RealTime IT News

Tech Conference Takes a Walk On The Wacky Side

Reporter's Notebook: SAN FRANCISCO -- "I'll take Wacky Applications for $50 Alex."

Actually, there was no sign of Jeopardy game show host Alex Trebek at the TechCrunch 40 conference here, but there were some wacky applications on display.

Three of the more off-the-beaten track apps included an online speed dating service, Nintendo Wii-like motion detector software and a Web service that changes your videos into cartoons.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the three was XTR-ExtremeReality. The Israeli company's 3D software is still in early development and it's Web site under construction, though you can see a demo of the "3D human interface" in action here.

While the wildly popular Nintendo Wii requires a game console and special motion sensitive attachment to recognize hand motions, ExtremeReality's xtr3D software requires just a Web cam connected to or integrated with a computer.

Company CEO Michal Ludzki said xtr3D has a "universal interface" that can be tailored to work with any software. In the demo, he was able to zoom in and out of an image on Google Earth by alternately pointing a finger forward or pulling his hand back. The software can be adjusted to respond to specific hand gestures. He said the initial focus will be to work with game companies to develop consumer titles that will work with xtr3D.

Some members of a panel of industry experts on stage to evaluate the presentations were impressed by the demo, but critical of xtr3D for being a development platform and not having any of its own titles to show off what the technology can do.

"It felt like technology for technology's sake," said Yahoo executive Brad Garlinghouse. "I would like to see a targeted application."

Ludzki said he's working with game companies to develop the first applications.

If another presenter, BeFunky, qualifies as a wacky application, you might also legitimately call it "cool." The company has developed two services, Uvatar and Cartoonizer. Both are in an alpha stage or early development, not ready for public release.

Uvatar is a service that will make your avatar look like an illustrated version of what you look like in the real life. The company plans to initially create these for a small fee (up to $5), but predicts technology is on a fast track to automate the process in the near future.

The Cartoonizer, as the name implies, changes your video into cartoon format. There is no software to download. Both Cartoonizer and Uvatar are Web services that can be activated with a few mouse clicks. In perhaps a less than inspirational-sounding endorsement, BeFunky's CEO said Cartoonizer will let you "turn your video memories into cartoons." But the effect of seeing a video change to a cartoon in a few seconds was striking.

Internet-time dating services

WooMe borrows a page from speed dating and brings it online. Instead of a series of "8-minute dates" at a meeting place with other singles, WooMe CEO Steve Stokols said he wants to bring the billion dollar market online. The service is only in early alpha testing now, but promises to include live video and audio capabilities.

And it's not just about dating; you can also use it to find people with common interests, such as a fellow trekker to join you on a backpacking trip to Europe A demo featured a corny exchange between a WooMe official and a potentially interested single woman. But just as it looked like there might be a love connection, he switched her off to try someone else who had signaled interest. It turned out not to be a potential date, but a surprise video message from Skype founder and CEO Niklas Zennstrom endorsing the service. He said WooMe "takes social networking to the next level" and "will revolutionize the way we meet people."

WooMe also got praise from some on the panel of experts. Caterina Fake, co-founder of the Flickr online photo sharing service, gave it an "A+. I can really see it taking off," she said.

But tech journalist Sarah Lacey was a bit more skeptical. "I don't know if young people do online dating anymore," she said. "I think social networks changed that market."

David Needle is San Francisco bureau chief for InternetNews.com