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UTR Mobility: Search and discovery on the go

Phones are for talking, but they're also pretty handy for searching for stuff too. Here are some new companies trying to change the way we find things on the go.

Under the Radar's Mobility is all about accessing Web services while away from the comforts of your home computer. While a great deal of that has to do with phones, many of the sites and services can be useful even when you're back at the homestead. The first four companies showing their stuff are Boopsie, Buzzwire, Dial Directions, and ImThere. While all four have mobile components, Boopsie and Dial Directions are phone-centric.

Boopsie showed off its mobile search application, which has both a standalone application for phones with open platforms like Windows Mobile and Palm, along with a BREW and J2ME application, and an ajaxy Web interface the company touts as iPhone-friendly. The search tool is focused around categories, which the user has to choose before seeing a search box. Boopsie's CEO Greg Carpenter did a live demo of the service on a Palm Treo for finding a Wikipedia entry. The results come up live and very quickly. It's also got prefix search, meaning you need to type in only the first few letters of a word in multi-word searches.

The company makes its money from theme-skinned clients and an enterprise version that can be tweaked for businesses wanting to use it as an internal tool. Eventually Boopsie hopes to integrate keyword placement with wallpapers, ringtones, and all the other things that are making buckets of cash for mobile-phone companies.

The panel of judges chided Boopsie for putting too much pressure on the consumer who needs to pre-think searches by picking a category--something that goes against the current trend of letting users be "lazy" and simply type into a blank search box. Carpenter says consumers who use the application tend to use it extensively enough after doing a single search that they identify channels they go back to.

Buzzwire focuses on streaming media, which is made from audio, video, and written content like blog posts and news articles. The service is launching "early" next year, as soon as it can line up carrier support, although the company has had a 3000-user beta trial going since July. The application lets people find stuff to read, listen to, or watch online, and make customized lists of favorites that can be accessed on both the phone and from a desktop browser. There's also a social-networking component with a sharing service that lets users swap bookmarks with one another.

The big question from the moderators is how the company would maintain whatever deal it have with the carriers without being pushed out over time. Buzzwire's answer was that the content it serves up is king, and that it always tries to maintain compatibility on as many platforms as possible.

Dial Directions gives people driving directions through their mobile phone using navigation data from MapQuest. We lightly covered the service back in July, and since then it's been getting some healthy use. It has expanded to the entire country as of Monday. Even though it's not a Google product, I'd like to think it's a companion service to GOOG-411, since both services use speech recognition and are so simple to use. One of my favorite features is the ability to skip minor bits of directions, such as how to get to the highway.

The company makes its money through text ads that come along with the SMS message of the directions that users can have sent to them. Dial Directions also plans to work with advertisers to provide contextually relevant ads based on user search. When asked about any weaknesses, creator Amit Desai noted there is no live operator but that they've built in some ways to mollify agitated users.

ImThere is kind of like in that people use their phones to submit content that goes into a live public stream. The service is focused on photos and videos, and related items from an event go into a pool that takes up an entire page with its own name and custom URL. Like Upcoming, Yelp Events, Eventful, and others, ImThere allows people to create an event before it happens and let other users know if they're attending.

The judges dug into founder David Gorman about how his site would hold its ground against other community sites who wanted to add a mobile version, and how a service like this can fill the bill for two different crowds of people--publishers and consumers. On both counts, Gorman defended ImThere by citing its mobile platform's simplicity and how the service organizes content from multiple users. If you want to check out an example of what the site does, you can see all of us people in collared shirts milling around the Microsoft campus on the Under the Radar ImThere page.