Pick 6: Hot New Startups Face Off at Web 2.0 Summit

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At the Web 2.0 Summit this afternoon, six web sites were featured in the Launch Pad competition for web startups. Each of the web companies was given a five-minute slot to make the case for its site or service, and business plan. Some were better than others, but it was interesting to see some brand new spins on the Web 2.0 concept.

I'm going to omit the first presentation, from Carbonetworks.com, because it's not a consumer-focused site. The site helps corporations control carbon emissions, and trade carbon offsets and credits.

The best way to understand what Everyscape is trying to do is think of Google Street View, then add the ability to virtually leave the street and explore the insides of the shops, restaurants and other businesses adjacent to it. The company actually goes out into the streets with its cameras and takes GPS-tagged pictures, including from inside the businesses.

So, using Everyscape, you could look up a restaurant on the internet, check out the menu, then go into the 3D representation of the place to see whether you like the vibe of the place. You can also send this experience to a friend and post notes inside the virtual environment ("if the place is crowded meet me right here by the bar at 8:30").

Everyscape was also demonstrated on the iPhone; the use of the touch screen gestures to navigate through various Everyscape locations was truly impressive. Whether it is Everyscape or some other company, this method of representing real places digitally on the Internet is something I'm sure we'll use regularly in the future.

GoodGuide is founded on the idea that we know very little about the products we buy at the supermarket, beyond what the makers tell us with their marketing mumbo jumbo. So GoodGuide is an easy-to-use website where you can punch in a given product, and get back the chemical make-up of the product (got carcinogens?), the Green credibility of the company that makes it (is the manufacturing process eco-friendly?) and the social consciousness of the company that makes it (is the product made with child labor?).

GoodGuide scores products on all of these things (providing specific data in each area), and a composite score. What really turned me on was the new iPhone app, which the company during their Launch Pad presentation. This means that you can get all the GoodGuide information on your phone when you are actually in the aisles of the grocery store. And the design of the iPhone app just couldn't have been simpler. It starts with general product types, then lets the user quickly move through the hierarchical menu system to get to the specific product they're considering.

A friend of mine hipped me to this site a few days ago, so I was pleased to see them in the Launch Pad competition here. Predictify is an online platform where users enter their best guesses on anything from who will be elected president, to what consumer confidence numbers will be in six months, to whether Brittney Spears will have another baby in 2009.

The freaky thing is that Predictify's version of the "wisdom of the crowd" model is that it typically yields eerily accurate predictions. For instance, the site's users have predicted major economic shifts more accurately than economics experts on several occasions. Sites like the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle are using a Predictify widget to allow readers to make predictions about news stories. I signed up for the site a few days ago and made a few predictions; I'm not sure if I was right, but my voice was heard and it was fun. I suspect Predictify will pick up a lot more traffic in coming months, and that the site's predictive powers will be all the better for it.

Up next was Qik. This startup helps people share live cell phone video quickly and simply. Application: a couple in India broadcasts live cell phone video at the Qik website so that Grandma in America can watch, and, conceivably, send back her own live cell phone video. I must say that the service looked really simple to use--it took the presenter all of two seconds to begin streaming video of the audience to the Qik website at the very start of the presentation.

After you are finished streaming your video live over Qik, the video is automatically archived at the site. And, if you set it up to do so, Qik sends the videos to YouTube, your blog, or to your page on Facebook. Using Qik does not require a fancy smartphone--an inexpensive Java-based cell phone will do, many of which carriers are selling for almost nothing with a new contract.

The last company to present was a bit of an oddity, although the VC panelists seemed to love it. Sungevity is a platform that helps you order solar panels for your home, then organizes the installation. The site uses a Google Earth-type satellite application to locate your house, so that it can suggest the best kind of solar panel for the climate you live in. You buy the panel with a credit card online, then Sungevity ships the hardware to you and arranges for a local technician to install it.

Sungevity says the whole process can take as little as three weeks. The company says it simplifies the distribution channel (bypasses middlemen) which lowers costs for the customer. From a Web 2.0 perspective Sungevity seems kind of boring, but the idea of using the Internet to ease the process of moving folks over to greener energy is undeniably laudable.

Then it was time for the voting. Everybody in the ballroom was asked to vote on the most compelling startup by sending in a text message. They did. I voted for Qik; but my second favorite, GoodGuide, won the prize. Much deserved.

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