DemoCamp Victoria 02 another success

by Yule Heibel on October 30, 2008

Ok, I am much too wired (and tired) to be writing a summing up of tonight’s DemoCamp event at Dave Chard’s Juliet Presentation Centre, but here goes.

Overall, the event had a more serious feel than the first event back in April.  Maybe people are feeling more earnest, given the economic climate (not to mention that now it’s Fall, and back then it was Spring).  Personally, I also missed the scrappy energy that Boris Mann brings to these events — he trekked from Vancouver to Victoria for the first one,  but had commitments in Seattle this time around. <le sigh>  And I missed Tris Hussey, who moved away from Victoria this past summer and has taken his wonderful photography skills to that lucky town.  Tris’s photos of DemoCamp Victoria 01 were terrific.  Now, I think I saw some cameras tonight, but until I see the photos on flickr or …somewhere, I know they won’t be as good as Tris‘s.

But those regrets are small potatoes, not to be counted against the overall quality of the presentations.  And I’m not just saying that ’cause I presented, too! 😉  Nor does saying so slight the presentations of the first DemoCamp.  Basically, I continue to be impressed by the quirky, but potentially completely solid ideas that emerge in Victoria.  (“Potentially” because until an idea is executed and allowed to run for some time — months?, years? — as a business, you can’t really assess its viability.)

Ok, so who presented?

In order, from my notes:

First up, Thomas Ahn of MAD Ventures Inc., who wanted to present to this group as a VC, heading a company that’s looking to fund local start-ups with seed money along the lines of the Y-Combinator model.  Questions to Thomas included, “what’s your chunk?”  Answer: can range from 10 to 66% depending on the work involved, but typically hovers around 33%.  Another question: how has your strategy changed in the past 2 months?  A: Not much, as MAD Ventures continues in the Y-Combinator model.  I was sitting there thinking, “builders, not traders; that’s good.”

Next, Andrew Wilkinson of Metalab Design gave a really good presentation of Ballpark (haha on you if you clicked through on that link), which is an elegant application designed for the smaller all-hands-on-deck business client who needs to be able to track leads, estimates, and cash flow for work projects.  Ballpark is designed to give users a real feel for where they are in the monthly/ weekly cash flow.  Very slick, very nicely done application.  Great UI, too.

Tim S. Lefler was next with an intriguing idea around microitems.  Now, this is something that’s for the collectors and traders and gamers out there.  (I’m thinking, Netwoman, you’d like this.)  Microitems are virtual items (the sorts of things you’re gifted on Facebook or in Warcraft), but what Tim’s site does is provide a repository and management system for these gifts and trading objects, so that you can collect and share them freely, beyond the confines of walled gardens (like Facebook, etc.).  I think this could really take off with a certain demographic.

Ok, next up was Will Whittaker, who offered two possible demos, from which the crowd chose Pornsupercomputer.  Ok, I did not fully understand this, and it wasn’t because of the porn.  In fact, the porn (and traffic) was the part I did understand — and SETI, too, for that matter.  Will’s presentation started with a slide showing the text “My computer is bigger than yours.”  Uh-huh.  Turns out he had three obsessions or interests that kept the brain gears turning: porn sites and the tremendous amount of traffic they draw; the fact that google adwords or adsense is forbidden on porn sites; and the fact that SETI uses other individual computers for its own computing needs (i.e., SETI “uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.”)  And Will had this brainstorm that it would be really cool if he could somehow mash these three aspects together — hence the Pornsupercomputer concept was born.  He would pay porn sites to install a widget that would run on the porn site visitor’s computer every time s/he visited.  This widget would provide computing power to the supercomputer, which exists virtually.  That’s sort of how I understood it, but it got pretty technical in the Q&A.

After Will, we heard Hossein Dadkhah (can’t find too much information online), who presented an idea around lifetime business cards.  It’s a pretty simple concept, but ingenious.  Hossein rightly pointed out that unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money, the quality of most business cards here (locally) is pretty poor.  At the same time, he’s familiar with locales where you get high quality cards for much less.  He also thought about how it’s small businesses that really need super-good cards, but that these businesses are often also in flux, changing their addresses, phone numbers, and so on.  Each time, they’re obliged to have new cards printed.  So his idea (and apologies if I’m telescoping and/or bowdlerizing it too much) is to take the best of quality (but low-cost) cards you can get abroad and putting that together with a service to provide fixed id telephone numbers, email addresses, etc.  In other words, you pay for a business card that’s really high quality, but you’re essentially paying for things like having a toll-free number so that you don’t have to get new cards everytime you change your phone number or move your office, whether across town or somewhere completely new.

Next, I presented MetroCascade, the online local news aggregator built for this community specifically, but with the agenda to take over the region (Cascadia) and then …bwahahaha.  Well, something like that!  It’s currently hosted here, and still in beta beta beta, but once we get a designer to work on the UI (including how to get some of the features I want — where on the page to put them), we’ll go completely live.

Stephen Albinati was up next, presenting zumer, which I was familiar with, but didn’t fully understand until after Stephen’s excellent presentation.  Here’s an article from UVic’s Martlet, New website rates consumer products, which also explains it well.  Basically, “Zumer empowers you to make informed decisions about which companies get your money.”  It “allows individuals to go beyond the marketing spin and research the social and environmental impact of products they buy every day.”  So what this means is that as the database gets built up — and zumer is relying on universities and graduate students to populate it, and also uses companies and their audited materials, with the goal eventually of letting users flesh out the data, too — registered users of the site can assess products according to their personal criteria.  If you’re socially conscious, or if you’re environmentally conscious, you can set these concerns as parameters in your profile.  Then, next time you’re shopping for sneakers, you can use your mobile device to input the brand and instantly pull up a score or report card for the shoes you’re considering for purchase.  Albinati took a lot of questions about how zumer proposes to ensure the integrity of the site, so that corporations can’t “game” the system.  But overall, he’s confident that transparency and the initial base of contributors (university – affiliated) will keep things honest.

Finally, rounding things out was a potentially very intriguing idea by Morley (don’t have more info, sorry), who used to be a small business owner who then went back to school, studied programming and design (?), and is now an accountant.  Morley was basically seeking creative programmers who could work with him on an online accounting system.  He spoke briefly about the poor quality of what’s available in that field at present, and that a really ace bookkeeping software, tax return filing program, and financial management software system would meet a real need amongst small business owners.  It was clear that his ideas captured the interest of many in the audience, but at present he didn’t have a model to show us.  This meant that it remained a bit too abstract: Andrew Wilkinson, for example, managed to snag our interest because he showed his application in action (it was a real demo of the product).  Morley talked about the ideas, but I want to see what he can show us in terms of a prototype or even just a mock-up when we have our next DemoCamp.

Right now it’s up in the air as to when the next one can take place.  Dave Chard’s Juliet Presentation Centre will soon be closing, and his new presentation centre in the Juliet itself will be too small.  Either we find another helpful soul like Dave, who is concerned about Victoria’s downtown and who understands the synergy that’s created for it when events like this take place in the heart of the city, or we all go back to hibernating in our respective silos.  Let’s hope we find another champion of downtown with some square footage to spare for the city’s tech creatives.

Edit, 10/31: Trying to make sure I got the demos reasonably right while writing this up last night, I failed to mention that Mark Lise again did a great job emceeing the event and that Jessica Pryde again kept us on track for time. Thanks to all of you who made the evening a success!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Boris October 30, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Great write up, and thanks for the compliment. Now, how to get the 10x scrappy energy of Yule over her? 😛

P.S. Are you putting an entry for MetroCascade into the Knight News Challenge? Deadline Nov. 1st …

maria October 31, 2008 at 12:02 am

Sounds like a fascinating session of presentations, so I can see why you are feeling wired (no pun intended!)

Dylan October 31, 2008 at 8:53 am

Thanks for the summary Yule! Let’s hope Demo Camp can find a new home downtown for the next one.

Yule October 31, 2008 at 9:11 am

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I added an update just now to thank Mark Lise for emceeing again. He’s the go-to guy for DemoCamp in Victoria and does a great job getting people to show up, engage, and demo.
Boris, I guess we’re not applying to the Knight News Challenge grant because of the expectation (by Knight News) that the code (essentially the IP of what we’re developing) will be shared/ open. The code that my two partners are writing for MetroCascade is being used on another site, which one of us wants to use for political track-keeping and which he hopes will eventually be used in many places. I’m not completely convinced that we couldn’t do the Knight News Challenge and still retain rights over the code, but it’s too tricky an area for us to explore at this point. The other issue is that since only one of us is working on this full-throttle, while the other truly gifted coder is working on other projects simultaneously, we also worried that we wouldn’t have been able to adhere to Knight News Challenge’s schedule.

Tris Hussey October 31, 2008 at 10:20 am

Yule, You flatter me. Sounds like it would have been a great one to be at. I’m sorry I missed it.

davin October 31, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Hey Yule,

Sounds like a success! Wish I could have made it but between work and evening meetings, it just wasn’t in the cards.

davin October 31, 2008 at 6:59 pm

I was reading about the content of DemoCamp and I am also struggling with the IP aspect of it. There might be something worth discussing there..

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