WebInno33 – Postview

Another WebInno is in the books. Last night’s event was good, a lot of fun. I had the opportunity to see some cool technology and talk with some interesting people. I also had the opportunity to find out how right or wrong I was in my preview post.

As is always the case, I didn’t get to see or talk with everyone I would have liked to and for that I am truly sorry. Then again, I got to see and talk with people I hadn’t planned to and for that I am truly glad.

I started by visiting with Mosaic. They were the company I was the most excited about and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was more impressed than I expected. The fact that Mosaic provides offline storage that integrates with Lightroom was enough for me – but the ability for it to help with filtering and rating images was a huge bonus. At some point today, when I have some spare time, I’m going to delve into their site and service to see how I could put it to work.

After that I went to see Abroad101. I thought it was a solid idea when I looked at it a few days ago but wasn’t that impressed by the site itself. Before the event Michael Stone, the president of Abroad101, sent me a note saying that the UX was going to be cleaned up and ready to share and it was. Their lead engineer (sorry, I didn’t get his card or his name) walked me through the new site. It’s built on Ruby on Rails rather than Drupal (the platform for the current site) and it was really impressive. The whole site is slicker, faster and just more engaging. The map integration was cool. I had a few questions about how they’re working with schools and what plans they have for offering similar content for non-students (they are looking into that). Overall I was really impressed and hope the growth they’re seeing so far will continue.

My conversation with Michael was interrupted by the chimes and flashing lights beckoning everyone to the Main Dish presentations.

First up was MediaMob. They’re basically allowing advertisers to integrate with mobile games. This is a great idea but one with plenty of challenges. The example they shared was Sears Auto Center content built into a game called X. It made sense but I wondered about some of the back end issues. I asked them how they targeted and they said by age, income, gender, etc. In fact, they’d shown the audience-targeting interface during their presentation. What I meant by my question was how they were getting their targeting data – it sounded as though this data was all self-reported by the game developers. With Apple warning developers that UDID will be phased out as a means to identify users I wonder how MediaMob will be able to do the type of targeting based on verifiable data they described last night.

Lifeables was second on the stage. They’re offering a content aggregation, curation and sharing service aimed primarily at families with younger children. In my preview I wondered how they were different from the Facebook Timeline. During the demo, and then in a subsequent conversation with CEO Karen Macumber and CTO Jeremy Daly, it was clear there are major differences. First is the ability to cull content from multiple sources automatically. This could be very helpful. Obviously it would allow you to find all the photos, tweets, etc. that friends and family were posting. This could lead to an unmanageable volume of content.

Thankfully, Lifeables seems to have a solution. First, as you interact with the system it learns what types of content you like and brings more of that in, leaving the content you don’t like on the cutting room floor. Second, it allows you to create groupings of related content. If you have a kid in youth soccer, all the soccer-related content could go into one set, another could focus on swimming, or holidays, or first days of school, etc. These sets can then be shared on a fairly granular level, whether or not the people you’re sharing with are members of Lifeables.

There are challenges and questions though. First, will people be interested in managing yet another platform? At a certain point fatigue sets in. Second, will they be willing to do the amount of curating required to make a service like Lifeables really valuable? Again the fatigue factor may play a roll. Even people setting out with the best intentions can find themselves falling behind until they reach the point where they just throw their hands up and walk away. The third is privacy. Always an issue, it was raised during the presentation when they talked about suggesting products to family members based on a child’s preferences. Having one’s hands on that kind of data could lead to the temptation to share or package it for advertisers.

Despite those questions, I thought Lifeables was the most interesting of the Main Dish companies. As it turns out, I was in the minority.

The final company, GatherEducation, was the audience choice. They do an online education and collaboration platform. I watched them calibrating a Kinect while setting up and was intrigued. For their presentation itself they had the best dog and pony, no doubt. After the founder explained the company, a local teacher and two remote participants had a brief physics class. Thanks to the Kinect, the teacher became an animated avatar on the screen. Non-animated avatars of the students appeared seated at horseshoe shaped tables. The teacher was able to verbally ask questions and the students “raised” their hands to answer. The students could speak and a shared workspace allowed them to write their answers for the class to see.

So far, so good. But aside from the avatar of the teacher (which frankly felt gimmicky and cartoonish) there was nothing radically different from other collaboration platforms out there. My biggest concern though came as the teacher described how much class time he could save by eliminating test prep from the school day and doing it outside of school hours using GatherEducation. At first, the idea of his getting 10 additional classes for instruction sounded great. But then I wondered about it. Unless every kid a) has access to a computer, and b) is free for additional instruction outside of school hours, some of them are going to get the short end of the stick.

At this point people might say, “sure, but most families have computers today,” and that might be true. But they might have “a” computer and depending on other people’s needs it might not be free when the test prep sessions are occurring. Even if there are a dozen computers in a household, if a student has a job or is responsible for helping with childcare or is getting other tutoring or has appointments it is still a problem. And frankly, the kids who are paying the least attention in class (and who might benefit the most from prep) are probably not going to suddenly become magically engaged at home.

For some applications, this kind of technology is great; but it’s not a panacea and the gung-ho reaction of the audience made me think people weren’t considering all the issues and implications. (Not that I am either but a few popped into my head.)

When the Main Dish presentations were wrapped up I headed back into the demo room to see what I could see. First was a company called Wanderu. They weren’t a Side Dish but were still pretty interesting. Basically they want to be Kayak for ground transportation. You might wonder if such a service is needed but it definitely is. A few weeks ago a friend of mind had a relative visiting from oversees. Their flight was arriving in New York and they wanted to get up to Boston on the cheap. My friend and I searched all of the bus lines we could think of and it was a royal pain in the ass. I’m sure we missed some and many of the ones we found didn’t stop near up. Wanderu would have been a great option.

Next I bumped into people from Privy. I’ve been reading The Princes in the Tower and there was just a scene with King Richard III sitting on the privy talking to an aide outside. I’ve been aware of both uses for privy: as a toilet or bathroom and as access to privileged information. I don’t think I’d name a company Privy. What they do – helping small businesses run promotions on their own owned-online properties – seems valuable but the name just doesn’t make sense to me.

After Privy I visited Zoora. It’s definitely not a company for guys like me. They have a number of emerging designers and offer them a platform for reaching consumers. What’s really nice is the ability for people to customize the clothing. The options are mostly limited to size, fabric or maybe adding a pocket. The clothes are sold on consignment, which is how Zoora makes money. It’s a nice idea and I hope they’ll do well.

Aside from a handful of random conversations, that’s my wrap up of WebInno33. It was good and I hope you’ll try to make it to WebInno34.