Last week was an important one for technology entrepreneurs in the United States.
Two of the most anticipated technology conferences - DEMOfall08 and TechCrunch50 - were held. They were highly anticipated not only because of the drama surrounding them but because they promised high-profile product launches.
Although I didn't attend either conference, I did follow them in real time and this past weekend I took the time to read reviews and watch video clips of the presenters.
Here's my take on both.
Most of the launches at TechCrunch50 were focused on the consumer internet.
In my opinion, this focus limited TechCrunch50 to a less diverse and less interesting portfolio of product launches. Quite a few products were unoriginal and some are competing in clearly oversaturated markets.
A few of the more curious examples:
Yammer - a Twitter clone for businesses (which was named the winner).
Birdpost - a social network for bird lovers.
- Closet Couture - a social network for fashionistas.
Whether or not you love or hate any of the startups at TechCrunch50, a lot of people felt let down (myself included).
Yet for all the disappointment, there was one company that did catch my attention - British startup Connective Logic.
The company's product, Blueprint, is a graphical editor for Microsoft Visual Studio that enables software developers to write applications that take advantage of multi-core processors (and multiple processors across a network).
Multi-core processors are used frequently today but many, if not most, applications don't take advantage of them.
Getting applications to take advantage of them often requires applications to modified significantly or rewritten entirely.
Connective Logic's Blueprint is designed to provide software developers a solution to what may be one of the greatest challenges they'll face over the next decade.
In my opinion, Connective Logic and other companies attacking this challenge are ones to watch.
Several hundred miles to the south, DEMO presenters took the stage in San Diego to launch their new products. While both TechCrunch50 and DEMO have a technology focus, DEMO is a little bit more diverse.
Like TechCrunch50, DEMOfall08 had its share of unimpressive consumer-oriented startups that I felt brought little innovation to the table.
Take Familybuilder, for instance. It offers genealogy-oriented applications through social networks like Facebook. But online genealogy is a saturated market and I don't see a compelling revenue model for Familybuilder given its distribution model.
Fortunately, DEMOfall08's diversity saved it as there were some interesting product launches. Three of the ones that piqued my interest the most:
Clintworld - a company whose primary product helps companies involved with mobile carriers "support, optimize and accelerate tariff related processes and requirements."
Plastic Logic - a pioneer in plastic electronics technology.
- Microstaq - the developer of a silicon microvalve that the company claims can boost energy efficiency by an unprecedented amount in HVAC systems.
Note that two of these have nothing whatsoever to do with the consumer internet.
The fact that the less-diverse, consumer internet-heavy TechCrunch50 disappointed many and that DEMOfall08's saving grace was the presence of companies with interesting "hard" technology that was unrelated to the consumer internet (or the internet altogether) forced me to consider a few things.
It's quite clear that there's a lot more evolution in the consumer internet space than revolution. This makes sense. The Web 2.0 hype, for instance, which was clearly still alive and well at TechCrunch50, has been driven by trends related to content and leisure more than it has been by trends related to necessity.
And that's okay.
While this doesn't mean that there aren't billion-dollar opportunities in the consumer internet space (there are plenty of them), there's only so far you can go with many of today's popular concepts.
While the consumer internet certainly hasn't seen the last of innovation, the space has clearly matured quite a bit and given that startups in the consumer internet space usually rely more on content and "critical mass" than they do on intellectual property, most of these startups are narrow moat companies - they have little defensibility and often find it difficult to develop practically meaningful differentiators.
Companies like Connective Logic, Plastic Logic and Microstaq, on the other hand, are at their core based on intellectual property that is, in the best of circumstances, highly-defensible and difficult for competitors to match quickly and with minimal expense.
Yet they're usually not as sexy as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
At the end of the day, perhaps the most valuable takeaway from TechCrunch50 and DEMOfall08 is that technology comes in many shapes and forms and there are different types of 'techies'. While you can compare apples to oranges (and argue over the absolute values of both), the exercise is fruitless (no pun intended).
Different groups within the world of technology are looking for different things and what's considered innovative differs between these groups.
Different stokes for different folks. And so on, and so on.
Now that the stages are empty, the lights turned off and the crowds gone, the real work for companies that presented at TechCrunch50 and DEMOfall08 begins...