More than 100 companies are strutting their stuff at the Demofall '08 and TechCrunch50 conferences out on the West coast this week. At events like this, which involve dozens of beta demonstrations of new products in development, a lot of the items blend together into a white noise of over-hype, but a handful of this week's debuts are intriguing. Let's take a look at 10 of the neatest up-and-coming offerings that aren't yet available—and the tools already available to you that replicate some of their eyebrow-raising tweaks. Photo by TechCrunch50-2008.
10. Rate Surfer
Not to sound like a doting parent here, but Rate Surfer is really a tool of last financial resort. Still, for those carrying balances between multiple credit cards, it can help you put more dollars toward getting back to financial freedom. You give the webapp access to your credit card accounts, and it monitors them for rate changes. If one card's got a better rate than another, it suggests moving your balance over. It may not be the best situation to be in, but Rate Surfer is nothing if not an honest tool for those with a serious credit fix.
There are, of course, many, many tools for any system that let you take a commercial DVD and copy it, or put it on your hard drive for as-you-like viewing. Until now, however, no major media player has stepped forward with a consumer-level, legal software package. RealDVD aims to be exactly that—it keeps the DVD's copy protection intact, and adds an iTunes-like layer of its own. At a $30 introductory price, it's still paying a ransom to use your own possessions, but it might make an easy-to-use solution for legal-conscious parents or less-geeky friends.
The alternative: Adam covered this ground when RealDVD was announced earlier this week, offering up a guide to ripping full DVDs without the nasty DRM.
Aiming to serve as an intelligent index for your inbox, Postbox is a mail client that focuses on auto-sorting emails into topics, rather than just showing what's newest. So if you're part of a team of writers who are, for example, covering the latest browser release, Postbox keeps track of every URL, image, and all the text about that browser are available in a front-and-centre tab, while your bills, PR pitches, and other get-to-laters are in discrete topics lists in the lower-right. That's how it looks, anyways, and we're always intrigued by new approaches to email.
The alternative: Taking the reins into your own hands and setting up a system like Inbox Zero or a personalised version, like Gina's Trusted Trio.
There are a lot of startups dedicated to hooking into, organising, or otherwise taking advantage of people signed up to multiple social networks and social media. Most aren't going to help you get much done, but these two deserve some mention, and together might work quite well. Popego looks at what you look at on the web, checks out your social profiles, and recommends web content with adjustable filters. You can see sites that Popego thinks you and your friends enjoy in common, show only videos that you might find interesting, and make other adjustments. For those who use social media mainly as a career-boosting tool, Angstro is perfect—it shows you news and items about the people you follow on Facebook and LinkedIn, not all the stuff they've dashed off and posted. So if one of your clients makes an announced sale, or your old boss suddenly winds up at a company you'd really like to work for, Angstro is the one letting you know. Now, that's some helpful network noise.
If you only had 10 seconds in an elevator to pitch 2Pad, you'd do well to say it looked a lot like the Gmail-only Xoopit, taking all the photos and videos in your inbox and setting them up in a easy-browse gallery. 2Pad, however, works with Hotmail, AOL, and other webmail services, and offers separate storage and retrieval for varying-price plans.
The alternative: For Gmail users, well, Xoopit.
If you're your own worst enemy when it comes to stemming the high tides of email, OtherInbox can act as a personal levee. The web-based mail client provides you with an email address that you tweak for all the email sign-ups for deals, alerts, notifications, and other bacn you invite. So you'd give Facebook an address of [email protected], and OtherInbox's interface separates out all your commercial/non-human email for quick reading, archiving, and deletion.
The alternative: Users of advanced filters and disposable addresses in Gmail or other advanced email systems already have these tools available to them.
MessageSling wants to replace your plain vanilla voicemail with a web-archived, SMS-alert-ready, voice-to-text email forwarding system. Signing up and switching is ingeniously easy—just type in a forward-enabling string on your phone—and the results look pretty neat, although the voice-to-text functions aren't explained fully at this point.
The alternative: Also-free service YouMail offers many of the same features, with a slicker interface and personalised greetings.
The makers of Fitbit have their hearts in the right place—for many of us, keeping track of exercise and daily physical activity is just another task that makes getting in shape seem a chore, on the order of paying quarterly tax estimates or organizing receipts. The Fitbit is a small, wireless, rechargeable device that can be worn on your pants, shirt, wrist, or undergarments, and tracks how far you walked, how many calories were burned, and even your sleep patterns. From the screenshots, it looks like a data geek's dream, but time will tell if the tracker is comfortable enough to fit into people's lifestyles.
The alternative: If you're an iPod owner, and not all that interested in tracking your non-workout time, the Nike+iPod combo is a cheaper solution. The newest line of iPods actually have Nike+ receivers built in, so the chip alone only runs you $20.
The idea of "web clipping"—running through web pages, grabbing text or entire pages as you go, organizing them later—isn't very new. Snipd, however, brings a cross-platform, anywhere-you've-got-a-browser bookmarklet into the game. Of course you can search through all that text later, and organize your clippings into different job buckets, but what really might help is that, for the time being, bookmarklet tools like this are really helpful in extension-less browsers like Google Chrome.
The alternative: Setting yourself up with Google Notebook, which integrates nicely into Google Bookmarks and can serve as its own helper for Getting Things Done.
Check out a video of Snipd in action below:
This password-aggregating service hews closely to the secure password system our lead editor proposed two years ago: One password you can remember, modified for every web site login by a system you can understand. UsableLogin automates the second part of that equation—you type in a passcode, and it adds bits of cryptographic data to it for each site. The system appears to work through an extension, so time will tell if it ends up being a Firefox-only novelty or a great idea in password security.
What product on this list are you most interested to try out for yourself? Let us know in the comments.