Best startups of SXSW 2011 – a very subjective summary

I’ve just arrived home from South by Southwest Interactive. Warsaw seems even more gray and cold after spending 4 days in Austin, Texas…

Instead of a regular coverage (“I was there I did that”), I’m going to write about the cool people I met in Austin and their awesome ideas that might soon turn into world’s most desired startup companies. So here come…

The Startups

in random order!

Let’s start with a little company from Helsinki, Finland, set up by Rami Korhonen (@playmysongapp) and his friend Timo Kari. Those guys came up with a brilliant and crazy idea: they want all the bars in the world to allow their customers to choose the music they play using a virtual iPod-powered jukebox controlled by a mobile client application. This is how it works. If you own a bar, you install an iPod app from PlayMySong.net, sign up to create a new “location”, choose the songs or albums you want to expose and make it available to your visitors and… voila – now anyone visiting your bar can add their favorite tracks to the public playlist using a client app. I really hope the bars and clubs of the world are gonna adopt it and that the idea is gonna take off as it’s just too awesome and innovative to be wasted, so, if you own a bar or have a small radio station or just want to throw a party where your guests can freely play their favorite music, this app is definitely for you!

I met Sebastian Trepca (@trepca) on a TechCrunch party sponsored by Peel. It quickly turned out we were neighbors only half a year ago when I lived in Shorditch, London. He’s also a django programmer and is curently working on a fashion startup, Ly.st. I don’t know much about fashion but I can tell that his card looks pretty fashionable and the idea for a service that integrates people interested in latest trends of London and New York seems feasible. Ly.st is not live, yet,@ but you can sign up for beta testing using the invite code “lyst-beta-s”. I hope Sebastian is not going to kill me for exposing it here on my blog 🙂

Another startup that is certainly going to rock is Min.us. It’s a Dropbox for human beings. Simply drag any file from your desktop to the browser window and it automatically uploads it generating an obscure URL to access it so that only the people you want to share the file with can see it. Min.us is a brililant idea well executed so I’ve got no doubts it’s going to be the next big thing in file sharing. John Xie, the co-founder, showed me that you can even use it as a tumblr-like blog. The registration is not required but if you do, all the stuff you upload goes under your account and other people can follow you to see what you’re sharing. Try it out now, it went live only recently after some half year of internal testing.

Michiel Verberg knows how to make people curious about his startup. He walked into Curcus Mashimus, where he presented Whatser, in a green silikon costume, resembling comic book superheroes. His app is a geo-location based social network for people who want to discover interesting locations wherever they are. He’s gonna have a really hard time fighting against Foursquare and Gowalla who already have a huge traction, but there are many startups in this area or places discovery and recommendation (like Bizzy or Google Hotpot or Nuji and others) that Whatser might well fit in this competitive space. I wish Michiel good luck as he’s passionate about his idea and also because he’s just a cool guy who invited me to Amsterdam to have a few drinks in one of the best bars, preferably pointed by Whatser!

Who says you can’t make a great looking interactive site using HTML5? Mobilewalla is an exaple it’s possible. They created a very cool interface to discover mobile apps. Apple AppStore, Android and Blackberry are supported. You can search for your app and see its public statistics, browse through apps in certain category, compare day-by-day traction and soon they’ll also gonna have analytics for app creators which seems to be the business model of the company. But I really wrote about them because they were giving away cool looking stickers for you mobile that helped me holding my iPhone in our hand without it landing on the floor all the time (I totally hate holding iPhone4 in one hand, it’s like holding brick, compared to iPhone3 or Samsung Galaxy S).

Last but not least, I had to mention Filmaster Mobile, which we launched during South by Southwest. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know it’s my movie check-in and recommendation app that suggests you films to watch in theaters nearby that perfectly match your taste thanks to the powerful social recommendation engine. I presented Filmaster on stage as part of the AppCircus mobile apps competition and we got some cool coverage during SXSW including an article in TIME Magazine (http://techland.time.com/2011/03/14/filmaster-app-makes-moviegoing-more-social/) and a blog post on The Newt Web (http://thenextweb.com/apps/2011/03/14/filmasters-iphone-app-is-foursquare-for…. It’s live in AppStore now so try it yourself now!

Summary

SXSW was a great 4-days long party. I met hundreds of great people, I even had the chance to talk to Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) who came to AppCircus to make a few video interviews for his blog. We had a great time partying with Chris Kowalczyk (@kkowalcz), Jarek Sygitowicz (@smartupz) and others. I also own a lot to Janusz Zebrowski who saved my life by allowing me to sleep in his hotel apartment – ordering tickets 2 days before arriving did not leave me a lot of choice as far as the hotels are concerned. Actually I’ve heard they were all booked out months before the event. I’m sure gonna do my best to appear in Austin next year as well, this time both or SXSW Interactive and Film. It’s a one in its kind event and you just want to be part of it! Expect some more coverage of SXSW on my blog soon. Now I need to have a sleep to overcome the jetleg. Cheers!

Filmaster at SXSW!!! (despite the US Visa fail)

I’ve got some amazing news! Filmaster, the startup I founded and I spent the last half year of my life for, will be on stage at South by Southwest (SXSW), one of the most interesting IT conferences this year! We’ve been selected to pitch our application in the AppCircus contest where world’s best new mobile apps will be presented.

filmaster.png (380×123)

Filmaster is a movie check-in and recommendation service that connects film buffs both locally and around the globe. Every day it provides you with top movie suggestions in your area that fit your personal taste thanks to the powerful social recommendation engine. 

The SXSW invitation is extremely timely as we’ve just finished working on our iPhone app which we’ve submitted to AppStore this week. We planned to soft launch it but it looks like the launch will be rather loud. Nothing bad about it (unless some nast but ruins everything)!

The VISA story (“funeral mode”)

I got the news from Claudio Cossio from dotOpen last Thursday and same day I filled up the US VISA application (yes, I live in Poland, we still need visas to get to the land of free). I actually was informed by the nice lady in the embassy in Warsaw that my chances for getting a visa on time are almost zero. Frustrated I recorded this video to inform the world about the fact that Filmaster will be pitching but I won’t be there:

Musielak_SXSW_Fail.mp4
Watch on Posterous

But the video is outdated, as it looks like I’ll eventually make it!!!

I brought all my documents to the embassy today and I got a confirmatiion from the council that they’re gonna do anything possible (that means: “funeral mode” apparently applied only in rare situations like deaths of close members of family) to get me the VISA by Friday. Which means I can catch the Saturday plane (and spend millions for it) and get to Austin (who knows where I’m gonna sleep as all the hotels are booked) before my Filmaster presentation!

Mobile apps contest @ SXSW

The takes place on Monday, March 14th between 2 and 4 PM in Circus Mashimus Tent, located in Room #3, on the first level near the popular Screenburn Arcade.

If you are coming to SXSW, you have to see the mobile competition! Here is the list of amazing apps (including Filmaster) and here is the jury which has a guy from Foursquare, Angry Birds and the co-founder of Jaiku. Check in with Plancast now so that you don’t forget it!

And if you want to keep track with my ventures, follow me on Twitter and sign up for Filmaster Mobile with a beta code “SXSW” to get a cool Filmaster t-shirt.

See you in Austin!

New Facebook Comments to Take on the Long Tail (and yes, Posterous should have it as well!)

Facebook introduced their new external comments plugin. So what – you ask? Well, quite frankly – it’s a revolution!
It’s competing with IntenseDebate, Disqus and Echo. But it has the advantage none of the competitors have – the Facebook community. Whenever you comment, it goes to your Facebook stream. Whenever your friend answers, it… goes back to your site! It’s totally easy to participate – if you’re logged into Facebook

Bad news for the giants…

With no comment karma or other means of emphasizing the important content, the new Facebook comments plugin is going to totally kill commenting on popular websites like TechCrunch (which, amazingly, is testing it right now. The first post got >1000 comments. With such amounts it’s just a lot of noise. If you are big, do it like they do it on Slashdot or don’t do it at all! 

…but fantastic news for small blogs!
On the other hand, it can be a real killer feature for small sites that normally would have zero or very few comments, with all interactions moving to Facebooks and Twitters or the world. Now with Facebook Comments, it can stay on Facebook and you don’t care as you’re still getting your comments back on your blog and the more people share it and comment on it, the bigger chance you get to attract new readers. Amazing opportunity!

This is why I predict Facebook Comments won’t touch the ID/Echo/Disqus market share on dominant websites and popular blogs, but it will totally take over the long tail

 So, am I going to use it?

 

I’d love to use it on this Posterous blog. I can imainge it getting many many more comments if Facebook Comments was applied here. I’m really hoping Posterous does that. Otherwise I might just switch to Thumblr or some other blogging site that does that first.
And what about…filmaster.verysmall.png (114×37), you ask? It’s a more complex issue. Our goal is not exactly as many comments as possible but rather as many users as possible who rate films and get recommendations, and come back for more and eventually engage in commenting. Facebook Comments generates a lot of buzz around your posts and gets you new readers but may not be the best choice for a social network. But I’ll be certainly looking into ways of using it there in some way as well.
You can read more about Facebook Comments plugin here: http://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/comments/

European Venture Summit: Most interesting startups

Dusseldorf was the city I spent my last couple of days as it was the host of European Venture Summit 2010.

EVS is an event where top 150 European ICT, CleanTech and LifeSciences companies present their portfolios to top European venture capitalists hoping for some funding. The companies are selected in semi-finals that take place during the whole year all over Europe.

I came here with my social film recommendation startup, Filmaster, as we managed to secure a spot at Warsaw Semi-Final in November.

Except for presenting I was carefully listening to what others have to offer, especially on the ICT sessions. As I’m mainly interested in social media and open source, I attended many presentations of companies fighting in those areas, but I accidentally witnessed some other cool pitches and here is my short summary of those encounters.

Mosync – the new Java? 

Dusyant Patel of Mosync explained why it’s such a crappy job to create mobile apps and what he and his team are doing to make it smooth. Bascially the idea is old as Grandma Java herself: code once, deploy everywhere. The problam is that it never worked but the ideas seems so awesome that it’s been  attracting new developers and companies constantly throughout all these years, latest trend being mobile apps so no one develops for the desktop anymore!

What is cool about Mosync is that it’s a fully open source platform, licenced under GPL. Anyone can take the code, modify it and as long as they give it back to the community, everything is cool. Patel counts on hackers around the world to notice his platform, enhence it and make it grow big, to become the standard in mobile development. Then he can try to replicate Sun Microsystems business model and… well actually they could have gone bust last year if not saved by Oracle, but… let’s not jump to conclusions. Open source is great and I’m really happy to see another great looking product in this area. I might even give it a chance when developing Filmaster for other platforms than iPhone and Android in case HTML5 suddely ceased to exist.

Website: http://www.mosync.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/mosync

Veenue – (not) a MySpace clone

Veenue was another cool project that almost no one seemed to get excited about (especially not the VCs). It’s a social network (yes, another one!) for musicians around the globe. 
“Just as if MySpace didn’t exist!” – you think immediately (if you’re smart). And… you’re wrong. Because veenue is no MySpace clone. Better: it has no compatition whatsoever (red light on from now for most European enterpreneurs famous for their lack of vision) and what it does is quite interesting. It allows musitians to become part of a group… online. If I understood it correctly, that is.
How it works in steps:
1. You record yourself playing a music instrument (like a trumpet).
2. You upload that video to veenue.
3. Others can now find it (under “trumpet” tag or based on your location) and not only listen to your music and watch you play but also:
4. Upload their own music video to be displayed next to yours… at the same time.
Yes, you got it. It’s like karaoke but with replaceable tracks. You for instance can mute a lousy guitar playe and record your own version of the guitar track, upload it replacing the original one. Then play the new version of the song with all instruments so that others can instantly see that the one with you in it is way better.

And here is the video showing how it all works in practice:

It sounds extremely cool and as long as the execution will be good (it looked amazing in the demos, but the final version of the website is yet to be released) I believe it can be a world-wide success, at least as far as the target group turns out bug enough to ensure traction.

Website: http://www.veenue.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/veenuewemusic

Filmaster – Foursquare for film 

Have you heard of Filmaster, the social network (not again!) for film buffs with personalized movie recommendations? Well, they are creating a mobile app called – you’d never believe – Filmaster Mobile and they want to be the next Foursquare… but for film. Sounds crazy? It is.

Borys Musielak (not wearing a suit like a proper entrepreneur should!) presented Filmaster in the ICT session as a tool to get personalized local recommendations (i.e. what’s on in cinemas in your area that would be interesting to you based on your tastes), check in to screenings (yes, that’s the Fousquare part), inform your friends through social networks (Facebook, Twitter) and meet new people who watch the same stuff that you do in your neighborhood.

Screenshot z Filmaser Mobile
Filmaster Mobile splash screen – the app for iPhone is due in January 2010. 

GetGlue that does something similar but on a more general level has just raised $6M from Time Warner, making Filmaster’s need of $200k of venture capital sound like begging for change, but if the idea sounds interesting to you anyhow, let me know, we can talk.
Yes, I’m Borys Musielak. You’ve got me.

Website: http://filmaster.com/mobile/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/filmaster

Flowr

Flowr – Facebook for business, yes, another one

I turned up late for the Flowr presentation, staying just for the Q&A, but it looks like after Yammer, Status.net, a recent venture of my friend, Smartupz Disqourse, and thousands of others, Flowr is yet another app that wants to be the “Facebook for business”.

Its founder, Davorin Gabrovec, doesn’t really know how to position Flowr among the competition, saying that “in the web 2.0. world you never know”. And it’s true – you don’t. But it also makes it harder for the blogger to write about your startup so I won’t.

Website: http://theflowr.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/theflowr/
8seconds – optimizing e-mail banner campaigns

This was one of the clearest presentations of the summit. Sofie Andries pitched the company with grace, passing the message: if you are doing an e-mail campaign with banners, do it with 8seconds to produce better results.

The product is so simple it’s hard to believe (and I don’t) that no one else is doing it. Basically you start e-mailing your audience using three different e-mail templates (e.g. with banners in three different colors), then analyze the click-through rate and automatically eliminate the least performing two from all remaining e-mails, displaying only the one that works best.
Clear and simple. I wish you luck with the investors, Mrs Sofie!

Website: http://www.8seconds.net/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/8Seconds_email

No, it’s not the right logo. But it’s not my fault you cannot find anything in the Internet about this misterious company!

YouChoose – yet another product recommendation plugin for online stores

This is actually the only startup I cover that made it to the top 50 of the 150 presenting companies (it did not get to the Top 25 that go to the final in Barcelona). And frankly I really don’t know how this happened. 

YouChoose (strange name for recommendation software, btw) is a plugin for online shops that adds recommendations. Some shops already have this feature. It targets those that don’t. The presenter, Uwe Alkemper, claimed that it can recommend useful stuff even with mininal amounts of data. But he did not explain how so I didn’t believe him.
I cannot see any innovation whatsoever here although, of course, I’m not saying it will be a failure.

Website: it’s strange but I cannot find it!
Twitter: Same, not existant.

Summing up

I saw plenty of talent during the two days in Dusseldorf and the selected this list only based on my subjective view and bias. Just like the jury. I wish they thought about providing the Internetr access to participants in EVS venue dusing the summit. I would have probably tweeted a lot more about the startups and other companies pitching in the real time. Unfortunately the organizers didn’t belive the Internet is of much use. Anyway, I have to say these two days in Germany was a great time. I met many great people and got to know interesting companies and ideas which will certainly be benefitian in my future ventures.

If you think what I write makes sense, please subscribe to this blog and follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/michuk

And if you think the event makes sens, sign up for next year’s semi-finals and then come here for a chance to talk to VCs and get funding:

Colloquies IRC client – my first iPhone app purchase

It took me 2 months to buy my first iPhone app. I needed an IRC client to use on the run. Some rough googling gave me Colloquies as the way to go. It turned out to be THE way to go.

It’s sinple, it doesn’t crash and best of all – it keeps the whole conversation even if you close it(!) thanks to the push service. Some sceeenshots below:

I recommend Colloquies to any one geek enough to be willing to use a mobile IRC client 😉

Douglas Crockford on threads

“In systems programming threads are a necessary evil. In application programming they’re just evil.”

“The biggest mistake of Java was that it could not decide whether it was meant to be a system or application programming language”

Douglas Crockford on Front-Trends 2010 conference in Warsaw (during a speech on – surprise surprise! – server side JavaScript

Google CloudCourse and why you should NOT care about it

 

So, Google just released a Moodle-killer deployable in their cloud? ReadWriteWeb seems pretty excided about it here:

Google Releases CloudCourse, an Open Source Learning Platform

My advice for all schools getting excited about it: ignore it

If you want cloud computing, get your own cloud. Programming for Google App Engine, even if open source, still binds you to a proprietary platform and it’s equally bad as if you coded your application using WinAPI.

Get a server, use external hosting for static files and instead of moaning about Moodle, enhance it and adjust to your needs. You’re gonna thank me in 5 years time when App Engine is not that trendy anymore and everyone else will be wondering: how the heck can we dump it while preserving our legacy apps.

 

Who is the enemy of FLOSS today?

The question in the title of this post was raised by myself recently, after I decided to accept a paid Microsoft ad on one of my Linux websites: http://jakilinux.org and (obviously) I was called a traitor.

For years the free and open source software people would say that the number one enemy, the devil on earth, the only factor blocking us from flooding the mass market with gnomes, mice and strange k-prefixed creatures is the company from Redmond.
It got funny nicknames, like The Vole (invented by The Inquirer), it was riduculed over their buggy systems and offensive ‘Get the facts’ campaigns that aimed at discrediting Linux and open source software in general.

However, we’ve been noticing a change in approach for the last couple of years. Microsoft started to work with standarization bodies like ISO and W3C, it stopped sending hostile messages to the FLOSS world and eventually even started developing open source software itself, to a limited degree.

That said, it still has a history of nasty behavior that cannot be so easily forgiven, especially not by the FLOSS activists that used to fight with the devil for more that 20 years now.

The inconvinient question that I’d like to raise is, however, as follows: Is Microsoft still “our” biggest enemy? Or perhaps, blinded by anger and old time frustrations, we’re failing to notice the real danger?
I suppose the latter.

The real danger is not Microsoft. It’s just one of many proprietary-software companies today, just like IBM, Oracle or Google. The real danger is the new software model that is promoted, to the greatest degree, by Apple, and to smaller degree by companies like Amazon with its Kindle product. The software model that is more proprietary than Microsoft and others ever imagined. It controls not only the source of their own system, the protocols and (proprietary) communication standards, but also the whole software platform it delivers together with the hardware that is tightly connected with it. In iPhone App Store it’s not you who decides about the software you want to install on your device. It’s the device manufacturer that makes the decision. And the decisions it makes are not for your own good but for the benefit of the platform host. Some company wants to sell (or give!) you software that you may find useful, like, say, an alternative web browser (Opera) or video technology (Adobe Flash)? Well that’s not so easy anymore. The device manufacturer needs to accept it first. And if it doesn’t, because, say, it’s a competing technology that it does not want to promote, it simply bans it, so that a non-technical user is not capable of installing it herself.

In the service-oriented business it’s not an open vs closed source battle anymore. It’s much more important than that. It’s and open vs closed world. And the biggest “opponent” to those who enjoy freedom of choice is not Microsoft anymore. It’s Apple and their numerous followers.

Update (March 30th): Thank you for all the comments. I’m sorry that most of you missed the point of this article and I acknowledge this may be partly my fault. I’m not saying that Microsoft suddenly became our friend. I’m saying it’s not the biggest threat anymore. There’s a huge difference. We obviously need to watch both Microsoft with its near-monopoly status on the desktop and other companies like Google or Apple which invented new dangerous software distribution models. I believe we’re focusing too much on the former almost not noticing the danger of the latter (i.e. SaaS and locked-in infrastructures). And I believe the latter is generally a much bigger threat to freedom (not just to free software). Hope it’s a bit clearer now.

Leading Indian IT consultancy

“Since the number of records which change is very less, [system] needs
to make the call for master data on for the date when the data was
last changed everytime [system] makes a call.”

This is a piece of documentation prepared by one of the leading Indian
consultancy companies.

I’ve been trying to figure out the meaning for the whole morning.

No success.

And there is more of those.

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