Memo from DEMO: Six startups worth watching

Memo from DEMO: Six startups worth watching

This been quite the frantic week for geeks. There was DEMO in San Diego, now in its 18th year and still going strong. At the same time there was TechCrunch50 in San Francisco; Crunchy Michael Arrington crowed that TC50 was going to bury DEMO, but faulty Internet connections on day one left many in the crowd Twittering amongst themselves.

Of course, in Cupertino, Steve Jobs once again descended from Mount Olympus to grace the humble masses with his black turtleneck and, incidentally, a couple of new iPods. The genuflecting hasn't stopped since.

Though I am schizophrenic, I could only attend one of these shindigs, so I went with DEMO -- and not just because Demo doyenne Chris Shipley is an ex-Infoworlder. (And, by the way, the Net connection worked just fine, most of the time.)

One of the big trends at DEMO was a subtle shift from the all-you-can-steal Web to one where creative people can get paid for their wares. PhoTrade is essentially a stock photo service for the little guys; you can post your pix online and charge fees for bloggers to use them or regular folks to order prints. MixMatchMusic does something similar for wanna-be guitar, piano, or drum heroes; you can post your killer solo online, and if some budding music producer uses it in a mix, the site ensures you get paid royalties for it. CrowdSpring gives struggling graphic artists a shot at the big time; companies put jobs (like logo design) out for bid, artists submit their designs, company picks its favorite, winning artist gets paid. They'll be launching a similar service for copy writing later this year.

Will these startups survive on the big bad web? Check back in six months and we'll find out.

In other news, Real Networks introduced its RealDVD copy service, where you can finally (and legally) copy your DVDs to your hard drive, some 11 years after DVDs arrived. How is it legal? Real licensed the DVD decryption technology from the same folks who provide it to makers of DVD players and playback software. Real is banking that the courts will uphold the decision in DVD Copy Control Association v Kaliedescape, where the maker of insanely expensive home theater gear successfully defended its right to copy DVD content to hard drives. Kaliedescape's DVD jukeboxes start at four figures; RealDVD costs US$30 to $50, depending on when you buy it.

A few other products caught my eye before my brain turned into guacamole dip (hold the chips, please).

Regular Cringe readers will appreciate SpinSpotter, a browser plug in that analyzes online news stories and detects bias and/or sloppy reporting, using rules developed by professional journalists (hopefully while they were still sober). It will flag misleading or unsupported assertions, note where only one side of an issue is portrayed, and even let you edit the story for other SpinSpotter users to read. (So, for example, your headline for this post might be "Cringely's brain is like rotten guacamole".)

Another cool plug in: Semantifind, which adds a drop down menu of "definitions" to Google searches. So in a search for "Paris" you could distinguish between the city in France and the brain-dead heiress. Semantifind results appear at the top of the Google results page, above the ads. The Semantifind dictionary contains about a million words. I'm still waiting for them to add an entry for me, so Googlers can parse between searches for "Cringe" (yours truly) and "cringe" (what many people do as they read this blog).

Yet probably the single most impressive product on display at DEMO had to do with -- wait for it -- air conditioners. That's right. Microstaq's "Ventilum" chip can replace mechanical valves in regulating the flow of coolant through an AC unit, saving 25 to 30 percent on energy costs, according to the company. They claim their tech will save families $125 a year on average in electricity, while facilities and data center could trim tens of thousands off their bills -- assuming, of course, the Ventilum works as advertised.

Need I add that the Ventilum was the coolest thing I saw at DEMO? OK, you can start cringing now.

What gets your vote for biggest tech news of the week? E-mail me direct:

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