We just came back from the Technically Philly jawn Switch Philly, which was a rousing success. Five companies took the stage at the UArts Gershman Y building (no longer my Hebrew school, but still nice). Each presented a project demo in seven minutes.
The first participant was Steve Barsham of packlate.com. It’s a service that started eight months ago, and it offers vacation rentals to people who love to travel, tend to procrastinate and are looking for great deals. All of us, in other words. Barsham said that part of the site’s strength is that people can wait to see how low the prices get, essentially “playing chicken with the marketplace.” The average lead time for booking is 11 days, and members get more information — like the exact location of the rental you’re looking at. Putting certain info behind the membership wall blocks spiders, Barsham says. He gave two “hacks” of the site: change the date to see how the cost changes; and/or make a hotel reservation that you can cancel within 24 hours of arrival and see how well you can do on packlate by pushing it to the last possible minute. The reservation is confirmed in real time — none of those pesky emails flying back and forth between you and property owners.
Next up was P’unk Ave (did I get that spelling right, guys?) to demonstrate their new Apostrophe 1.5 Content Management System. The CMS, one of the PunkAve guys said, “is based on the idea that putting content online should be as easy as using the phone.” (I guess that depends on the phone.) The CMS certainly seems to make page-building very easy and clean, and there’s much less back-end navigation that a user has to do. “Logging in,” said the developer, “just makes it a little awesomer. Editing the site should be as much fun as using it.” And indeed, the back end and the front end look pretty much the same. No pesky Dashboard. (WordPress was invoked, as you might imagine.) Reorganizing an Apostrophe-built site is simple and intuitive. But the developer pointed out: “As with anything pretty, people sometimes have a hard time believing it’s intelligent.” Kind of like Pamela Anderson. But anyway, Apostrophe makes pretty, smart sites. Believe it.
I confess to not really understanding the PowerPoint presentation made by Orpheus Media Research on their application myna, which is I guess like Pandora but isn’t radio. It was introduced as “iTunes Genius on crack,” with significant “buzz in the music industry.” Basically, it operates independently of metadata and is fully automated, so that manual process that dominates the music biz isn’t necessary. It’s hard to explain music in words, so myna says “use music to find music.” The program listens, analyzes and compares. It can analyze individual notes and harmonies in a catalog of 24,000 songs. Seems pretty awesome. But I still think Switch should’ve stuck to their guns and had the PowerPoint ban apply to myna. Nothing sucks more than PowerPoint, and reading a script to go with it doesn’t help.
Next up was Zecozi, a way cute name for a “shared shopping experience.” You know how sometimes you’re in a store — I speak to the ladies, here — and the woman next to you is like, “Does this look good on me?” And you’re like, “I think it’s too tight around the waist. But the color is very flattering for you.” Zecozi is a nice way to bring that banter online. It’s a social network for people who want to buy things and talk to their friends and family about buying things. Plus, instead of reading static reviews about a seller, you can contact someone who bought something, and chat them up. “So,” you could say, “tell me what your experience was when you bought those Frye boots second-hand from SecondHandBootLady.” And you could get the skinny from someone real, not someone who just types: “SecondHandBootLady is grate and you shoudl buy things fron her.” You can share your experience on a granular level (I love saying “granular level”).
Finally, Josh Marcus, who apparently lives two blocks from me, talked about his company’s new program called Commonspace. (Don’t go to this Commonspace unless you’re high.) As for the locally based Commonspace, Oh. My. God. That is some awesome shit, y’all. And I don’t use that slangy tone lightly. I mean, it takes a lot for me to make an ass of myself online. (Wait, is that even true? Hmm.) Commonspace is a project of Azavea.com, a Philly tech company on 12th and Vine. They do a lot of stuff with geospatial applications, and Marcus looks smart enough to understand what exactly that means. (I’ve seen him on the 34 trolley many times and thought fondly, “You have to be smart to rock the beard-and-glasses Orthodox Jew look and get away with it. Of course, not having payis helps.) Azavea employs the power of digital maps and harnesses that power for the web. Commonspace started with nonprofits that wanted to promote a particular vision of Philadelphia, but now it’s probably the best date-planning tool in the history of dates and planning. Using Commonspace, says Marcus, “is a way to personalize planning a night on the town.” The mapping element of the program inspired little hiccups of awe in the audience, and Marcus said, “For the geeks in the audience, I think this is really cool.” Well, Commonspace had this geek at hello. If you can think of ways the program could be improved to meet Commonspace’s goals — to promote sustainable travel, collaborative planning and local businesses — there might be a dinner in it for you. Go to the site to play with the program and make suggestions.
I had a great time at Switch and am looking forward to the next one. I love Philly. Plus, how about that no-hitter tonight? Kudos, guys!