Posts Tagged Next Web 2009

A Brief Summary and Short Analysis of the Next Web 2009 Startups

Before reviewing the startups at the Next Web 2009, I have to mention the company that dominated the general discussion: Twitter. Personally, I have only recently begun to really feel the value of the service. My realization that I did in fact love it, was when I started to imagine what it would be like if Twitter disappeared. To my surprise, the notion filled me with great sadness. I had expected ambivalence. So many technologies come and go, and as someone who is generally interested in all of them, I usually maintain a healthy ambivalence, but I’ve drunk of the Twitter Kool-Aid, and I like it.

There are 3 reasons I am sure Twitter will keep growing at an unprecedented rate:

  1. The longer I use the service, the more I love it. Last night for the first time since I’ve started using Twitter, I read my past Twitter feed. It was a fantastic experience, especially since I was alone in Amsterdam. It was then when I truly felt the service’s value. I know other people feel this as well, because I am by no stretch of the imagination the biggest Twitter fanboy. This tells me that others, like me, will continue to use the service. It will not be just a fad.
  2. The more people I know that join, the more valuable the service becomes to me, therefore I have a vested interest in recruiting other people. Much like the fax machine, it grows in value with each node added to the network. Except unlike a clunky piece of hardware, Twitter is free to sign up and use. This signals that is will grow fast, and continue to do so for quite a while.
  3. Oprah is using it.

The other interesting thing is that over half of the companies I review below have a place for Twitter in their business plan. Some, like CoTweet, depend upon Twitter. Many others have a role for it somewhere in their product or service.

Now without further ado, I will provide a brief summary and short analysis of each of the companies that presented at the Next Web 2009. I will address them in the order that they presented.

Tarpipe

Tarpipe is a company that addresses the problem of distributing your information across multiple channels. For example, if you are a member of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySpace and wanted to keep them all current, you would have to update information in 4 places. Using Tarpipe you can do it in just one place and you have granular control over which service feeds the other services, so your drunken Facebook pics don’t get posted on LinkedIn.

They aren’t the only one’s doing this kind of thing, but from the brief demo I saw, I thought it was well designed and easy to use, which is key. The interesting thing is that while I see the value, I’m not really jazzed to try it out; I have a Facebook app that reads my tweets and that is enough for me right now, but I’m sure that there are people out there who will really want to try this out.

Mendeley

Traditional academic journals have failed to keep pace with today’s world. There was an interesting article in Wired Magazine a couple years ago explaining this issue, which is basically another case of the the old and established is not evolving to meet the demands of the market. There is too much information being produced these days and traditional scientific and academic journals aren’t keeping up, being too slow and too selective. Much like Wikipedia and PLoS, Mendeley is built around the idea that the community can manage content better than a select few editors at traditional journals. Their software is like a Limewire for academic papers. Users can share, collaborate, and discover each other’s academic journals.

I think this might be just the tool academia is clamoring for, and I am kind of an academic at heart having seriously considered pursuing an academic future in mathematics. And though most of the other startups had a flashier or less niche offering, if I had the choice to work for any of them, I would pick Mendeley because the democratization of information is an issue that is dear to my heart. I’m cheering for these guys.

YourTour

YourTour is a web application for tourists. Since I have been a tourist for the past month and will continue to do so for another month, I understand the need for this product. When you travel to cities you aren’t familiar with, it is difficult finding the places and activities best suited to you. A traditional guide like Lonely Planet is cool, but it is often too much information. Why not let a computer filter the guide for you based on personal preferences?

I have spent a lot of time working in the travel and leisure sector, most notably building the websites for Advantage Rent-A-Car and EagleRider. EagleRider especially might find a way to use this product and I’ll make them aware of both this service and Citisins, a similar concept (see below). If they could be white labeled, I think EagleRider CEO Chris McIntyre would be clamoring to integrate it into their site.

MimicMe

MimicMe strives to increase online clothing sales while simultaneously lowering their return rate. They do this by addressing the two things you can’t usually do while shopping online, try clothes on and shop with friends. With their service you can create an avatar that accurately represents your body and try on digitized clothes. What’s more, your friends can do the same and you can go shopping together, sort of fulfilling the promise Second Life failed to deliver on. The secret sauce is being able to mass digitize real life atomic clothing, which is why the startup has been in stealth mode for almost two years- they had some serious coding to do.

If MimicMe works as advertised and retailers embrace it, there is no doubt that it can revolutionize how we shop for clothes online. The clincher is that it needs work well, be very easy to use, and creates avatars that are neither lame nor creepy. Combine these criteria with the clothing digitization problem and you have yourself a long uphill battle. That said- every woman I know would use the hell out of this service if it overcame these challenges.

Aroxo

Since the presenters for Aroxo spent more time explaining the awards they are winning than the service itself, I am a bit fuzzy on their offering. I think it can be boiled down to: “Priceline for products”. You specify a product and what you will pay for it, and sellers find you and make you an offer. Online haggling, if you will.

Actually, I think that if their pitch was “online haggling” they would do much better. Instead they left behind a room of confused conference goers wondering what an e-commerce application is doing at the Next Web 2009. Can you tell I was less than impressed? I have never understood this “name your price” thing. I’ll name my price: the cheapest. I think having sellers publish a price and using computers to find the lowest one will always surpass these “name your price” schemes. I don’t want to research or haggle; I want to quickly find the lowest price something I want to buy is selling for in the marketplace. Let supply and demand do their jobs.

Citisins

Citisins is very similar to YourTour in concept, but with a key difference: Instead of making a consumer fill out a profile, Citisins gets its information from your existing online social networks. By looking at you and your friends, it presumes to figure out what travel stops you will enjoy the most.

Once again, I think success depends on the efficacy of the service. Listening to both presentations, I got the impression that YourTour might deliver better results, but this service will have a lower barrier of entry for consumers since they won’t have to do as much work to get results. I do think their name is a problem: it is generally best to have a business name that is free of “sin.” Citisins sounds like a service that will point you to the vice of your choosing.

CoTweet

After you become a Twitter power user, neither the web site nor other Twitter clients will do, you need CoTweet. While aimed at the business market, I think it can be a useful tool for any Twitter user. You can categorize the people who you follow and who follow you and filter them accordingly or use it to facilitate a kind of group chat.

This was a crowd favorite; many of those attending had already been using the beta release. One of the points underscored throughout the conference was that Twitter is just a platform. By virtue of being incredibly simple it can be molded to many uses, and I think we are seeing the beginnings of that here. I have no doubt that other Twitter clients will start emerging that will let us use the same technology in alternate ways and for different purposes.

IRL Connect

IRL Connect plots your social graph on a world map. All your friends and contacts are represented as pins on an interactive mapping system, and when you chat with a buddy, a little talk bubble comes out of your respective little map pins. It integrates with Facebook and Twitter.

Social-geolocation mash-ups are nothing new; the iPhone marketplace has a number of applications that provide similar functionality. The novelty of the geo-social mash-up has certainly worn off. I felt like the room was a bit nonplussed at this offering.

Plista

Plista is a recommendation engine, sort of like StumbleUpon. It is distributed as a browser plug-in and works by finding your “doopelgangers”. These are people who have similar interests as you on various internet sites. My understanding was that Plista would sell their technology wholesale to others to implement in customized environments and the browser plug-ins are mostly for demonstration purposes.

At first I really loved their logo and branding, and then I realized that if you just twist those little triangles around you have the Picasa logo. Branding aside, the product does seem to have real value, but I’m not sure the business model is there. The presenters had problems explaining to the audience how they would actually make money. The other thing I’m not sure they answered fully was why we should use Plista over StumbleUpon or other recommendation services.

My Name is E

My Name is E creates virtual cards that can have a meatspace presence as well. Picture a digital business card that is on your iPhone. You meet a contact who also has an iPhone. With a flick of your wrist you can transfer your virtual card to his iPhone. For those unfortunates who do not own an iPhone, My Name is E creates a small hardware devise that can transmit 2 different cards and can receive up to 128. They also provide a website to serve as your virtual Rolodex and tie you into LinkedIn and other social networks.

My Name is E was both the jury and attendee selected winner of this year’s Startup Rally. The fact that they are an Amsterdam based company suggests some bias, but that doesn’t mean their product isn’t pretty cool. I could have used an infinite digital supply of business cards at my first CSIA meeting a couple of months ago when I ran out of the physical ones. It is also worth noting that their promotional material was the most well produced of the bunch, and they clearly have excellent hardware and software design teams. There is a lot of potential here, but in the end we’ll see if consumers adopt it.

Yubby

Yubby is a site where users can aggregate all their favorite video content into a custom channel of their own. I can sign up and take Lost, 30 Rock, Diggnation, and The Rachel Maddow show, stir them all together and call it Rob TV. Apparently this service has existed in the Netherlands for a while under the name of Dik. Yubby is the rebrand for global consumption.

Sounds like fun to me, I think I’ll give it a go. The funny thing is that I was pitched a similar concept a couple years ago in Los Angeles. I thought the concept good at the time and still do.  From the brief demo I saw Yubby looked well executed, and it probably helps that Dik has been out on the marketplace for a while. I’ll let you know when Rob TV is on the air.

Feedforward

Feedforward by Kimengi is a recommendation engine. Unlike Plista, it is focused on blogs and sells the service directly to bloggers rather than as a licensable API or given away free as a plug-in.

While they gave the presentation, I was only dimly aware that I was a potential customer for the service. I have never been a blogger before, and am still trying to figure out a trackback from a pingback. I have filed this one under, “I’ll check it out once I have a few more blog posts under my belt and the product has matured a little,” but if you are a veteran blogger, this might be just the tool you are looking for.

Yellowbird

In case you didn’t know, Google uses a special camera to capture their map’s “street view” images. It sits up on a van and films in 360 degrees simultaneously. The founders of Yellowbird thought, “Why not use this thing to produce 360 degree video?” The result is undeniably awesome. It’s like watching a movie, but being able to turn your head inside the movie. Just check out the demo.

Real estate virtual tours are an obvious use case, but I am more enamored by the artistic potential of this technology. Imagine watching a mystery movie where you can gather different clues depending on where you “looked”, or a director embedding different subplots and themes in the 360 degree canvas available to them so you could watch the same movie many times and experience it differently each time.

Huddle

Huddle is an online collaboration and project management tool. The online market is chock full of things like this, from giant expensive offerings like SalesForce to smaller ones like Basecamp. Not having used Huddle I can’t claim its superiority over other services, but I can tell you that I have tried many online collaboration and project management tools and they all fall short of what I want. Either the interface is a clunky mess or it doesn’t do what you need it to do while delivering a bunch of features you don’t care about. Supposedly the guys from Huddle felt the same way and thought they could do better.

I am going to reserve judgment on this one until I’ve tried it out, but I will definitely try it out. From what I saw during the short presentation, Huddle has a really nice web 2.0 interface, which bodes well for it. I am going to use it to manage a couple new projects and will let you know how that goes.

Prezi

Have you ever heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint?” It alludes to the fact that PowerPoint and other traditional presentation software can be extremely boring to look at. Having text fly in from the left and out to the right fails to titillate today’s discriminating presentation audience. Prezi makes slideshows bearable again by presenting “slides” as simply areas of one giant whiteboard with infinite resolution. Huh? Just go watch the demo.

This company was my vote for best in show. While so many of the startups at the Next Web 2009 have compelling products, I liked Prezi because it was so different than any other concept. It isn’t a complex mash-up or bleeding edge concept only tech people can appreciate. It is a better way to give slideshows, period. After being exposed to Prezi, I have no plans to make a PowerPoint type presentation ever again. Prezi is clearly more engaging and interesting, for both the creator and the audience. The bad news for them is that I happen to know that Microsoft has a similar concept in the works; I saw it in Redmond last month. I think the Microsoft offering is intended more as a research tool meant to be a helpful container for a wide variety of media and is a desktop app, but the underlying metaphor is the same: an infinite whiteboard. Microsoft would do well to offer Prezi a generous buyout option now though; their product is still the PowerPoint killer.

Klomptek

Klomptek provides a web based service that lets employers monitor and control the usage of the mobile phones they provide employees. This might involve blocking your ability to call your girlfriend or simply sending you a warning that you are making too many personal calls. Doing this can save an organization 35%-65% on their mobile costs, all they have to do is become Big Brother.

As you can imagine, the starry eyed idealists that dominate conventions like the Next Web pretty much hated this company. The first question was along the lines of “how do you do this ethically?” The answer was “we hired lawyers.” Great (deadpan, pause). Klomptek was keen to point out that the market was hungry for this type of service and several big fish have already expressed interest. I contend that the executives hungry for this thing don’t understand the value of happy employees. I’ve found that if an employee likes their employer they are orders of magnitude more productive. Companies interested in using Klomptek’s Orwellian contraption would be better off cultivating a culture of ownership and responsibility rather than trying to babysit their employees. If a company doesn’t want to pay for an employee’s mobile phone, I have a better solution: don’t buy them one.

QuickTV

Quick TV provides an interactive video platform. Just like you can tag areas of a photograph in Flickr, you can annotate a video in Quick TV. This and other metadata can be layered onto a video to allow a more immersive video experience.

I’ve heard of a product like this in Asian markets for quite a while, and it is very popular. I don’t see why this wouldn’t catch on in other markets, but who knows? Other Asian innovations like pay-by-mobile-phone have been slow to make any headway in western markets. Personally, this sort of thing doesn’t excite me too much- I passively enjoy video and like it that way.

Yunoo

Yunoo is an application for managing personal finances. More than that, it analyzes your spending and sees if it can’t save you any money. For example you can hook it up to your mobile provider. It will look at what you are spending and scour the internet to see if another carrier could save you money. In addition to this, it can provide charts, graphs, and stats to put you in control of your finances.

This was another crowd favorite and there is clearly a demand for this sort of product. As a small business owner, I use Quickbooks Online which I rather like despite some usability problems. Because I have no desire to manage my finances in more than one app, I don’t plan to try out Yunoo. However if I did not have Quickbooks I wouldn’t hesitate to give this app a shot. It looked like a well designed interface, and has a feature set that could save its users lots of money.

Visibuild

Visibuild provides software for collaboratively architecting a building. A typical use case might be that a family contracts an architect to design them a new house. They meet with the architect and explain what they need and what they like. The architect goes off and creates the structure in the form of blueprints. The problem is that his customer is not well trained on how to read and understand blueprints and could easily miss something they would otherwise have had the architect change. Enter Visibuild. With this software, a 3D virtual space can be constructed from the plans and the architect and customer can virtually explore the space. What’s more, they can change features right there on the fly. Don’t like that fireplace on that side of the room? Move it. Ceiling too low? Raise it. The idea is to identify and fix issues like this before actual construction begins when those changes can be cost prohibitive.

This idea is awesome. I couldn’t help thinking about my Mom when this product was presented, because she has commissioned houses before and helped design the house where we lived in Kansas. Her husband also likes to tinker around with CAD tools and products that are similar in concept to Visibuild. I personally have dabbled a bit with programs like Google’s Sketch-Up. Visibuild seemed a lot better than all of those, and I look forward to using it or a tool like it someday to collaboratively build something of my own.

Contextured

Plista and Feedforward provide software that helps consumers discover new products and services, but who is helping the companies who want to increase their market exposure? Contextured, that’s who. This service helps companies manage their pay-per-click ads by doing the type of analysis most SEM companies do: research keyword efficacy for that company’s vertical and figure out the ones that maximize the return on ad investment. In addition to this, the software will analyze your site to help you achieve maximum search engine optimization.

Like so many of the other products and services in this list, I think that the success of Contextured depends upon how well it works. If it does a stellar job, it has the potential to displace many SEM firms because it can beat them on cost every time. Humans though, have proven that they can detect more subtle patterns and connections than our program counterparts. Even so, most small businesses like mine can’t afford to hire an SEM firm. Planet Telex has a product suite we plan to release at the end of Q2 this year, and I plan to ramp up our SEM at that time. Contextured, I’ll be seeing you this summer.

Silentale

Silentale is roughly the opposite of Tarpipe. Recall that Tarpipe helped you to broadcast your messages across many channels. Silentale helps you put all those pieces back together into a cohesive narrative. Suppose I send out a tweet. My friend reads it and IMs me in response. I read his IM, but am stepping out for lunch so I SMS text my reply from the restaurant. We have just created a single conversation thread spread across 3 channels. If I look at any one channel, I see only a fragment of the conversation. As time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to reconstruct what that conversation was. Enter Silentale. This service aggregates these pieces so that you can read them in a cohesive narrative.

While this sounds really good, I’m not sure how it achieves this goal. I suspect that it makes educated guesses based on the time a communication took place. But I’ve been thinking about how I use these technologies: The use case I outlined above just doesn’t happen to me that often. If I have an IM conversation with my buddy and then text him afterward, there is a good chance that the text is not contextually related to our earlier IM conversation. I can tell you that if the service requires more than a minute of maintenance work after I log in I won’t use it. As useful as it seems, I can’t really think about a time when I would have used this tool had it existed. But one guy doesn’t make a marketplace and I’ll be interested to see if others find this service helpful in their daily lives.

Shout’em

Shout’em is a niche Twitter that can be white labeled. You can create your own microblogging portal, with whatever look and feel you want. So far it boasts a strong horse enthusiast community.

On one hand it makes sense- once a mass-market tool gains popularity, someone always takes that concept “niche”. The problem I see with Shout’em is that Twitter itself can be accessed programmatically, meaning it can be natively white labeled. As for the niche, Twitter took care of that with the hash tag (#). Shout’em seems to be aware of this fact and made a point of explaining that their service is targeted at less savvy consumers that are not aware of this. The tech community seems content with Twitter and doesn’t have any desire for more than one microblogging provider.


Holy crap! I totally underestimated how many words 2 paragraphs for 22 companies would be. When I started writing this, I didn’t intend for the title to be ironic, but I guess that is what makes it ironic in the first place. I think the fact that this simple post turned into a novella underscores my first post: innovation is alive and well. It should be noted that the 22 companies that did present at the Next Web 2009were chosen from over 100 that submitted their companies to the conference, and most of those were European.

Now I understand why it takes a legion of journalists and bloggers to keep up with the world of technology, there is just so much going on, and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. I can’t help but think of that parable about monkeys, typewriters, and Shakespeare. I believe it posits that if Shakespeare lived infinitely long, he would write about monkeys on his typewriter.

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