Demo stuff that I'll use

Note: Video presentations of the products mentioned below, as well as most other presentations from Demo, are available here. Blogger won’t accept the embedded videos and I don’t have time to mess with it.

Here are some products and services I saw at Demo that I plan to try out for my own use:

GrasprThere used to be a great site called that showed how to perform life tasks ranging from making a soufflé to fixing a leaky pipe in simple words and pictures. I don’t know what became of it; the URL now points to a software retailer. Graspr gives the Learn2 concept a social media twist. Members can upload how-to videos and annotate each other’s creations, sharing tips or advice on how to do something better. Members can also vote on the most useful content. This is a good way to mine the wisdom of crowds while also enabling people to connect with others who have similar interests and expertise.

PropelThis is quality-of-service (QOS) for the PC. Developer Propel Software Corp. argues that when people are frustrated with Internet performance on the desktop, the culprit is often their own PC. A PC doesn’t distinguish between a file download and a VOIP session, for example, so bandwidth-critical applications may suffer because low-priority jobs are getting an equal share of the pipe.

QOS is a discipline that assigns priorities to applications so that some packets get priority on the network over others. It’s been implemented in corporate networks for years, but Propel’s utility brings the same concept to the desktop, allowing the user to define priorities for bandwidth demand. Propel also provides a simple dashboard to monitor traffic and make sure all is well. The product should be available by the end of the year. If it works, it’s a no-brainer that I’ll use it.

Diigo – I’m an active user of the social bookmarking service, but I’m frustrated by its limitations. A big one is that only provides a few characters with which to describe the pages I bookmark. I frequently run out of space trying to write a description.

Diigo is social bookmarking for serious researchers. Users of its toolbar can highlight and annotate passages on bookmarked Web pages. People can comment on each other’s bookmarked pages and highlights. Essentially, the service creates group discussion around Web content. Anyone with the Diigo toolbar can see other users’ annotations and sites that choose to implement the Diigo protocols can provide these capabilities even to non-Diigo users.

There are other innovatives features in this release, including a function that lets you create a PowerPoint-like slide show sequence using Web pages. I’m not sure I see much utility in that, but the highlighting feature alone could be enough to make me switch from

Yuuguu – screen sharing has been around since the early days of Microsoft NetMeeting, and is still a core feature of services like You can also download open-source screen sharing software like VNC. So the idea isn’t new, but Yuuguu has implemented it in an elegantly simple way.

Yuuguu WebShare users can share their screens with others on the fly by simply clicking on names in an AOL Instant Messenger-like buddy list. The shared screen comes up in a browser window and users can easily pass control of their screen to others, with everyone seeing the results. The company pairs the service with a global audio conferencing system. It’ll make money from that and give away the software client for free.

MyQuire – Another Web 1.0 idea that many find a new life with a social media twist is project management for consumers. In the early days of the Web, several Internet businesses launched services that let consumers collaborate on everyday group projects like organizing church socials and softball leagues. The services were limited by the technology of the time, particularly the reliance on e-mail for communication and limited file-sharing. MyQuire improves on the collaborative features of the early efforts and adds standard social media tools like photo and file-sharing. The company is in stealth mode for a couple of more months, but the demo version of its service looks interesting.

LongJump – As a small-business owner, my financial management processes are embarrassingly rudimentary. At some point, I probably should make the switch to Intuit’s QuickBooks, but LongJump would argue that it can deliver all that functionality and more for a low monthly fee. The initial service combines 14 common business applications and an integration platform that developers can use to add others. Monthly fees will start at around $25.

The integration platform is very similar to’s app exchange concept. While there’s nothing particularly new about LongJump’s business model, its aggressive pricing and impressive feature set could make it an attractive service for small business owners.

Reshape IT Via New Models Like Software-as-a-Service

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

IT should embrace SaaS enthusiastically, as it can save a whole lot of headaches building prototypes that users reject.

Anyone who’s been in IT for more than a few years knows the dirty little secret of the profession: many IT projects (in fact, most of them, in my experience) fail. That’s been the story as long as I can remember. Why, after so many years, are we still so frustrated by failure?

There are three main reasons I’ve observed:

  • In too many companies, IT is an island that is organizationally and even physically removed from the business it serves.
  • Too many users suffer from throw-it-over-the-wall syndrome, which leads to projects that fail to match the needs that exist at delivery.
  • Turnover and organizational change undermine too many projects, making them irrelevant by the time they’re delivered.

Let’s look at how you can approach each problem.

IT is an island – IT people themselves are often too willing to accept a balkanized structure that isolates them from the business. There is a bad idea for so many reasons, but the insular, often introverted nature of technical professionals lets them rationalize this situation. They don’t communicate well with the business side, so they settle for separation.

You can’t change people’s personalities, and you can’t force people to work in situations that make them uncomfortable. But you can make sure that IT project leaders have the capacity to work productively with business end-users. That means not talking down or clamming up, but rather showing tolerance, acceptance, and humor. Your project managers are ambassadors. You need to select people with strong diplomatic skills.

With the right ambassadors in place, you can afford to set the rest of your IT organization apart to some degree. The project leaders should serve as both diplomat and translator, buffering the relationship with the business side while speaking both languages fluently.

Customer accountability – The throw-it-over-the-wall problem begins with the user sponsor, and is perpetuated by gullible IT organizations. Often, the perpetrator is a senior business-side executive, a “big idea” type who conceives of a grand vision and then hands off half-baked requirements to an IT group that often doesn’t fully understand what it’s supposed to deliver. Six months later, IT comes back with a prototype, by which time either the requirements have changed, the user has moved on, or he or she has forgotten about the whole thing.

Let’s face it: no one likes creating spec documents or sitting through progress report meetings. They’re tedious and boring. But they are absolutely essential if a project is to remain on track. The CIO needs to be the bad guy here. He or she must insist upon project management discipline and review meetings at least once a quarter to make sure the project is still relevant. The CIO needs the backing of a top company executive in taking this approach. Otherwise, IT will be buffeted by constant changes in the business environment. Which leads to the final problem.

Organizational change – How many managers can you name in your organization who have been in the same job for more than two years? In many companies today, half the leadership has taken on a new assignment in that time. So why do we still start IT projects that have deliverables scheduled a year or more down the road?

The business environment is too changeable these days to permit that kind of scheduling. Projects must be componentized, with deliverables scheduled every few months. If you can’t decompose a project like that these days, it probably isn’t a very good idea in the first place.

Technology may be riding to the rescue. The rise of the so-called “software as a service” (SaaS) business – epitomized by is enabling users to try applications before they commit to them. SaaS delivers applications over the Internet, and users can often achieve results in a matter of days. In some cases, users may find that a SaaS solution is all they need. But even if they don’t, SaaS is a heckuva way to prototype different approaches and solutions. A lot of IT organizations are approaching SaaS warily, worried that they will lose control. Instead, they should be embracing the model enthusiastically. It can save them a whole lot of headaches building prototypes that users reject.