Tech Coast Review
The startup and tech news weblog for Southern California

Friday, December 28, 2007

Yes thats right, multilevel marketing now is set to take on online book and CD sales/reviews. What they say is that Fanista (based in LA) is the first place "that fans can share their opinions and discover new entertainment with a community of like-minded enthusiasts, purchasing products, inviting others to join, and getting rewarded for the value they create". This all sounds well and good, but this isn't your traditional social network/review site. Instead, Fanista is a startup funded entirely by Amway...and you know what that means...pseudo pyramid scheme (not the illegal type, but a gray area none the less).

The Good
Its Amway, there can't possibly be any good in that, right?

Actually/Unfortunately these Multi Level Marketing Schemes work in real life by getting people to think they are going to get rich; by applying the concept to social reviews, where its less of "scheme" and more of a semi-smart way to build user generated content, Fanista may actually be on to something.

The Bad
First off I'm not a fan of Fanista of multilevel marketting plans because it basically encourages you to sell stuff to your friends. This is just morally annoying. Couple this with Amway's bad reputation (they've been sued by multiple governments for fraud) and you've already got a PR problem.

Also considering Fanista has deep pockets, I wasn't at all impressed with their site. In fact, I can only see the top half of any of Fanista's pages, because for some reason the page doesn't scroll down. There are also some other basic user interface problems that made my browsing experience less than ideal.

Fanista is user generated content meets multi level marketing, which seems like a good match (at least from a business standpoint). But, with a more detailed look, one realizes that user generated content is still just barely beyond the early adopter phase. The mass Internet world, just isn't (yet) flocking to get active with adding their opinion online. Yet multi level marketing schemes generally feed on the ignorance of someone wanting to get rich. And at this stage in the game, I don't think the early adopter tech savvy market overlaps all that much with the ignorant guy who falls prey to these pitches and thinks he's going to get rich. Besides even if the market does overlaps, and Fanista become wildly successful, I'd give them a thumbs down on principle alone.




Thursday, December 27, 2007

Clupedia is a Santa Ana based startup that is trying to take a hybrid wiki concept and apply it to semantically marking up websites. They've received at least 1.3M in Series A funding from the Tech Coast Angels, the Pasedena Angels, and the Frontiera Group as well as 2M in funding from their founder Dr. David Saad .

The Good
Clupedia has an interesting concept on their hands that, at the very least, it is a sort of web2.0 model that hasn't been beaten to death. The metag everything idea has been around for a long time and we are just now getting around to realizing it, with things like semantic user generated layers on Google earth, the new Yahoo/Flickr geotagging map photo explorer, etc, etc. Clupedia is taking it to another level by letting you tag and review anything on the Internet; your reviews for one site/product you write about then get displayed on any other relevant website you visit.

Clupedia also apparently has a strong pitch as they've received good response from the early stage investment community. Besides the money, their pitch has been well received on the popular entrepreneur video site Clupedia's success alone has generated a lot of their user interest and downloads.

Finally they have a pretty good scheme for building their community (which is always the hardest part in making a service built on user generated content). They give iphones and other gifts for contributions and referrals. From what I can tell the requirements to get things seem quite high (100 clues and 100 referrrals), but I guess its working, so thats a good thing.

The Bad
Despite my comment that their pitch has been well received, my personal opinion after seeing their video is that their pitch was not at all impressive. The whole clue thing is confusing, if I wasn't TRYING to figure out what Clupedia was for this review, I would have checked out long ago. It took me a bit of time to really get what clupedia was trying to do, and I follow this stuff daily, I honestly don't think the mass consumer is going to latch on to what the heck Cluepedia's "clue" concept is.

If anything I think, I think the strong investment support is probably less about a mind blowing business and more that they have confidence in the founder's background. With a PhD in Computer Science and a successful background launching a company previously, the leadership seems like a good safe bet. I'm not so sure of this, especially since I'm usually leery about "safe bets" but then again, I've never met Dr Saad, so I could certainly be wrong.

The biggest gripe I have with Clupedia was actually using it. I was expecting a slick toolbar like that integrated simply and cleany with a nice web 2.0 style website. My experience was nothing like that. First, the toolbar layout seemed to lack a clear thought on the user interface experience for discovering "clues". I'm sure if someone showed me what I was looking at it would have been obvious, but using it like most users (just downloading it and blindly trying it) finding clues was not easy or addictive. In fact the entire time I felt like I was missing something, even after reading through the FAQs. Whatever clues I did find just seemed like useless bantor. When I went to add clues it was also buggy, as selecting a category would not scroll beyond the first few entries, then when I actually submitted a clue about good ole Tech Coast Review nothing happened. So I'm not sure if that meant that the review was submitted or what.

Finally, beyond the Clupedias toolbar, the website itself highly bothered me. The look and feel of reminded me of some annoying flash site, not a hip web 2.0 company. Besides the asthetics, I could never get the actual website to work. Although I was logged in, and the clucast toolbar was working, I could never search, add, or look at any clues on the site directly. I tried on both Firefox, Opera, and Safari. Maybe it would have worked in IE, but I didn't have much interest in changing browses just to see if I could view clues. And frankly even if it did work, Im pretty sure that my hope of slick, simple like experience of tooolbar to website integration would not have been seen. This of course is troubling to me, as I use the website version of as much, if not more than the toolbar version of, and if Clupedia actually interested me, my behavior would probably be the same.

The Overall
Theoretically Clupedia could become a more evolved version of StumbleUpon. StumbleUpon is highly addicting, very useful, has great traction, and has a good business model. By adding a more intelligent semantic engine for reviews, and a slightly more evolved twist, Clupedia has the potential to be even better and become highly sucessful. Do I think they'll pull that off? Frankly, no, but might as well give them a chance. In the end I'd rather review a startup that may be rather bad in its current implementation but has a vision that COULD beat the industry leader if all the right things happen, then a startup that may be more polished but in the longterm really has nothing innovative to differentiate it from the competitors. Clupedia is the former.




Monday, December 24, 2007

A little holiday note for those in the Southern California startup and investing world, people are starting to recognize what you already know: the Tech Coast is Hot. The LA Times covered a story a couple weeks ago about the thriving tech scene in LA. They quoted some strong stats from E&Y:

  • Venture Capatilists invested $1.3 billion in Southern California tech companies in the first three quarters of this year, compared to $4.4 billion in the Bay Area over the same period.

Which in a lot of ways, shows that while Southern California does not yet rival The Valley, it is a highly emerging area that needs to be watched. Entrepeneur magazine picked up the story in their blog as well. In fact people often forget that, Entrepeneur, one of the biggest magazines in the country that tracks startup founders is located in Orange County (Irvine).

Another point of relevance is that recently covered that Dealmaker is expanding into LA. This is another good sign because it helps address, probably the biggest problem that the tech industry faces here: we are just not connected like the boys up in the valley. The more, we can get established tech companies mixing with startup entrepeneurs, mixing with new media, mixing with investors, the better. Feeding a more cohesive industry here will help produce more creative energy, better oppurtunities, and obviously stronger economic growth. Twiist-Up and Lunch 2.0 have been a good start in 2007 and hopefully the Dealmaker events will help as well.

It will be interesting to see if 2008 brings the Southern California web startup world more major success stories, beyond the ever lame Myspace.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

San Diego Based Nirvanix recently closed their second round of funding through Intel Capital for an undisclosed amount. Their first round produced 12 million through investments from Mission Ventures, Valhalla Partners and Windward Ventures.

If you are like me and were unfamiliar with Nirvanix you may be excused for thinking that the name is from some villan in Matrix 5 re re reloaded. In fact Nirvanix, is actually a massively scalable online storage platform. And while this may seem mundane compared to the oh so glamorous web 2.0 gloss, Nirvanix has a solid business on their hands. As one of the only alternatives to Amazon's popular S3 service, Nirvanix has a competitive offering with a simpler interface and surprise, surprise, an actual SLA. As great as S3 is, Amazon has taken pleanty of flack for building a great B2B type service with a poor SLA, and Nirvanix basically fills that gap.

Until Google comes out with their rumored ultimate GDrive with an extra helping of space with less cost and more amazing APIs, Nirvanix continues to be one of the most attractive options for those who need cloud type storage.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

As a follow up to last week breakdown of shopping 2.0 sites, Ben from SocalTech, was kind enough to point out a Santa Monica based shopping site we missed. ThisNext is a "shopcasting network where you can recommend, share and discover products." They've been around since August of 2006 and are well funded (they've been backed by Western Technology Inc and Clearstone Venture Partners).

Upon first glance, you'll find ThisNext has a real clean design, something we've come to expect from web 2.0 companies. Their site is an interesting mix of traditional shopping recommendations, social networking, and the buzzwordtastic "shopcasting". What is shopcasting? Well its basically a way for bloggers to integrate via a badge their recommendations from their own blog into the greater ThisNext network. So basically its mashing up shopping and broadcasting. Personally I think the buzzword, is dumb, just an attention play on podcasting, but none the less, the concept itself is both cool and useful. ThisNext's network of recommendations actually works pretty well, and is probably a product of good engineering and a solid algorithm, as I'm sure sorting through crap blogs and recommendations, to find the good stuff to recommend for people is not trivial.

Despite my general like for ThisNext, when I actually tried to use it for real holiday shopping, it came up rather short. I was looking for a new webcam to get my mother and law for Christmas, so I figured I'd give ThisNext a spin. Searching for "webcam" yielded about 20 results, none of which were very good recommendations. Searching for other products also produced results that weren't exactly spectacular. I did however find that browsing for products works well. So I suppose it depends on your intentions, if you are looking for something specific ThisNext possibly needs more traction before it will really can be super useful, on the other hand if you are more generally looking for just some cool product in an overall category ThisNext works pretty well.

At the end of the day, ThisNext is funded well, and has a great look, so it could become a leader in the land of social shoppping. It is a category that is rather crowded, and ThisNext isn't a total homerun (yet), so whether they can earn their valuation still remains to be seen. But at this stage in the game, ThisNext is off to a pretty decent start.




Monday, December 17, 2007

A Los Angeles based company has just announced the reception of an angel round of funding. TechCrunch reports that the funding is in at right around $750,000. The main idea of the company is to have not only book reviews but to base the book reviews (via social network) around friends.With the main premise that you would find a book review from a friend more useful than from a stranger.

The Good
There premise makes sense, in taking the time to read a book these days I couldn't care less what random people think about it, I would only take advice from friends, family, or just pick a book out of my own choosing. Secondly we all know the possibilities when 2 Stanford Graduates get together on an online project. In all seriousness there are some real good signs for this company; in around one year they have over 600,000 users and 10,000,000 book reviews, they are close to profitable, and best of all they have done all this without any formal funding.

The Bad
GoodReads has some stiff competition in Shelfari and Library Thing, and while I cannot claim that I am a member of any of these book networks I actually think that Shelfari looks a bit sleeker in terms of design. However that could easily be attributed to their association with Amazon and there plethora of funding. Also while I did find Goodreads easy to use I did not like seeing the reviews being pulled directly from a data base and having no personal oversight of this. What I mean by this is that you will have "Old Man and the Sea" reviews separated because some people are reviewing the paperback and others the hardcover even though they are the same book. What I found annoying about this is to get a good number of reviews you have to take the extra step of looking up 2 "different books" even though the story is identical.

The Overall

All in all GoodReads shows a whole lot of promise, they have accomplished more in one year without funding than many companies with years and millions. They are rapidly growing and I believe that if they use their funding wisely they will be in an excellent position to be the dominant book review social networking site.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's the holiday season, which means family, family and more family.  

So what better way to keep track of all those nieces, nephews and second cousins once removed then with, Los Angeles based Geni.  

For those that haven't heard of Geni, basically its a place where you can map your family tree web 2.0 style.  Meaning that its essentially one big social network where when I can add my mom, dad, siblings and whatever, which then will email them an invite so they too will add others, to complete the family tree.  Obviously this is viral at its best.  

Geni, has been around since the beginning of this year and has been growing at a predictably strong rate (well over 5 million 10 million profiles).  They announced at the beginning of this week via their blog that they are starting to allow your family tree to be viewable publicly.  I definitely think this is a good move, because it starts allowing you to show connections outside of Geni (via other social networks like facebook, myspace or whatever).  Geni so far has done a good job with privacy, so until they start making big mistakes like Facebook, I think most people will like having the ability to make their family tree visible.

So far the only major thing that is concerning is the valuation Geni received.  It was well covered in the technosphere that with Geni's 10M in funding from Charles River Ventures, Geni ended up being valued at 100 Million.  BizOrigin sums up the concerns pretty well and the only thing I'd add is that I really hope that the kind of expectations levels that people will have on Geni doesn't kill it.  Sure Geni COULD map the entire worlds relations, and it COULD become worth its 1 Billion in gold, but it also can still be pretty cool without achieving that level, and I hope they are allowed other options then 1B or bust.

Regardless of the numbers though, Geni is just cool to use.  It's not going to replace Facebook for heavy social network users, but it just may well be the first social app that baby boomers and older types will latch on to.  It does have competitors (established ones like myheritage and ancestry plus up and commers like itsourtree), but I actually think that Geni is the best of the bunch.  At any rate, if nothing else, Geni will be a cool thing to show my gramps when I see him for Christmas. 



Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Apparently Hulu is what you get when two of the major networks (NBC Universal and News Corp) get 100M to build a next gen Internet TV platform.  Hulu is well situated in the hub of the media industry basing itself in the center of Los Angeles.  Much like Gmail was for a long time, Hulu is currently in private beta, you need an invite to get access to Hulu.  Though again like Gmail if you really want access, invites aren't that hard to come by.

Once you do get into Hulu you might be surprised because it is considerable slicker, then TV viewing through the normal website of the various networks.  They are even beginning to add HD content, which is pretty cool in my book.  With over 100 programs offered from 15 TV stations they are off to a pretty good start with content.  Not every show has every episode available, which is annoying, but I'll cut them some slack since its still in private beta.  

One of the things that impresses me about Hulu, is that its a good show of faith that the entertainment industry is trying to adapt their business model around new channels as opposed to just fight it.  While nobody likes, watching ads, they are an important way to monetize content, and thus one of the primary mechanisms for entertainment types to get paid.  For a while, now there has been this fear that if you allowed people to share content, then you lost control of advertising.  Yet Hulu handles this issue quite well because they allow you to embed the tv shows outside of Hulu's main site, but there still is scheduled advertisement pauses so everyone gets paid, regardless of whether the video is embedded offsite or your watching it on  That seems fair to me, and as a consumer I can accept that.   Besides the inability to download to my ipod or whatever, they don't restrict where I can share Hulu videos online, and that freedom coming from a major network is a good step.

Of course its not all rosey pictures in the land of Hulu.  First off I hate the name (and a funny anecdote is that it means cease and desist in swahili).  And I really wonder about why the investment dollars were in the 100M range.  It seems the networks could have done something similar on their own site (in fact they sort of already do) for far less money.  Obviously everyone wants to compete with Youtube and Itunes as being sort of a universal place to distribute content, but I still think in some ways this was all overplayed a bit.  

In the end though Hulu is a step in the right direction by the big boys, and its good to see them trying to embrace the direction of technology.  In some ways just getting major organizations like NBC Universal and News Corp to both agree on the vision is pretty amazing.

If you want to see more screenshots of Hulu since its still in private beta: check out this review


Monday, December 10, 2007

Last week the LA Times and Mixx announced an alliance of sorts (Venture Beat), that while not necessarily revolutionary, adds interesting insight into the direction both old and new guard media are headed.  

As a recap for those not aware of Mixx, they are basically a Digg copy cat - a social media site where you vote for news items, articles, etc.     While Digg is the first and most dominant player in the category, they've been under a lot of fire as of late for allowing people to 'game' the system, and for various accusations of censorship.  This has opened the door for Mixx, a Virginia based company, that launched a private beta in September with 1.5M in first round funding.

The LA Times announcement is interesting for one thing because its another indication of major media realizing that their traditional model of delivery needs adjustment.  The LA Times has already been relatively progressive, especially compared to smaller outlets that sit on their thumbs preaching the old ways while their sales dwindle.  While the deal doesn't seem to add up to much more than a little Mixx icon at the bottom of LA Times articles, whats more telling is that the LA Times has chosen to invest in Mixx (the amount was not disclosed).  When one of the largest newspapers in the world chooses to invest in an online social media site, you know the weather is changing.    

For Mixx the announcement is an indication of how they plan to gain ground on Digg.  Mixx technologically speaking isn't really much different from Digg, so my initial impression with them when they launched a couple months ago, was that they didn't have anything largely noteworthy to convince people that they were better.  The LA Times deal, seems to point to a strategy of leaving the Digg model largely the same, but differentiate with better content.  This proves interesting, because while Digg is highly popular, it still largely just caters to the "tech" demographic.  Mixx, may break out the gates, by become the best social voting aggregator for actual news.  If that's true, this type of announcement is probably the first in a larger scale plan to integrate old guard news into Mixx and vice versa. 


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Buzznet, a social media network, originally founded in 2005, is certainly not a brand new startup, but this 3 year old Los Angeles based company is really beginning to take off. 

At its launch, Buzznet was really just a slightly more socialized version of Flickr, meaning thats it main focus seemed to be about sharing photos.  Since then Buzznet has transformed into a full on social networking platform and while it may not be as commonly known as Myspace or Facebook, its gaining some ground.  Nielsen ratings are putting Buzznet as one of the top 10 social media sites, with huge year over year growth.  Couple that with the announcement earlier this summer that Buzznet received it's second round of funding in the 6M range, partly from the same VC firm that has funded Myspace, and you've got a feeling these guys are on a good roll.

So what makes Buzznet so good?  Well for one thing it really does do most everything Myspace is doing only better.  Much like Myspace originally (and to some degree still is) focused specifically on music and media, Buzznet is now a general social networking site that sort of centers its community around artists and pop culture.  As opposed to the clean and simple look that Facebook takes or the clutter hell of Myspace, Buzznet is basically cool and sleek. It allows you to customize the look of your profile to a much higher degree then Facebook, but mostly manages to do it without looking as bad as Myspace.  Buzznet also has a deeper media interaction in its community than the likes of Myspace or Facebook because you can post things like photos, movies, audio, etc not just on your profile, but on other people's too (so as fan you could do things like create your own remix of your favorite band's song and post on their page).  

At the end of the day though, what makes us have the most faith in Buzznet is the adaptability they've shown.  They've evolved their site from a photo sharing community to a much more diversified social media platform.  If they continue their impressive growth, and management continues to show a pension for flexibility, they may be phased to take on the big boys soon.



Saturday, December 8, 2007

Los Angeles based,, launched two weeks ago as an online marketplace for consumers and business to rent and lend, just about anything.  So basically Ebay, but here you rent instead of buy.

Now first off, I'd like to say that the overall concept of building rental marketplace is good area for development, because there are plenty of industries where renting something is more attractive than buying it.  As a startup iRent2u positions itself in a good (and potentially large) niche, because although the online rental concept has been around forever, there is no clear market leader like there is in sale auctions(ebay, ebay ebay).  

However, unfortunately, I feel there are number of problems with what iRent2u currently has released.  While the site itself works okay, it is far from revolutionary; it has the look and feel of  a web service from 1999, not 2007.  As much as we like to cheer for the local guys, Zilok or Rentmineonline currently beat iRent2u hands down (both of which were covered in TechCrunch).   While Rentmineonline is basically confined to housing, they focus on community experience as a way to add value to rental services with strong tie-ins to social networking through their Facebook app.  Zilok is sort of at the other end of the spectrum, in that it is a general rental market like iRent2u, but its far more engaging because it is heavily localized with their interface driven through their Google map mashup.  And while social networking or mashups are not a prerequisite to doing a good rental marketplace, they both illustrate the power of emerging web technology, that iRent2u seems light on.

This really leads into the larger concern I have with iRent2u - their team makeup.  A basic browsing of their about page shows the people that have been directly involved in iRent2u (management and interns) are very heavily weighted on the business side and very light on the technology side.  And while MBAs can produce great technology (just like many technologists have become some of the best business leaders in the world), its hard to innovate with bad balance.  iRent2u, product is clearly technology driven, so the obvious question is: are the placing enough importance on engineering?  From their beta release, I'm not sure. 

In the end, I've thrown some relatively harsh constructive criticism at iRent2u because they theoretically, are more then just a me-too service, they've in fact chosen an area ready for innovation.  iRent2u is just now in beta, so they definitely have plenty of time to be flexible and really bust out the gates of the online rental world.  Ultimately, their challenge now is to take a good idea, and turn it from an okay test release, to a revolutionary, innovative, web platform.



Friday, December 7, 2007

Early this year, serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis (of Weblogs fame) launched Mahalo, based in Santa Monica, Ca.  It's been in alpha since May, and I figured it was about time to give it a good rundown.

Mahalo is "a human powered search engine", which basically means they pay people to write custom search results pages. Think of it sort of as Google meets Yahoo Directory meets Wikipedia (in fact their technology is based off the Wikimedia engine). 

When using their site I did sample queries on everything from popular items like "ipod" to more obscure things like "Tech Coast Review". For the queries that did come up with custom results pages, I generally liked the format, its a nice cross between wiki informative and good links that you'd expect in search results. I personally also found the interface with a sort of soft Hawaiian theme quite attractive, although I'm not sure that it will have mass appeal.

But, I've got to say I don't think Mahalo will ever scale to the point of being valuable enough to displace a search engine.  I've seen Jason respond on some of the blogs that you get the best of both worlds, because Mahalo shows other search engine results if they don't have a custom page.  But my response is thats not good enough, I'm not going to waist my time using something other than Google unless its a heck of lot more useful to me.  If most of the time I'm just looking at Google results on Mahalo, then I might as well just stick with using the Google platform (to which we all are getting further and further ingrained with).  
And thats really the crux of it is that they have maybe 10,000 custom pages now and a goal 40,000 custom pages by the end of 2008, but compare this with stats that float around saying Google responds to a billion searches a day with over 25% being new keywords, and you have a startup the clearly is not trying to be a search engine.  So what is their real value, content?  Maybe, but they are currently employing 40 "guides" and paying something like 15 dollars per page written.  While I'm sure there are plenty of out of work screen play writers in Santa Monica that will try to make a few bucks, I still don't see the content getting to the place where it will have mass appeal.  Unless of course this whole exercise is a Search Engine Optomization play.  

Ultimately, for someone with such a "proven track record", I'm a bit disappointed.  Interestingly, Mahalo has gotten mostly favorable reviews.  The usually trustworthy TechCrunch gave a very flowery review, maybe as a results of Jasons partnership with them.  They even went so far as kicking a respected technologists off the TechCrunch 20 review panel for being too overly critical of Mahalo.  Even more interesting is that apparently the media is not the only one star struck by this venture.  Mahalo is so well funded apparently, that they can go 4 years without making a dime.  I have to wonder that unless Mahalo's business plan has some secret ace up the sleeve, the VCs might have been a bit too smitten with Jason's previous successes.  


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Marina Del Ray based Guidance, recently released a survey saying that nearly half (41%) of all holiday shoppers consider price the single most important factor in choosing where to buy online.  Obviously.  So while we chalk the PR they sent us up as sad link bait, I'll give in and make note of it because its a good season to brush up on shopping 2.0.

So, what is shopping 2.0?  Well its the same cloudy description of web 2.0 applied directly to shopping ;-) 

Shopping as a platform: Metasearching/comparison engines in shopping are actually a very well developed segment; definitely an area that takes the concepts of: data is king and information is key, to a very practical level.  Unlike a lot of other emerging 2.0 type segments, the top sites here, have a LOT of traction with users, and they have proven revenue.  Maybe important to note is that somehow people seem to understand the difference between a shopping metasearch engine and shopping storefronts like Amazon;  I say amazing, because other areas that do metasearch have a hard time explaining what makes them different (travel metasearch engines for example are commonly confused with sites like Expedia).  Anyways,  here are some sites in this category that of note: Jellyfish, shopping comparison that shares revenue with consumers.  Yokel focuses on local search for your shopping needs.  And of course the ever cuddly Google has a semi decent comparison engine with Froogle, though I think Shopzilla is cooler, and have to give credit to MySimon (or even local PriceGrabber) for being around before anyone had caught on to much of what makes 2.0 such a trend now.   

Harnessing collective shopping intelligenceCrowdstorm is aggregating content to help users research products.  FatWallet has a giant community centered around sharing shopping deals.  And up until recently JudysBook was a nice combo of user generated reviews and user shared shopping deals.  The important thing here is the "recently" part, as Judy's Book just closed shop (after secure 10 million in VC funding - ouch).  This is particularly relevant because it shows how even with a decent amount of traction, user generated content (UGC) is hard to reach a critical mass where it can be monetized.  I definitely think UGC is going to be a major direction of the future, but its way early at the mass adoption level, and thus very few are pulling it off successfully. 

By the way a good blog that follows this stuff is ProbargainHunter (you can find their latest stats about shopping comparison engines here and about deal sites here) .
Oh and a final note: unfortunately, besides PriceGrabber (who sits as the 5th most popular shopping comparison engine and could hardly be considered a recent startup entry) I'm not aware of anybody in the Techcoast innovating in the online shopping space, feel free to let me know if there are any shopping startups from the Techcoast that should be profiled..  -UPDATE: someone sent me a note about Aliso Viejo based  No I didn't forget about them, they just are as Wikipedia puts it "an original multi-channel online retailer" or said another way, they aren't doing anything innovative or original in the shopping 2.0 space- 


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Los Angeles/San Francisco based WooMe recently went from private test mode to open to the public.  The concept is basically speed dating, meets video conferencing, meets social networking. Due to their inclusion in the TechCrunch top 40 they have received a good amount of online press (VentureBeat, Mashable,  SomewhatFrank, et all) and this is evident with over 50,000 "speed introductions" in their first two weeks of being live.

The basic premise is that you get to chat with people of the opposite sex for 1 minute and decide on which ones woo'd you. Then for only 1 dollar you can contact them and get your real date on.

The Good:
Testing Woome went very smoothly.  There was never a hiccup, the service was fast and responsive during the stream. I also really liked woome's look, it definitely is a nice update to dating 1.0 sites like or eharmony. In genernal, I think, Woome's concept is well executed, and caters perfectly to the new generation who have short attention spans, gravitate toward speed dating, and are used to Myspace/Facebook.  Also compared to something like eharmony, you can't beat the price.

The Bad:
I've never really used a dating site to find a date but my general impression is that it must suck.  I could elaborate on the guy to girl ratio problem, the question of what kind of people you are me
eting who are using a 60 second webcam slot to figure out who to meetup with, and on and on - but I suppose people already know this.  This is probably why video based speed dating hasn't attracted much interest before.   Sometimes when something new comes out, its because the idea hasn't really been explored before or because the technology isn't ready, in this case I figure the 10 billion dollar dating industry has basically consider video technology and left it in the ring for pornstars and the like.

Woome is the first to the concept of speed dating 2.0, so you've got to give them credit.  They also have a definate coolness factor that other dating services lack.  Finally you really can't beat the price (1 dollar per person you are interested in) and its a refreshingly different business model.  But at the end of the day I'm not sure that any of this is enough to bring dating to the masses (but hey what do I know, I'm not single).



Monday, December 3, 2007

San Diego based startup has recently lanched as the "raddest sports social network ever".  Yes the tag line is lame, but we've got a bit of a soft spot for this startup.  Social Network me-toos are popping up everywhere, but Loopd has the potential to carve out a nice little niche.  The action sports industry has been experiencing rapid growth and while southern california may not be the tech powerhouse the valley is, it is the action sports hub.  Loopd is well located to bring in some great clients, and they have already brought in a respectable list that includes: Surfer Mag Hot100, PacSun, Oakley, and Monster Energy Drinks.  

Although Loopd isn't opened for anyone to create an action sports network (ala Ning, Flux, or Kickapps), they have much in common with these traditional whitelabel social networks.  When you create a user account, it is shared across the different Loopd Networks.  Meaning that their is a seamless transition between say the Surfer Hot100 Network and the PacSun Network.  This also means that each community can gain traction by the shared ecosystem; a general win-win for community building.  And while the shared base can be problematic for unrelated communities on Ning, it actually works real well within the related mix of action sports communities in Loopd.

From a user perspective, the Loopd experience is mostly quite nice.  It has an attractive and clean interface, that merges a good web2.0 social look with a "rad" action sports theme.  Creating an account was problematic at first when using Safari, but after another try, it was smooth sailing.  Loopd also performed quite fast, which was a nice change from some social networks (cough * myspace * cough).  
All that said, Loopd will have stiff competition from much bigger social networking platforms like Flux or Ning.  Particularly with the weight of Viacom behind Flux, one has to wonder if building a semi walled garden of action sports social communities, will be enough to keep Loopd's partners from moving to a larger, more general social network platform.  I for one hope not, but I wonder what Loopd will be able to offer it's content partners to keep them onboard.  

At the end of the day, if Loopd can successfully carve out a niche of bringing web 2.0 type social networking capabilities to the rapidly growing action sports industry, they might be one of those startups that end up being in the right place at the right time.



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