DEMO Wrap Up: 7 New Social Startups to Watch

The DEMO Spring 2011 conference wrapped up yesterday in Palm Springs, and echoing the current climate in the Valley, day two of the conference belonged to startups focused on social technologies. From social CRM platforms, photo sharing, and social networks to aggregation and reader engagement tools to video and group chat, the day’s startups showed that the interest in the “social” Web only continues to blossom.

Here, in no particular order, is a look at seven new interesting startups worth keeping an eye on:

  1. Marginize: Marginize is a browser add-on that allows you to annotate Websites and to leave comments, adding a social layer to every site you visit. The user can add or join an existing “margin” layer to browse and discover what others have said about the site you’re visiting. You can leave a comment or browse those left by others.

    The widget is similar to other real-time commenting platforms (like, say, Disqus), except that Marginize puts interaction and commentary back into the hands of the individual user, rather than allowing the owner of the Web site to control and moderate what’s said. In a way, Marginize is akin to a private Twitter feed for Yelp, because the widget creates this pop-out tab (or “margin”) on the side of every Website, where users can provide supplementary information about the site, write reviews, or discuss the site’s credibility.

    Though the company launched six months ago (and was mentioned even before that on TC by Don Dodge), yesterday at DEMO they announced an amendment to their product strategy, now offering publishers and content creators a chance to enter the game. The company added a “publisher widget”, which allows publishers to seamlessly insert the feature on any Website so that the tab is visible to both publishers and users. The idea behind Marginize itself may not be new, but the product has an eminent usability and interface that sets it apart from those that came before it.

  2. Gut Check: In today’s digital world, the traditional methods of market research have become too cumbersome, expensive, and too much of a drain on manpower. Gut Check, the winner of DEMO’s “People’s Choice Award” (and $1 million in free advertising from IDG publications) is a DIY research tool that allows companies to conduct qualitative research, like focus groups, over the Web.

    Users define the type of audience they want to canvass from an exhaustive list of categories, and Gut Check then uses the profile to select a targeted group from their bullpen of 5 million research participants. Following that, the service allows you to perform interactive interviews with individual participants through its portal while sharing images and asking questions.

    At $40-per-session, I can see this relatively cheap tool coming in handy for both big and small companies that make frequent updates to their products or services and want to gather feedback from a targeted consumer in near real-time.

  3. Enterproid: Divide by Enterproid, Qualcomm’s QPrize winner, is software that allows busy professionals to finally start using their personal phone for business needs. Unfortunately, many of the Web 2.0 tools people use on their personal phones are not backed by corporate IT, and security compliances prohibit the use of many apps and features you would like to use in a professional setting. To resolve this issue, Enterproid adds an entire, separate enterprise section to your phone, which contains its own email, calendar, contacts, messaging and browser apps that encrypts — and can securely access — all your corporate data.

    The Enterproid apps appear as a separate home screen, yet enables both your enterprise and personal homescreens to be aware of each other, alerting you if you receive a personal email while in the enterprise section, for example. Enterproid also offers a set of rules that can be accessed by the corporate IT department, allowing IT to change security setting and shut off access to a particular app when worried about security issues. Though VMWare is planning a virtualization platform that allows a user to have two profiles on an Android phone, Enterproid’s platform is likely to be very appealing for small businesses, especially in terms of cost optimization, as employees can now keep their personal phones for business.

  4. Television is, by nature, a social experience, often enjoyed in the company of friends and family. However, social television technologies have by-and-large failed to take off, seemingly launching before the average TV viewer is ready for them. eLive Entertainment applies social technology to the Web with a free site that allows you to show videos from YouTube and other video sites to your friends, while encouraging interaction and commenting on what you’re watching.

    Users can pull in videos and annotate them with voice-overs, drawing mark-ups, or add typed comments in a dialogue box. Videos can be slowed down to enable this annotation, made into links that can later be shared, stored on-demand, watched simultaneously, and synced with Facebook, Twitter, and Google. While it may still be too early for a social TV solution to gain mainstream adoption, enabling an interactive and social viewing experience on the Web is a very appealing idea.

  5. HeyStaks: Many in the tech industry and beyond have become disillusioned with the current state of search. Content farms litter search with annoying links, with seemingly little being done to disrupt search as Google did when it first hit the Web. Heystaks, a new search startup, hopes to be a part of the evolution by making search social — and not simply by searching social data, like Tweets and photos, as others have done, but by using your social community to drive better results.

    HeyStaks uses a comprehensive back-end social search algorithm to drive highly relevant community filtered recommendations. The idea was developed over a number of years by group of scientists in Ireland and is now teamed up with Jonathan Dillon, former VP of M&A/Integration at Yahoo!. Dillon was part of the team that acquired Delicious, which offered a scaled-down (and relatively unsuccessful) version of Heystaks beginning in 2005. Part of the reason it didn’t take off, according to Dillon, was that social graphs and networks were not yet as pervasive as they are today.

    HeyStaks hopes to leverage the now more mature social graphs and collaboration technologies not by becoming a search engine, but by improving your Google and Bing results through the addition of community-sourced content to the top of those pages. To target those with a common goal or shared interests to better parse results, users can create “search staks”, or collections of the best Web pages from a group of users on a particular topic. These “staks” can be made public and easily shared with colleagues and friends via email, Twitter, or kept private or shared on an invite-only basis. Heystaks currently offers an iPhone app, a Firefox plug-in, and a Chrome extension still in alpha. I’m not positive that this can work, but the presentation was intriguing. Check it out here.

  6. With the growing influence of Facebook’s social graph, several DEMO startups became advocates for the value of incorporating the social network into both our personal and professional circles. So, for good measure, I’m including a bonus: Two startups that caught my attention for how they’re attempting to improve upon the Facebook experience — both at home and at work.

  7. FetchFans is a social media design engine that allows businesses to create custom-branded pages on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media in an effort to make them look more professional. FetchFans targets companies with multiple holdings in, say, the form local branches. Specific customer demographics can vary regionally (think real estate companies), so FetchFans offers ten specially designed Facebook page templates branded to the parent company, which localized representatives can choose from and modify according to their particular needs. Targeted at social e-commerce with add-ons like chat, photos, video, and real-time lead generation, this service looks like a great way to improve upon the somewhat underwhelming state of business profiles on today’s social networks.
  8. Pixable’s Photofeed is a free application for the iPad that provides curated, personalized streams of photos, like “top photos of the day”, displaying them in a full-size, one-touch, swipe-through format. During their demo, the startup said that there are 60 billion photos on Facebook and 5 billion photos are added each month, making it difficult to sort through them all to find what you’re looking for.

    Pixable’s WonderRank technology, which reminds me of Pandora’s Music Genome, takes your friends’ photos and analyzes the metadata associated with the photos (think “likes” and comments) to create combined and categorized viewing, as well as an easier way to rank and discover new photos. The app also allows you to like, comment, or tag photos, follow your closest friends, and receive alerts when they upload new photos. Knowing the importance of photos to Facebook’s overall success (and evolution), I wonder if Pixable could become a potential target for acquisition? We’ll see.

Check out Day 1 coverage here.

Photo Credit: Rodrigo Pena