Intel Launches a Digg to Rate Software Startups

Intel is asking for your help to find the next Google.

In an effort to stay on top of the latest software trends and cool new startups, Intel on Monday made public a Digg-like voting site called CoolSW, for "cool software." The site will tap the geek public for the most promising new software companies worldwide.

"If you look at the great successes in software that have happened in the last few years, the so-called experts were very often wrong," says Steve Santamaria, director of Intel's software outreach group. "We ultimately have high hopes that the wisdom of crowds will find those long-tail independent software developers."

The CoolSW site joins a growing list of hive-mind projects looking for the next big thing.

Book publisher Simon & Schuster in June partnered with MediaPredict, which uses the "collective judgment" of readers to evaluate book proposals. And Dell's IdeaStorm uses features of social networks to solicit ideas for products and improvements.

At CoolSW, users can post information about new software companies that pique their interest, which the rest of the community then votes on.

Just like Digg, companies that receive the most votes get pushed to the site's front page, which highlights what community members consider hot. Intel's not divulging its "secret sauce," or how the company plans to track such companies and what it might do with those that garner the most recommendations.

Santamaria says Intel hopes to learn about independent software developers early and identify promising entrepreneurs. Intel Capital, Intel's investment division and one of the world's largest investors in companies, could also participate in the process, he says.

Currently, CoolSW's front page features a web service that automatically converts floor plans into 3-D buildings in Google Earth, as well as software that creates concert schedules based on artists in your iTunes library.

The CoolSW site started as an internal project used by company employees to call attention to their favorite software startups. Intel decided to put a public face on the site in the hope of garnering even more recommendations and expanding its global gaze.

"You have to remember that not all the emerging software companies are companies coming out of Silicon Valley," says Santamaria. "Software is happening globally."

If anything, the new site is an admission that even Intel's 90,000 employees worldwide have trouble tracking all the software companies sprouting up in Silicon Valley and the rest of the world.

Santamaria, director of the global software-enabling arm of Intel's Software and Solutions Group, admits that trying to keep tabs on it all -- the emerging technologies, the new scripting languages, the new tools and local software initiatives -- by meeting with individual companies was not the most efficient approach.

While he admits that the company is taking a "wait and see" approach to CoolSW, he says he's not dissuaded by many of the common critiques of collective intelligence. Critics have called Simon & Schuster's MediaPredict the American Idol approach to publishing, but similar projects have produced strikingly accurate results.

The Hollywood Stock Exchange lets traders forecast the box-office performance of Hollywood films and Oscar nominations as a group. On average, the market picks more than 80 percent of Oscar nominees correctly, and hasn't missed more than one Oscar winner in the past four years, according to reports.

Bob O'Donnel, an analyst with IDC, says Intel is looking beyond the PC for new devices and growth opportunities. Up-and-coming mobile internet devices and ultra mobile PCs will need new kinds of applications and software, he says, and Intel has an interest in any company developing such software.

"Hardware doesn't matter at this point," he says. "If you look at iPhone and Apple, this is clearly the case. Other people can do the iPhone's hardware. It's not that hard. But it's the software that's the real bread and butter for Apple."

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