TechCrunch50 goes from ho hum to oh wow in 60 minutes flat

2843595359_9aec52c4d4.jpgDay One of TechCrunch50, for me, was a bit of a slog. A few attempts to compete with Facebook (Hangout, Tweegee)â''good luck with that. Some me-toos with a twist, like Yammer, a Twitter for business useâ''not a bad idea, but not groundbreaking. And some tools, like Blueprint for developing code for multi-core processors, and Burt, to help ad agencies design ads for the Internet, videogames, and other digital channels--useful, but niche-y

But midafternoon on day two, things suddenly got interesting, really interesting.

There was a sense that the natives were getting restless when the panel of celebrity tech-savvy judges savaged an introduction by a company called Imindi, much to the surprise, and, for the most part, delight, of the crowd. Not that people like to see a hardworking entrepreneurâ''s idea shot down, but the exchange gave a big boost to the conferenceâ''s energy level. Imindi purports to be the worldâ''s first thought engine; it taps the power of social networks to make creating a detailed mind-map easier. As Imindi explained it, a mind map is, essentially, a list of things you might be thinking about throughout your day with lines connecting them to subcategories in each space, for example, if Iâ''m thinking about my role as a parent, I theoretically might be thinking about education, health, or childrenâ''s nutrition. Iâ''m actually more likely to be trying to figure out how Iâ''m going to squeeze in dinner before leaving for back-to-school night tonight, but thatâ''s another story. Drawing a mind map might take you a long time by yourself, but using the companyâ''s tools, you can simply put in â''parentingâ'' and use other peopleâ''s subcategories to fill in the details. And then by comparing your mind map against the mind map of others, you can find people who think like you.

The obvious question is, â''why?â'' And judge Mark Cuban, founder of, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and former contestant on Dancing With the Stars, didnâ''t mince words. â''That sounded like the biggest bunch of bullshit Iâ''ve ever heard in my life.â''

The panel did have some advice to turn the company into a success: â''Make it a corporate application, then all you need to do is find one messed up kindred soul at a big corporation.â''

Things calmed down with Me-trics, a company that letâ''s you track various activities like stress level and twitter use and then looks for correlations, seems like it has possibilities, though some panelists were skeptical that people would be willing to enter information over the long term. iCharts, a web-based application that turns data into charts, lets you publish them online, and makes those published charts searchable, also seemed like a useful idea.

Then came Tonchidotâ''s â''Sekai Camera,â'' an iPhone application that uses location data along with information from the deviceâ''s internal accelerometer to â''tagâ'' a scene in real time; the tags appear on the display as overlays as you look through the iPhoneâ''s built-in camera. The presentation brought the crowd to its feet, cheering the enthusiasm of the firmâ''s incomprehensible founder as well as the simple audacity of the idea; Tonchidot simply proposes tagging reality, from large buildings to tiny cell phones in a storeâ''s display case.

Of course, whether or not the application can actually be extended past the prototype stage is an open question. And the judges asked a lot of questions about whether this is a fantasy straight out of Neuromancer or a product that can really be implemented. Panelist Tim Oâ''Reilly, founder of O'Reilly media, said, "Itâ''s a wonderful concept, weâ''ve been fantasizing about it for years, the question is, can you build it?â''

Parried the Tonchidot spokesman: â''Please donâ''t forget imagination.â''

Postbox hit a double, that is, people both liked the idea and at least half the attendees in a straw poll were eager to try the product. Postbox is installable software, not a web-based application, that manages vast amount of email messages from different accounts in what appeared to be an intuitive and simple way, vastly better than anything out there at this point on or off the web. Personally, Iâ''ve been hanging onto Eudora for a long time now, waiting for a reason to move on. Postbox may turn to finally be that reason; at least Iâ''ll give it a try. (I already signed up for the beta, I'll let you know how it goes.)

And then Swype hit a home run. And for more on that, go to my next post.

Photo: Tonchidot's SekaiCamera in action.


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.