Le Web 08: Startups plan 'Facebookification' of the Web

Internet startups presenting at Le Web 08 conference in Paris have a common theme: social networking.

If the next generation of Internet startups presenting at Le Web 08 conference in Paris have their way, the Web of the future could look like one big social-networking site.

"We see the influence of what has come before. The Facebookification of the Web is upon us," said David Hornik, a partner with venture fund August Capital, and one of the judges of the startup competition at the conference.

"Everything is a feed," he said. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- feeds, or streams of information pushed out to the user as they are generated, can be a logical way to present some kinds of information -- but startups here are using them to present everything from travel bookings to business management tools, he said.

Another thing that united the 30 startups presenting is that they had all put a lot of effort into preparing their business plans, Hornik said.

However, not all of those money-making plans were convincing, according to Philippe Collombel, a partner with venture fund Partech International and also one of the judges. Some of the business plans failed to convince him because the startups are pursuing multiple revenue streams, both business-to-business and business-to-consumer. "That may be too much work for one startup," he said.

That diversity of revenue appealed to another of the judges, Six Apart vice president Olivier Creiche. Six Apart has two revenue streams: selling the Movable Type blogging software, and hosting blogs on which it sells advertising.

Viewdle, a video search company with offices in Kiev, Ukraine, and Santa Monica, California, won the start-up competition. Viewdle uses a face recognition engine to index who appears in video clips, and can couple this with information from close-captioning systems and other metadata to take searchers to the relevant frame in a long clip. Using a cheap PC or server with a dual-core processor, it can index a broadcast video stream in better than real time, a company representative said. News agency Reuters indexes news clips with the technology, while Viewdle also demonstrated how it can be used to recognize friends featured in videos posted on -- where else? -- Facebook.

Second place was a throwback to 1990s startups like Geocities: a company offering free Web hosting services. Webnode, from Brno in the Czech Republic, offers free hosting of sites up to 100M bytes in size, with 1G byte per month of traffic. All it asks in return is a discreet text link naming the service at the bottom of each page. But it's not just about hosting: Webnode also offers (free) site design tools, allowing users to create a site by dragging and dropping elements such as blogs, forums, photo libraries, feedback boxes and so on. It hopes to get users hooked on the simplicity of the interface, and then to make money by selling premium services such as more space, or customized domain names for businesses. It also sells a "white label" version of the service to service providers building Web sites for businesses.

Among the other startups exhibiting was SquareClock, which allows property developers, kitchen designers and, well, anyone interested in home improvements, to furnish and decorate a virtual apartment in their Web browser. SquareClock models furniture based on details from manufacturers' catalogs, and a wide selection of flooring and wall coverings. There's even a one-click kitchen design tool that takes account of doors and windows to position the sink, cupboards and domestic appliances in an ergonomic sequence. There's a social-networking twist to this too, as SquareClock will allow users to show off their room designs, said managing director Guillaume Delarue. By observing the way that users customize their room layouts, and the combinations of furniture and soft furnishings they choose, SquareClock hopes one day to draw on the wisdom of the crowds to improve the interior decorating advice it offers, he said.

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