My picks from DEMO Fall 2010

In his opening remarks kicking off this week's DEMO Fall 2010 conference in Santa Clara, Calif., host Matt Marshall highlighted three trends driving value behind today's startups: social interaction on the Web, increasing time spent on mobile phones and the cloud technology that's allowing it all to happen. Not surprisingly, DEMO itself has been heavily focused on these themes.

If you're not familiar with DEMO, this 20-year-old, twice-annual conference has always focused on products in a rapid-fire parade of 6-minute live demos by startup companies hoping to attract some buzz. It makes for exciting watching, while inviting unpredictable moments, as when Wi-Fi difficulties prevented some of the presenters from showing off all the abilities of their mobile apps or online services. Most recovered admirably, keeping the momentum going by describing what we would have seen.

Here's a sampling of products and services that caught my eye during my day and a half at the show. Note that I can't vouch for any of these products, having only seen them demoed briefly. And there were lots more products and services demoed, not all of which I saw. But the products in this batch all seem highly useful, intriguing or just plain fun.

ActionFlow: This company provides an extensive set of tested business processes that you can tap into to get things done. There are templates for marketing, sales, business development processes and more. Choose the one you want and adapt it to your needs; it sends tasks to the appropriate people at the appropriate times via e-mail, SMS or Twitter. ActionFlow also encourages its customers to create their own business processes and sell them to others.

ApScience: Mobile apps suffer from high abandonment and low conversion by consumers. ApScience is an analytics tool that helps app makers discover user behaviors -- such as the steps users go through when using their app, where people are dropping out or which types of users are most likely to buy a product -- so they can optimize the app accordingly.

Card 2.0: Dynamics Inc. wants to update the 1970s-era magnetic-stripe technology used in most credit and debit cards today. The company's Card 2.0 technology features programmable stripes, which means card issuers can customize the functions of the payment cards themselves -- for instance, including multiple accounts on one card. The Card 2.0 stripes can be read by any standard magnetic card reader.

ExpertMaker AI-Search: Most Web or mobile search tools can't answer nuanced questions about products or areas of study the way a human can, nor can they take into account users' intentions, likes and dislikes, constraints and so on. This publishing tool lets companies create their own "microsearch engines" that use filters (rather than keywords) and underlying artificial inelligence and semantic technologies to pinpoint what users want and provide relevant information.

Foound: This fun iOS app is for organizing real-world get-togethers, which the company calls 'Hangouts.' Pick a time and location and alert everyone you want to invite simultaneously via text message, Facebook, Twitter or the Found app itself. Updates and responses are sent instantly to the whole group. It's like Evite, only faster -- it seems aimed at impromptu 'let's meet up tonight'-type gatherings rather than events that require a lot of planning.

MicroFusion Reactor: Somehow I don't see this coming to every home in America soon, but E-Fuel says its newest product turns organic waste -- weeds, food waste, scrap paper, etc. -- into sugar water, which it then converts to ethanol that can be used in cars or the companion GridBuster generator to power a typical home. In a nice bit of energy recycling, the heat that the generator creates is used by the MicroFusion Reactor to power its conversion process.

Particle Platform: Developers can write and maintain their mobile apps in a single language and have Particle Platform quickly convert them to multiple mobile platforms; you can also test them in each platform. The Particle SDK supports all of today's popular smartphone and tablet OSes.

Profitably: The folks at Profitably say their product is "small business analytics, simplified." The service analyzes, compiles and charts data from your existing Intuit QuickBooks account to help you discover where you're making money, where you're losing money and why -- all within minutes.

PublicStuff: This customer service platform acts as a help ticket tracker for cities or other public facilities. If people notice a broken stoplight or giant pothole, they can log a request to get it fixed at the appropriate PublicStuff portal. The service assigns the request to the appropriate agency; it also IDs and consolidates duplicate requests. People can check on the status of their requests and vote up others' requests, showing in real time what problems are most important to citizens.

VoiceBase: Record a meeting, presentation, lecture, interview, etc. with your iPhone or Android phone and upload it to the VoiceBase service, which will transcribe it and post it in a private area. You can then search through recorded voice conversations in same way you can do text search now. If you know that a speaker mentioned your company name somewhere in a 20-minute presentation, for instance, just search for the name and the recording will play back at the appropriate spot. Neat!

Zingaya: Finally, here's one that's dead simple but very useful. It lets small e-commerce sites create a customizable "Have a question? Call us" widget and place it on their site. Users simply click a button to call you through their computer at your landline, cell phone or Skype account, getting an instant response to their question -- and thus more likely to buy.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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