Note: CNET's judges for this article were Dan Farber, Josh Lowensohn, Elinor Mills, Rafe Needleman, and Daniel Terdiman.
Correction at 7:30 a.m. PDT: The current name for the GPS-based ride-sharing product is Mapflow's Avego.
More than 120 companies presented at this week's competing start-up conferences: DemoFall and TechCrunch50.
As usual with conferences like this, many of the products were either derivative or best described as cool, new features that will be commonplace in a year. But there were some breakouts--companies showing unique technology, or standout thinking.
CNET covered the two events extensively. After their conclusions, we gathered to compare notes and select our top products from both shows, the products that we thought differentiated from the pack through innovation, consumer need, business model, or some combination. These are our top 10 products, the CNET Best of Shows:
Fitbit Small, wearable activity monitor and pedometer. Transmits your data to the Web, where you can track your activity and bring in friends to encourage you along. Fitbit was a runner-up for the top product launch at TechCrunch50.
Why we like it: We agree with Josh Kopelman: "Buying this is more of an IQ test than a financial decision."
Chances for success: High. Great idea, great design, great online component. And people need it.
Social network/virtual world with nice 3D interface and healthy revenue model, targeted at teens.
Why we like it: Technologically it looks sound, and the revenue model is weighted heavily toward product placement, which is becoming a major new revenue component for online worlds.
Chances for success: Unknown. You can build a technologically awesome virtual world and have no one show up. The key to success is getting the social model right and winning over a core group of alpha inhabitants who then pull their friends into the system. We haven't tried the product yet.
Uses GPS-equipped iPhones to match up people in cars with those who want to hitch rides. Not anonymous like hitching, though. You have to register with the site before you get or give rides.
Why we like it: High green factor. Brings efficiency to the perpetually wasteful act of driving alone.
Chances for success: Not too great, since it doesn't work until there's a critical mass of users, and that's a difficult problem to solve.
A technology for touch-screen devices that lets you drag your finger or stylus around an on-screen keyboard to type, instead of tapping. See the demo. Swype was a runner-up for the top product launch at TechCrunch50.
Why we like it:We tried it, and it's scary good. Also, the inventor is the guy who got the T9 input method onto 2.5 billion mobile phones.
Chances for success: Medium. The model is to extensively license this technology. Total addressable market is huge: every touchscreen and home entertainment device that uses alphanumeric input. But getting nonexclusive deals will be hard.
VideoSurf Breakthrough video search engine that can identify people.
Why we like it: With the amount of video content on the Web expanding rapidly, we need a Google for video that doesn't just search tags, titles, and captions. VideoSurf actually gets into the files to recognize faces.
Chances for success: Unknown. It's demoware so far. We haven't played with it. If it works as advertised, then very high likelihood for rich acquisition.
Yammer Twitter for business. Instead of "What are you doing?" the question is "What are you working on?" Yammer won the top prize at the TechCrunch50 conference.
Why we like it: As with SocialCast, we think it's the right technology for the time. The working class is becoming accustomed to using tools like this in their personal lives, and the answers to the question this product asks will be useful to people at work.
Chances for success: Medium. Barrier to entry in this market is low; the technology is not hard to build. But the movement of social technolgies, like this one, into the business world is inevitable.