-- This week saw the battle of the Web 2.0 conferences, with 70 entrepreneurs presenting their ideas at Demo Fall 2008 in San Diego and 50 more making their pitch at TechCrunch50 in San Francisco. Some of the ideas are little more than a glimmer in a coder's eye, but others are already doing business, are in private beta, or are soon to launch. Here's a selection of our favorites.
Is the password for my bank Ra&18eR or rA#19eR? I can't remember and neither could most people, especially if they regularly access 20 or more online accounts. Usable aims to solve the problem by letting you use a simple word like "raider" to log in anywhere. The service (which is supposed to go live early next year) works like this: You visit your bank's Web site, but instead of encountering the usual sign-in boxes, you are greeted with an image like the one above. Usable remembers your user name, and you type in your simple password. Usable uses code on your PC and on their servers to slice and dice that simple word into a highly complex and secure password.
Traditionally, bands have been some variation of four guys from Liverpool--friends who start playing music together and decide to get serious. But what if you live in Livermore instead of Liverpool and you can't find three other musicians who are interested in playing the kind of music you like? MixMatchMusic should help. Individual musicians upload their favorite bass lines or drum patterns. Then other musicians looking for good accompaniments to their new guitar lick can browse through the offerings and mix the individual components together to form a full song. If other people like the tune enough to download it, all of the artists involved get paid automatically.
Whenever a company pitches a new search engine designed to find people, I test it by searching for a guy with whom I shared a cockroach-infested apartment in Boston. iSearch is the first engine to pass my test. The site conglomerates information from public records, social networks, white pages, news, and professional connections. I can't wait to reconnect with my old friend. I just hope he's forgotten about that $200 I owe him.
Lots of financial services are good at telling you what you've spent in the past and how much money you have right now. But few online systems so far have attempted to tell you how much you'll have next week or next month, especially if you decide to buy a new iPod after all. Making contingent cash-flow projections is tough, but GreenSherpa's system (due to reach private beta next week) seems as though it could work. It lets you account for regular bills, but it also simplifies the task of entering one-time expenses or factoring in a bonus check you're expecting.
Using keywords to search for documents makes sense because documents are made up of words. But using words to search for images doesn't work as well. Unless someone used the same keywords to label their image that you use to hunt for it, you have no chance of finding it. GazoPa, a not-yet-live search engine from Hitachi, aims to let people use colors or shapes as guides in searching for images. Have a canvas bag whose design you like, but you wish that it came in leather? You can use GazoPa to search for bags with similar designs from other manufacturers.
You've heard of citizen journalism, in which average joes report on news that's important to them. Well, Birdpost hopes to be one of the leaders of a citizen science movement. Avid birdwatchers can join the site and post their latest sighting of a Phainopepla (aka Silky Flycatcher). Other birders or even novices can search for types of birds and in some cases can get a Google map that shows the species' range.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. But when you want to even the score with whoever just stole your cell phone, revenge is perhaps most toothsome when served with an ear-splitting siren. Maverick Mobile's soon-to-be-released software will let you inflict that comeuppance on cell phone thieves--and retrieve your data while you're at it. If you have loaded Maverick's software on the stolen phone, you can use another phone to pull your contact data or other information off the purloined handset. You can also wreak remote havoc in such ways as hanging up on the thief's calls and setting off an alarm to alert everyone nearby that the scoundrel has taken that which belongs to another.
Think the news media is biased? Then SpinSpotter may be just what the counterspin doctor ordered. Site creators combine rules from a group of journalism advisors with a special algorithm to identify bias in news stories. Users armed with the site's browser plug-in can also edit news stories to make them more accurate; the results will be visible to other visitors to the page who use the same plug-in.
The most fun I found on TravelMuse is with the Inspiration Finder. You plug in a few basic parameters for your trip: how far you're willing to travel, how much you can spend, and what you want to do. In response, Inspiration Finder will give you a selection of destinations that meet the criteria you specified. Once you've picked a destination, you can save the details of your vacation and share them with your fellow travelers, who can collaborate on your trip planning.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have an informal system called casual carpooling: People in need of a ride to San Francisco congregate in specific areas in the suburbs and drivers swing by and pick them up. Riders get a free trip to work, drivers get to speed along in the carpool lane and avoid paying a bridge toll--and fewer cars clog the road. Avego hopes to bring a similar concept to the iPhone. With the Avego app (which is due out in a few months) loaded on their phones, riders can enter their location and specify where they want to go. Drivers with the app will be alerted that a rider is in the area and can agree to pick them up. The system will then alert the rider, and it can even figure out how much the passenger should pay for the lift.
WebDiet may help your waistline, or it may just emaciate your wallet. The system uses GPS on your phone to locate nearby restaurants; then it suggests meals at eateries that suit your needs for proper caloric intake. So if you had a double-double cheeseburger for lunch, Webdiet will try to compensate by suggesting a less indulgent evening meal--say, a vegan shake for dinner and maybe an ice cube for dessert. If you don't want or can't afford to eat all of your meals out, it's unclear how much WebDiet will help. The company's presentation at Demo didn't include information about how to enter food that you cook at home, but the site's FAQ (the service itself isn't yet live) indicates that this will be possible.
The Web has many great video viewing options, but no great way to find them. Invision.tv aims to solve that problem by providing you with an electronic program guide to the Web. Videos are arranged by channels: CNN, Funny or Die, and the like. If you tell Invision what you're interested in, it will suggest good viewing options. For a different take on the same problem, check out ffwd.com.