Maze of Twisty Little Startups: Tale of Two Events I Didn't Attend

DEMOfall08 and TechCrunch50 each took place this week in California. Each is a launchfest for tech startups. Here are a few of the things that struck me as I read about the events.

First, reading about the events is like a concentrated helping of startup soup, and many of the startups are variations on existing themes. Hence the post title’s reference to the famous line from Colossal Cave Adventure.

Second, the events reflect increasing emphasis on Enterprise 2.0 (the deployment of social media within the enterprise). We can see this reflection in Bernard’s preview of DEMO for RWW, and in Liz Gannes’ account of how enterprise software stole the show at TC50. OK, Liz was referring to the first day of TC50, but I get the impression that her point still held at the end of the event.

The TC50 jury prize went to Yammer, one of the startups featured in the enterprise session. Yammer is essentially Twitter for the enterprise. That’s not so much the third point as it is reinforcement for the first point (much about Yammer is familiar) and for the second point (Yammer is for the enterprise). What’s fresh about Yammer is the way it plans to make money while keeping the barrier to initial use low.

Anyone with a corporate email can sign up and follow other people in their company. But if a company wants to claim its users, and gain administrative control over them, they will have to pay. It’s a brilliant business model.

That’s almost enough, given that this is a second-hand account. There are many first-hand accounts. For example, here’s a list of links to the many GigaNET posts from the two events.

At Enterprise 2.0: A Maze of Vendors, All Alike

After the keynotes, the Enterprise 2.0 Demo Pavilion opened. While wandering around, I was struck by how few of the stands stood out. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be, since it’s hard to imagine a crowd in which every member stands out.)

The typical vendor had a catchy name, and sometimes a tagline. But the typical tagline translated fairly directly to “Enterprise 2.0,” and that’s what we all, vendors and otherwise, were there for. Then again, maybe the purpose of a stand is to make yourself available to people who already know about you, and decided to visit you before they got to the conference.

If I had any brilliant and original ideas about demo stands, I’d put them here. But I can only remark that a large, prominently-placed stand and the chance to get or win some stuff usually works well, and that Microsoft were ahead of me on that one.

The title of this post contains a reference to Colossal Cave Adventure, the text-based game. I point this out because I probably have readers who have never played it or any other text-based game, and who have never been in “a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.”

I’m not implying that the vendors were all twisty and little. If you followed the link in the first paragraph, you’ll see that they included some rather large organizations. As for twisty, the point of this post is that few of them managed to make clear their distinctive twist on Enterprise 2.0.

Sprout is Out, Fresh From DEMO

Several of the major web 2.0 (I know, that term is so last year… or was it the year before?) blogs have someone at DEMO, where they… attend lots of demos, and blog about them. One demo that seems particularly blog-worthy was the launch of Sprout.

As Sprout CEO Carnet Rogers noted: “Techcrunch, Mashable, and RedWriteWeb posted as we launched and gave us a very kind review.” Marshall Kirkpatrick, writing for RWW, was more than merely very kind.

SproutBuilder is going to explode the world of widgets on the web. This is far and away my favorite product I’ve seen at DEMO, not just this year but ever in the three years I’ve attended.

I’ve just signed up for the beta of SproutBuilder (invites are, or were, available from the three blogs linked to from the quote above). I did build a sprout, that is, a multimedia widget. I won’t inflict it on you. One reason is that it’s a rather sorry and bedraggled sprout right now.

Another is that my attempt to plant my sprout here at failed. I didn’t expect to be able to plant it here, but one of the Publish options offered by Sprout was WordPress, which seemed to mean And indeed, the sprout did get sent here, to be wrapped up in a draft post. But the “interesting” code was stripped out. In other words, it met the fate of most widgets at

I intend to cultivate a sprout or two, post them elsewhere, and link to them from here.