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The cool and the creative


"There is a ton of buzz around Colorado," said Colorado Secretary of Technology Kristin Russell in her opening remarks at the Colorado Technology Association's 2011 DEMOgala. Why? "I think we're collaborative, I think we're innovative, and I think we're cool."

Now, cool is not necessarily the first adjective that comes to mind in a room full of programmers, but there is no doubt that it applied here. CTA's flagship annual event, DEMOgala has showcased the state's technology community since 2005.

Keynote speaker Michael Zeisser, vice president at Liberty Media, launched his talk with slides featuring a number of quotes, including a Mark Twain gem. "History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes," he told the crowd gathered at the Sheraton in downtown Denver in October.

Noting that Liberty is the third-largest e-commerce company in the U.S. after Amazon and eBay, Zeisser went on to illustrate exactly how Twain's quote applies to the two-decade-old Internet industry. "We're in the first or second inning -- it's early," he said. "Despite being early, we've gone through dramatic change already."

Zeisser highlighted several distinct past eras, including the portal era (1995-99), the search era (2002-06), and the user-generated era, a.k.a. Web 2.0 (2006-10), as well as the current mobile era. "My rule of thumb is every three to four years, we have a really big shift in this industry."

Within this sea of change, there are three constants, he added. First off, there are no second chances -- where are Friendster and MySpace now? Secondly, product is king, with relevancy, scale, and network effects the key attributes on the Web. Lastly, Zeisser said management must rethink the traditional paradigm. "It takes Management 2.0," he explained. "It takes a different form of organizational model" -- one that is decentralized with the CEO serving as "inspirer-in-chief" instead of commander-in-chief.

The Seminars

Inspiration was in no short supply at the subsequent seminars. Covering topics ranging from customer relationship management to security to 3-D television, the speakers took attendees on a tour of the present that looked a lot like the future.

In "Convergence of Technology and Entertainment," Richard Buchanan, vice president and general manager of content operations and engineering at the Comcast Media Center, said that the cable game has changed rapidly. "What people want to do is consume at their convenience, at their time of choice and on their device of choice. Now we're a multiplatform company that takes the content and ports it to several different platforms as quickly as possible." The potential pitfall? "We have to avoid the 'Napsterization' of video. You have to respect the food chain."

"I think you'll see a slow unraveling of the current structure," interjected Ken Venturi, executive vice president and chief creative officer at National Cinemedia. "The path content must travel to get to the consumer has far more options."

The panel agreed 3-D is still oozing with hype. "Just because you can make a sphere fly across somebody's living room, does that mean you really want to do it?"

The seminar, "The Right Creative Technologist is Critical to Driving Success in Today's Media Campaign," hammered home the emergence of the technologist as a creative in the modern advertising world. "Programming is inherently a creative exercise," said Dan Fox, creative director of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. "Fifteen years ago, there were no technologists in advertising. Today, technologists are part of the creative process."

Added Fox: "You know that IT guy who hordes knowledge because he thinks it makes him important? No one likes that guy."

Fox hammered his point by demonstrating an app called Jiggle-It that Crispin Porter + Bogusky produced for Jell-o: an animated cube of the 115-year-old dessert product dancing to music of the user's choice.

Also on the schedule: "Mobility: Rapid Adoption = Disruption to Traditional Business Operations = Opportunity to Differentiate, Drive Value and Capture Market Share." Panelist Nicole Skogg, CEO of SpyderLynk, a Denver-based mobile marketing company with a national clientele, said cracking the mobile nut takes effort. "You can't just put a barcode on an ad, check a box and say, 'I have a mobile strategy,'" she said. But you can't ignore it, either, Skogg added. "Half of shoppers in the next five years will be actively shopping on their mobile phones. That's the future."
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Co-panelist Michael Iams, MapQuest's principal product manager for mobile, pointed to HTML5 as the next big thing in the market. "If there's any buzzword you want to come out of this, that's probably it," said Iams, dubbing it "the next wave" platform for mobile apps.

Among the final seminars of the day, "How Technology Has Impacted Security: Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should" left attendees with the takeaway that social media can be a big security risk. "A full picture" can be assembled from a number of unrelated, out-of-context comments, warned Kim Raburn, a security specialist with MWH.

But banning social media from the workplace is not the solution, countered John Dickson of the Denim Group. "'Thou shalt not do social media,' to me, is a lazy approach."

Another big buzzword, cloud computing, has its own set of security risks, Raburn added. "When you're moving to the cloud, make sure you have a good reason for it," she said. "Realize you transfer all of your own risks to that vendor. Audit them with a third party so you get a true picture.

The Demos

Two rounds of demos by predominately local tech companies gave DEMOgala 2011's attendees a sneak peek into ideas of all shapes and sizes, from the latest and greatest in mobile marketing to "the Internet of things."

Go SpotCheck: The Boulder TechStars graduate uses crowdsourcing to gather in-store merchandising information about brands from shoppers using their mobile phones for a small fee. "Now you can make money on your shopping trip," CEO Matt Talbot said. www.gospotcheck.com

Presm Medical Solutions: Presm is behind a medical network that makes "medical practices more profitable and being a patient suck less," said CEO Kevin Fredrick. www.presm.com

iGivefirst: CEO Sharif Youssef said the company's system makes charitable giving "as easy as liking on Facebook or tweeting" with a similar widget that can be embedded into any Web page. www.igivefirst.com

Mosoro: CEO Mike Stemple said the company will make devices that will be part of "the Internet of things," including weather-detecting fobs and gadgets that capture an athlete's moves. www.mosoro.com

OpenSpace: The company delivers a new social-based platform for buying apps on mobile devices. www.openspacestore.com

RazorChain: CEO Jonathan Fleck said the company's consensus-based forecasting software will boost business intelligence by leaps and bounds. www.razorchain.com

DwellData: The company provides in-depth information on homes, picking up where Zillow leaves off, said CEO John Yeung. www.dwelldata.com

Tagwhat: CEO Dave Elchoness explained how the company adds a layer of information over the real world's locations that can be accessed via mobile devices. www.tagwhat.com

Referzo: CEO Adam Swiecki's experience with social media in the action sports e-commerce led him to look for a better way. That better way is using customers as "micro-affiliates," he said. "We've been paying our customers cash for referring business." www.referzo.com

Roximity: Born from a 48-hour "hackathon," Roximity aims to revolutionize the daily deal concept. "Daily deals suck," co-founder Dan Newman said. "We give you deals that are relevant to time, place and interest." www.roximity.com

SendGrid: "We do email right," said CEO Jim Franklin, noting that 20 percent of email never reaches an inbox. The company currently sends 2 billion emails monthly for its 50,000 customers. www.sendgrid.com

Laipac Tech: Canada-based Laipac develops GPS tracking devices for healthcare, security and other markets. www.laipac.com

Strategic Transitions: The Canada-based company develops software to help those who struggle with literacy to write better. www.strategictransitions.com  

Clvr.Tv: The company developed an interactive, embeddable video player with moving images that users can click through for information or purchase. www.clvr.tv

Digital Folio: Chief Architect Fernando Cardenas described the company's app as a "viral shopping platform" that brings benefits to consumers and retailers. www.digitalfolio.com

SpyderLynk: "We're human-readable, not just machine-readable," said CEO Nicole Skogg of SpyderLynk's SnapTags, used by Coke Zero, Bud Light and other heavyweight brands. www.spyderlynk.com

ReportGrid: The company's next-generation Web-analytics software is more cost effective, COO Jason Spinell said. "We're building a core piece of Web 3.0 infrastructure." www.reportgrid.com

TeamSnap: CEO Dave DuPont said the company helps teams and groups get on the same page. "You spend a lot of time getting people to show up at the right place at the right time, but people make mistakes," he said. "That's the problem we solve." www.teamsnap.com

The Launch

Debuting at DEMOgala 2011, MapQuest Vibe, a.k.a. mqVibe, from Denver-based Internet map pioneer MapQuest, utilizes social media to offer local perspective on restaurants, shops and other businesses.

Not only does mqVibe focus on specific neighborhoods, it allows users to cast simple thumb's-up or thumb's-down votes on local businesses, aggregating the votes into an easily navigable ranking system. Users can then port their votes and comments over to Facebook and other social networks with a simple click.

"It's not just about local search - it's about local discovery," said Christian Dwyer, MapQuest senior VP and general manager. "We want to answer the question, 'Where should we go?'" mqvibe.mapquest.com

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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