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Toronto DemoCamp 12

Posted on: 2007-02-06 11:55:26 UTC

Last night I went to DemoCampToronto12 at No Regrets. With the cold winter weather, I figured that it wouldn't be too busy. Instead, it turned out to be as crowded and loud as usual, although people were nicer this time about being quiet during the presentations.

This DemoCamp had a slightly different feel to it - there weren't so many straight up demos of interesting new things as there were follow-ups of previous demos and more general presentations.

What I've always liked about DemoCamp is the opportunity to see a variety of projects - not just the slick dot com applications, but also the quirky student projects and the home-built D.I.Y. stuff. The DemoCamp in November had a few presentations that didn't go very well and I suspect that the organizers are playing it a bit safer now - but the whole Demo/Bar/etc/Camp idea is to be anarchic, and I think a few sub-par presentations help highlight the good ones.

Anyhow, here are some notes and quotes from last night.

First up was Dave Humphrey, a professor in the Computer Science department at Seneca College, talking about how he's getting his students into contributing to Open Source projects, especially through the Mozilla foundation. Some people are working on the Mozilla Build System, others on Bug Triage tools, CSS documentation, and animated PNGs. There was a great tiled animated PNG he showed as an example that I could have looked at for hours. He mentioned that academia tends to look down on contributing to open source projects, which I find odd, since it's a great opportunity to work on real-world projects with real programmers. I wish I had had that opportunity when I was in school.

Choice quote: "One of my students - this guy here looking like Buddha - oh I've lost my image..."

Next up was Albert Lai from Bubbleshare. He had presented at an earlier DemoCamp and wanted to give an update. Big news: they got bought up by Caboose, the only Toronto-based publicly-traded company that works with public-facing websites. Bubbleshare is a bit like Flickr and FilmLoop, letting you set up strips of images with captions and multimedia. He asked if we wanted technology details or the business story, and the DemoCamp crowd was enthusiastically more interested in the business story - which says something about the crowd, I guess.

Quotes:

  • "We originally wanted to be a desktop application. It was a great idea in concept - but it failed miserably as an actual product."
  • "We managed to get some good buzz, from TechCrunch, Scoble, etc."
  • On the acquisition process: "We got lucky - it was only a six to eight month process. It's a gruelling process that involves humiliating yourself in front of a lot of investors. In the Web 2.0 era, the process takes a hell of a lot longer and it's a lot more rigorous. The amount you're selling your company for will not change the amount of due diligence you're going to do. $3 million, $30 million, $300 million - it's going to be a lot."
  • One of the questions was "So do you have any comments about Fox?" and his response was "Free steak to whoever can source that rumour about Fox!"
  • Another question was what was the value that Caboose saw in Bubbleshare: "It was our talent and technology. They needed a photo sharing app and it was build vs. buy." Were they interested in your IP? "We only had one patent, which was provisional anyhow - that didn't make a difference in our sell."

Common theme of the evening: they're growing and are looking for Flash and Rails developers.

Domainer came up in between presentations and announced that they're looking to hire some very talented Java developers.

Alec Saunders from Iotum Corporation was next - he won the "Demo God" award at the big Demo conference in California. I'm guessing it was because of his nifty technique of swapping four different BlackBerries in front of a small USB camera to show how his application works. "Talk Now" is a remote presence application that allows people to arrange meetings and flag their availability for different types of activities. Looks like a cool app - but I couldn't help noticing how ugly the colour BlackBerry interface looks - it's got these horizontal chrome wings at the top like a video game from the late 80s or something.

Quotes:

  • "How do we make money? That's a really good question!"
  • "We have an open XML API and " - ring ring - " hey leave me alone will you?!" (the dangers of presenting with four phones on the table in front of you - although he gets bonus points for the fact that his ring tone is the techno remix of Senator Ted Stevens' "Series of Tubes" speech).

Sacha Chua came up to announce that she wants to get pictures of DemoCampers up somewhere to help people recognize each other more easily. I've offered to help her with any Rails programming, but I also somehow got drafted into taking pictures.

Will Pape was next, demoing the Flock browser. Things were off to a rough start when he managed to grey-screen David Crow's MacBook Pro while trying to get it onto the overloaded wireless network. Flock is pretty nifty if you're doing a lot of web-snippet blogging, and it has some really nice search functionality.

  • Q: "What can the community hope to get out of your demo?" A: "AWESOMENESS!"
  • Q: "What do you want to get out of this?" A: "If I do this demo, David and Joey will let my cat free" (Joey: "Anybody want to buy a Lisp machine and/or a cat?")
  • Q: "Why didn't you just make plugins for Firefox?" A: "Extensions are used by only 5% to 10% of the market - so if you want to change the web, you can't do that with an extension. You want to use a separate browser."

JobLoft came up in between presentations and announced that they've hired their first employee: "We're not paying him much, but that's okay!"

Robin Gibb gave an update about OpenBlue Networks, which provides retail front-ends for vertical markets, particularly jewelry retail. They've gone from 3000 SKUs to 54,000 SKUs in their database. A small jewelry shop could sign up with them and instantly have one of the largest online stores in the world.

Daniel from Freshbooks online invoicing, "we help consultants get paid faster" (I should look into that!) announced that they're growing well (from 7000 users to 130,000) and that they're hiring a designer and a developer and looking for an MBA-type person. Interesting points: they're including an option for sending invoices via regular postage, since not everyone is online yet. Also, they're very Web 2.0 in that they have 130,000 users, but have only grown to 7 staff.

Brent Ashley from BlogChat came up to say "When I demoed, I was interested in getting feedback about adding chat to blogs. And from the response that I got, nobody gives a flying crap!"

ConceptShare, who demoed their very slick application (and indirectly caused a small ruckus with their choice of images) back at DemoCampToronto9) gave us an update - they were covered in TechCrunch and Call for Help and have managed to double their revenue month to month. They have 10,000 users in 5000 accounts in 18 countries - and they only launched on December 1st. Pretty good for a bunch of people from Sudbury. "And we owe it all to DemoCamp!"

BumpTop, who had demoed at an early DemoCamp, described their success like this:
"We hit Digg twice and Slashdot once - and have become the biggest software video on YouTube. We were going to be on computers in the new James Bond movie and Children of Men. I'm also speaking at TED in a few months."

Then there was a few hours of drinking, chatting, and schmoozing. It may just be me, but the crowd seems to be more entrepreneurs than programmers these days. I missed the variety of presentations like at some of the other DemoCamps, and found the banter a little insider-joke-ish at times (and hasn't David Crow heard enough about his heart attack?) but it was still a good night. As Joey deVilla mentioned, when they have events like this in California, a little bit of rain makes everyone stay home - while we had a blizzard and -20C windchill and the place was packed anyhow.

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