Review of the TechCrunch NY Event

I was able to attend and blog the TechCrunch NY party tonight. (Thanks very much to Jeanne.) As a party, it was a great event, and I ran into a lot of cool people. The party itself was quite packed, though since I got there early I was able to sample some very good snacks and drinks. I ended up meeting Peter Rojas, who I’m a huge fan of at Engadget. We didn’t talk Jason even though his news about leaving AOL was just announced, but he did give me advice on a great Flatscreen TV.

Also saw Scott Matthews of Bitty. We’re going to do a fun social media event in the future, I think. Stay tuned. Ran into Kevin Werbach, David Parmet, and others. My photos of the event are at Flickr.

For those who don’t like to read, here’s the quick analysis:

I saw a lot of interesting stuff, but I’m not sure that I saw a lot of ‘game changing’ sites or technologies. There are a huge number of people creating Social Networks around X, where Xis your friends, people you don’t know, music, etc. Most people are incrementing on features that exist already – I didn’t see anything radical, or, in Pip Coburn’s model, something that would get me over the pain of switching from what I regularly use (Flickr, my own blog, etc) to something else.

There are a lot of people creating sites where the wisdom of crowds will make the content great. My question is, when you send the crowd down the long tail, and it begins to thin out, does the wisdom thin out too? Who’s going to write and rate all the content? I totally get that people want to be creators, but do they want to be creators for YOU or for themselves?

These were the questions I am still asking myself after yesterday’s event. Now to the meat of the event:

Before the event I met with Aston Peery and Ben Ruedlinger of Top 10 Media.  They run a few sites, and the first one they showed me was “Top 10 Sources.” The problem they seem be trying to solve with this one is “How do you find good content online.”  Not  new problem, but they tackle it in a way similar, I think, to – without the hired guides. Anyone can create a page and be an editor, bringing in content on a particular topic area, related to whatever they want. The example today was a “Nancy Pelosi” page, which had some feeds coming in automatically (like Talking Points Memo), some “editor pick” articles from various sources, and some editor’s commentary. They key is to find great “citizen editors” and let them easily create communities of users that use the editors as content providers.

They have a very nice tool bar for editors to use to grab content from other sites to bring it into Top 10 Sources. It pops up from the bottom of the browser and walks you through grabbing a headline, text block, graphic, etc, and puts it on your page. This is all free now, and, I believe, Ad-supported.

Something about this reminds me, again, of About or even the original vision of the Delphi/NewsCorp/Internet MCI venture, but the guides aren’t paid. The wisdom of crowds will help the good editors rise to the top. Something to watch for.
What I saw missing was the ability to comment, vote on which guides were being helpful, being useful, or had great content. Once they get that social toolset going the site will be more interesting. Another concern is that I must have seen 3 or 4 other sites tonight that made it easier for people to post content for their group/friends/everyone/no one except designated people. While Top 10 Sources differentiates by trying to give people easy tools to post content (without being a blogging site) I wonder if regular users will be able to tell the difference and adopt this.

The second site is Style Feeder – a social shopping site. You subscribe to a friend, or find a person who has tastes you admire, and you can then follow what they’re shopping for, and buy it yourself.  Not sure if they’re taking a cut for referring you . Ashton told me his daughter was doing a site so the parents would know what she liked and could purchase it for her in the upcoming holiday/birthday season. Makes sense.

Finally, they’ve just announced Lisensa – a site that allows you to register your own content, and if someone from a commercial site wanted to purchase it, allows you to have set a price for it. The commercial site pays the fee and gets a license to your content. This is only for text-based content now, but in the future you could see Flickr photos, Videos, etc. used by mainstream media, and now used fairly and paid for. John Palfrey of the Harvard Beekman Center is involved in this venture, so the Creative Commons licenses are well represented. Top 10 is trying to create a market with this product – first by attracting the content creators, then letting the other guys know this is here. The good thing is, it’s free, requires just a very small amount of javascript to be pasted into your site content (wonder how many people that will deter) and you only pay a piece of your ‘take’ if someone buys something you offer. It takes a lot to make a marketplace, so it will be interesting to see how this develops.

Upon arrival at the party I found the lovely Connie Connors of Connors Communications, who showed me Hittail, their new service to help bloggers and others optimize their web advertising and keyword campaigns. It is really innovative – it helps you to understand the long tail search results that people are using to find you, and optimize them. To understand it see the demo on their site. Connie and company have been in business for years – it is wonderful to see them with a product that will help the community, and will likey win them customers.

One fun site at the event was Snap is a search engine that shows you a visual preview of the sites that the search results returned, before you click to go there. They also try to watch the search behavior, to see which sites on a particular query get clicked through to. That way, they adjust the search results based on relevance. One really nice feature they had was a Snap Preview. Again, by putting a small amount of Javascript someplace (and I hope to try this on my site), when someone mouses-over a hyperlink in your text, they get the visual representation of the page they’d go to if they clicked. They’re giving this away free to bloggers, so that will be interesting to see how much adoption they get. is a lot like Pandora for video. You do a search, watch a video, and rate it. They watch your ratings and try to guess the next video you’d want them to play. As a bonus, the first 80 people who get their ‘guess relevance’ to 80% (by reviewing a hell of a lot of videos, I’d wager) get a Wii. Guess I’ll be watching a lot of videos, because, baby needs a Wii. Actually, I could see this being a very fun diversion. I wonder if there are rights issues in them embedding and playing videos from YouTube, Google, AOL, etc etc in their own interface, for profit.

AOL was at the event. The portal was being shown. The demo guy showed me some cool search tricks like typing “Channel:CNN” will get videos from that site. There are buttons for you to get the most recent content. So, suddenly you’re finding the most recent clips of CNN, or from the Daily Show, or whomever allows it. Relevant.

I spoke to the guys from Civil Netizen. They described their service as “Fedex for File Transfer.” They encrypt the contents of the package, and create a packing slip which you send to someone else. That person redeems the slip and gets the package. Civil Netizen doesn’t analyze your package content, or pass it through their servers. It sounds pretty simple. I gave them a hard time, though, because the slip isn’t encrypted, so sending that in open email defeats the purpose if you’re worried about someone hacking you. They suggested cutting the plain text from the slip and using an encrypted, trusted IM to share the key. I also asked the difference between these guys and, say, Pando. Pando is more C to C they suggest, while they’re B2B. Pando keeps the files on their server, they don’t. Something to try, if I need to send something secret in the near future. Do you hear that comrades? The wolf howls at midnight. 

Midnight. Damn, it’s getting late. I’m writing this on a train and it’s after 11. I left around 9:20, before Mike Arrington spoke. Sorry Mike, but the power had been off at our house (seems to be back on now) and I wanted to leave assuming my train would be delayed because of the power outage (it was).

Party Strands is a ‘social music influence’ service for bars or restaurants. They had it running at the party. You text a code and an artist or song to a specific SMS number, and your request “influences” the music played in the bar. That means, if you text “U2” you won’t necessarily hear a U2 song, but the algorithms will weight the music mix towards a U2-like sound, a little. Party Strands doesn’t stream the music – they’re using the bar’s own collection, so texting obscure Grateful Dead tune names may not work, depending on the bar. For home use, they have My Strands, which is a similar service using your own music collection.

Next I met the folks from Helium (as in the good stuff rises to the top). President Mark Ranalli and I discussed their model. It is another citizen-generated content site where people vote to chose the best content. The twist for this site is that, first, you can only vote in a topic area if you write in a topic area. The demo I saw was an article on “Why boys like guns and girls like dolls.” 14 users had submitted articles. When you click this, you get two articles, side by side. You’re expected to click on the one you think is more relevant, valuable, etc. You don’t know what the ranking is at this time. The wisdom of crowds should help the most valued content rise to the top. You can also see the top rated article.
I had a discussion with Mark, and also with someone else at Helium, regarding how this kind of a system could make the most plain articles, or even the articles everyone agrees with (right or wrong) rise to the top. They kept coming back to the “wisdom of crowds” but I believe that is in business because often crowds don’t know whether something is true or false. Next, they implied that someone would have had to post in a topic area to review articles. That’s a barrier right there. I’ve heard that there’s a 1% rule on mailing lists and other net sites – only 1% of visitors get involved. Seems unlikely – but say it’s 20% – will the wisdom of 20% of your crowd make your site better? Or again get to a bias of “I vote for the articles that have the same opinion or facts as me”? What if someone’s giving bad or inaccurate advise on something important? I have a bit of trouble trusting this model. I’m not sure if that means that my Social Media faith is in jeopardy or if my argument is correct. I’ll have to check back to see how this goes.

Saw Robert Reich and Dave from I had seen a very early version of this about a year ago at the NY Tech Meetup, and thought it had value then. It’s improved and now I’m happy to be a beta tester of this product (but just got the beta notice, so I can’t say I’ve really done more than see the demo. 
This product allows you to see a graphic representation of other users coming to the sites you’re visiting, via a small left-side bar in the browser. It also looks at surfer behavior and suggests other sites that might be related. I believe there’s also a part of this that can help you find others that have similar interests to you. The thing I got from Robert and Dave, more than some of the other entrepreneurs there, was some sense of something different. Many of these other companies are claiming to be different in some way or other,  but there are a lot of the same concepts around. I’m not saying this is a totally new idea (IM+surfing has been around a while) but these guys have that “we’re up to something and on to something” vibe that I’ve seen before with some successful folks. Just a gut check – I’ve got no proof here.

The folks at Multiply are creating a social network/site that allows you to share stuff, as they said, in the opposite way of MySpace. As in, you’re not creating a profile and hoping the whole world looks at it. You’re looking to get your close circle of friends, your parents, and perhaps some of their friends. The example was having your mom’s neighbor see pictures of your kids. I get the example, not sure how the whole thing works so you can limit,  explicitly or implicitly, the network to friends and acquaintances of friends. Plus, after having seen several other Social Network sites, this was the last one I saw – I’m kind of bored of everything having the rounded corner/AJAX look to them. I don’t mean to pick on Multiply, but is everyone going to join 16 networks? Will your mom’s neighbor sign up to see your kids on Multiply if her own grandkids are being shown on Flickr? Is neighbor-of-mom really the casual network people are looking for? I agree this is a better cut at granularity than the “friends” and “Family” tags on Flickr, but I need to see more of this product to find its uniqueness elements.

The final people I saw at the event were from Condiut, which makes a custom browser bar that companies, sites, etc can private label and provide updates to even after the customer has installed it. They showed me an example of a GreenPeace bar that gives users an ‘action alert’ when GP has one. Major League Baseball teams use them, and you can get updated headlines and scores. They say they have over 5MM users at this point. Ok. I’m not really into separate browser bars, but can see where a super-fan person would want to brand their browser with a team or organization.

There were a few other companies there – check the TechCrunch site for them.

This article cross-posted to “Random Thoughts from HowardGr” AND “Social Media Club.”

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One response to “Review of the TechCrunch NY Event”

  1. Thanks for the great summary. As for your question …when you send the crowd down the long tail, and it begins to thin out, does the wisdom thin out too? I think the answer is yes. Take delicious for example. When you search on technical topics, you get great results. When you search for non-technical topics, you get lower quality results. Then there is always the free rider principle (see Wikipedia).