Last night I attended the Web Innovators Group (Webinno) meeting in Boston. It was the 16th meeting put on by the group (the first that I attended) and it was packed out!
Honestly, I thought it would be a smaller meeting with fewer people, but there were probably somewhere around 500+ people in attendance. It was definitely standing room only when the presentations were happening. (This picture is just one corner of the room, it looked like this everywhere.)
The way that the meeting worked was that there were three featured companies (called “Main Dish Presentations”) who presented for about 5-10 minutes each and answered two questions after they finished. This was then followed by six highlighted companies (called “Side Dish Presentations”) who each pitched their products for 30 seconds.
The Main Dish presenters were:
“Provides a platform that creates mixed-reality mobile adventures, transforming a cell phone into a modern-day Dick Tracy watch. Users download missions to complete throughout a city, bringing them closer to their surroundings, heritage, local events and neighbors.”
My take: I think that Urban Interactive is a really cool idea, and after a quick look at the program, I was most excited to see this presentation. It is obvious that a lot of time has been spent on the interface to make it look very “spy ready” and the technology seemed to function well, at least the part that was demonstrated.
The primary issue that I see with this product is that it seems like it would be hard to set up new adventures. For example, a mission at the Boston Museum of Science was used as the demo adventure. The very first step in the mission was to find the museum, and then go to the front desk and ask for a code. This, in itself, means that every employee at the Museum of Science would need to be trained about this program and how it works, because they’ll get a ton of questions. Or, (and I think that this is how they do it), the adventures would only be able to be “taken” on a schedule, in which case, Urban Interactive employees (or Boston Improv actors) could participate and help the adventurers along. This will severely limit the usage of the product.
To the company’s credit, its next plan is to work on the ability for users to create their own missions, but until they get over this hurdle, I don’t expect that the product will be able to get any kind of critical mass.
Like I said, I really like this idea, so I’m pulling for this one to work. I think for it to succed, they need to scale back a bit on trying to do everything, and focus on one core business (tour operators, museums, schools or corporations, pick one), just until they get things off the ground.
“We believe that, if given the right tools, individuals and communities can solve their own parking problems by creating virtual markets for parking information. Whether a parking garage, a private space, or a space on the street, our software enables space seekers to acquire timely information on space availability before arriving at their destinations.”
My take: The presenter described this company as “kind of an eBay for parking spaces,” and I think that SpotScout is a great concept and will be useful in cities where it can be tough to find parking (New York, San Francisco, Boston). It appears that the service hasn’t yet launched, so it’s tough to see how many people will use it and how it will work when it goes live. But I’m betting that this product will be a success. I have had to look for parking in Boston and driven around and around and around…looking at many empty parking lots that businesses don’t use at night but have “No Parking, Tow Zone” signs posted on them. Just think of the utility for drivers -and the extra cash for businesses - that could result from this product. Also, I would definitely use SpotScout if I could make a reservation in a parking garage for a Red Sox game, for example. I would be able to lock in my price and my spot, and I wouldn’t have to get to the game three hours early to park.
As long as SpotScout is able to figure out how to get the local garages involved so that they know what SpotScout is and how to use it, and as long as they are able to sign up enough users so that there are people both providing spots and telling each other when they’re coming and going, I think that this will be a huge hit. If it is a success, I can imagine someone driving around the city all day, parking at meters when they find an open one, and then posting to SpotScout their departure information, to make some extra cash. This was the best of the Main Dish presentations.
“The Facebook application provides creative ways to fight global warming. It engages users with tools to reduce their carbon footprint and ties in competition and community components that enable them to visualize their larger impact.”
My take: I should start up by saying that I’m not a huge Facebook user. I have an account, I check it occassionally, and I use it to talk to my friends, but I am by no means a super-user. Perhaps because of that, MakeMeSustainable just doesn’t thrill me. I appreciate the concept behind it – getting users to reduce their carbon footprint -and the execution of the product is actually great (very well-designed, charts, graphs, etc.), but I just don’t see this being a tool that would get someone to take long-term action. It might be cool for awhile, but will it really make a difference?
I think that the company’s smartest move is the partnership that they’re making with various musicians – and if they can tap into that type of super-star fan base, as well as associate their brand with people like Dave Matthews, they might have a shot.
Next came the Side Dish Presenters, and I was much more impressed with many of these products and concepts. Remember, they only presented for 30 seconds, so I only got limited information.
“Mobile platform for fast effortless use of Web sites, feeds, search results and widgets”
My take: The presenter said that this was “a better way to access the Web on any mobile phone,” but I have to be honest, after listening for 30 seconds I have no idea what Survol is and what it does. Their Web site was not much help.
“Do you know where the candidates stand on the issues? Glassbooth is an innovative website that pairs a massive database of information on the presidential candidates with an inviting design for exploration. Users tell the site which issues they think are important, respond to a series of statements based on that input, and find out which presidential candidate most closely aligns with their views and why.”
My take: I love this concept, and from the user’s perspective, I really like that Glassbooth is a non-profit and therefore not aligned with any commercial biases or candidates. I just went through the site and I found the user experience to be excellent. It was helpful to have the issues lined up (with links to articles about the topics so I could read up on things that I am not totally sure about), and at the end of the survey, along with a suggestion of what candidate mostly aligns with my beliefs, I could find out details about what each of the candidates’ positions are on each of the issues, based on what they have said in the past and their voting history. This was a cool site and I highly recommend it for anyone who is still trying to figure out what candidate is going to get their vote.
“Whether you’re a professional property manager, condo owner or a member of an HOA, Buildium has a property management solution to meet your needs.”
My take: I really liked this product, as well. The presenter told a compelling story about a guy who was in charge of his condo association and how he needed tools to help him manage the budgets, bills, planning and other stuff for that role. Since I have heard many stories about condo associations and the difficulty of being involved in them, it seems like Buildium would help. Note, however, that I haven’t seen these tools in action. I just like the concept.
“The leader in social networking for language learning and cultural exchange. We provide a platform for language learners to improve their foreign language skills through peer-to-peer learning and user-generated learning materials.”
My take: MyHappyPlanet is one of those ideas that makes you say “why didn’t I think of that?” The basic premise is that there are people all over the world who are trying to learn languages, so the site lets them partner up and practice with each other. So, for example, I’m in the U.S. and I am a native English speaker, and I want to learn Spanish. The site lets me partner with someone in Spain who is trying to learn English to practice. This is such a great idea, and I could see it spinning out lots of other products, educational and commercial (globalization. localization and translation services, especially). It also helps that this site already has 80K-100K users.
“A Web-based test preparation and assessment platform. Helps users quickly identify their strengths and weaknesses, enabling them to focus on the right areas faster, saving study time.”
My take: Basically, Socrato is a test preparation and learning tool that is trying to help students study better for standardized tests. This product didn’t pique my interest particularly, but I like the concept.
“A hosted mobile site creation application geared toward content publishers such as bloggers. Using the MoFuse application, anyone can create a mobile-friendly version of their website or blog in just a few minutes.”
My take: I didn’t get a good sense of Mofuse from the presentation, and it left me feeling a bit like it was irrelevant. My site looks great on the iPhone, afterall, and my bet is that all mobile Web browsing is all heading in that direction.
The next Web Innovators Group meeting is in Boston on April 2nd.
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