TechCrunch's startups' web sites suck too

OK, I just visited the companies Web sites of the finalists for TC50. They mostly suck too. But this time I’m going to put the blame on the conference holders. Why do they suck? Because lots of them are like this one, which just has a form up because they can’t reveal anything about themselves before they get on stage.

This makes me realize that it’s the conference organizer’s fault. They should work with the startups to make sure that the startups’ web presence — when the list goes out — is top rate and reflects well on both the startups and the conference itself.

So, in this first competition between Demo and TC50 both get a failing grade. I don’t think this helps any startup to have such a bad foot forward as first impression. Will everyone revisit this list on Wednesday? I don’t think so. We all have ADD and by Wednesday we’ll be waiting in some line at an Apple store for whatever Steve Jobs announces tomorrow.

That said, TC50′s site is better than Demo’s site because they took the time to explain a little bit about what each company will do and also how they’ll fit into the conference. I’m off to go to TC50, see ya from there if I can get Wifi.

TC50 will be live streamed as well
. That’s a win for startups because you can watch along from home. The show starts in a few minutes. Unfortunately Demo’s sessions won’t be live streamed. That’s too bad.

72 Nice Things about Demo's Startups' Websites

OK, OK, I’ve had my weekend fun when I said, on Saturday, that most of the sites for the companies being shown at the Demo Conference suck. That conference starts later today. I got half the industry to hate me. I have people wondering if I’m a paid shill for Arrington or TC50. Hate mail continues flowing in. Etc. Etc.

That’s what happens when you only look for the bad.

So, what’s the good? Well, let’s go through these and pull out something nice about each one. Keep in mind I’m only talking about the Websites, not the company or the product/service (I should have been far clearer about that on Saturday). Many still don’t have their service or product up, so we’ll have to judge those later in the week. This was a LOT harder than finding what was bad. I’m sorry, but these sites are really hard to praise. Compare this list to the “Gold Standard” list we posted yesterday. The difference is very telling.

Accordia Group, LLC; New Rochelle, NY;
NICE? The contact us page has a real phone number.

Adapx, Inc.; Seattle, WA;
NICE? Cool pull-down menus., Inc.; Bellvue, WA;
NICE? The site talks about you and what the service does for you. Nice color scheme.

Arsenal Interactive, Inc.; Mountain View, CA;
NICE? Clean uncluttered design. Makes me want to learn more.

Asyncast Corp; Campbell, CA;
NICE? Clear call to action “Sign me up!”

Awind Inc.; Junghe, Taiwan;
NICE? It was hard to find something nice about this one, but supports multiple languages is about it.

beeTV; Milano, Italy;
NICE? Good use of stock photos. By graying them out and animating logos in, gives it a cool feel.

Best Buy; Minneapolis, MN;
NICE? Very clear progression of what you’ll get if you try this. Nice use of demos too.

BizEquity Corp.; Spring House, PA;
NICE? Sorry, nothing nice to say. Still has a page up that says to check back on Monday, September 8th. Well, it IS Monday.

Cerego; Tokyo, Japan;
NICE? Uses OpenID.

Cinergix, Pty Ltd.; Melbourne, Australia;
NICE? Good way to get people to sign up for a beta.

Clintworld; Boenningstedt, Germany;
NICE? Clean, professional design.

CoreTrace Corp.; Austin, TX;
NICE? Good video demo. Shows the presenter as well as what’s on screen.

crowdSPRING, LLC; Chicago, IL;
NICE? The visual aesthetic here is the best I’ve seen in this group.

DesignIn, Inc.; Marblehead, MA;
NICE? First site so far that looks like it will show you something different if you’re logged in. This could be a cool product (3D designer for your home) and is one of those I’m looking forward to playing with this week.

Dial Directions, Inc.; Alameda, CA;
NICE? I missed the video on this site because I saw the comic and thought that was goofy. But, oh well, the video is nice and I have added this to my phone’s speed dial already.

NICE? I love the “Subscribe RSS” link. That tells me this site will be updated and if I care about the offerings here I can have that stuff shoved to my RSS Reader. I said three years ago that you should be fired if you are a marketer and you don’t have an RSS feed on your site and I still believe that.

Enterprise Informatics, Inc.; San Diego, CA;
NICE? Google ads will fit right in here. Seriously, that’s about all I can say that’s nice about this one, sorry.

Familybuilder; New York, NY;
NICE? This genealogy app gets you back to your favorite social network fast., Inc.; San Francisco, CA;
NICE? Home page said “site is down” when I visited at 1:10 a.m. but it has a very cool color scheme and nice logo design.

Fortressware, Inc.; Mountain View, CA;
NICE? Good value statement. A new way to protect my data.

Fusion-io; Salt Lake City, UT;
NICE? Aesthetically awesome.; Ramallah & Modin, Palestine and Israel;
NICE? Love the benefit statement, the slight animation, and the product. I should have been nicer to this site on Saturday, it deserved to be pulled out and complimented.

Green Sherpa; Santa Barbara, CA;
NICE? Communicates a TON in one screen.

Infovell, Inc.; Menlo Park, CA;
NICE? Nice stock photo. This is one that I really had to dig down deep to find something nice to say.

Intelius, Inc.; Bellevue, WA;
NICE? Ahh, a search box for people. On the other hand it found something that said I was a founder of Six Apart. Um, you might want to look into THAT. Heheh.

Invision TV, LLC; Bethesda, MD;
NICE? This is a demo I’m looking forward to seeing. Nice Flash-based site. Lots of animation and good aesthetic and all that.

iWidgets, Inc.; San Francisco, CA;
NICE? Good demo and nice layout.

Kadoo Inc.; Washington, DC;
NICE? Nice animation.

Koollage, Inc.; San Jose, CA;
NICE? They are revving up their “Kool Factor.” Sigh.

Mapflow, Ltd.; Cork, Ireland;
NICE? FAIL. Says I need a username and password just to visit their site.

Maverick Mobile Solutions, Pvt. Ltd.; Maharashtra, India;
NICE? Sorry, I’ll wait until later in the week.

MeDeploy; Hamden, CT;
NICE? I get the point of what this company does fast.

Message Sling; Worcester, MA;
NICE? Nice signup button. Actually, this is one of the companies I’m looking forward to getting a demo of.

MeWorks, Inc.; Taipei, Taiwan;
NICE? Good “keep me posted” submission box.

Microstaq, Inc.; Austin, TX;
NICE? Nice slogan “innovations that flow.” Why? It matches their product line.

MixMatchMusic, Ltd.; Burlingame, CA;
NICE? Nice way to let beta users in, while informing others and collecting email addresses. This looks like it could be an interesting music service, so we’ll revisit later in the week.

Momindum; Paris, France;
NICE? They integrate with my old company’s products (Winnov) so that’s gotta be nice.; Dallas, TX;
NICE? The CEO blogs. I like the human element. Of course this is a social network/collaborative tool, so you’d expect them to get the value of putting humans on your corporate site.

Paidinterviews, LLC; McLean, VA;
NICE? Very clear, 1,2,3,4 about how this site will help you. Videos don’t work, but I assume they’ll get turned on later today.

Paragent, LLC; Muncie, IN;
NICE? Love a site that has a call to action right in your face. “Watch Demo Now.”

Photrade, LLC; Cincinnati, OH;
NICE? Nice, clear representation of value “get paid for your photos.” I love sites with clear, no BS, language.

PlanDone, Inc.; Petaluma, CA;
NICE? I love testimonials. By the way, are these stock photos? Or, did they spend real money to shoot unique photos?

Plastic Logic, Ltd.; Mountain View, CA;
NICE? Ummmm. Nice super-huge graphics. Oh, wait, I’m supposed to say something nice. Um, gee, er, ahh, well, um, can’t, sorry.

Qtask, Inc.; Burbank, CA;
NICE? They have the best video demo/tour I’ve seen so far.

Quantivo Corp.; San Mateo, CA;
NICE? This was the one site that caught my eye on Saturday and it, again, is my favorite so far.

Radiant Logic, Inc.; Novato, CA;
NICE? Big customers! Tells me this costs a lot of money and probably isn’t sold by visits to the site.

RealNetworks, Inc.; Seattle, WA;
NICE? I’ll skip this one, cause it’s not of something that’ll be shown at Demo so I’ll have to come back.

Rebus Technology, Inc.; Cupertino, CA;
NICE? It’s blue. The autoplaying music woke me up at 2:24 a.m.

RemoTV, Inc.; New Haven, CT;
NICE? Red! Need I say more?

Rudder, Inc.; Houston, TX;
NICE? This site, instead of using a stock photo that looks lame, used its product right in your face. Makes me want to try it.

Semanti Corp.; Alberta, Canada;
NICE? Tight writing.

Sim Ops Studios, Inc.; San Francisco, CA;
NICE? I love sneak peaks.

SitScape, Inc.; Vienna, VA;
NICE? Nice arrows.

SkyData Systems, Inc.; San Mateo, CA;
NICE? Actually this is a site I could probably have been nicer to on Saturday. Glad to finally see a site talking about price. I hate it when companies don’t tell you what things cost and use that as a lead generation device.

SpinSpotter; Seattle, WA;
NICE? I wonder if they’d spot this spin? Hmmm.

Telnic, Ltd.; London, England;
NICE? Clean and gets to the point fast.

TetraBase, LLC; Boothwyn, PA;
NICE? A non-rectangular design.

The Echo Nest Corp.; Somerville, MA;
NICE? Like the design. Looking forward to trying this music recommending service this week.

tikitag, an Alcatel-Lucent Venture; Antwerp, Belgium;
NICE? I think this might be most improved site in two days. Nice video that explains what this does.

Toolgether; San Mateo, CA;
NICE? Sorry, can’t say anything nice yet.

TravelMuse, Inc.; Los Altos, CA;
NICE? I want to go to Hawaii after visiting this site.

Trinity Convergence, Inc.; Durham, NC;
NICE? I wanna hear more about their picture frames and what makes them different.

TurnTo Networks, Inc.; New York, NY;
NICE? Video demo is good.

UbiEst S.p.A.; Treviso, Italy;
NICE? I bet the demo is nice. I want to see if it’ll make my mobile phone more useful.

UGA Digital, Inc.; Taipei, Taiwan;
NICE? Nice 3D logo. I wish I had a sense of what their photo frame does, though.

Unity Solutions, LLC; Clearwater, FL;
NICE? I’m getting sleepy.

Usable Security Systems, Inc.; San Francisco, CA;
NICE? Free beer.

WebDiet, Inc.; Henderson, NV;
NICE? This site has my name all over it. I’m fat and it’s a service to help me diet.

Xumii, Inc.; San Mateo, CA;
NICE? Hey, how did they get a Nokia N96?

Zazengo, Inc.; Santa Cruz, CA;
NICE? Now I’m feeling charitable because I get to go to sleep.

My "alignment" with TC50

Alec Saunders, in a comment over on his blog where he said I came off very poorly in my rant about the startups at Demo’s websites questions my “alignment” with TC50. I think that’s worth pointing out here.

I have not shared a meal in the past few months with Mike Arrington. Last time I remember seeing him was at his TC party a couple months ago.

I am NOT paid in any way by TC50. I have absolutely no business dealings with TC50. I have signed no contracts.

“But you’re a judge.” That is true. But so are many other people, including executives and VCs from around the valley. I am NOT being compensated for my time judging the finalists in the rich media category.

I am quite willing to spray my invective toward Arrington and Calacanis. They haven’t been friends to my business interests over the years.

I will be looking for things to both criticize and praise about both conferences this year. Actually I’ll probably be nicer to Demo this week because I’m not there and it’s not really fair to criticize something that you don’t have a personal involvement with. The companies’ websites? Fair game.

Anyway, I’ll be judged at the end of the week whether I was biased one way or another. If I do have a bias, it’ll be easy to see.

I have been more “aligned” with TC50 up to this point for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I think Arrington and Calacanis are outhustling Shipley. But, now, that isn’t really for me to judge. Now it’s YOUR turn to judge which conference did a better job of finding the best startups. I’ll link to the best analysis no matter what side of the fence it’s on.

UPDATE: also, this is true for FastCompany. Unlike other media companies like Mashable or Venturebeat that have sponsored Demo, FastCompany has no business ties to TechCrunch or Demo.

The "gold standard" of recent startups

Well, I’ve taken potshots at the new breed of startups. But let’s go back and look at recent startups that have gotten our attention and use this list as a “gold standard” through which to judge companies that come out this week at one of the two conferences.

I put forth a short list of some of the companies that have gained my trust/attention over the past few years. Things like Zoho. Meebo. Zappos. 37 Signals. Threadless. Evernote. Kongregate. TripIt. Kayak. Viddler. Qik. Kyte. Hypem. Dogster. Get Satisfaction. Instructables. Tesla Motors. iLike. Pandora. Lijit.

People on Twitter sent these in:

@dpiv says:
@seven24 says: Freshbooks.
@taaviuudam says: vimeo.
@andrewtc04 says: Moo. Seesmic. Qype.
@mind_booster says: Reverbnation. Sellaband.
@maniar says Zooomr. FriendFeed. Posterous.
@marilynpratt says: Veodia.
@DeirdreS says:
@DarJon says: Skribit.
@brendachrist says: GoldMine.
@JohnAtkinson says: Disqus. ZipScene. ShareThis. PimpMyNews.
@thetylerhays says: Pleasedressme. (another Gary Vee project).
@tinkugallery says: Recycline.
@nitinbadjatia says: Jott.
@Earth911 says: Twitter.
@mathys says: Mobypicture. and Startpix.
@jhurtado says: Tumblr. Scribd.
@Discpl says: Shelfari. Squidoo.
@4davidmartin says: Accuradio.
Chris Brogan, on FriendFeed says: Viewzi. Linden Labs.
Dave Martin, on FriendFeed, says Artfulhome.
Alan Le, on FriendFeed, says Mint.
Zee, on FriendFeed, says WordPress (er, Automattic).
Erhan Erdogan on FriendFeed, says: Apture. SocialMedian. Brightkite. Entrecard. Animoto. Speeddate. Sevenload. Fon. Flixwagon. PicLens. Shareaholic. Etsy.
Susan Beebe, on FriendFeed, says: FFtogo (FriendFeed mobile client). RSSMeme. Sliderocket. Blist. TweetDeck. Mento. Revision3.

Wow, what a lot of interesting companies. But here’s the problem: how many of these have you even tried? I bet that if I averaged out all my readers it would come up to somewhere between five and seven. And you are the smartest, most passionate, and most early adopter tech users in the world. For most people? I bet they might have tried one and have no clue about the rest of this list.

And THAT is why I’m getting to be much more harsh on startups. New startups are coming into this marketspace where even good existing companies (most of these companies are very good and are executing well) aren’t getting much attention. So if you don’t measure up to the current market standard bearers, you probably won’t have a possibility to succeed.

Lots of people think I should just go “rah rah” for new startups. I’m sorry, I’m not going to do that anymore. You want to get on this list? You’ve got to earn your way on here. Out of the more than 100 companies we’ll see this week, it’ll be interesting to see who will do just that.

How about you? What’s your “gold standard” in startups? Let’s build a good list which we’ll then use to compare new services and apps to this week.

Which ones of these have the potential of breaking out? Which ones do you love?

The Superbowl of Startups

When I attended Demo I remember being in awe of what I thought of as the Superbowl of Startups.

Here were these companies that prepared months to spend six minutes on stage.

Later I talked with “DemoGods Coaches” like Shel Israel or Nathan Gold. They told me just how much hard work went in behind the scenes. Some teams spent literally months preparing their demos and getting their companies ready for the big day. This year the big day is on Monday.

Each company has spent $18,500 just to get on stage. That part you all know about because of the famous fight that Demo has had with its competitor, TechCrunch 50.

But the Demo Coaches tell me there’s a lot more that goes into it. Many of these companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in time preparing (and hiring coaches like Nathan Gold, who has a few companies in the running down at Demo). They also often bring their entire teams down to both host the booth in the expo hall as well as host meetings in hotel room suites for press and VCs. Lots of deals are done in the back rooms.

This is why I was so harsh to all those sites this morning. This is the Super Bowl. It’s not a little high school recess game. Thousands of people have visited the list already in the past few hours since I posted. It’s at the top of TechMeme. There’s a lot of attention on the list.

Pointing out that these sights suck has gotten me quite a few harsh words in the past few hours. None harsher than Chris Shipley’s post in reply.

My response to her? Because this is the “Superbowl of Startups” Shipley needs to step up the game here.

Here’s a few replies to her post.

First, she didn’t call me before posting her post. So, let’s say she’s right about the fact that I post posts without getting her point of view then she just lowered herself to my level to make a point, which now is weakened significantly because she didn’t practice the higher ethics she says she wants us all to aspire to. More on that in a little while, though, because that really doesn’t have much to do with the Superbowl of Startups, er, Demo.

She wrote: “But seriously, if I cared about startups, I’d be sure there were links in my stories for the convenience of Robert and other bloggers?”

No, that’s not why I said that. Yes, I’m an egotistical baaahhhsssstttaaarrddd, and a lazy one too, but this shows you have contempt for the startups you are trying to help. A link is VERY IMPORTANT. Why? It gets Google juice. For a startup Google juice is probably more important than anything else the conference can do for you. Why? Because until someone links to your site you won’t be found very high on Google, which is where 99% of your customers will come from (not from tech blogs like this one, Shipley’s, or TechCrunch). Having a site like Demo link to you can mean the difference between being on the first page of results vs. being far lower.

Also, a link makes it easier for readers to do. When sites don’t link the things they talk about will see 100x less traffic than if they do link. Yes, readers (and bloggers and journalists even) are lazy. So, throw them a bone. Finally, by not linking you’ll force your readers to manually enter the URLs, which keeps Web sites from getting a good referral (server logs keep track of where visitors come from) so you won’t get as much credit as you’re due.

Anyway, back to what Shipley wrote. Here’s another passage: “When misinformation is propagated out of laziness and inconsideration, that’s hardly informative. It’s not “new school;” it’s No School.”

Um, OK, but did she point out something that I got factually wrong? No. Did she add new information? No. Did she just make it sound like I had gotten something wrong? Yes. Did she succumb to the same sins that she attacked me and Sarah Lacy for? Yes.

So, what did we learn here? Well, we learned that Shipley is disappointed with the coverage she’s getting. That much is clear. But did she take the time, after she had berated us for that coverage, to correct it? No.

And that makes me very sad. Because it’s like Shipley (and her commenters) are stuck in the past where words were printed on dead trees and you can’t argue with them.

This is not a one-way shipment of words. It’s a conversation.

If I say something wrong, or do something you don’t like, you get involved and slap me around for a while and then YOU CORRECT IT. Notice that I’ve linked to Shipley here twice tonight. Over on FriendFeed I passed her post to all of my friends. Same on Twitter. I’ll do the same on Facebook too. That’s a lot of attention that she had, but she didn’t take the time to get her point of view across.

Which brings me back to the “blogging is reporting” meme that she’s trying to get across.

Blogging is NOT reporting. It’s the single voice of a person. When you read me here you are reading me the way I’d talk to you at a cocktail party. You’re hearing my opinions. If I’m doing “reporting” then you’ll know, because of how I source it.

Sorry, I’m not going to call you every time I have an opinion. If you think I should, then you are crazy and don’t understand blogging.

I used to be like Shipley (Tim O’Reilly has voiced the same opinions too). I used to think that you should call me when you write something about me. That’s why I put my phone number on my blog (it’s +1-425-205-1921 — I do answer my phone and that is actually my cell phone that I use every day).

But I was wrong. See, this is a two-way conversation. You write crap about me. Then I can decide to answer you back.

This is unlike any other communication method ever devised by humans. Talk radio? Give me a break. I waited on hold for an hour last night to make a two-minute contribution to KGO Radio. Newspapers? Have you ever gotten a letter to the editor printed? How many weeks did it take? Magazines? I write for one of those and it takes months to get anything into it. TV? When was the last time a normal human being was on TV holding a conversation with someone on demand for as long as it takes? Never. Try getting on CNN sometime and see how easy it is.

But here? You can leave a comment. You can head over to FriendFeed. You can blog. You can Seesmic. YouTube. etc. etc.

Oh, and Shipley says I’m living in the “rarefied air of the echo chamber.” I love that diss. It might have held weight if she had called me and proven that she’s better than me. But, now that she’s shoved the cream pie in my face I’ll point out that none of the hundreds of startups on my show had to pay to get onto my video show. Ever.

Back to the “Superbowl of Startups.” I will relook at each site this week. Unfortunately Demo, for the first time in years, isn’t putting up videos of the demonstrators, so I’ll just be forced to link to other bloggers who are writing about Demo down there and then I’ll have to compare those companies to ones I’ll see face-to-face at TC50. That will probably introduce some bias, but I’ll link to all my work product and other sites and, anyway, if you don’t like what I say you can easily do a Google Blogsearch and find someone else you like better. Luckily there are lots of areas that don’t overlap between Demo and TC50, but where there are overlaps it’ll be interesting to compare the two approaches. I’m sure some will like the Demo approach. Others will like the TC50 approach.

It’s going to be a fun week in the Superbowl of Startups. Let me know by posting a URL here if you’re writing from either of the two conferences.