10 'Net services that will succeed, and 10 that will probably fail
Vetting 'Net startups is a favorite pastime of Silicon Valley pundits, but The Industry Standard are taking things a step further, calling out the 10 services that they think are bound to succeed, as well as those that are probably destined for obscurity – or oblivion
JOBSTER: Failings: Jobster's social approach to online recruitment applies a long-term plan to what is often a short-term goal – getting a job. The mailing-list approach to network updates also rubs the wrong way. Morale problems at the company haven’t helped, either. Turnaround potential: There are great opportunities for Jobster to better leverage social networks and present data to both job seekers and employers.
COGNITIVE CODE: Successes: Conversational speech recognition has been talked about for decades, but systems have failed to gain widespread use. Cognitive Code may change this: The software doesn’t require extensive training, and can work on small processors, such as those found in mobile phones, toys and other gadgets. While it’s not a Web service, it can be applied to networked technologies, and has a lot of potential in the mobile world. Why it hasn't succeeded yet: Cognitive Code is still being tested. The first OEM products are expected by late 2008.
TWITTER: Failings: Twitter has a dedicated group of fans, but this is no guarantee of mainstream success. Another problem: Competition. There are other “microblogging” platforms out there, not to mention services with overlapping functionality. And how is Twitter supposed to make money? Turnaround potential: Twitter has a great UI, and a growing number of neat third-party services.
SPOCK: Failings: Spock is all about people search, but it goes too far. One of the ‘Net views (Full profile) has it right – this service is downright creepy. Turnaround potential: There is a great deal of interest in people search, online profiles, and the collaborative approach to updating this information. If Spock can address the privacy and creepiness concerns, the service might have legs.
TRULIA: Successes: One of several online real estate sites, Trulia differentiates itself with a workable business plan and strong appeal among real estate agents. Why it hasn't succeeded yet: It still has formidable competition (including Zillow) and it’s hard getting traction in a down market.
HULU: Successes: While YouTube and other online video services wrestle with copyrights and other headaches associated with content uploaded by users, Hulu has the backing of major Hollywood studios and a growing library of legit studio content. It works in a Web browser (unlike Joost) and has a sharp UI. The business model is based on serving ads. Why it hasn’t succeeded yet: It just came out of beta. Also, the library of back-catalog and fringe programming needs to grow a lot before it can start capitalizing on Long Tail momentum.
CAFESCRIBE: Successes: This e-learning platform distributes electronic texts through a downloadable application, providing an economical distribution alternative to publishers while encouraging academia and students to look beyond libraries and bookstores. It also incorporates an online community in which notes, highlighted text and discussions can be shared by users. Why it hasn't succeeded yet: CafeScribe and other education-focused Web 2.0 tools have had a tough time making headway on campus, partially because of resistance from academics and publishers. Nevertheless, the digital, collaborative approach is inevitable considering technological progress, demographic trends, and the increasing willingness of educators to leverage knowledge-sharing across the Web.
KALTURA: Successes: Collaborative media creation is going to be big, and Kaltura is positioned to catch the wave. The tool helps groups of users collaborate on multimedia projects, and even lets them use content already located in their Facebook accounts. Management has also put together partnerships with Wikipedia and several other sites, positioning Kaltura for further growth as this trend takes hold. Why it hasn't succeeded yet: The collaborative Web space is still focused on task-oriented applications, and hasn't fully realized the potential for a more casual approach to collaborative multimedia.
MODIFACE: Successes: Thinking about plastic surgery? Or maybe you’d like a preview of yourself sporting a mullet. Modiface lets you model these scenarios, and more. In a nutshell, the technology lets people upload their photos to the Web, and realistically modify facial features and hair. Target users are consumers, but there are medical applications as well. Business plan: Leverage portfolio of 14 patents via partnerships. The two-year-old startup says it is already profitable. Why it hasn't succeeded yet: 3D modeling is growing in popularity, but it’s not a mainstream activity – at least not yet. Expect that to change as more appealing 3D applications and environments come online, and graphics technologies approach photorealism.
FLOCK: Failings: Flock is a “social Web browser” that focuses too much on a narrow demographic -- those who live, eat and breathe social networking. Also, Firefox extensions that offer similar functionality are eroding Flock’s user base. Turnaround potential: There is clearly a trend toward constant access to social media and communication tools. This could make Flock more attractive to active and casual users alike.
eCIRKIT: Failings: Extreme social networking for artists, thrill-seekers and non-conformists sounds neat on paper, but the features and functionality of this service fall short. Turnaround potential: Well-defined community, lots of contests.
FAV.OR.IT: Successes: This feed reader takes on comments and other feedback mechanisms that can improve an otherwise mundane experience – browsing and reading RSS feeds. fav.or.it lets readers see, follow, and leave comments, all within the fav.or.it reader tool, diminishing the need to visit multiple sites or click through to the original source. Why it hasn’t succeeded yet: Fav.or.it is still in a relatively early stage of development, but a new API points to further integration with third-party services. This is also a crowded field, with FriendFeed and other competitors to contend with, but fav.or.it has a head start and a solid feature set.
SECOND LIFE: Failings:This social virtual world is not ready for prime time. A creaky infrastructure and a terrible UI have turned off many new residents. Parent company Linden Lab is trying to strike a balance between encouraging individual creativity and user-generated content, while establishing a marketing- and corporate-friendly environment that can support business expansion. Turnaround potential: Linden Lab is working overtime to architect a stable technical foundation that can scale to hundreds of thousands of concurrent user sessions. There is also growing interest in virtual reality, massively multiplayer online games, and 3D modeling.
HUDDLE: Successes: A lightweight, low-cost alternative to standard collaboration software. Huddle offers a very broad feature set, and is gaining traction in the business world. Why it hasn’t succeeded yet: Lots of competition, including Basecamp, WebOffice and Goplan -- the company will have to work hard to be heard above the noise. Huddle also needs to boost the storage allotment for teams – the monthly fee currently covers just 2.5 gigabytes.
SQUIDOO: Failings: Lenses are a mess – they are not organized well, and search needs work. The service is also going up against some very strong competition, ranging from Google to Wikipedia. Turnaround potential: Cleaning up the lens options and navigation will let visitors and members use the site more effectively. Squidoo has launched some great lenses that offer prominent, central resources which users can read and contribute to.
CHUMBY: Failings: Advertising and ‘Net widgets on a Wi-Fi enabled alarm clock? That just about sums it up, but these elements won’t be enough to make Chumby a household item – especially considering the clock’s US$180 price tag. Turnaround potential: Chumby widgets are based on an open development platform. And the clock does look kind of cute.
SCENECASTER: Successes: SceneCaster lets users make 3D scenes and share them with friends using social networking tools and image-sharing services. It has a simple interface, and the parent company has formed partnerships with a number of online merchants. Why it hasn't succeeded yet: SceneCaster is still finding its niche. While it incorporates many of the visual aspects and advertising methods now seen in 3D games, SceneCaster is not an actual vehicle for participating in virtual worlds. But user-generated 3D content is getting bigger, and SceneCaster is well-positioned to capitalize on this trend.
OVERLAYTV: Successes: Interactivity is an evolutionary step for online video, which until now has mimicked the linear television experience. OverlayTV’s linking and mashup applications make the service attractive to advertisers, producers, v-loggers, and other content creators. Why it hasn't succeeded yet: The advertising industry is still experimenting with online video formats, but OverlayTV presents an affordable alternative to services that charge high prices for branding video. OverlayTV can also be used for mashups, but it’s going up against a handful of established tools such as Jumpcut.
JOOST: Failings: Lots of buzz, but it requires users to download and install a client application to view video. It’s going up against YouTube, Hulu, and other video services that use the ubiquitous Web browser. Turnaround potential: Joost has a ‘Net savvy executive team, and a large catalog of quality programs from established producers.
ZILLOW: Failings: Zillow is so 2006. A CPM-based business model is not enough, and people aren’t so interested in checking out the sinking values of their homes now that the real estate bubble has burst. Turnaround potential: Solid brand equity.