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Demo: Launchpad and Flameout


Demo is probably the longest lasting of the tech conferences, justly so. Each year a host of companies — 77 this time — demonstrate their products on a stage in front of several hundred technology folks including venture capitalists and other investors.

There are occasional triumphs. I was in the audience at this gathering in the mid-1990s when Palm Computing launched the first Palm Pilot. I wrote in my column that night that these folks had cracked the code for handhelds. A few years later, TiVo became one of those aha! moments.

I’ve also witnesses some spectacular flubs, where demos utterly failed, humiliating the companies’ presenters and pretty much killing their futures, at least in front of this crowd. I’ve had my own speaking messes, so I emphathize.

Will something leap to public conciousness this year? Unlikely. But the array of ideas I’ve already seen this morning, in just the first few products, is already fairly impressive.

Liquid Planner has promise, for example. It’s yet another web application, but this one is pretty intriguing for people who plan complex projects. It’s taking what the Basecamp folks do to a much more granular level, including Gantt charts that reflect uncertainty in scheduling.

Citiport, another web app (most of these are) is a bottom-up aggregation site, created mostly by users, of local favorites in cities people visit. People share information about the places they’ve lived and visited. (Note: I have a conflict here, as we’re encouraging people in Dopplr, a company I co-founded, to do this too, though that’s not the main purpose of Dopplr.) Like other things of this sort, Citiport’s entire business depends on achieving a critical mass of users.

LeapFrog, an interactive tool to help kids learn to read, looks dynamite. It’s getting some buzz in the room.

I was interested in SkyFire, a new mobile web browser, until I discovered it only works on Windows Mobile handhelds. The company says it’s going to support Symbian (good for my Nokia N95), but it’s not remotely competitive with, say, Opera Mini, which runs pretty much everywhere. SkyFire is about mobile multimedia more than anything else, as far as I can tell. And it’s pretty good at that. But this is not my primary purpose in using a mobile, and the comparisons the demonstrators are making with other phones are therefore not quite fair. Interesting app, though…

Joggle, from a company called Fabrik, shows you your own data from a variety of places in a central view. it aggregates from local and remote sources — “access to all your stuff,” as a demonstrator explains. This is on the track of something valuable.

SpeakLike does almost real-time chat translation, though not always instantly, with what’s described as a hybrid of automation and human translators. The idea is fascinating, but there are a lot of potential gotchas. This service will need plenty of disclaimers, but there’s great potential.

The first mini-flop of the day: A demo of noise-cancelling system from Step Labs, which didn’t work well enough to make me want it — yet. But there’s some interesting work going on in that company, and I’ll keep an eye on what they do in the future.

I’m getting too much email about NotchUp already. This is company that claims to pay people for interviewing for a new job. You set an interview price. The security problems are obvious. What if your current company finds you here? You can block one domain, but if your company’s recruiters only use their own email domains they’re idiots, and no doubt they’re also using third-party folks to scan for employees.

New portal: — for parents to help figure out the education system and get resources for their kids. “All in one place” seems to be the mantra.

Tokitumi’s demo had problems. It’s an interesting PBX-like application (Windows only, stupidly) for small businesses

Video conferencing is getting serious attention here. Avistar Conference does multi-person Windows video almost as well as iChatAV on the Mac, with bandwidth management features to boot, according to the company.

Movial’s Communicator is fascinating, a mobile phone app, all about presence, that I’m going to try.

Ribbit? A web voice system that is “an extention of my mobile phone” — looks like it does nice organizing of calls. It syndicates itself to other sites as an applet, and imports what others are doing. Intriguing…this one’s getting a lot of buzz, in part because it has the potential to inspire an ecosystem around it. Looking forward to trying it out when I get access to the beta.

LiquidTalk, not to be confused with LiquidPlanner, has a number of features, but I’m not exactly sure what it can do for me. (Needs better elevator pitch…) It’s aimed at enterprises, that much I get; the CEO keeps talking about “Sam the sales guy” as the prototypical user…

Zodiac Interactive introduces Zodigo — downloadble mobile content. Podcasts, videos, tickets, coupons, etc. Uh oh, “fantastic merchandizing experience” — repeated twice now — the coupon feature is a bit Minorty-Reportish. Well, I get the business model, anyway. The company has an API, like several others, aiming to build an ecosystem.

Voyant is about money: web-based financial planning. The timeline is cute, and maybe even useful. Good graphics show shortfalls coming up, smart. Looks sophisticated, with simulations that show what-ifs in dramatic ways. Data security will be a big issue for these folks.

Aha, a really useful mobile app for wine drinkers: Review2Buy‘s text messaging about the wine you’re thinking of buying. It’s not just wine, but a variety of products. Includes price comparisons, locally and on the web. If they could marry this to the bar-code reader that comes with some new phones, they’d really be onto something.

Aceisis is “point of care” health-care software, aiming to replace pens and paper in medical care. It’s a web app with desktop functionality (Mac and Windows). Very smart demo of filling out a form, with templates and tablet functionality. Customizable, too, because the user can create the forms on the fly. This one could be a winner. Will they get doctors and medical groups to use it? The learning and using curve could be a barrier. Ugh, they say “Health 2.0” — please…

blist is not aimed at programmers, but is a database “for the rest of us.” Unlike Filemaker? This one’s a web app, looks a bit like a spreadsheet with visual aids. You can store lists, photos and a variety of other information (and kinds of information) in various cells. Looks quite adaptable. There’s a single-record view, of course, and planning calendar. Visual query interface, drag/drop values into new window. Good potential. Unfortunate name, though.

CellSpin is about sharing content from your mobile phone to a variety of sites including Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and even eBay. It doesn’t support enough popular phones and operating systems, however. I’m trying ShoZu, in the same vein, but that app is ruining the performance of my Nokia, so I’m about to uninstall it. I do need something like this, but still haven’t found anything that works right.

FlyPaper, a company based in Phoenix, lets you do fairly sophisticated Flash presentations (and video files, etc.) using a downloadable (Windows only, sigh) app. There are models — designed templates — that the users can apply to their own interactive projects without knowing Flash programming. Some interesting possibilities here, but this one needs a Mac version or at least a web-based version.

GoldMail puts links to multimedia into emails to “bring messages to life.” I don’t want more multimedia attached to my mail, do you? (Part of the demo is unfortunate — someone’s young daughter letting her father know that she just lost her first tooth. And dad’s not home for that? Uh, oh…) But as an app for sharing slide shows with audio online, this could be quite useful in a media production sense.

Sprout Builder is about building Flash content — web-based, yay — create multimedia and interactive media, the best widget-builder I’ve seen so far. Rich development tools, working inside Firefox, include a variety of components such as RSS readers and other things. There’s a mashup tool, too. The code is embeddable in a variety of online sites, with tracking tools showing views — “portable living content” with many potential uses. Prediction: Sprout will be one of the big hits here.

Ooh, I like the idea behind the Green Plug universal power adapter. A chip in a power supply will tell it how much juice to give an individual device, and then shut down the power supply to a device that’s fully charged. Here’s their problem: Manufacturers deliberately sell individual power supplies, because the make lots of money on them from their customers. They have every incentive to keep screwing us and not cooperating with initiatives like Green Plug. Increasingly I look for devices I can charge from USB ports, period.

Celsias aims to solve global warming, “one project at a time.” The project-builder uses social media and technology to help people create their own green projects, and is an aggregator of those initiatives. The community features look promising. Think of a content-management and social-networking platform with the environment in mind, but obviously if this works it has wider application.

A session with two university professors who have created companies based on their research (with the help of the Kauffman Foundation (see below), is about connecting academia to the business world. I am obviously interested in this. More in a separate post later…

Wow, LiveScribe combines pen computing and paper and audio and a lot more. Just look at the site to see what’s what. Big applause for this one…

Loic LeMeur is showing Seesmic (disclosure: I’m an early investor). Good job.

Moli is designed to let you manage multiple online identities and profiles. Settings are public, private or hidden (and somewhat granular). At first, it sounds great. But wait. Are we supposed to upload our lives into Moli — why should we trust this site above all others? I can’t see why we should. In the end, this is more of a marketing tool than something end users will need. Truly portable data and what Doc Searls calls vendor relationship management strike me as vastly better approach.

iVideoSongs is a site aimed at teaching fans how famous artists play their songs. Great idea and implementation. Still, why do people want to totally mimic what others have done? The entire idea of learning a song is to do it your way, isn’t it? Ringer alert: They have John Oates doing a demo.

Note: The Kauffman Foundation, co-funder of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s journalism school (my new gig), is a major sponsor of Demo this year. This is an interesting branching-out for an organization like Kauffman.)

2 Comments on “Demo: Launchpad and Flameout”

  1. #1 francine hardaway
    on Jan 29th, 2008 at 11:29 am

    I have always loved LeapFrog, and I’m sure every product they launch will be awesome. They are, however, hardly a startup in the DEMO tradition.

    If you are in Phoenix already, we run the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac programs here for entrepreneurs. And I’m also tied in to Technopolis. Do let me know if we can get together some time soon.

  2. #2 Dan Gillmor
    on Jan 29th, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Francine, I’m now officially moved — look forward to meeting folks in Phoenix in coming weeks.