12 promising new Web sites and services

At two conferences this month -- Demo Fall 2008 and TechCrunch50 -- developers unveiled more than a 100 new Web sites and services. Here are a dozen of our favourites.

Cell Phone Thieves Beware

They say revenge is a dish best served cold. But when you want to even the score with whoever just stole your cell phone, revenge is perhaps most toothsome when served with an ear-splitting siren. Maverick Mobile's soon-to-be-released software will let you inflict that comeuppance on cell phone thieves--and retrieve your data while you're at it. If you have loaded Maverick's software on the stolen phone, you can use another phone to pull your contact data or other information off the purloined handset. You can also wreak remote havoc in such ways as hanging up on the thief's calls and setting off an alarm to alert everyone nearby that the scoundrel has taken that which belongs to another.

Fair and Balanced?

Think the news media is biased? Then SpinSpotter may be just what the counterspin doctor ordered. Site creators combine rules from a group of journalism advisors with a special algorithm to identify bias in news stories. Users armed with the site's browser plug-in can also edit news stories to make them more accurate; the results will be visible to other visitors to the page who use the same plug-in.

Wanderlust Engine

The most fun I found on TravelMuse is with the Inspiration Finder. You plug in a few basic parameters for your trip: how far you're willing to travel, how much you can spend, and what you want to do. In response, Inspiration Finder will give you a selection of destinations that meet the criteria you specified. Once you've picked a destination, you can save the details of your vacation and share them with your fellow travelers, who can collaborate on your trip planning.

Carpool by iPhone

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have an informal system called casual carpooling: People in need of a ride to San Francisco congregate in specific areas in the suburbs and drivers swing by and pick them up. Riders get a free trip to work, drivers get to speed along in the carpool lane and avoid paying a bridge toll--and fewer cars clog the road. Avego hopes to bring a similar concept to the iPhone. With the Avego app (which is due out in a few months) loaded on their phones, riders can enter their location and specify where they want to go. Drivers with the app will be alerted that a rider is in the area and can agree to pick them up. The system will then alert the rider, and it can even figure out how much the passenger should pay for the lift.

The Restaurant Diet

WebDiet may help your waistline, or it may just emaciate your wallet. The system uses GPS on your phone to locate nearby restaurants; then it suggests meals at eateries that suit your needs for proper caloric intake. So if you had a double-double cheeseburger for lunch, Webdiet will try to compensate by suggesting a less indulgent evening meal--say, a vegan shake for dinner and maybe an ice cube for dessert. If you don't want or can't afford to eat all of your meals out, it's unclear how much WebDiet will help. The company's presentation at Demo didn't include information about how to enter food that you cook at home, but the site's FAQ (the service itself isn't yet live) indicates that this will be possible.

Web TV Guide

The Web has many great video viewing options, but no great way to find them. Invision.tv aims to solve that problem by providing you with an electronic program guide to the Web. Videos are arranged by channels: CNN, Funny or Die, and the like. If you tell Invision what you're interested in, it will suggest good viewing options. For a different take on the same problem, check out ffwd.com.

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Edward N. Albro

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