Five Startups to watch in 2008

Following our look at a multitude of emerging web technology companies at the recent Le Web conference, IT PRO shortlists its five companies to watch in 2008.

Even in these post dot com times, web startups are thriving. When IT PRO recently visited the Le Web conference in Paris, we were treated to a beauty parade of some of the best and brightest new companies, all trying to pioneer and establish new services and technologies for the web.

This is our pick of the group, the five companies we think have the brightest future ahead of them, and hopefully won't sink without trace.

Zyb

Proudly shouting that there are 12 million contacts securely stored on their website is Zyb, which allows you to back up you smartphone's PIM data (contacts, calendar entries) over the air using the standard iSync software built in to most modern handsets. You can also forward SMS messages to a number if you wish to store them for reference as well. What makes Zyb stand out, is grafting a small 'social network' into the web portal allowing you to get in touch with friends while online.

We were impressed with Zyb on two counts. The first is that the set-up process is remarkably easy - the website takes you through each step while it takes to your handset via an SMS configuration message. All the tricky settings are handled behind the scenes and never once scare a new user. The second is that once I had completed the first sync, it alerted me to any of my contacts who were already using Zyb so I can begin making my Zyb Social Network. A simple touch, but one very much appreciated.

The usual questions and worries about data aside, Zyb works very well. If they would consider a 'white label' version that a corporate IT department could put on their own network and thus restricting it to employees, I think there would be a lot of interest.

Louder Voice

Look at any online store and you're likely to find a 'reviews' section. You're also likely to be thinking just how genuine those reviews are. Which is what Louder Voice hopes to help with. They let you write reviews on your own blog, and then index those reviews in their own system. For those without a blog you can set up a reviews blog on the Louder Voice server (and they promise to help you move it over if you ever upgrade to one of your own). Powered by microformats, it's a simple addition to a blog and provides another route. And for the Web 2.0 generation, Louder Voice has integrated SMS into the service so you can send short, text based reviews into the system as well.

Providing a natural home for independent reviews should give people confidence in what they are reading - by being pointed back at personal blogs and sources, the person behind the words is much more visible, and provides a level of honesty that is lacking in the reviews found on commerce sites. It's also a lot harder to game a system such as this. As with all services, getting people to provide content is the key to success. Allowing you to keep it on your own website, and have traffic pushed to you, should be a good incentive for those joining, and drive traffic to Louder Voice in turn.

G.Ho.st

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G.Ho.st, while still at an early stage in it's developments, is the logical conclusion of 'Something as a Service' (such as Amazon's S3 storage service). It is a virtual computer. You log into a virtual desktop environment from any web browser, and you have access to a desktop, shortcuts, 3GB of storage, and a number of applications including email, a web browser and instant messaging.

Once you get over the mental hoop of using a computer to log on and be another computer, the benefits of a service such as G.ho.st become clearer. If you've ever used Gmail over more than one machine, such as an office PC, a colleague's laptop, and a short session on a smartphone, you're already using gmail as a 'virtual email client.' G.ho.st takes that convenience and effectively provides it over an entire operating system. When I was at University, access to any computing power (email, news groups, program compilation, printing, etc) was through a 'dumb' VT100 terminal that talked to a central server - G.ho.st is the Web 2.0 equivalent.

An interesting by-product of this is security. G.ho.st does not access any files on the local PC, everything sits on the G.ho.st servers, so there is no danger of any corruption to the local machine. Backup are provided by the system invisibly, giving you one less item to worry about. I love the duality that G.ho.st has, both looking back to how computing used to be in the workplace, but also providing a prediction to how we will interact in the future. I'm still wary of putting anything business critical into a free service that could disappear tomorrow, but as a place to store files I need when travelling, accessing my POP3 and IMAP mail boxes, and to give instant messaging from any PC with a browser (even if the IM protocols are locked down) gives me a safety net when on the road.

And the interesting URL in G.ho.st? The Global Hosted Operating System.

Holistis

Advertising campaigns and awareness can get people to a website, especially in the retail sector, but once they are there you need to make sure their visit is converted into the desired outcome (generally by making a sale). Holistis can help increase the adoption of products and services on your website.

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It does this by using algorithms that detect distinct visitor intentions and display the most appropriate content to meet their expectations.

Content on the website is then altered dynamically, depending on the visitor to the site. The Holistis widget is placed on as many pages as required on your website, and in conjunction with marketing objectives, actions required to reach those goals, the secret sauce will go to work to for your bottom line; it's based on both the a/b and multivariate statistical analysis (which allow a number of variables to be altered in a sample). You can check on the progress with real time reports, which also shows a "before and after" comparison. For more advanced uses of Holistis, or for companies looking for an extra layer of confidence, you can have a dedicated server set up just for your own site.

Alenty

The most valuable resource to any website is a reader. And when the web was a single column of a static page, tracking 'eyeballs' was easy enough. But in this world of drop down menus, Ajax code, and dynamic content changing without a new page URL being called, tracking and analysing what your readers are doing needs something more complicated - and French based Alenty could have the solution.

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Their solution is designed to work on Web 2.0 sites powered by Ajax - an environment which is typically very dynamic (one of the biggest Ajax powered sites is Google). The Alenty report breaks down how long someone was not only on a single page, but which part of the page had their attention. This works through monitoring the reader's mouse and keyboard activity and 'stopping the clock' on one section of the site when they move away, or it scrolls off the screen. And that leads to starting the clock on the next section.

Providing tracking for items outside the first screen's worth of content is possible, even if it is a 'static' page. The demo on the Alenty website illustrates these concepts, and you should head on over there to see just how useful this tool will be to people who need to have an incredibly fine grained report on how readers are interactive with a website, be they a corporate information page or a sprawling online retail store.

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