The Demos of NextMEDIA Toronto

November 30th was the first day of the two day NextMEDIA event in Toronto, and in the afternoon of the event, five companies demoed their products. Representatives from Ogmento, Thoora, Darwin Dimensions, Boxee, and Primal Fusion demoed products that were either already public, or in some form of accessible beta.

First up to demo was Avner Ronen from Boxee, who gave the audience a demonstration of the different ways Boxee users could interact with content no matter where it came from on the net. Avner played some clips live from sites including Fail Blog, he then showed how users could share that content with their friends online in a seamless experience. Ronen mentioned that while Boxee users watched 60-70 videos a week, they didn’t care where the video came from, they cared about the content.

Up next, Ori Inbar from Ogmento gave a very Lessig/Hardt style presentation introducing the audience to the trends that he observed in his children that got him involved with augmented reality entertainment. Ori talked about how kids weren’t outside enough and were “missing reality”, opting to stay inside and do things like play games. Ori’s idea was to extract the games and bring them into reality. Ori explained how this idea eventually evolved and in 2008-2009 augmented reality grew massively in popularity. Ori also eventually went on to help create the AR Consortium, for the purpose of bringing together technologies and companies to further augmented reality development and application. Ori’s demo was an impressive early look of a children’s game called “Put a Spell” where the users, small children would interact with physical lettered cards through the use of an iPhone with the application helping the users recognize and learn the letters as well as how to spell words with them. Ori’s best quote of the demo session: “Reality is great as it is, but all the data’s in the computer”.

The Third demo of the afternoon was Thoora, maybe one of Toronto’s most popular recent startups, and one of the first Rogers Ventures portfolio companies. Chul Lee from Thoora, a news aggregation and discovery service, presented to the audience in real time how users could use Thoora to easily discover the top news stories being published on mainstream media sites, blogs, as well as on twitter in near real-time. Later on in the demos when asked about Thoora’s business model Chul alluded to the fact that the “big players don’t know how people are reacting to the stories” that they are publishing, and presumably there would be some value in knowing that information.

The fourth demo of the afternoon is where the WiFi problems that had plagued the conference disrupted the demos. Peter Sweeney of Primal Fusion wanted to build the case for his product through a story involving examining the bad practices used by sites such as Wikipedia in showing users content in the context of what they were interested in. The problem with trying to tell a story by navigating to different websites and having bad wifi is that.. you can’t. The moderator of the demos, Jason Roks, did a good job of communicating the issue to tech, and tried to fill the time in with Sweeney by asking him and the other demos various questions about their thoughts on innovation. Once the wifi came back, Sweeney tried to salvage the demo by wrapping up his story of what the problem was, and how his product provided a solution. After criticizing content organization of wikipedia, Sweeney showed how after entering a term, Primal Fusion would bring together from content from sources like Wikipedia and Flickr, generat context relevant categories, and display them all in a way that the user could consume.

The final demo of the afternoon was Brian Nilles from Darwin Dimensions. Nilles who had to wait patiently while the wifi issues had cleared up, walked the audience through Evolver, a web application for consumers, animators, or platform developers that will create a 3d model of a person’s face from a photo. The audience, through some messages on Twitter, expressed their concern over the relevancy of 3d avatars, and Jason Rok repeatedly asked Nilles about the exportability options of the avatars created by the service. It seems all signs at the conference pointed towards the perception of 3d avatars for online networks as a dead idea. But Nilles renewed some confidence telling the audience about how the startup had earned half a million in license fees so far, licensing the platform to other companies for use in their own software or networks. Nilles also explained the premium export feature so animators could use the models generated by the tool in their own animations, and noted the possibility of a virtual goods market for users of the platform. While Nilles presentation felt a bit rushed as he tried to both demo the tool to the audience and answer questions from Rok at the same time, it was better than I expected. I got really worried where at the start of his presentation Nilles admitted, “I have never tested our software on a Mac”.