Vancouver Democamp 05 Recap

It was a slightly smaller crowd last night for Democamp 05 (held last night at Workspace), but still standing room only no less lively and interesting. “How many newbies do we have tonight?” asked Megan Cole to the crowd; a quarter of the room raises their hand. Only four demos are volunteered at first, but after Boris Mann explained the informal and ad-hoc nature of the event, he coaxed three more up. Pseudo-anonymous sticky note voting narrowed the list back down to four, and the demos began:

Twemes (a portmanteau of “Twitter” and “memes”) is a Twitter tag aggregator, impressively built in a weekend by Rochelle Grayson and Geoff Meredith. Twitter users can tag words in their tweets (messages) with a pound/hash symbol (#), and Twemes groups those messages by tag. Those unfamiliar with Twitter could be forgiven for getting lost in the terminology, but to experienced Twitter users, the value was easy to see. Twemes is not the only aggregator of it’s kind, but seems well fleshed out for an early stage side project.

Localiti is Jason Murphy’s concept for an web/desktop application that promises to redefine communication and messaging. It seeks to do this by combining different messaging sources (email, instant messaging, social networks) and presenting them in a per-person context. Jason’s vision was that Localiti would “subsume email”. The presentation included only one interface mock-up among slides of bullet points and symbolistic diagrams, so it wasn’t clear how the app would actually behave. However, the concept seemed well thought out and is probably deserving of deeper explanation. Jason is looking for partners to move the concept forward.

Pulse is Something Simpler’s first Facebook application built on their Pubsub Matching Engine. It uses information about your favorite music artists to give recommendations on new albums and upcoming concerts. Pulse’s clever URL (http://pul.se) is matched by an equally clever interface widget: a volume knob. Low volume gives a shorter list of most relevant items, high volume gives a longer list with more peripheral suggestions. The list is available through RSS and the application is advertising free; their business model is based on affiliate sales of albums and tickets. The underlying engine that powers Pulse seems fairly sophisticated, I sense it has greater potential to solve more interesting problems.

Last up was Brendan Wilson presenting Scannerfly, a Flash component that turns any webcam into a barcode scanner. He explains how reading a barcode from a low-quality image is a difficult problem to solve, but a video demo shows that it’s dead simple for the end user: hold a product up to your webcam, centering the barcode in an outlined box, and it scans instantly. Webcam barcode scanning isn’t entirely new, but this is the first time it has been integrated into a Flash on the web. Possible applications: personal library cataloguing, obtaining product information, product reordering, or even point of sale software. A question is asked if this would work on mobile phones; Brendan replies affirmatively, adding that mobile phone cameras are outpacing webcams in becoming higher quality. Brendan said the software was “almost finished”, patents are pending, and that he had some licensing deals in the works.

While it wasn’t pre-arranged, three of the four demos at this Democamp had a common theme of data aggregation. It was an interesting coincidence but shows a popular trend in web applications. Information technologies have given us open access to great masses of data, at times too great. In such quantity, the value of data itself is low, but there is great potential for services to remix, mashup, and repurpose that data, adding value to it.

The next Democamp will be at a yet-to-be-determined date in late March, but will have a pre-determined topic: gaming.

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