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

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