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At Demo, it's all about content discovery

Six of fifteen companies pitching at the start-up conference Tuesday are offering new ways for you to find Web content you're likely to enjoy.

PALM DESERT, Calif.--Six of the fifteen companies pitching at day two of the Demo 09 conference are focused on discovering content for consumers.

Ensembli gathers up info from around the Web based on what you tell it your interests are. It looks very, very easy to understand and use. It learns from your behavior what kind of stories and what sources you like, and refines what it presents to you as you use it more. It's one of the few new Web services I would recommend to my mother. See review.

Evri also helps readers find and track content in which they're interested. There's also a widget service for publishers that, like Sphere, finds relevant related content for a given story. One of the really cool things that Evri does is draw a diagram of how the concepts that Evri extracts relate to each other. Each concept then gets its own page, which the service adds to as it scours the Web and other users add content in a wiki-like manner. A browser plug-in lets you pop up an Evri connection box over any word on a page, which is pretty useful for research.

Evri creates networks of related themes and links for the topics it knows about. Click screenshot for larger view. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Xmarks is the new Foxmarks, the bookmark synchronization add-on for browsers. The service now adds site discovery to its sync service. There's also now a user-review function. This is a clever extension to this very useful product. I have serious doubts as to how it will make money for the company, but Xmarks spokespeople have assured me they have a secret plan that goes beyond just selling ads. We'll report on that when we learn more. See review.

Gazaro makes "custom sales flyers" for you. It's really a vertical search engine based around products and prices, but it puts the results into a format that looks like a newspaper circular. When prices change, it sends you a new flyer. Gazaro also rates the sales on products on a 0 to 10 scale. If I were Nextag, I'd worry. This looks simpler and more proactive.

HowSimple makes Q, a Web content viewing app (Windows only so far) that lets you set up and track search queries. But instead of giving you a list of links, Q gives you live thumbnails of the search results themselves, which update as search results change. You can also extract links from any page into a giant grid of Web page previews. For people who like to pay partial attention to a lot of things at once, it looks like a good alternate way to browse Web sites.

Sobees reminds me of Tweetdeck and of Netvibes. It takes your social feeds and the sites you like, and puts it all into one big column-separated window so you can see what's happening on the sites and networks you care about. Like a Twitter app, it lets you reply to your network, not just read it. But like Netvibes, it can also monitor sports, YouTube tags, and so on. It's a hairy Windows install, though, and I couldn't get it to work on my MacBook running XP under VMWare Fusion. A Wall Street Journal reporter on a Windows Thinkpad also gave up.

Of these tools, I expect that a month from now I'll still be using Xmarks (I'm already a Foxmarks user), and next time I plan to buy anything online I hope I remember to give Gazaro a shot. I'm going to tell my mother and father about Ensembli. The other three tools didn't grab me as must-haves.