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2/7/2006
07:53 PM
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Reporter's Notebook: Google Casts Shadow Over Demo Show

Many companies making pitches at the showcase for new technology try to latch onto Google's success.

Google wasn't presenting at Demo 2006 today but it was very much present. Of more than 30 startups making their debut on Tuesday at the showcase for new technologies, about a third positioned Google's search results as the problem and their products as the solution.

For search startup Gravee, the issue is Google's inequitable business model. Citing the criticism of Web design guru Jakob Nielsen, company co-founder Erik Rannala suggested that search engines leech value from Web site creators without returning enough. The company's answer is AdShare, a search system that shares ad revenue with those listed in search results when an ad is clicked. It also lets consumers tag online search results and maintain a list of their tags online that can generate revenue for them in the same way. It's an interesting idea with a long way to go to ubiquity.

For BiggerBoat, another search startup, Google searches falls short when it comes to entertainment content. The company rolled out a vertical search engine geared toward finding media content and selling it. It may well appeal to Hollywood studios and retail film and video stores that want their content to rise above the noise of the Net. But it's not clear whether BiggerBoat has room for content created by independent artists or consumers.

Plum.com, an impressive new online media and Web-page sharing service, aspires to become a verb, as "Google" has. "First you Google, then you Plum," said one of the presenters on stage. More likely it will be acquired by Yahoo.

In show literature, enterprise Web server log reporting company LogLogic notes that it "is to data from any kind of IT infrastructure what Google is to the Web." The company gets extra points, however, for mentioning both Google and Yahoo in its presentation.

Krugle aims to be the Google of code. It's a search engine designed to scour repositories of programming code more efficiently than, say, Ask Jeeves. It actually looks like it will be quite useful to developers.

Kaboodle offers community-based product recommendations and online shopping beyond ... wait for it ... what Google or Froogle can provide. And that's a fair boast. Keep an eye on this one, though you don't have to say the silly name that seems to be required of Web startups.

But enough about Google. The most compelling demonstrations involved tangible products rather than online services.

Ugobe introduced a soft-skinned robot dinosaur called Pleo designed by Furby creator Caleb Chung. With 40 sensors and sophisticated code that simulates learning, Pleo fakes being alive quite convincingly -- Chung, on stage, managed to get the quiet Demo audience to sing happy birthday to it. It will be available in the third quarter for $199.

MooBella introduced a network-ready ice cream vending machine that can produce 96 combinations of flavors and mix-ins in 45 seconds. Driven by a series of touch-screen menus, the press of a few buttons yielded a perfectly chilled cup of ice cream. The coffee ice cream with cookies mixed in was very good.

The privately funded, Taunton, Mass.-based company currently has two machines being tested, one at Brandeis University and one at Children's Hospital in Boston. "What we're doing is we're in the process of putting beta test sites in the Boston area," explains Robert Brooks, VP of business development. "There are two out now and we hope to have 20 over the next 60 days."

The Linux-based machines are wired for network communication so supplies can be monitored remotely using a Web interface. According to the company, the machines need to be refilled every day and a half in cases of typical use.

The concept has obvious appeal -- the line at the MooBella machines was longer than the lines at the presenter booths. Those contemplating careers at Baskin-Robbins may want to consider another line of work.

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