More than 50 startups launched products and services at DEMO Spring 2011, all hoping to become the next Facebook, Twitter or Salesforce.com, or to attract just enough venture funding or press coverage to continue their dreams. All of the products or services were cool in their own way, but here (in no particular order) are my picks for the ones I found most useful, cool or awesome.
(Disclaimer: DEMO is co-produced by the IDG Enterprise events team, but they have no influence on which products/companies I select as my favorite).
1) Imagine a Coinstar kiosk, but one that lets you trade in your old cell phones, ink toner cartridges, video games, or even notebook computers. You'd be seeing an ecoATM device -- the self-service automated kiosk initially can scan for cell phones, and has enough security protections (it takes your picture and scans your license) to prevent thieves from cashing in.
2) If you share a lot of photos with friends, your pictures can end up on a variety of sites (Facebook, Flickr, Shutterfly, Picasa, etc.), and uploading and resizing can be a pain. The people at PhotoRocket want to make that a lot easier, by allowing one-click sharing with different people and sites. The cool tech behind it is that the uploading is done behind-the-scenes, so once you're ready to share it's ready to go.
3) With all these services heading to the cloud (photos, e-mails, documents), searching and managing the data can be a challenge. I liked how Primadesk could tackle the issue through easy-to-use search functions and drag-and-drop (and backup!) of data among those services (especially between photo and social media sites).
4) There were a few gadgets at the show -- the JetStreamHD device connects to your home network, scans your multimedia (movies, photos and music) and then delivers it over a Wi-Fi or 3G network (even remotely) to an iPad or AppleTV.
5) Social media was a big theme at the show, but for many small businesses or people without a lot of tech knowledge, getting a social media presence is difficult. I liked how FetchFans.com lets you quickly set up a Facebook, Twitter and other social media presence through quick templates (but with modern modules like live chat and video). The site then provides you with copy-and-paste code to get the business page up quickly.
6) The GutCheck market research service provides an affordable way for companies to get qualitative market research (focus groups) from demographic-specific people via one-on-one chat interviews. For startups with limited budgets, this offering can provide valuable insights they wouldn't otherwise have (no wonder it won the People's Choice award at the show).
7 and 8) There were two online shopping services that utilized augmented reality and webcams in unique ways. Both FaceCake Marketing's Swivel and Zugara's webcam Social Shopping services let you stand in front of your webcam and virtually try on clothes, accessories and other items before you buy. It's a great use of Kinect-like technology, and will only get better with improvements in that and webcams.
9) The Marginize browser plug-in (Chrome, Safari and Firefox) adds a social aspect to any Web page -- appearing on the side of the page, it lets you see who else is viewing (and/or commenting on) that page, generating a community of interest around that page. Good for news sites as well as business product pages.
10) I'm hoping that the Next Island virtual world people can make us forget about Second Life. The game takes aspects of the multiplayer gaming experience of World of Warcraft (quests, raids/events and community) as well as the casual gaming experience of Farmville/Cityville (in-game purchases, friendly interactions).
11) Interestingly, there were several iPad-related apps announced at the show (timely with the iPad 2 announcement) -- my favorite is the News360 app, which aggregates news from multiple news sources and lets you personalize via your own interests (by letting you set up topics or even letting it search Facebook to see what you've already liked). It has a very slick interface and can eliminate the need to read multiple news feeds in different apps.
12) Another fun app was HighNote, which lets users send free media-enhanced messages via your mobile phone to other users. Messages can include video, music, voice recording, pictures, maps, and even iTunes songs.
13) Ending the show on a high note was ON Voicefeed, which lets you provide personalized voicemail messages for each incoming caller (based on their incoming number, of course). It's visual voicemail made easy, letting you provide separate messages for your spouse, boss, parents, etc. Bonus points -- the voicemail messages you receive are stored in the cloud for retrieval later.
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This story, "Product and service picks from DEMO Spring 2011" was originally published by NetworkWorld .