DEMO 08 Conference Begins

Palm Desert, CAStarting today, a technology conference with a message slightly more aspirational than other tech shows. Over the next two days, some 77 companies will present their plans and products to an audience of investors, executives, and journalists eager to hear about the newest solutions to today’s technological challenges. As part of the criteria, a presenting company’s idea or product “cannot currently be in public distribution, be an upgrade to an existing product, be in an already saturated market category, or been widely covered in the media,” according to the organizers. It’s one of four DEMO conferences that are being held this year; San Diego, China, and Munich will also play host. As someone who’s never been here before, Palm Desert, California (right down the road from Palm Springs) feels a bit alien. My first look at the area, driving east on Route 10, was of snow-capped mountain ridges lining a valley filled with wind turbines. There are no trees here, save for the ones planted by developers; the vast majority of the area is an arid windswept plain spotted with scrub bushes. Not far away is Joshua Tree National Park (whose trees were immortalized on a U2 album). As Buzz Aldrin remarked of the lunar landscape, it’s a scene of magnificent desolation. So you have to wonder, then, how all these golf courses manage to keep their lawns green. It’s an odd irony, that in the same area that’s producing renewable energy, this conference is being held at a locale that isn’t all that sustainable (in a two-mile radius around the conference, there’s 11 golf courses alone). It’s certainly something to keep in mind, considering Chris Shipley, the executive director of Demo, noted a few days ago in a blog that as green technology gains more prevalence at the conference, “we’ll have to make our own tough assessment to reduce DEMO’s footprint.” Common Problems, Different Solutions And Demo might just use one of the presenters to do just that: Celsias, a New Zealand-based company, allows people to start or join projects on its Web site to reduce global warming. In a similar vein, Good2Gether, based in Melrose, Massachusetts, is also creating a network through its site to link nonprofits to help share resources. Judging by the presenting companies, a few other overarching themes are already apparent: One, the ability to move large video files around the Web quickly, is being tackled by several companies. There’s Asankya, which, according to them, has developed a technology that breaks up large files and speeds them over the ‘net more efficiently than current packet-switching methods. BitGravity has developed a way to send high-definition streaming video; Squidcast lets users stream files using an email plug-in; and Vidyo has developed high-def videoconferencing. Another commonality among several presenters is developing more creative collaboration and communication tools. In its writeup, Culver City, California-based Capzles says it blends social networking and storytelling to let users get across their message in the way they’re most comfortable. Cellspin, of San Jose, California, has developed a graphical user interface that allows people to send text and multimedia files from mobile devices to Web 2.0 sites. One other company, Flypaper, from Phoenix, has created what it most likely hopes is an antidote to PowerPoint that can be modified and shared live over the Web. Of course, I have yet to see any of these products in action, so we’ll see if they live up to the hype. Stay tuned over the next few days for further updates, as well as other reports from the conference.

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