The demo pit at TechCrunch is the territory of the also-rans (I''m intentionally not calling them losers) and the pay-to-plays. That is, a subset of the 1030 applicants that weren''t picked to go on the main stage, got the use of a spot in the demo pit for one day, as long as they paid to send two representatives to the conference. Other companies paid for tables directly; conference sponsors got the biggest tables.
Still, I found a fair number of companies in the demo pit that were more interesting and potentially useful to me than their more fortunate brethren presenting on the main stage.
Some snapshots from the demo pit, in no particular order:
SpellR.us. This company out of Australia has made a tool for spellchecking websites. Given what I see daily online, websites definitely need spellchecking. I tested it on the IEEE Spectrum website, and it blasted through 100 pages in about 90 seconds, easily separating real errors from odd spellings that were potential errors but more likely tech jargon. The bad news is that once it identifies the errors, you need to actually go into the web site and fix them manually, which takes a lot longer than 90 seconds. Still, it''s a great start.
Cards Off. This technique for preventing internet shopping fraud is probably too complicated to catch on, but it''s a clever combination of web applications and hardware, in this case an RFID keyfob. As I understand it, the idea is that you give your personal credit information to just one company, Cards Off, and they handle billing for multiple merchants, who now don''t have to worry about the security of their own web sites. When the package is delivered, you confirm that you ordered it by allowing the delivery guy to scan your little RFID keychain. Putting RFID in the loop does make it more secure, but it seems unlikely that UPS and Fedex drivers are going to take this extra step for a third party. Maybe instead the company should market the service straight to the package delivery companies.
Twonq. This online reservation service for small businesses is a simple idea, and I can''t wait for it to catch on. While big businesses can afford to run their own online reservation service, I''m still spending way too much time playing telephone tag with my haircutter, dentist, manicurist, etc; I''m actually going to evangelize this service to them, it could make my life so much easier.
NutshellMail. This web-based service helps you keep track of multiple email accounts by way of summary messages, that is, on a regular schedule it sends a list of new messages on your secondary email accounts to your primary account; you can click on links in that email to retrieve the original message. I love this idea, because I don''t necessarily want to consolidate my secondary accounts by feeding them all directly into one place, some of them get a lot of junk, but I do need to check them occasionally. NutshellMail promises to make that process easier; I''m getting in on the beta as soon as I can.
Apprema. So for some reason I have quite a few friends that regularly gift me with virtual plants on Facebook. I haven''t set up my virtual garden on the site (I''m barely keeping up the watering on my real-world garden off site), so I reject these gifts, feeling as if perhaps I''m violating some kind of etiquette. Fortunately, these virtual plants are free, but there are virtual gifts on Facebook that cost real money, a concept I don''t understand at all. Apprema''s approach is to let people on social networks pay small amounts of real money for real gifts, like Starbucks lattes, that can be easily regifted or redeemed offline. And groups can easily join together with micropayments towards a group gift; I can definitely see highschoolers chipping in 5 cents each towards a happy birthday ice cream at Cold Stone. I did try the Apprema website, and it''s a little buggy, but it''s early days.
Caption: TechCrunch50 organizer Jason Calcanis walks his dog through the demo pit, followed by actor Ashton Kutcher.