WebInno 42, Can You Believe It?

WebInno42 is coming up on Monday, June 16th at the Royal Sonesta in Kendall Square. Hard to believe these events have been going on – and getting stronger – for such a long time. It’s evidence of Boston’s great entrepreneurial community and a testament to David Beisel’s commitment to helping that community thrive. I’ve been attending WebInno since 2006 and it’s always one of my favorite events. Here’s the line-up for this month’s event and what I think of each of the main dish and side dish companies.

Main Dishes

Bedrock Data, Easily Integrate Your Business Data – Often the companies that demo at WebInno provide consumer-facing technology. Bedrock doesn’t. This is technology designed to allow businesses to better manage and synchronize their data. The website describes the company as a data management platform, and I guess technically it is; but it isn’t a DMP in the ad tech sense.

The basic idea here is that most organizations have a ton of data (from what I can tell, Bedrock is primarily designed to tap into customer data from CRM systems) and a bunch of apps (and here the focus from Bedrock is heavily tilted toward marketing, though they also support finance, customer support and ecommerce systems). It’s tough as nails to make sure you’re always working with the most current data in every situation and that’s the problem Bedrock solves.

Here’s how it works: you identify your data source (typically a CRM system) and the application you want it to synchronize with. You need to tell the system which data source would win in a conflict, which fields you want to synchronize and get it started. The system will, within minutes, update both systems and will keep them current moving forward. Change in your marketing system will be reflected in your CRM system and vise versa. It seems like a useful, if not especially, eye-popping offering.

Bridj, Better Transit. For Everyone. – Bridj is essentially privatized mass transit. The company currently has two routes, one between Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square and the other from Coolidge Corner to downtown Boston, with more on the way. Bridj has shuttles (featuring leather seats and Wi-Fi) to move people between their single start points and end points. This means no stops, which means much faster travel times than are available from public transportation. The service is currently free during its “beta” period (which started yesterday) and has just one departure time per route at this point.

As I read about Bridj it brought to mind the private shuttles that have received so much (negative) attention in the Bay Area. In that case, employers in the Valley provide the shuttles as a free service. Bridj is a little different because it is theoretically available to anyone who a) needs to get between one of the company’s start and end points and b) can afford a pass (which the company says is just a little more than a T fare). That’s what makes it private-public instead of purely private as is the case of the shuttles in SF.

Still, it does create a tiered transit system that will create distinctions between people based on location and disposable income. One could argue we already have that to the extent that some people can afford to drive or take taxis or use the Pike vs. surface roads. It will be interesting to see how Boston responds to the idea. It raises several questions for me:

Will it result in fewer cars on the road? It might, but going from Coolidge Corner, it’s more likely to result in lower ridership for the MBTA. That seems like a double-edge sword: easier commutes for those who can take advantage of Bridj but less operating revenue for the MBTA.

To what extent will Bridj tax the transportation infrastructure and how will it pay for whatever impact it has? With two routes at this point, it seems unlikely Bridj will have any measurable impact (if anything, taking cars off the road may have a positive impact). As more routes are added that could change, though it does seem unlikely.

Will Bridj serve every community? The company says they use big data to determine their routes. I’m sure that’s true – to an extent – but it’s hard for me to believe that Coolidge Corner is the point of origin for the greatest number of commuters into either downtown or Kendall Square. Will Bridj share the data used to determine its routes? Will the company look beyond Brookline, to some of the outer suburbs or other neighborhoods to help take cars off the road or shorten longer public transit commutes? The MBTA reports a travel time from Coolidge to Kendall as being 30 minutes and costing $2.50, from Ashmont the trip takes 45 minutes and costs $4.50 and from Natick (where I live) the trip takes almost an hour and costs $9.75. Only time and transparency will tell.

Squadle, The Smart Way to Manage Your Business. – Before going on about Squadle, can we all just agree that the name is really terrible? I can’t decide which it makes me think of more a) a group bathroom experience or b) a new Pokemon. Either way, it doesn’t make me think about managing a business.

That aside, what is Squadle all about? (OK, seriously, I can barely bring myself to type that word.) It’s actually pretty cool. Think of it as a silent taskmaster in the cloud. Designed for restaurants (and food trucks!), Squadle consists of two elements: the Squadle Hub, which is a “ruggedized” Google tablet, and the Squadle HQ which is essentially an analytics dashboard.

The Hub allows daily tasks and lists to be shared with employees and provides them a way to keep track of what they are meant to be doing. The HQ gives managers a way to see how well their operation is performing. It’s all wireless, apparently easy to set up and get into the field and is simple enough that even Beavis and Butthead could probably use it.

It’s interesting to see how mobile technology is making its way into more and more industries. The fact that Squadle links employees’ in-store activities with a management dashboard seems pretty cool.

Side Dishes

Animatron – HTML5 is pretty cool. It’s allowing publishers to create assets that can work online and on mobile devices. Creating those assets, now how do you do that exactly? Hell if I know, I haven’t used HTML in years. Animatron is here to help. I signed up and tried fooling around with it and it seemed pretty cool to me. I didn’t have the time (day jobs!) to do much though. It’s certainly worth checking out and giving a spin.

AppBlade, Deploy, manage and configure with ease. – As AppBlade points out, mobile devices have changed everything – including how we work. As businesses rely on apps to help their employees get things done, they’ve faced the challenge of getting purpose-build apps into the field, managing them, keeping them up-to-date, etc. That’s the problem AppBlade is designed to solve. It’s not a problem I face so I can’t really say that much about the company.

Kidnosh, Eat out. Eat well. With kids. – As a father I appreciate the challenge of finding places to eat with my kids. They’re in their teens now but that hasn’t made things any easier. When they were young, oh man, what a pain. Kidnosh is designed to make it easier for adults to find restaurants that are kid-friendly. That’s cool. I looked at a few listings and it all seemed good to me. What wasn’t so good was the apparent absence of an app. The worst – and I mean worst – thing is being out with hungry kids and trying to find a place to eat. Maybe these guys should check out Animatron?

RocketBoard), Stream your ordinary whiteboard to anyone anywhere. – There’s not much to say about RocketBoard. They were Teamboard. At the moment the site is nothing more than a field to enter your email address to get early access when it’s available. Watch this space I guess.

Zylo Media, Advertising that people choose to interact with! – For reasons that are beyond me, I’ve ended up working primarily with advertising technology clients for the past three or four years. It’s an exciting space with lots of players, all different layers of technology and issues that transcend product (things like privacy and big data). Does that mean I choose to interact with advertising? No, not really. Sometimes I do and I’m the most impressed when I find myself engaging with ads without even realizing it at first. There’s a real art to making that happen.

Zylo develops casual games that help reinforce brands and provide consumers with offers and rewards for playing. The company captures user names, contact information and demographic details. According to Zylo, the typical player will consider 50 offers before accepting one. What does that mean? It means the customer has played about 200 games and been exposed to more than 2000 ad impressions over the course of an hour. To me that seems like a lot of impressions in a short time but if Zylo says it works, who am I do judge?

Well there you have it, my preview of WebInno42. Bridj is the most interesting one, not necessarily because of what they’re offering but because of the questions it raises. I’m looking forward to th

WebInno32 Preview

We’re fast approaching the last WebInno of 2011. Hard to believe how fast the year has passed but what can you do? Actually, I know what I can do. I can write my preview of the companies that will be at WebInno32. And I know what you can do to. You can read it! How’s that for simple? Check it out, let me know what you think and I’ll see you Royal Sonesta on the 29th.

Here are the Main Dish companies

BestVendor – Best Vendor Helps You Discover the Work Apps You’ll Love. I don’t know about the name or the tag line but I guess there’s utility in getting recommendations for which apps might be right for me. It seems like a solid idea. The video on the site does a good job of explaining how this might be used by an advanced race of dogs and I was able to imagine how people might benefit as well. The whole idea is that they site will provide recommendations based on other people’s experience.

Conceptually I love crowdsourced solutions. Practically I’ve had mixed experiences. Waze, for example, is a navigation app I’ve had/used for years. I downloaded it because I wanted a GPS app and I loved the idea it would improve over time as more people used it. Based on my first few tries using ways it could only have improved . . . That was a few years ago though and now it’s awesome. It’s likely the learning curve for BestVendor won’t be as long and the consequences of downloading a bum project management app is way easier than getting lost for hours. I do like the overall vibe of the site and am looking forward to hearing the rap at the event.

Kibits – Kibits and you’re closer. Well the site doesn’t tell you that much about the app, just that it lets you “instantly connect with the people who matter most.” I’m interested in connecting with people so I signed up. I wish the app – which you can register with through Facebook – had let me know which of my FB pals were already using Kibits. From my phone it offered to scan my contacts but I’m not really down with that. It did let me look at my FB friends but either none of them are using Kibits yet or the app doesn’t know. My bet is that none of them are using it yet. I’m just not into spamming people with app invites. (Maybe the Kibits people should see about getting people talking about it on BestVendor?).

Once the app was installed on my phone a very helpful robot – KiBot – got in touch with me. It showed me how I could chat, share media, calendar entries, documents, etc. It all seemed very awesome. My only reservation is mastering another platform. It’s probably better than the cobbled together system I have now – but unless a ton of people I know are on here too it feels like a lot of work for little reward. As with BestVendor the site, app and feel are all very good. Hopefully someone I know will try it too so we can use it together.

TastedMenu – What? No tagline? Come on people, how am I supposed to know what this is all about? This is a service I can really sink my teeth into. Hahahahahaha. But seriously, I like this site a lot. It really does look good and it functions well. There seem to be a lot of activity. Either that means there are a lot of people already using the site or the people who are using it are really into it. It’s not really complicated. You can either enter the name of a restaurant or the name of a dish. If you enter a restaurant it will give you the basic info on the place (locations, hours, URL, payment types, etc.) and then a listing of menu items. Where applicable it also provides ratings of different dishes. You can drill down onto these to see photos of the items and individual diner’s feedback. It struck me as a deeper version of Yelp.

If you search for a specific food item you get details on the ingredients, suggested additional searches, photos and ratings for which places have the best of what you’re looking for. This seems like a great feature if you’ve got a hankering for a certain dish. Maybe someone else has this functionality (no doubt they do, there’s really nothing new anymore now is there) but I’m not aware of it. The user reviews in this case are helpful and several that I looked at included photos and fairly in-depth comments.

There are a few things I really liked on the site and a few I wish were improved. First, I like the badges. While some the badges in some apps don’t really tell you much the badges here give you a sense of how often the person writes and what they know about. That’s actually helpful information for a reader. The profile pages are also top-notch, providing good information on members. There are a few things I’d like – an iPhone app would be great. Picture being in the mood for something specific and being able to see where it was available right around you. Or being able to decide whether to walk the extra few blocks for a better experience. I have to imagine this is in the cards. I’d also like a tighter integration with Facebook.

And now for the Side Dishes

AppBlade – It’s like Adding MacGyver to your Development Team. Is that a good thing? It always seems like MacGyver is getting himself out of trouble. Wouldn’t it be better to just avoid trouble in the first place? But I digress . . .

AppBlade say they’ll “securely power mobile applications across your organization and beyond.” Huh? Does that mean they’ll make my iPhone battery last longer? That my power is insecure? Watching the video on the site was very helpful. As I’m not an app developer it’s not that interesting to me but I can imagine its utility.

Hyper3D – Again, no tagline. So you might know that I am pretty addicted to photographs. My 1000faces projects is just about one of my favorite things ever. I’m also pretty into 3D so if someone is coming along to say they can make my images 3D you can sign me up! Which is just what I did. I uploaded a recent photo and waited. Unfortunately the site provided zero feedback. Was I meant to click someplace to see my photo in 3D? Would I need glasses? What was the deal? After waiting a while without any message from the site I navigated away. I thought maybe my photo was in “My Models” but that was empty save some ads. Next I went to the “Gallery” where I could see other people’s photos but not mine.

The 3D is OK, it’s actually pretty cool but a little creepy too. And it’s not as cool as I’d hoped it would be. Maybe I’m missing something in terms of adding my own content but not seeing my stuff bummed me out. I have high hopes for seeing them at WebInno though. I am keeping my mind open and my fingers crossed.

Oh, and the video on the site that explains this isn’t very helpful.

DailyFeats – Small Change Adds Up. I get the idea but I’m not sure I understand. You do things – small things – and get points, badges, rewards, etc. What kind of small things? Organize your desk, make someone laugh, treat others with kindness. These are all great things to do and one should try to do at least one every day. I don’t know if I want to get a Starbuck’s gift card for doing good little works. There’s something that feels private in how I function in the world – at least at that small interpersonal level. It felt like an attempt to commoditize kindness and while I’m sure that isn’t the case or idea it left me little cold. I’ll check them out and maybe they’ll be able to make me feel better about things. At least that seems to be their goal.

MeetingKing – Manage your meetings. I love this idea. It can generate meetings, agendas, minutes, etc. It integrates with iCal, Outlook, Google an more. I signed up and tried using it but for some reason my meeting didn’t show up. They did have a really handy sample meeting that walked me through the capabilities. It all looks very good. The site is kind of gross looking in terms of color and layout but the promised functionality could make me overlook that. I say promised functionality because repeated attempts to create a meeting in iCal appear to have failed. A demo will help I’m sure.

PowerInbox – Rich apps inside your inbox. I’m definitely not the dumbest person I know but I can’t figure this out. I have tried getting it running a few times with no luck. How hard could it be? The instructions on the site are clear – and I followed them to the letter – until I get to step five. It says, “That’s it! Now just open a Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Groupon email and enjoy your new and improved inbox.” Well just that is confusing. Does it mean I should open one of these emails in my email client? Or on FB/Twitter/Gmail/Groupon? When I go to Gmail I see nothing new, when I go to Facebook it’s the same, when I try Twitter it looks like it always does. If I go to my mail client and try opening an email generated from these services it’s also the same. I probably just need someone to show me how this is meant to work because I can’t figure this one out on my own.

Take the Interview – No tag line. This is meant to be an easy way to screen candidates through a video interview. Maybe interview is too strong or suggestive a word. Basically you’re able to post openings – along with questions – and ask candidates to respond to the questions with a video. I guess it’s a good idea. The site looks kind of dated but who am I to hold that against someone? The idea is a good one. My only concern would be wading through lots and lots of really bad videos.

Rejoiner – Capture Pre-Submit Data from Abandoned Forms. Some things just rub me the wrong way and this is one of them. I can think of reasons someone might decide, “hey, you know what, I don’t think I want to sign up for X, Y or Z” and navigate away. It’s creepy that my decision NOT to complete a registration is seen as an opportunity to market to me. In display people can opt out of being tracked for targeting. It feels like stopping the registration process for a site should be viewed as an opt out of establishing a relationship with that site and ought to be respected.

Rocketmind – Rocketmind is an Android app developer. Their site features two apps. One is a 3D fishing game and the other is a phone dialer. Since I have an iPhone I can’t say whether these apps are good or not. They seem strange to me and I don’t really get the story.

Well that’s it from me. There are some very cool looking companies (TastedMenu is on the top of the list), a few I didn’t understand (Rocketmind) and some I couldn’t get working (PowerInBox). I’ll be there on Tuesday to check out all of them, take some photographs – and, if I’m early enough – have a free beer!