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.

Daily Dozen – Men at MIT

Yesterday I did women at MIT and said I’d do men at some point and today’s the day. I’m doing it now because I know if I don’t I’ll forget. Hopefully this isn’t too much MIT for everyone!

Face @LeonBlank speaking at #foe5
Faces
Face - Jay Rosen
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Face - Deb Roy
Face - Grant McCracken (@Grant27) kicking off the second day of #FoE5
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Face - smiling man at MIT
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Face - Jonathan Zittrain (@zittrain) at #FoE5

Daily Dozen – Women at MIT

Earlier today I was looking for writing by Martin LaMonica, a reporter I know. He mentioned that he was blogging for the MIT Technology Review and I found a piece he’d done on an event I photographed. It included a photo (not one of mine) of one of the speakers and that made me decide to do a set of women at MIT. Later this week I’ll do men.

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Face - smiling woman at MIT
Face - smiling woman at emtech MIT
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Face - smiling woman at emtech MIT
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Daily Dozen – Enjoy Bill Joy!

Over the years – by a path I can’t explain – I’ve had the opportunity to become involved with MIT. It’s one of my favorite places for a whole lot of reasons. One aspect of my involvement is as a photographer for various events. The Communications Forum, the Futures of Entertainment, Media in Transition, Unbound and emTech are some of them and they’ve all be awesome. Bill Joy, one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems and now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, was one of the speakers at emTech 11. He’s heavily into energy now and had a great on-stage chat with Jason Pontin of the Technology Review. Here are some of my photos from that session. enJoy them. hahahahahahaha!

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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.

Daily Dozen – Boston-area Innovators and Entrepreneurs

Here in Boston we have an event called WebInno. It’s been going on for years and attracts a great crowd. The idea is to have local innovators and entrepreneurs talk about the companies they’re starting and demo the technology to the community. I went to my first one five or six years ago and was impressed to see 75 people at the event. Now, there are more than one thousand people attending the events. The next one is on Monday, March 5th and if you’re in the Boston-area you should definitely stop by. You can register on Eventbrite.

This is actually the first of two posts I’ll be doing on WebInno this week. This one is a set of faces of people who have been at the event over the years with their ideas and companies. I’ve added some details on each of the companies in case you’d like to learn more. The second post will be a preview of the companies that will be participating at Monday’s event. I’ve been writing these previews for a few years now. Sometimes I hit the nail on the head and sometimes I miss by a mile. Such is life. Here are links to some past previews: WebInno32, WebInno31, WebInno29, WebInno28 and WebInno23.

In the spirit of transparency, I want to say that I’ve recently started working more formally with WebInno, mostly helping generate content for their blog and social channels. It hasn’t really changed anything since I was already generating the same kind of content on my own (and will continue to). Anyway, here are 12 faces of people with bright ideas.

Face - man with glasses holding iPhone
This is Matt Cutler, co-founder of Kibits. Kibits is a nice social connection and collaboration app/platform.

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This is Andreas Randow of TourSphere. TourSphere really impressed me when I saw it, basically it’s a platform that allows the creation of museum or city tours. As someone who once was a ranger at Alcatraz, I appreciate a good tour.

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This is Liz Zalman of MediaArmor. MediaArmor is in the mobile advertising space and basically helps advertisers port all of the things they currently do with traditional display to mobile.

Face - @sethwlieberman - CEO of Pangea Media
This is Seth Lieberman, the CEO of snapapp. It’s a really simple self-service site for creating branded polls, survey, questionnaires, etc. They have some awesome customers and it looks great.

Face - @j_peden, CEO of Crave Labs
This is Jeffrey Penden of Crave Labs. They do a platform to help local businesses – mostly restaurants – market more easily using social and mobile channels. It’s pretty cool.

Face - @royrod - cofounder of SocMetrics
This is Roy Rodenstein, the cofounder and CEO of SocMetrics. SocMetrics is a service to help you ID influencers in a ton of different categories – you name it and it’s likely they’ll be able to tell you who blogs, tweets or posts about it the most (and which of those people actually matters the most). As a PR guy it seemed like a cool tool.

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This is Jennifer Fremont-Smith of Smarterer. They’ve created a platform to understand and evaluate people’s skills in all kinds of technical, social and digital skill. There’s an update on how they’re doing on the WebInno blog.

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This is Jon Radoff. He presented his company GamerDNA at the second WebInno I attended and he’s incredibly active in the world of gaming. His current startup is Disruptor Beam. They’re still in beta.

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This is Amram Shapiro, founder of Book of Odds. This is a site to help you understand the odds of things in everyday life. It’s neat.

Susan Hunt Stevens of Practically Green
Susan Hunt Stevens, founder of Practically Green, presenting at WebInno29. It’s a very cool company that helps you find ways to live a cleaner, more sustainable life. Check it out, take the quiz, register and explore.

Face - smiling man with beard
This is Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and CTO of HubSpot. They’re an Internet marketing company over in Kendall Square that’s doing very well.