Capping off a mad week of events and conferences surrounding Kinnernet, the Techonomy event kicked off earlier in Tel Aviv. Techonomy is kind of a local answer to industry showcases like the TC50 but with a smaller and more manageable group of presenting companies.
Six companies, all of them in the social media space got up and gave brief presentations. Then, a panel of industry experts (which included, among others, Giza MD Eyal Niv) provided their own input to the entrepreneurs presenting.
The companies which presented were:
- Sense of Fashion –an online marketspace for independent fashion designers and fashionistas everywhere
- Hoody – a social network-cum-services board focused on local neighborhoods
- GrazeIT – a StumbleUpon-type service in which users can take their content and provide a link back to it on relevant Web sites
- Vetrinas – A map/online shopping platform that enables virtual window shopping
- Tra.cx – A suite of analytics about our social interactions across multiple social media services
- Face – a photo recognition platform that automatically recognizes and tags photos of users and their friends on Facebook
First, I should note that the whole event was very well-organized. Big props to Orli Yakuel for getting it set up. The presentations were short and to the point. The panel made good points. And as a whole it was a useful exercise both for the presenting companies and the audience.
Following the presentations, journalist Sarah Lacy took questions from the audience and talked a bit about what she has learned about the Israeli scene compared to Silicon Valley. Lacy is in Israel doing research for her next book and kicked up a big storm here last week with a post in Tech Crunch about the questions facing Israel’s tech industry.
In addition, there was a Twitter back channel running on one of the onstage screens the whole time showing real-time tweets from the crowd. Which provided a lot of fun, especially to those of us doing the tweeting.
The event might have been mis-sold a bit. The name “Techonomy” seems to imply that the subject would be the intersection of technologies and business models. In reality, most of the presenting companies were notably lacking in either Tech or Onomy.
Now, this is not necessarily a criticism. There is precious little heavy tech in the Internet space in general. The name of the game is user experience above everything else. And, as Lacy pointed out, a lot of the more successful social media companies (e.g. Twitter) did not start off with any business model in mind. They let the users define both the way the product works as well as how you make money from it.
Also, it’s not true that revenue models were entirely absent. Sense of Fashion, Hoody, and Vetrinas all offer a social shopping solution of one sort or another – based on shared interests or shared locations.
The other three companies are technologically nifty even if the revenue model is less clear. Tra.cx, for instance, allows you to analyze your behavior and that of your friends on social media services in all manner of interesting ways. The company says it does have a revenue model, but declined to specify what it was. An even more important issue IMHO is what kind of user they plan to target, and how they can expand their audience base beyond the realms of social media geeks like me.
GrazeIT has a nifty concept that, ideally, would enable users to more easily direct traffic to their own content by leveraging relevant web sites, forums etc. The company, however, has a real battle ahead of it. In order for the service to become valuable, the network effect needs to kick in big time (i.e. the more users you have, the more valuable it becomes to any individual users). At the same time, users utilize the service with a Firefox plugin. And from experience I can tell you that plugin businesses are difficult.
Finally, we have Face, which won the audience vote for favorite company at the end of the event.
Face provides the ultimate Facebook photo application. The company has taken a new approach to the problem of facial recognition by leveraging the information available on social networks to narrow down the list of possibilities. In other words, Face looks at you, your friends, and events you attended and uses this information to guess more intelligently about the identities of the people in the photographs. The results are really impressive. Face’s Photo Finder application can successfully identify people even in situations of extreme low light or extreme blur.
It’s also a veritable click factory. I’ve been playing with it for a few months now (proud alpha user that I am) and can testify that it’s pretty damned addictive.
The big question that still hangs over the industry here, one that hasn’t been answered yet in my opinion, is whether Israel is capable of creating the next great social service. The technological ability is definitely there. I think the real issues are whether Israeli companies understand the needs of their users well enough (and are connected enough to users in order to make the necessary adaptations) and whether our geographical disconnect from the center of the industry (e.g. the Valley) means that local companies need to move out to the States as soon as is feasible.
At any rate, an interesting and entertaining day!