Pssst, it’s almost time for WebInno44 . . .

A new year and a host of new companies hoping to make it big at WebInno. Things kick off on January 12th with WebInno44. As usual, the festivities will begin at 6:30 at the Royal Sonnesta in comfortable Kendall Square. Here’s my preview of the companies that will be on hand.

Main Dishes

Flyp – Get Multiple Numbers on your Smartphone – There’s not much to see on the Flyp site yet, just the ability to request an invite and a link to a video about the service—which I watched. Basically, Flyp lets you set up multiple phone numbers on a single device, just like their tag line says. They offer a number of reasons you might want to do this – separate numbers for friends or work or creeps you don’t really want to hear from. I guess that makes sense. It does seem like this is something you could do on your own, with Google Voice or Skype. Of course that means having multiple accounts to manage, with different passwords, prompts, etc.

Speaking of which, it is really annoying that every phone I use – home (yeah, I still have one, much to my chagrin), cell and office – uses different keys to skip or delete or save a message; and every company I call uses some different variation of # or * or 0 to bypass voice prompts. Can’t there be a standard? What’s the value or benefit of every carrier or company using their own proprietary approach. Annoying. If Flyp helps deal with that I’m a believer.

Rocketboard – On its face Rocketboard seems like something that’s been done. Essentially it allows you to broadcast (or record) the contents of a whiteboard in real time. One might imagine being able to do this with a Webcam or smartphone and the truth is you can. In fact, Rocketboard uses your smartphone to capture the content on your whiteboard.

If you’re wondering, “why would I need this if I have a phone,” Rocketboard appears to have a couple of nice bells and whistles that take it beyond those more rudimentary approaches. Here are a few of them:

  • By drawing triangles on the corners of the board, Rocketboard is able to recognize the dimensions of the board and correct for the angle and aspect ratio. That means a viewer, instead of seeing a skewed view gets a nice clean rectangle.
  • Rocketboard is smart enough to omit the person working on the whiteboard from the video. It does this by recommending that the person step away from the board from time-to-time to allow the system to capture the changes.
  • It is able to capture still images of the board. Again, this may seem basic but Rocketboard appears to make it really easy. By blocking the camera on your phone for a moment it takes a photo.

All of the files can be made available to those participating in the meeting in real time or as a video to be watched after the fact. It is kind of cool but I’m not sure if it’s the sine qua non of cool office stuff. Maybe Monday will prove me wrong.

Upward Labs – Upward Labs makes it “easy for brands to create and manage their own brand ambassador programs.” I don’t think anyone would argue with the premise here. Brands clearly love it when customers are willing to give them positive word of mouth or social media buzz. In fact, brands have been working with partners like BzzAgent since 2001. I’m not 100 percent sure how what Upward does differs from BzzAgent. Perhaps it’s less expensive, easier to use, fundamentally better? That would be my first question to the folks at Upward Labs and hopefully I’ll have a chance to ask it on Monday night.

 

Side Dishes

Allclasses – Find the best online classes, or search locally – People are mad about MOOCs these days, and with good reason. You can learn so much from so many sources. Whether you’re just curious about something or are actively studying, there’s content or courseware out there somewhere. Allclasses is a terrific clearinghouse of pretty much any online course you can imagine from MIT Open Courseware to Udemy to Linda Online to a million others.

What’s even cooler is that you can find local in-person classes as well. I searched for photography and got a list of more than 3,000 classes. Overwhelming, right? It would be if Allclasses didn’t have some great filtering tools. You can sort results by online or in-person only, price, provide, category, start time and more. It’s all pretty slick and makes Allclasses feel like the top of the class for WebInno44.

BriefMe – What the World is Reading Now – I’m going to be a little snide here, but it’s because I like the idea of BriefMe. First of all, BriefMe is a news aggregator. There are plenty of them out there but this one is based on what people are posting or tweeting about all over the world. Now a bone – BriefMe claims to be the first news-ranking app “powered by people. Instead of relying on the judgment of an editorial team, our editor is an algorithm . . .” Let me just clear something up for everyone: editorial teams are made up of people, algorithms are not.

A news service that delivers “the most popular news articles” is going to miss out on less popular, but possibly more important news. The fact that Kim Kardashian’s butt broke the Internet was a popular story but not necessarily a very important one. Boko Haram’s attacks in Nigeria is important news but not necessarily popular. This is why there are editorial teams in the first place, to help identify and ensure coverage of important topics rather than just fun and popular ones.

Of course I am saying this without actually having tried the BriefMe app. I have signed up for it though and hope to have a chance to check it out.

Connections – Craft Reliable Relationships – That’s a pretty expansive claim for an app to make. What exactly is a reliable relationship? A friend that keeps their word; one that shows up on time? It seems like that’s something the other person is responsible for, how is an app meant to alter someone else’s behavior to make them more reliable? Connections isn’t that ambitious. It basically allows you to annotate and tag your contacts. That’s cool. But not that cool.

HomeBinder – A Homeowner’s Best Friend – Now this is something I can get my head around. I am a homeowner and if there’s one thing my wife and I have learned it that it’s a pain in the butt. Just the other day, it was 9 degrees out and we woke up to a furnace that wasn’t working. Nice. Fortunately, when we opened it up to figure out what was wrong there was a big red “reset” button. I pushed it and the problem was solved. Not everything is so simple and HomeBinder seems like a solid way to manage all of the headaches of homeownership.

The site allows you to set up binders for each home you own (or presumably manage I guess). Binders can include all kinds of useful information – the contractors you use, the rooms in your house, the paints on your walls, your appliances and more. That’s pretty cool. My wife is really good about keeping records of everything but sometimes finding this or that receipt or document is a challenge. HomeBinder would make the process much easier.

HomeBinder features both a free (intended for renters) and paid version ($49 per year and targeted at homeowners). The paid version has a number of additional features, including the ability to upload photos, receive recall notifications and tax reports. Pretty neat. The one thing I don’t see on the site is any mention of an app but the mobile site seems pretty nice. A big thumbs up for HomeBinder.

Legal Hero – Law Done Better – Not only am I a homeowner, but I am also someone who has had to employ the services of a lawyer on a somewhat regular basis. Years ago Wendy and I needed to write our wills and we used some software or Website that I can’t even recall anymore. Years later, when kids, special needs and more serious death planning (not that it will happen any time soon I hope) our legal needs became more complex. Legal Hero seems sit somewhere between DIY and going all in.

Basically, Legal Hero is a marketplace to connect people with legal needs with a network of lawyers. The site says participating attorneys have an average of 15 years experience and that almost all of them have attended at top 100 law school. Lawyers are able to register on the site by applying to be a part of the network. Once accepted, a lawyer will opt into the types of projects they want to work on. At that point, people like me will reach out looking for help solving a legal issue.

Now Legal Hero isn’t actually designed to help write wills or stuff like that. The site has a number of projects you can select from, most of which are related to business needs. The projects include things like starting a business, managing a team and protecting your brand. The site walks you though some simple steps to understand exactly what you need. For example, if you say you’re looking for help protecting your brand, you get additional options: trademark registration, copyright registration and confidentiality agreements. Selecting one of these branches you further to get to the specific service you’re looking for. In the case of confidentiality agreements, to have one prepared will cost you $375, which includes a consultation and customized agreement.

At this point it’s time to select your lawyer, which is done based on your location. I decided not to take this step because I don’t want to get emails but it made sense to me. As with almost any industry, the marketplace model here makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how Legal Hero evolves.

JessMeetKen – Meet Great Guys Other Women Have Recommended – Hmmmm. Maybe there are situations where marketplaces don’t work. JMK is targeted to women. The idea is that if you know a guy but you’re attached or he’s not right in some way you can add him to the site and women can check him out and ask you for the skinny. I can see how this might be a good idea, you get the lowdown on someone that looks like they might be a fit, but I wonder how guys will feel about being on the site?

Skit! – My kids love making absurd videos with and about their friends, fandoms and interests. They spend a fair amount of time looking for tools to use, gathering their content and editing things together. I love it. Most of what they make makes zero sense but they’re having fun and learning skills. Skit! is an attempt to make that process easier. I guess that’s cool but part of me likes it that what they’re doing isn’t easy. I like it that it takes time and effort to come up with something. Like I said, most of it makes no sense but they made it. Skit seems to take some of the effort out of the equation and that might not be a good thing. If I had more time today I’d make a skit, sadly I don’t. Maybe tomorrow.

SplitNGo – Benefits for Restaurants – This is a neat little payment system for restaurants. When the meal is over, people pull out their phone to view their bill. They can either settle up via the phone or with a card or cash. If they pay with SplitNGo their account is cleared and the waiter notified so they can swing by to say “thanks.” The app promises to solve “guests #1 problem,” and the site explains that waiting can turn an excellent experience into a poor one. That’s true, but to be honest, the wait that’s really annoying is long before the bill comes: waiting for drinks, waiting for orders to be taken and food to be delivered are all more annoying than waiting to pay. But that’s just me.

Weft – Tracking and Control System – For the second time in recent WebInno history we have a hardware product. This one is pretty cool. Weft devices are small and are meant to be affixed to cargo so it can be tracked and monitored. Not only does Weft let you see where an item is but it also lets you know the conditions it is traveling though by monitoring things like temperature, humidity, etc. Cool.

Weft integrates with all your favorite ERP and CRM systems, which means all the data collected by Weft is automatically at your fingertips when and where you need it. That’s also pretty cool. Finally (as if everything else wasn’t enough!), Weft is able to look at real time and historical data for all shipments being tracked by the platform. Magically, Weft can use this information to identify problems and bottlenecks so shippers can update their planned routes and schedules to keep performance in tip-top shape. Weft actually makes me wish I had a few containers to ship.

Whovoo – When you want to be absolutely, positively private and secret – OK, let me just say that there is NOTHING in this digital world of ours that is positively private and secret. That being said, Whovoo is trying to make sharing a little safer. I’m not really clear on who this is intended for. If I want to send a picture of my dog I’m not that worried about who sees it. The cute look and feel of the app (which I have not tried since I am on Android) makes it seem kind of for kids, but the FAQ make it clear it’s only for people over 13.

Once I started looking at the FAQ I got a little more confused. For example, one question asks: “Does Whovoo store my private photos and messages on its servers?” The answer is “no.” A few questions later we see, “Where are Whoots [their term for an encrypted photo and message inside a Whovoo envelope] physically stored?” As it turns out, these are stored on Whoot’s servers until they expire. That seems to contradict the first answer. There’s a bit of nuance in that your stuff isn’t stored “unencrypted” but it is nevertheless stored on their servers.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff happening in the messaging space these days and Whovoo might be a neat addition to the mix. I’ll wait to see but won’t hold my breath.

 

So that’s it from me. There’s a ton of neat looking companies lined up for this edition of WebInno and I’m looking forward to checking them out. Hope to see you there!

WebInno37 Preview

Some people mark the passage of time by an annual rite of award ceremonies, others by the coming and going of sports or television seasons. Me? I measure by WebInno events and it’s hard to believe that it’s already time for another one! Hard to believe but true nevertheless. Tonight is WebInno37 and if you’re in Kendall Square you might want to stop by. You can register here.

As always, the event will feature a mix of ‘main dish’ companies, which will have five or seven minutes to present to the gathered masses and ‘side dish’ companies that will join the ‘main dish’ presenters in demoing before and after the presentations.

One of the things that stands out for me about WebInno37 is the inclusion of Timbre as a main dish company. They were a side dish back in September for WebInno35/Rocket and are the first company (that I can think of at least) that has appeared as both so quickly. Given how awesome they are, it makes sense. But here I am getting ahead of myself! Let’s get a little more organized, shall we?

Here’s my take on the companies that will be participating in WebInno37, starting with the main.

Timbre – The Band Discovery App That Lets Music Find You – Like I said above, these guys were at WebInno a few months ago. I thought they were the coolest company at the event. There’s no reason to think they’re any less cool now. What do they do and what makes them cool, you ask? They let you know what’s happening in terms of music around you. It’s an app (iOS only at the moment) that uses geolocation and a content feed (from SeatGeek) to let you know what shows are happening around you.

You can specify a radius (from one to fifty miles) and it shows you band names in a really clean interface. If you touch a band name it brings up a new screen with album art if available (or a grey weave if not). This screen tells you where the band is playing. Touching it allows you to purchase tickets, share the show with friends and listen to/download a track from iTunes. It’s all very clean, clear and intuitive.

When I spoke to these guys at WebInno Rocket I asked about the ability to filter by venue and they explained it wasn’t something they were doing. Their rationale is that people should start with the music and go from there. I totally agree. If you’re into going out and finding new bands close by Timbre is for you. It’s awesome.

ThriveHive – Small Business Marketing Made Simple – A really good friend of mine recently started a kitchen design business, Discount Cabinets in Framingham. It’s been almost two years and things are really starting to pick up. He and I have talked about marketing a few times and it’s a big challenge. The most effective approach for him is to establish relationships with builders and contractors. This can lead to more sales but also has a longer sales cycle. Working directly with homeowners is faster but it’s hard to generate leads. Almost all his business is word-of-mouth at this point and it’s not something that can scale very easily.

ThriveHive looks pretty good. It looks like it’s designed for someone just like my friend. He works day and night and doesn’t know where to start when it comes to marketing. Taking this aspect out of the small businessperson’s set of responsibilities seems like a great idea.

I can only base my opinion on what I saw on the site but to me it all makes sense. I’m sending my friend a link to ThriveHive and will see what he thinks.

Ditto – Here’s everything I know about Ditto:

  • Ditto is a Facebook app
  • Ditto joined Facebook on February 6th
  • 40 people Like Ditto
  • I initiated the app on Facebook
  • I was unable to figure out how to engage with the app
  • It seems to have something to do with associating actions with images

They did get a nice (and very informative) write up by Scott Kirsner on Boston.com. His article makes what they’re doing sound very cool. I haven’t seen that coolness in action just yet but am hoping I will soon and that I’ll get a much better sense of what they’re up to when they present.

Aside from the main dish companies, there are a whole bunch of side dishes:

ChatterMob – Want Free Stuff? Join the Mob – Survey Monkey moves to Facebook. At least it kinda looks that way to me. What I found confusing about ChatterMob is that when you go to the homepage you see messaging about getting free stuff AND the service’s ability to “ask your target demographic anything.” I get it but it feels kind of muddled to me. It also requires connecting with Facebook and maybe it’s that I’m getting older but I’m just less interested in connecting everything through Facebook than I used to be.

JunkDrawer – Where your stuff goes – Finally, a new use for barcode scanning. I use them to add books to Goodreads but that’s about it. With JunkDrawer I can use them to collect info about all the junk I have. Sitting here in my office I was able to scan the bar codes from a small pack of Chips Ahoy cookies and a Mead 3 Subject College Ruled Notebook. Great.

So.

Yeah, I was able to scan the bar codes of those cookies. And some Cape Cod Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.

The things I used it for are silly since I don’t have that much with bar codes right on my desk, but I can see utility here. As they suggest, you can get alerts related to the products you’ve scanned. I can imagine that having utility for recalls. You can connect this with Facebook if you want but I just signed up with the app itself. While I recognize the benefit it also feels like something else to remember to do and I don’t foresee myself scanning the codes for everything I own or buy.

Good Benefits – Workplace Giving is Now a Perk – This is a site that allows you to make corporate giving a more engaging program. I am all for it. I signed up but was only given the option to share it with my employer. Apparently, if I successfully refer Good Benefits to my company’s giving program administrator I will get $50 I can give to my favorite charity.

Within seconds of signing up I did get a nice email from Ryan Selkis, the founder of Good Benefits, with additional details. Basically, Good Benefits is a charitable savings account that can increase the amount contributed to a cause or charity by allowing small recurring contributions to be made – with employers matching dollar for dollar. I’m looking forward to talking to them because I am curious. It would be good to know what size organizations they’re targeting, for example.

Kuratur – Easily curate, customized, automated content magazines. In minutes. For free. – That is one confusing run of words. I think it’s the part “automated content” that makes me stumble. Or maybe it’s “content magazines.” Aren’t magazines content by their very nature? Why use both terms? Or are these magazines that feature automated content? It’s all very unclear based on that set of words.

Things didn’t get much clearer when I signed up. When you do (which can be done using Facebook, Twitter or email) you’re presented with a screen that gives you the option of adding a title and selecting an update frequency. You can also paste in Google Analytics or Chartbeat tracking codes. There’s a video to help “get up to speed fast.”

I watched the three-minute video that was pretty helpful. Of course it was a little more confusing since it refers to the output as Web pages. Which is it? Web pages, content or magazines?

Having played with it for a little while I like Kuratur. It’s pretty cool. The way it is being described needs to be improved a bit, as does the performance. I tried setting up a page/content/magazine and found it took several minutes to process and then populate the Web page/content/magazine. I’m going to chalk that up to it being early days. Here’s the one I made, based on my 1000faces project and on the hashtag 1000faces. It’s totally rudimentary but I can imagine all different ways Kuratur could be used. Very cool.

Nyopoly – Every time there’s a fashion/style-related company at WebInno I joke about being a pretty style-neutral person. That’s true to a degree; but I do actually really like shopping. I also like trying to get deals. Whenever I shop I ask for a discount. Never a big one, but offering $120 for a pair of shoes they want $130 for, things like that. Shockingly, no one ever agrees to my suggested pricing. Nyopoly seems to offer its members the opportunity to negotiate a “personal price on the most fabulous finds in fashion.” Alas, it looks like most of these finds are not for me. Such is life.

Splitzee – Splitzee is the fastest and most secure way to collect money online – When I heard the name I thought Splitzee was a way to split up a bill and get your friends to pay their portion. It turns out it’s more for collecting money for a cause or project. Say your kid’s third grade teacher did a really awesome job and when May rolls around everyone wants to pitch in to buy him tickets to a Red Sox game. Splitzee replaces emails, phone calls and those awkward knocks on the door. It’s all pretty simple and a solid idea.

TradeGrouper – Trade with People you Trust – First there was eBay, which allowed anyone to sell anything to anybody. eBay is awesome for a lot of people in a lot of situations. But for many people it seemed rife with scams and rip-offs. So people started turning to Craigslist, which replaced the mercantilism of eBay with a kinder, gentler, community-based approach to buying and selling. Now, for those among us for whom even Craigslist is too large a pool we have TradeGrouper. It limits buying and selling to specific groups or communities. Just friends for example, or colleagues. You have to be willing to accept a much smaller pool of potential purchasers. If you’re cool with that then TradeGrouper might make sense for you.

Well, there you have it, my preview of WebInno37. I’ll be there to see what I got right and what I got wrong. Hope you’ll be there too.

WebInnoMobile

Astaire and Rogers, chocolate and peanut butter, Pebbles and Bam Bam. Sometimes things come together in ways that are awesome – and that’s certainly the case for tonight’s combination of WebInno and MobileMonday, which will go under the moniker WebInnoMobile. It’s happening at the Royal Sonnesta in Kendall. You can still register here and if you’re at all interested in innovation, mobile and what’s happening in the Boston tech scene you probably should sign up right away!

To help prepare you for the awesomeness that will be WebInnoMobile, I’ve put together my preview of the participating companies. There are some very cool ones this time around and I’m really looking forward to checking them out in person.

Main Dish Presentations

directr – Your Life. The Movie – Not sure why there’s a period after “Your Life” but not after “The Movie.” It’s probably a design thing and it’s probably neither here nor there. Either way, directr is cool. It’s an iPhone app (I didn’t come across any evidence of an Android version) that makes creating and sharing clean little movies from your phone a breeze. I fiddled with it a bit and checked out plenty of movies other people posted. I love the idea. A lot. It really does encourage people to think about what they’re shooting and it provides a framework for organizing and presenting ideas through video. So far, so good.

At the beginning of a project, directr presents you either with a blank project or a pre-created storyboard. The storyboards offer video ideas (party, six things, public places check ins, etc.) and then suggest shots to create it. I selected “Six Things on My Desk” and got a storyboard outlining six shots that would run 24 seconds. The suggested shots included “reading anything good,” “personal effects” and “anything pretty.”

Here’s a link to my movie. It took just a couple of minutes to make.

There are a couple of areas that were less than fantastic. The apparent lack of audio is a biggie. There is audio, but it’s not the audio from what you’ve shot. It’s generally pleasant, well produced and innocuous but that’s it. I couldn’t figure out if there was any way to control transitions or select the music. It would be nice if there were.

The bottom line is directr is a fun little app that has promise but that could be a whole lot cooler.

Fancred – Your life as a sports fan. – This is a site designed to make the sports experience all it can be. It isn’t publically available yet (though if you follow the company on Twitter you may get an early invite). The fact that it’s still tucked away means I don’t have much to say. I like sports but I’m not sure I want or need another social destination focused on sports. I already follow teams and athletes I like on Twitter and use TeamStream, Eurosport and team apps as well.

Maybe when I see it in action I’ll feel differently but right now this is a big, “meh” for me.

Mobee – Rewarding You for Reviewing Businesses – Mobee confuses me. It seems to be trying to fit a lot into a single app. There are “missions” that encourage you to visit certain business: the “ask” is that you check in and write reviews and the promise is that you’ll get points and prizes as a result. Is this the merging of Yelp, Foursquare and deal sites? Is it an opportunity for businesses to employ the masses as secret shoppers? It could be any of these things – and probably more to boot.

I played with it a bit and some of the missions are pretty interesting. For example, if I visit the Dunkin’ Donuts up the street from my office and report on the speed of service I’ll get 100 points. The points can be collected and then spent on rewards. Here are a few examples of the point totals and rewards: 200 points gets a $2 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, 5000 points gets a $50 iTunes gift card and 100,000 points gets two Green Monster seats.

It’s an interesting idea and they seem to have some solid partnerships in place. At the moment they’re limited to Boston but have plans to expand. I think the biggest issue here is how clearly Mobee is able to explain their value to both brands and consumers. It doesn’t really come across at the moment.

Side Dish Presenters

Bare Tree Media – Engaging fan-based communities through branded interactive entertainment – Bare Tree offers a publishing platform that allows the creation of branded games, apps, etc. This doesn’t seem like a new or novel idea at this point and the site is pretty bare bones. It didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence in me, that’s for sure.

iJukebox – What’s your request? – This is kind of a cool idea. iJukebox allows customers to select the music playing at a bar or restaurant. The pitch is to businesses, encouraging them to sign up for the service and then offer it to their customers. It does seem like a lot of places have jukeboxes now that stream millions of songs so clearly there’s proof that the concept works. This seems to make it easier for people to select a song without having to walk all the way to the jukebox to put on music. It does depend on their having the app – but that’s not a big deal. It seems like a novel way to get patrons to engage around music. We’ll see.

Spogo – Don’t just watch. – For me, the name is a big turn off. I don’t know why but it is. The idea is simple (and, at the moment, very narrow): predict plays in football games and get rewards. According to a handy video on the site, some of the things you might predict could include “How many times will Gronk spike the ball today?” (Unfortunately, at the moment I say zero). The more you get right, the more points you get; points can then be used for food and drinks at places like the Pour House, Remy’s, Game On, etc. It seems OK, like gambling but for food and stuff. The guys on the site sure look like they’re having fun.

Thumbs Up – Social TV Platform. – Get more live viewers. Thumbs Up is a platform for polling viewers during live television programs. It can be integrated into an existing app to provide new, real-time insights into audience interest and attitudes. Seems cool and looks good.

PhysicalApps – Active fun with mobile apps. – This appears to be associated with TheO, a soft foam ball that holds a smartphone. PhyscialApps is a platform for building apps that encourage physical fun. The ball might be one element but there could also be others. I need to see it to understand.

Well, that’s the wrap. I’m looking forward to seeing all the companies tonight – as well as my WebInno pals one last time before the end of the world. I mean year, the end of the year.

WebInno 35/WebInno Rocket

We are hours away from ignition for the latest WebInno event – WebInno Rocket. I’m not sure if this counts as WebInno35 or if it should be seen as a completely separate and distinct event. Either way, I’m writing about it! While WebInno has always been focused on startups, Rocket is taking things in a slightly different direction. The event is going to feature three founders talking about their companies – and the companies in question are among the fastest growing here in the Boston area.

Bill Simmons of DataXu, Matt Lauzon of Gemvara and Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot will take to the stage to talk about their companies, their technologies and their experiences in creating successful and growing companies. Since this isn’t about which technology is the most gee-whiz, I’m not going to handicap them the way I usually do with the main dish companies. I have done a little cheat sheet though in case you’re (somehow) not familiar with them.

DataXu is all about making marketing more effective through the application of data. Working on the demand side, DataXu helps marketers improve advertising-driven customer acquisition program around the world. I’ve seen Bill at ad tech events in the past and am looking forward to hearing him at WebInno.

I’ll be honest: Gemvara isn’t a company I was familiar with. Maybe that’s because I don’t often find myself looking for custom jewelry. Clearly a lot of people are or Gemvara wouldn’t be doing as great as they are.

Now, while I’m not often in the market doesn’t mean I don’t deal with jewelers – and let me tell you they can be a frustrating lot to deal with. A while ago I bought my wonderful wife a ring from a company that I won’t name but whose color is iconic. The ring was a beauty – rubies and diamonds in a channel setting. When one of the diamonds became loose, the repair was going to cost essentially as much as the ring did in the first place. Maybe I should have checked with Gemvara before I bought . . .

Who doesn’t know HubSpot? These guys have written the book on inbound marketing – and they keep editing it to meet the needs of a changing market. They’ve also managed to attract some of the top, top talent in social marketing and are a real resource for the industry. Like Bill, I’ve seen Dharmesh here, there and everywhere and am looking forward to what he’ll show and tell this time.

So those are the three main stage companies and if that were all that was planned for the event it would be awesome; as late night announcers are fond of saying – but wait, there’s more!

In keeping with the tradition of bringing some of the newest companies and technologies to light, WebInno Rocket will feature six startups for our collective enjoyment. Here’s my take on each.

BRIGHTdriver – Just this morning I was thinking of my commute. Sitting in traffic sucks. It’s one of the biggest wastes of time ever. Ever. Thankfully I’m easily amused and have (thanks to Spotify) as much music as I want. BRIGHTdriver is hoping to help as well. They’re goal is to make “driving fun again!” through competitions and interactive games. I don’t know how much more competitive we need to make Boston-area drivers but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve signed up for early access (the company is still in beta) so can’t say much more than that I’m looking forward to seeing their stuff.

Go Pro Workouts – Professional Strength & Fitness Training Programs – This is a cool idea. It offers aspiring athletes the ability to train for their sport using a program created by a top athlete in that sport. It’s not just a list of exercises though; there’s a tracker, advice and tips. It sounds really great. Unfortunately, when I looked through the list of sports and athletes I didn’t see any that fit my easy-like-Sunday-morning lifestyle. Come on Go Pro, I want some tips on improving my LZ (lazy quotient), there’s gotta be someone who can help!

Handybook – This is all about finding and booking handy and helpful people to deal with all those things that need to get done but that you’re too lazy to do (see above). Do I try to do all these things myself? About 60 percent of the time. Am I successful in completing the tasks I set out to do? About 40 percent of the time. Do I enjoy these kinds of household tasks? About 10 percent of the time. I think you can see why something like Handybook would appeal to someone like me. It’s not that I can’t do these things, or even that I don’t want to do them. I just get overwhelmed sometimes and having someone tackle the ones I can’t deal with would be a real treat.

MarketMeSuite – Inbox for Social – MarketMeSuite (the name is way too long and two internal caps – yikes!) dreams of being an “end-to-end social marketing solution.” The target is small businesses, likely the ones currently using Constant Contact. Unlike Constant Contact though, they don’t have millions of customers (yet). It’s possible that people will want either an alternative to Constant Contact or will like the fact that MarketMeSuite was created from the ground up with social in mind. It’s going to be a tough path.

Saverr – Grocery Price Comparison – Showrooming comes to Stop & Shop! The site content for Saverr is pretty light, but it suggests consumers “scan a receipt, compare its price, save money . . . do good!” That’s pretty much it. I wondered, how does scanning a receipt after I’ve made a purchase help me save money? How does it help me do good? It would have been great to see answers on the site. Maybe they’ll be able to shed some light on things tonight.

Timbre – As someone who totally loves music, I’m constantly wondering who’s playing around and whether I’ll like the show. The fact is I have kids and don’t live in Allston or Somerville anymore so going out takes planning. My wife or I end up going to club sites to see what’s going on but it’s not ideal. Timbre looks like it solves the problem. I already downloaded the app and love that I can see what’s happening around me for the next few days, listen to the bands to find ones I like and buy music or tickets. How cool is that? Of the companies exhibiting tonight they’re the one I can see myself using on an ongoing basis. Color me happy.

So that’s the scoop from my perspective for WebInno Rocket. To help you get in the mood yourself, here’s a playlist of rocket-inspired songs.

Rock out, have fun and I’ll see you there!

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.

WebInno33 Preview

It’s time for the countdown to WebInno33! That’s right, there are only DAYS before the event so if you’re planning to attend you might want to sign up pretty soon. To make it easier for you, here’s the registration link. Now I’ve been going to WebInno for years – since 2006 or maybe 2007 – and for some time I’ve done these little previews of the companies. Guess what? I’m still doing them. I do want to let everyone know that I’m helping out with WebInno more than I have in the past. But double guess what? That isn’t going to change my approach to writing. So here’s what I think of the companies that will be presenting at WebInno33. Will I turn out to be insightful or an idiot? Only time – and you – will tell!

Main Dish Companies:
MediaMob – media. mobile. simplified. First let me say I love the colors on the homepage. I like the organic shape of the buttons. I didn’t like it that once I got just a bit beyond the buttons my eyes were assaulted with tiny dull white text. This is a space that I kinda know (at InkHouse many of my clients are in the ad technology space) so I’m looking forward to hearing the rap. Mobile continues to be a tough nut to crack – between the inability to track and target the way one does for traditional display and the inherent limitations of the platform itself – so I’m curious to see what they have to show and tell.

What I saw on the site didn’t do much for me (nor did their having a press release from 2010 at the top of the “What’s New” section). I’m going to keep an open mind though.

GatherEducation – Take a class online. Collaborate on projects. Share your success with everyone. This site is so secret that you can only sign up. That’s all. I’ll have to wait until Monday and by then it will be too late for me to say anything about them. ☹

Lifeables – Better Memories. I’m one of the luckiest people I know. Want to know why? I pretty much ONLY have happy memories. Ask me to cast my mind back to any period and what comes up are the good things. Oh sure, I can dredge up sad memories if I need to but who needs to? So at first, when I saw Lifeables (of course after I thought about Lunchables) I wondered if it was some new technology to improve our memories, or maybe to eradicate bad memories (someone was telling me about this the other day actually). Instead, it’s a site to help people curate their lives and the lives of those around them – mostly their kids.

I wanted to take the tour to understand how this is different say from Facebook for example. The site talks about being able to pull content (or have you push content) from your other sites into a Lifeables account. I think I’m going to need to see it to get it because right now I totally don’t.

Side Dish Companies:
Abroad101 – Study Abroad Reviews. I like this idea and site a lot. Part travel guide and part college guide it provides evaluations, reflections and reviews of international study programs. For students I’m sure it’s a great way to get a clear sense of the available opportunities and for institutions it no doubt helps them shrink the pool to understand which programs might be a good fit for their students. Great idea. My only gripe is that the site looks kind of dated and cluttered.

Zoora – Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t know a lot about fashion. That makes Zoora a site that probably isn’t targeting me. It’s not like I’m a complete slob (frankly far from it) but when the site asks:

“So who hasn’t said this while shopping?

This dress is perfect, except this hemline doesn’t fall right on me. It if were just a little longer, I could wear this
I love this top, but everyone has one this season. If I could make it a different color or add some detailing, I would totally buy it
I am pretty curvy and there is no way this will fit me. If only the waist were a little smaller”

I am able to raise my hand and say “ME!” I can promise you I’ve never said any of those things while shopping or anywhere else. But if you have said those things then Zoora is probably something you’re going to love. To me it seems like a smart online stylist and I guess that’s cool. Someone will have to let me know if it is.

Mosaic Storage Systems – OMG I want this. I want this bad. Before you try to figure out what it is and why I want it I’ll tell you. It’s basically online storage for photographers that can integrate with software like Lightroom (which is what I use). I take a lot of photographs, in the tens of thousands per year. I also shoot pretty much exclusively in RAW so I consume disc space at a prodigious rate. My solution now is to carry multiple external drives with me (one with last year’s photos if I need them, another with this year’s and a third for photos taken for InkHouse clients and projects). This kinda works but I’ll be honest; it’s a pain in the ass. It means just that much more to carry, worry about, deal with and manage. The idea of being able to keep my photos safe and sound, access and edit them easily (oh man, I’m imagining not having to maintain separate Lightroom catalogs and it’s making me giddy) . . . Holy crap I want this.

OnTheBar – The Best Bartenders and the Best Bars, Right Now. I don’t know, as they say about cameras (that the best camera is the one you have with you), I think the best bartender is the one standing in front of you. That said, this app just won my heart and I haven’t even downloaded it yet. Why? Because when I went to the App Store to get it I saw my pal Rob Kraemer looking back at me. That’s probably not a good reason to be a fan of an app; but any app that’s a friend of Rob’s is a friend of mine. Cheers fellows!

Cangrade – Take the uncertainty out of hiring. Having seen Smarterer launch at WebInno and then meeting with Jennifer Fremont-Smith recently to find out how the company is doing (you can find out for yourself here), I consider myself an expert at screen and evaluation tools. Ha, just kidding. I do find these kinds of tools interesting though. There seems to be a difference in philosophy between the two companies. Smarterer feels much more approachable and less corporate while Cangrade seems more targeted at button-down types. I will say that I’m not crazy about the name (when I first saw it I thought the company might have something to do with recycling). I’ll be interested to check it out on Monday.

In conclusion . . .
That’s all I have at the moment. I’ll be there on Monday to find out more, ask questions, take some pictures and drink a beer. Hope to see you there.

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!