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SoCal geeks ready for the spotlight

The third Twiistup party celebrated the companies and people responsible for the Los Angeles tech community.

With free DVDs handed out at the door, numerous camera crews shooting interviews, and--oh yes--"special guest" celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, last night's Twiistup party seemed proof that the Los Angeles tech community is pulling out of the shadow of Silicon Valley and putting its own spin on geek culture.

Like its predecessor, Twiistup 3 packed a sold-out crowd of Web folks and other geeks (including Doug Campbell from Tuxedo Travels and CNET alumnus Rich DeMuro) into the Air Conditioned Supper Club in Venice, where attendees talked tech, networked, and vetted business plans over drinks. And while Hilton may have been granted "special guest" status, the real stars of the evening were the event's "showoffs"--nine Web companies that set up shop in the venue to give demos and recruit employees.

Several of the companies have been covered on Webware and CNET before. DocStoc, the document-sharing site, gave Rafe Needleman a glimpse of the business climate last fall. Rubicon Project helps Web sites make more money off ads by managing multiple ad networks (see CNET's take here). gives you 3 minutes to find a potential mate. PeopleJam, currently in "preview," connects people looking for advice on health, relationships, spirituality, and finances. And AskMeNow is a downloadable search application for your phone service that lets you ask any question via SMS (see our early review here; since that review was written Ask Me Now has dropped its per-message fee).

YellowBot, currently in beta, combines the structured directory of online yellow pages with social networking, tagging, and sharing features. The combination lets users find local businesses using both traditional keywords, such as "hotel," and tags, such as "dog friendly," as well as write reviews of places they frequent. The company is run by a former Citysearch exec who wanted to create a Web tool that capitalized on existing real-world relationships; ideally YellowBot users will be able to easily see what their friends and neighbors, rather than anonymous reviewers, have to say about local businesses.

A company rep described Thembid to me as "eBay for services." Say you need some plumbing work in your home. Traditionally you would assemble a list of plumbers and call each of them up individually to describe the job and ask for a price quote. ThemBid lets you enter the job description once, assign it a category, and wait for the bids to roll in. Registered businesses receive a notice when a request for a bid has been posted in their categories; a link takes them to a page where they can view your request, ask follow-up questions, and bid for the job. Both you and the business can register for free, but ThemBid makes money by charging businesses for premium profiles that will guarantee their bid is at the top of your list.

OfficeZilla is a free online collaboration space that lets you share a calendar, contact manager, files, and links with your selected work group. There's also a chat room, task manager, and message forums, all designed to take your workflow out of your e-mail client and into a shared virtual environment. Despite the word "office" in the product name, OfficeZilla is also pitching its space for churches, families, and other groups that need to share information.

Currently in beta, Magento is a open-source e-commerce software that lets businesses create a custom Web storefront, complete with product tagging, user review, and wishlist capabilities. Magento also creates search-engine friendly URLs and supports multiple languages and currencies. Because it's open source, enterprising developers can build customized versions of the software for individual businesses.