On Tuesday, I was one of the judges for two different sessions at TechCrunch50: Mobile and Language and Communication Tools. Doing the sessions was kinda fun, and I was glad to be a part—especially alongside Tim O'Reilly, Josh Kopelman, Om Malik, and Rafe Needleman, who co-judged the sessions I was on.
It was a little be strenuous both to see the presentations and hear them. It was also tricky to be insightful and provide meaningful feedback in such a short period of time. I find most of the implications of a product or company, if it's really interesting, aren't immediately obvious. You need to have some time to sit with it. If you have a really good presenter, he or she can help get those non-obvious implications across. But if the presentation is unpracticed or hard to understand, there could be a great idea hidden underneath that doesn't shine through—especially in this sort of rapid-fire environment.
For that reason, I'm writing up a few more notes on the companies I judged. I still haven't thought about them too much (too busy thinking about other stuff). But nonetheless...
MyTopia is not what it looks like from the web site. While it looks like a games/virtual world site, what they presented was a very impressive-sounding development platform that lets you write once and deploy native apps to iPhone/Symbian/Palm/Java mobile phones...and more. They started out with the games and created this platform for their own use (which wasn't apparent until I talked to the founder later). They got beat up a little for lack of focus. But I'm big believer in side projects that scratch your own itch. And if what they built really works, it's extremely valuable. I'd definitely check it out for Twitter's purposes.
Tonchidont/SekaiCamera was just wacky. It's amazing if it works. There was no way to really tell. And an unfortunate language barrier kept us from getting the reassurance we needed. It may have deserved to win the whole thing, but there was too much left to the imagination. Definitely an entertaing presentation, though, and it's a glimpse of the future that I hope they pull it off.
MobClix is a straightforward business that has a clear value proposition (tracking usage of iPhone apps) and looks very well done. It didn't blow anyone's socks off, I think because it's not particularly sexy. Also, there's some clear competition. If I'd developed an iPhone app, I'd look into using it, though.
Fitbit, the unanimous winner of this session, was fantastic from my point of view—for many reasons. I'm a firm believer that giving people data on their behavior will change their behavior. In fact, If I wasn't working on Twitter, I'd likely be doing something to give people more data on their behavior. Fitbit gives people data in an area where people generally have no data and where many people need (and want to) change their behavior. And it looked (from afar) to be very well-designed. (I've already ordered two.)
AlfaBetic is in theory a good idea. In practice, I'm not sure if it will work or not. It didn't hit any of my hot buttons, and it was hard to tell how well it was done. Best of luck to them, but this wasn't their stage.
Postbox is a new email client. It looked pretty slick. But I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I'm very open to the idea of new approaches to email. Unfortunately I didn't really see a new approach here—just some UI niceties. If you're going to do something as bold as take on email, I think you need to be more radical. That said, I'll definitely check it out when it launches. Maybe it'll still be a worthwhile improvement.
Swype was the winner of the second category. It was a new way to input text on a touchscreen that's faster than current methods. Obviously a big need, and it seemed well done. Their success largely depends on their ability to do OEM deals, which is impossible to judge. One big reason I voted for them is because it's from the inventor of T9. From what I understand, T9 was/is an amazing business. Of course, it's completely dependent on having patents and defending them, so I have mixed feeling about that.
Dropbox underwhelmed me—not because it was poorly done or there wasn't a need. It just seemed like well-covered territory. Sharing files amongst multiple computers? Uploading to the cloud? Haven't we seen that? I use FolderShare and am pretty happy with it. But then, there's no clear winner in that world, so that might indicate there's still a huge opportunity. Just not hugely innovative.
Devunity seems like it might be very cool. Although, I couldn't devine that from the presentation. From what I understand, the idea is it's a collaborative development environment. Instead of just moving a code editor to the web, it takes advantage of the network and lets people collaborate on development projects much more easily. Seems like a neat idea. I have no idea how well it works. But I'd check it out.
All in all, the quality of the products seemed quite high—even though the quality of the presentations varied a lot. (That's okay; I'd rather see people spend time on the former.) Best of luck to all.