DEMO: Rethinking Everything

from the and-so-it-goes dept

After the last DEMO, back in the Spring, I wrote that too many of the companies seemed to be “just like ______, but with ______.” That is, they were all just taking a popular idea in one area and trying to adjust it to another area. That’s not necessarily a bad idea (in fact, it can often be a very smart idea). However, it does make some of the products seem awfully familiar. The latest DEMO, however, had a slightly different feel. A significant number of the companies seemed to be rethinking previous methods of doing things. While those who like the term may refer to this as “Web 2.0,” that’s not quite what I mean. First of all, not everything at DEMO is about the web. Many of the ideas were more were simply taking a look at technologies that were out there and saying “there’s no reason it needs to be done this way — and there are ways to start again from scratch and be much more useful.” Of course, some of those new attempts will undoubtedly fail, but it was a bit refreshing to see these really new attempts to create a “better” solution. Some more specific comments after the jump, so click here to read more.

In some cases, it was clear that multiple companies at the event were trying to "rethink" the same issue -- and came out with radically different new visions. In the world of shopping, for example, is trying to create an e-commerce site that women like. Their model is women's fashion and lifestyle magazines like Cosmo and Glamour (who might have a trademark claim on the name). The view, basically, is that the ads are content -- and it works if people want that kind of content. Some women like to look at ads in magazines to see what's fashionable. Glam's idea is to basically build a similar "magazine" but with everything clickable and buyable. Toss on top of that some community/interactivity and it's certainly intriguing. Of course, I'm not the target audience, so it's tough to judge how attractive the content really will be. Recognizing that content is advertising is a good step, but it only works if the content is compelling. The few women at the show who I asked about the site actually expressed skepticism about the concept, saying they don't shop that way -- which shows why it's somewhat silly to target a site at all "women." Women (like men) are a diverse bunch, and to assume all women like to shop like this would be wrong. So, it's really targeted at "women who like to read Glamour."

Meanwhile, FatLens is trying to reinvent shopping search -- which is a highly competitive arena, but they seem to do a nice job. It's not a total reinvention of the space and the interface, but it tries to be "concept based" rather than keyword based, and that allows them to present a nicer interface with results that (at least on quick tests) seem a lot more relevant than most shopping engines I've used.

Of course, the rethinking can also go horribly wrong -- which seemed to be the consensus view of VirComZone's 3D virtual reality shopping stores. It looked like the VRML-view of the world that some thought would take over the online world a decade ago. It appears the state of the art in such 3D virtual reality stores hasn't improved much over time. Some things don't get better with age.

Other attempts at "rethinking" a concept included Digital Chocolate's attempt to create games that actual fit a mobile environment, rather than cramming old PC/console games onto a phone. Then, there was ComVu's recognition that the real benefit of mobile video is in user created content. Sana and ConSentry Network are both trying to rethink computer security recognizing (finally!!) that the old signature method just doesn't cut it any more. YackPack did a really nice demo (beware of the paradox though) showing how they've tried to "reinvent" the way people communicate online, with a thoroughly lab tested user friendly way of sending voice messages. It seemed like a concept that is either going to flop quickly, or will get buzz and take off virally.

One of the most intriguing demos today was a rethinking of security cameras. With so much talk about security cameras now being absolutely everywhere, taking away your privacy, Eptascape has a solution that claims to be able to recognize human shapes caught on surveillance video and, in real time, create a digital "mask" to hide them from whoever is viewing the video output. You can still tell there's a person there, but that person's privacy is protected since the watcher can't tell who they are. Then, only when absolutely necessary, the video mask can be unencrypted to find out an identity in the event that someone needs to be identified. The same system can also do cool things like recognize if someone leaves a bag somewhere, and immediately alert security, while allowing them to immediately (DVR-like) rewind to see who forgot the package. It looked very impressive, but the one big question is what incentive companies have to mask their own surveillance video output. Obviously, it's good for the privacy of people walking around, but companies don't seem to care so much about others' privacy. Still, it seems like the technology could have any number of practical applications.

Anyway, that's the summary of Wednesday's DEMO demos. Once again, a fun and worthwhile event.

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Comments on “DEMO: Rethinking Everything”

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Observer says:

Solving some problems while creating others

Eptascape’s solution sounds interesting, and I can see it becoming more popular the day that some security guard watches some good looking girl walk through the store, and decides that he is going to stock her, or worse. When something like that happens (as I’m sure it will), companies might see that they can up their patrons safety, and lower their chances of being sued. The downside of the whole issue is, if something happens, and you have to identify somebody rightaway (eg, a kidnapper), you would have to have somebody that you can trust, with a key, to decrypt that image. Adding that kind extra layer of red tape could mean the difference between finding the kid or not.

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