Robert Scoble and his laptop. Note the Ars sticker.
If it weren't for the shaky Internet connectivity, you might get the impression that TechCrunch is in the business of throwing really great conferences.The company sold 1,700 tickets to TechCrunch50 at between $2,000 to $3,000 a pop and attracted a battalion of press to cover the event. For those unfamiliar, TechCrunch is a blog focusing on technology startups and this is the second year in a row they've held their "American Idol"-esque competition for stealth-mode startups.
This year, the lineup has ballooned to include alittle more than 50 companies, and their presentations are spread out over three days. Each company launches its product to the world via an eight-minute presentation that is judged by a motley mixture of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, Silicon Valley executives, a-list bloggers, and web celebrities.
By Wednesday, the judge's votes will be combined with an audience contribution in order to pick a winning company, which will go home with a comically large fake check made out for $50,000 (a real, smaller check for that value is delivered at a later date).
The first day is done and Ars has picked through the 15 or so companies that presented; we found a scant three that might interest our readers.
The first is a web-based product called FairSoftware that allows individuals and groups of individuals to form legally binding pseudo-corporations and distribute virtual "shares" of that organization to contributors and founders. FairSoftware has spent a considerable amount of time working with lawyers to craft a legal document called the "Software Bill of Rights" that all participants agree to. The idea is that entrepreneurs can start collaborating and sharing revenue with a minimum of legal fuss.
Starting a new organization and new projects is as easy as using Gmail. Any revenue brought in through the sale of products is divvied up among shareholders based on their current allocations. Because these shares are not "real" and therefore not subject to SEC rules, they can be tossed around like candy to just about anyone. Five hundred shares to the FedEx guy, 250 to the guy who suggested a critical bug fix, and so on. The system even has mechanisms in place to "upgrade" your corporation to the real deal once you pass a certain threshold of awesomeness.
The second stand-out was an e-mail-based service called OtherInbox. The idea itself is as old as the eternal battle between geeks and spammers. Where techies might manually create e-mail addresses for site registration and then manage the flood that comes in, OtherInbox automates the whole process.
When you sign up for OtherInbox, a unique subdomain is created at otherinbox.com (i.e. clint.otherinbox.com), and all mail sent to any address at that subdomain is sent to a single inbox. Incoming e-mail then gets routed to folders based on which virtual user the mail is sent to. For example, mail sent to [email protected] gets routed into a special folder called "spammywebsite" on the OtherInbox side of things.
Imagine the relief of being able to do this for every time you have to toss an e-mail into a web form and, instead of wading through the results, having your newsletters, pseudo-spam, and auto-mailed messages sorted into these nice buckets.
One of OtherInbox's claims to greatness is that it helps you identify situations where a third-party sells your e-mail address to a fourth-party who begins flooding your inbox. If you give out the same e-mail address to all parties, you'd never know who sold you out. In this instance, since you will be using unique e-mail addresses, you instantly know who the scumbag is and can cut them off by simply disabling that e-mail address in the administrative panel.
Note the 'Dfshasdfhlkjadshjk' line. It's that trivial to insert new buckets into the system.
This will be totally game-changing for about two weeks—until the spammers realize they can just filter for *.otherinbox.com accounts and prepend "random-recipient-xxxx" to the domain instead of the carefully crafted address you gave them initially. OtherInbox's "spam blocking" is predicated on a false trust between users and potential spammers.
Excepting the anti-spam features—which will be effective against mostly benign e-mail blasters—the system of auto-organizing your regularly sent e-mails, the nice web interface, and regular status reports on your buckets are all really nice.
Sure, it's a pretty clever rip-off of Twitter with some slick AJAX poured on top, but Yammer may fill a significant niche. The functionality, look, and feel of Yammer are pure Twitter, but it incorporates a system for segregating users into logical "organizations" based on e-mail addresses. It also asks users "what are you working on" as opposed to "what are you doing," but really, come on.
The very active Ars Technica Yammer network
If I were to sign up with [email protected] (and verify that I own this e-mail address), I would initiate the Arstechnica group at Yammer. When subsequent users with arstechnica.com e-mail addresses sign up, they end up in the same group—effectively starting a standalone instance of Twitter for Ars Technica employees (or at least those with arstechnica.com e-mail addresses).
Beyond that one core differentiator, the service allows corporations to pony up some cash,enablingthem to take ownership of their group and access administrative, moderation, and customization functions. While there is no publicly documented API (this is bad!), Yammer is already providing an iPhone interface, a BlackBerry application, and SMS and instant messenger gateways.
Keep checking back over the next few days for more jewels from the conference. If you'd like to see photos from the conference as we're taking them, keep tabs on the following Flickr photoset.Posted on