extreme from unknown sources, but Facebook has the power to normalize these activities too. When Facebook launches its location features, they will play a major role in bringing checkins to mainstream users.

In terms of alternative payment options, Facebook will also help the general population feel safer with their offering — Facebook Credits. Right now, Facebook’s virtual currency can be used to buy gifts and virtual goods inside Facebook, but we see a future when users will be able to pay with Facebook for real goods, either purchased within Facebook’s walls, on sites with Facebook integration, and potentially in the real-world via SMS in a fashion similar to what Venmo now supports.

For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

More Facebook resources from Mashable:

- HOW TO: Find Long Lost Friends on Facebook
- HOW TO: Add Facebook “Like” Buttons to Your WordPress Blog
- What Facebook’s Open Graph Means for Your Business
- HOW TO: Disable Facebook’s “Instant Personalization” [PRIVACY]
- Facebook Open Graph: What it Means for Privacy

[Img credits: Jamie_Pichora, massdistraction, AHMED..., Klaire_Lee]

Tags: blippy, facebook, foursquare, location, Opinion, privacy, swipely, venmo

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