I attended my first New York Tech Meet-up last night, at NYU’s Skirball Center. It was great to see an auditorium full of NY techies – a tiny indication of how dynamic the tech community in NYC has become over the last few years. The NY Tech Meet-up is focused on demos, rather than talks: New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, introduced himself as the first Demo. Schumer made some very reasonable comments about policy issues affecting tech in NY, but the most impressive thing was that he stayed to see all of the demos. Most bigwigs leave right after they give their spiel.
The Instrumental Section
All of the demos were interesting, although three demos really struck a chord with me (pun intended). The first was Instrument 1 from Artiphon. Though it needs a new name, it’s a beautiful, hand-crafted hardwood “multi-instrument,” with a patent-pending fretboard interface and velocity and pressure sensitive strum section. It generates MIDI I/O and is designed to be played in five different positions. I am not a gadget freak, but I definitely want one. The compute core of the instrument is an iPhone or iPod Touch, which opens it up to the whole Apple developer ecosystem. Hardware start-ups are always interesting, partly because there are so few of them. This is the first instrument in a planned series, and was far and away the coolest thing at NYTM.
The Multi-media Section
I was also impressed by what Erick Schonfeld and Edo Segal of TouchCast are doing. These guys are promoting what they call the ‘video web,’ which allows a rich, interactive web experience inside a high-definition streaming video. Touchcast released its first product in June: a video editor (or TouchCast editor) that allows users to create interactive content with fully-functional web pages, HD streaming video, and other apps embedded in an high-definition TouchCast video. In addition, user-generated TouchCasts can be uploaded to the TouchCast web site. While it was difficult for the presenters to convey the full power of the idea in a few minutes, the ability to embed and interact with applications inside a streaming video was pretty neat. Of course, multicore processors and media processing instruction sets have only recently enabled compositing of multiple simultaneous video streams with other content. This is an idea whose time has come.
The Social Section
The third demo that I’ll mention is a new social networking app called Nextdoor that addresses what seems to me to be a real social need, at least in America, which is the loss of community. Nextdoor is a private social networking application for neighborhoods. Technically, the idea is simple, but the developers have worked hard on some key problems, such as address verification, to ensure that the virtual communities that are created correspond to the actual residents of physical neighborhoods. They’ve also thought about realistic privacy concerns, for example, by allowing people to list their street but not full address. I was invited to join a Nextdoor community in my neighborhood several months ago, and I can say that it is useful. I think Nextdoor has identified a valuable and unexplored corner of the social networking space.
All of the other applications that were demonstrated were interesting: Priori Legal (on-line search for legal talent), Canopy (easy access to medical interpreters), Hitlist (airline bargain notification), General Assembly’s Dash (web developer training), Shutterstock’s Skillfeed (on-line training), and WiredNYC (LEED score for broadband) . One that deserves an honorable mention is Eric Schles’ work with an unnamed government agency to use web mining to identify victims of human trafficking. This was the only demo that did anything with data – Eric has used both text and image analysis in his work. All in all, NYTM was a great event.