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Stirr wrap-up: Yes, Freebase really is that cool

Start-ups from Stirr: MetaWeb, Criteo, Wrike, and Buxfer.

It's a little late, but I want to wrap up the Stirr event I emceed last week. As with all other Stirr gatherings I've been to, this event included four carefully chosen presenters pitching their new Web companies. These were the companies we heard from last week:

MetaWeb, makers of Freebase, had the most popular presentation, judging by the silence of the audience during the pitch and the applause meter at the end of it. The MetaWeb database platform underpins the Freebase application and is designed to be a shared repository of structured knowledge. The blogosphere loves it, since it's ambitious, really interesting, and very open. Think of it as Wikipedia with structure. For instance, Freebase knows that an entry for an airport should contain a list of airlines that use it, and if you click on an airline from the airport entry you'll automatically see other airports it serves. It sounds simple, but building a semantic web of knowledge like that has been a dream of academics for decades. MetaWeb might just do it. The MetaWeb site has an explanatory Freebase video that's so understated, you might not understand what a powerful platform Freebase is when you watch it.

Practical tidbit: When I asked MetaWeb co-founder Jamie Taylor what important real-world applications he had in mind when the company built the system, he refused (or couldn't) name one. Usually, when a platform is built without an application in mind, it's an early indicator that the product will have a short lifespan. These products may be critical successes, but without traction in the real world, they don't last. I'm not yet sure if Freebase is different, but I really like it. It could be big, and it should be.

Criteo was the only company at the Stirr event that was new to me. This company makes recommendation engines for all kinds of Web sites. An engine can show site visitors what other products or services it calculates that they will like and thus help online retailers to sell their back catalogs of content and products. The company also has a new "AutoRoll" tool, which is targeted to bloggers and automatically creates a list of blogs based on users' behavior across sites. It's an interesting idea, but for a site to appear on an AutoRoll, it's got to be part of the AutoRoll network. That's limiting, especially during the launch phase. The example shown here is a live demo. If the links don't look all that good, mind this caveat from the company: "It can take up to a few days before the links displayed on your AutoRoll are fully relevant."

Wrike is a neat little service that helps you organize group tasks. You just cc: your project-oriented e-mails to, and the service adds some intelligence to the e-mail thread to keep people on top of things. I covered this company back in December, and I still like it.

Buxfer is an entry-level accounting service that launched last year as a tool to help roommates manage split bills for rent and other shared expenses. Now it's evolving into a more general-purpose cash-flow tracking package for people with simple finances. Essentially, it's a very basic Quicken-like product for young people. It doesn't have enough depth to replace Quicken for anyone halfway serious about tracking and controlling money, but it keeps getting better and can provide insight into your cash flow, which is the first step towards controlling it. The newest feature: importing your bank statements.

Finally, our apologies for Webware's earlier post about what we called YouTube's "new" Streams and Audio Mixer products. They're not new, just updated.