[I am returning to my old 3 threes review format for conferences, starting with this week’s TechCrunch50. This format involves a description of the three most interesting, challenging, or compelling companies, people, and ideas from the event.]
What ever happened to awesome?
Maybe it’s just me getting old and curdudgeonly, but I had hoped that I would see 10 or so really interesting products debuted at TechCrunch50. Instead, the most fun I had was talking to returnees (like David Sachs of Yammer) and hearing what their plans were for third generation products. The awesome start-ups just weren’t there.
Microsoft (Bing) — It’s unusual for me to praise Microsoft, but the newly announced Bing Visual Search was very impressive: the first Microsoft technology I’ve really imagined using since OneNote.
The service arrays results of certain searches in tables of images — like womens shoes, or other products — and provides controls to allow the searcher to change characteristics unique to the search domain to further refine the search results. Very impressive.
Threadsy — I think that the first company to come up with the right way to allow infovores (or ‘onfovores’) to manage their ever-expanding streams of links, recommendations and commentary will become the next big thing. No one so far has cracked that code. I thought that Threadsy was the best candidate at the show, however. And the company was runner-up in the final judging, so I guess others agreed.
AnyClip — I love the idea of being able to access any scene in any movie, since I am constantly pulling out movie references. AnyClip seems geared to supporting my addiction in exactly that way. As the judges said at the presentation, if they can work out all the agreements with the studios this is going to be a great service. And the demo showed that it really worked.
Mike Arrington/Jason Calacanis — Mike Arrington’s meltdown in the final 20 minutes of the conference was extremely odd (although consonant with Arrington’s Murdoch-like media baron persona), and highlighted Jason Calacanis’ showmanship, by contrast. I found myself wondering if the meltdown was staged, at first, but I guess it wasn’t just a ploy for press attention, but appears to be a real business breakdown between the two, and it means the end of Techcrunch50 as a conference, apprently.
George Zachary — A difficult choice for the best judge, considering that the group including Yossi Vardi, Ron Conway, Don Dodge, Bradley Horowitz, Sean Parker, and a dozen other luminaries. Chamillionaire proved himself capable of holding his own, in this crowd, by the way.
Penn Gillette — Penn Gillette appeared to show off his new iPhone app, which seemed pretty lame. However, he wins the award for his one liner. When asked what he was going to do next, which was intended as a question regarding the business behind the app, he responded “I guess I will go to Vegas and shoot some guns at my partner.”
Dolls Are Scary — I found the obsession with toys and dolls creepy (see TechCrunch 50: Digital Bedtime Stories Are Icky). More importantly, showcasing this niche, as opposed to general purpose Web 2.0 apps, suggested to me that we aren’t seeing as many products intended to be worldbeaters.
Maybe 50 Is Too Many? — Cramming 50 companies into two days meant that the conference started early, ran late, and the companies only had 6 minutes for their pitches. Despite 50 sounding like a small number, I came away feeling like ten or fifteen less — like the original TechCrunch40 — might have been better. Moot now, since the event seems to be headed for the dustbin of history.
The Flow Is Still A Torrent — No one has solved the stream problem: how to effectively throttle the stream so that people can stay on top without drowning. It might be interesting if there was a conference dedicated just to this issue, and showcasing various approaches. (Jason… are you listening? You don’t need Arrington for this.)
Techcrunch50 in Retrospect
So, a few days have passed. I have given away all the tchotchkes and washed all the tshirts (Zark get’s kudos for best shirt, by the way). Looking back, it really didn’t amount to much. No staggeringly beautiful SlideRocket, no enterprise-suitable Yammer, no crowd-pleasing Twitter client breakthrough.
Perhaps its a sign of the times. San Francisco and the attendant tech scene is under the cloud of the econolypse. Despite the bonhomie and attempts at pressing on, the layoffs, stillborn companies, and career wreckage is taking a toll. The investors and entrepreneurs that were preaching thrift and ‘longer runway’ last fall seem to be in a perpetual state of enforced optimism, but the tech start-up scene seems low energy now.
The high points for me were discussions with more established companies, like Yammer, and hearing what David Sachs, their CEO, is contemplating for next year and beyond. Or seeing serial entrepreneur Brian Alvey, former CTO of Weblogsinc, take another run at blogging with his Crowd Fusion. While these are young companies, they are not blazing a trail in the wilderness, defining a new product category.
So maybe it’s a time of consolidation and small advances. If so, Techcrunch 50 was the perfect show.