Favorite Startups from TechCrunch50 Conference

I've spent the morning walking around at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco. The conference is a great opportunity to get a look at young and innovative tech companies, all of which were pre-screened by the good people at TechCrunch. I saw perhaps 20 presentations this morning, either through one-on-ones in the "Demo Pit" here, or given onstage in the main hall. These were my favorites, and the ones I think we'll be hearing more about.

Watchdox (www.watchdox.com) is an online service that gives you more control over what happens to your documents, after you send them out. This is especially nice when you're sending documents that contain important or sensitive information. Before sending, the service turns your doc into a Flash doc, then lets you set rules on how it can be used. Once it's sent out Watchdox lets you track the usage of the document. For example, a sales executive could send out a proposal to a client, monitor when and where the doc was opened and viewed, whether or not it was printed out (if the sender allowed this), and who the document was forwarded to. Perhaps the coolest thing in Watchdox is to track your doc on a GPS map. If your doc was forwarded to somebody in Chicago, Watchdox decects the approximate location of the IP address it was sent to, then puts an icon over that point on a map. Mouse over the icon and Watchdox gives you the quick details of who did what with the document.

Spawn Labs (www.spawnlabs.com) trotted out a new product here that can be described as a SlingBox for gaming, with some social networking tricks built in. The Spawn HD-720 ($199) is a set top box that hooks into your Xbox, Xbox360, PS2, PS3 or Game Cube, and sends your console games over a broadband connection to whereever you may be, allowing you to play your beloved games when you are traveling. The HD-720 allows your games to play in HD on your laptop; you can bring your game controller on the road with you or just use the keys on your laptop as a controller. The box also allows you to play 2-player games with your friend across town or across the country, as long as he has a broadband connection. All you have to do is send an email invite to the friend authorizing him to play games on your console. If people are as attached to their games as they are to their cable channels at home--and I think many are--this box could be every bit as popular (and possibly as controversial) as the SlingBox.

ToonsTunes (www.toonstunes) is one of numerous startups here trying to woo the (huge) kids' social networking and gaming markets. ToonsTunes is a virtual world for kids 6-12 years old, and features a compelling mix of virtual life, social media and gaming, but the premise of the thing is really built around music. When you log in, you're presented with a virtual world that looks like a cartoon depiction of a mall, but this mall contains a recording studio and a rock club. In the limited demo I got, my character, or avatar, first entered the recording studio and made a song with an

interface that is something like GarageBand for little kids. It was easy and fun. You just pick your favorite drums, bass and guitar loops, add your own vocals with your laptop mic, and ToonsTunes mixes it down. The next step is to take your new hit song and perform it in front of an audience across the mall in the rock club. Of course, you can share your songs with your little buddies, and invite them to see you play live. Yep, it's kid stuff, but ToonsTunes contains so much stuff kids love all in one place, from the eye candy animation to the music, that it might make a lot of the green stuff later on.

Junk Cloud (www.junkcloud.com) is a free web service that turns your classified ad (Craigslist, Facebook, etc.) into an auction. Junk Cloud lets you affix a little "Bid" button onto your classified ad. When people want to bid on your product, they hit the Bid button and are then taken to the Junk Cloud site to enter their bid. The listing at Junk Cloud also shows the current high bid and the bidding history. This could be a cool app for those who are used to selling their stuff online but often don't have a clear idea how much the item could be worth. Instead of just selling to the first taker, Junk Cloud provides a way for the market to decide the real worth of the item. Score.

iAte (www.iAte.com) is one of the more interesting Twitter-inspired services I saw today, and I saw a lot of Twitter influence here. iAte simply aggregates everything people say about food and restaurants on Twitter (people say a lot about food and restaurants on Twitter) and makes it into a searchable knowledge base. Especially if you are traveling and don't know the local spots, you can type in a prospective eating spot and find out what people said--many times immediately after or even during the meal. The relevant tweets at iAte contain links to menus, reviews and photos of restaurants. You can also use iAte as a tool to remember the places you've liked in the past, by tweeting your dining experiences and impressions to the site. To do this you might tweet: "@iAte awesome beef brisket at the Screendoor in St. Louis." iAte would then detect the restaurant and import photos of it. At the iAte site, people can opt in to follow you on your eating adventures, and you can do likewise to people whose palates you find interesting.

Out of all the new tech companies exhibiting here, the TechCrunch people will name one overall winner and hand them a $50,000 check at an awards ceremony here tomorrow night. I wouldn't be too surprised if the winner was one of the companies discussed above. My prediction? ToonsTunes.

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