CRISIS SOURCING -
FEATURE STORY 52 TECHNOLOGY REVIEW JULY /AUGUST 2008 business models. In one, it would sell ads to Web video consum- ers who text-message replies in another, it would take a cut from sales of high-end cell phones that capture the best videos (which would come Qik-equipped). Garfi eld is happy to pay: “View- ers can type in a window while watching, and affect the coverage. That’s, like, totally amazing and groundbreaking!” —David Talbot CRISIS SOURCING Ushahidi’s platform allows text messages to feed into the Web Company: Ushahidi Founding date: 2008 Funding amount: Undisclosed In the chaos that followed Kenya’s disputed presidential election last December, 1,200 people were killed, and several hundred thousand more fl ed their homes. Skeptical of the accuracy of offi cial reports, a group of Web developers and bloggers with Kenyan ties cobbled together a Web application that could receive citizen incident reports via text message from any mobile phone in Kenya and display them as a Google Maps application. Cofounded by Erik Hersman, an American son of mission- ary parents who was raised in Kenya (he is author of the blog Whiteafrican.com and now lives in Florida), the group called the creation Ushahidi—the Swahili word for “testimony.” They have formed a nonprofi t company and are fi nalizing funding with a large foundation to turn Ushahidi into a platform that can be deployed easily and rapidly in areas of crisis. Already, a version of Ushahidi is being used to track anti- immigrant violence affl icting South Africa. “While there have been a lot of projects to do citizen reports, they are all Web-based,” says Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and founder of Geekcorps, a technology vol- unteering agency. “There is no strong content management system designed to take con- tent off of SMS [text messag- ing]. It’s pretty sophisticated.” Now anyone with a mobile phone can become a node on the net- work. “Whenever a crisis breaks out and you want distributed data gathering and visualiza- tion, our goal is to make it a lot easier to do,” says Hersman. The technology won’t require much expertise “people can either download Ushahidi or we will host it for you.” And it’s not just for Africa. He says the technology could help chronicle fast- moving U.S. calamities such as Hurri- cane Katrina. —David Talbot PARTIAL RECALL QTech’s reQall makes custom reminders for scatterbrains Company: QTech Founding date: 2004 Funding amount: $5 million Sunil Vemuri, cofounder of QTech, observes that “one of the dark secrets of memory aids is that people forget to use their memory aids.” The company hopes to solve this problem with a Web-based tool called reQall, which grew out of Vemuri’s doctoral research at MIT. Users enter calendar items, grocery lists, brilliant ideas, and other snippets of information into the system they can do this as text over the Web or via a toll-free phone number. Then reQall uses a combination of speech recogni- tion software, human transcrip- tionists, and proprietary algorithms to generate reminders by phone, text message, RSS feed, or e-mail, or through a Web interface (the details are customized to the user). “Our main competition is the Post-it note,” Vemuri says. QTech’s advisors include lead- ing fi gures in digitally assisted Are You ... Infl uential? 33Across calculates your online social clout for sharper ad targeting—and for you Company: 33Across Founding date: 2007 Funding amount: $1 million WHEN IT COMES to social networking, “there are an incredible number of people who want to be known as infl uential,” says Eric Wheeler, CEO of the New York City startup 33Across. Of course, there are also plenty of people—advertisers, namely—who want to know who the infl uential people are. Wheeler would cater to both. A number of companies try to help target ads based on users’ behavior a visitor to Cars.com, for example, might see Ford ads. In June, 33Across announced its fi rst part- nership with a social-networking site—Meebo—to build anonymous profi les of users’ actual infl uence. The profi les are drawn from the usual sources—self- provided information and Web browsing history—as well as from details on users’ networks and their propensity to communicate. The goal: to fi nd gossipy infl uencers who will be the “viral promoters” of, say, a new product, says Christine Herron of First Round Capital, an inves- tor. “All this data can be used to understand an incredible amount of detail about a person’s infl uence,” she says. Mainly, “it allows advertisers to be much smarter in how they deliver a message,” says Wheeler, formerly CEO of ad agency Neo@Ogilvy North America. In exchange for giving 33Across nonprivate user data, social- networking sites get a piece of the resulting ad revenue. Users could benefi t, too, since the social- networking site could share the data with them. Measures of infl uence might be important to bloggers, among others. 33Across plans a full launch in September. —Larry Aragon JORDAN HOLLENDER memory, including Microsoft’s Gordon Bell. Former MIT Media Lab head Walter Bender, Vemuri’s PhD advisor, says reQall “helps reduce the instances of forget- ting in the fi rst place.” But QTech initially forgot to make money from the business. It’s now explor- ing partnerships with cell-phone companies, fee-based “pre- mium” accounts, and advertis- ing models. —Lissa Harris SEMANTIC ADS Peer39’s algorithms promise better ways of mining language Company: Peer39 Founding date: 2006 Funding amount: $11 million THE SEMANTIC WEB is com- ing. That means that software will comb blogs, social net- July08 Feature Startups 52 July08 Feature Startups 52 6/11/08 1:41:32 PM 6/11/08 1:41:32 PM
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