Pete Erickson is trying to become the go-to man that brings innovators and industries together. Through his Disruptathon series, he travels North America, putting on one-day events where entrepreneurs compete in front of industry leaders to present disruptive ideas. The prizes are not large, but the opportunity for brand awareness in front of industry leaders can be invaluable.
Disruptathon came to the Washington D.C. area on Thursday evening with eight entrepreneurs in tow to make their pitches at USA Today headquarters in McLean, Va. When it comes to disruption, the news industry was hit hard by lack of innovation and forward digital thinking. As one presenter put it: "the foundation for the news business has shifted." Take a look at the eight startups trying to change the way we consume, produce or interact with the news.
The eight startups at Disruptathon Media were: ProConIt, Stry, NearSay, Yowie, Socialize, Publish2, OneNews and WatchParty. Each had a unique idea that was potentially disruptive ... some more than others.
Socialize was proclaimed the winner by the crowd, which voted on special iPod Touches that were handed out to the audience and returned to tabulate the final results. Socialize provides websites with a software developer kit (SDK) intended to "quantify the interest graph." Of the eight companies that took the stage, Socialize was the company with the clearest technological vision and most potential to be integrated on a large scale within media apps. CEO Daniel R. Odio described it as "unleashing the community that is hiding in your app."
Here are the eight entrants, in my view of potential disruption:
Odio and his team have created a system that understands implicit social connections within an application. It then tries to tie together related readers through their "interest graph" based on the data it obtains from the user. From a technical perspective, Socialize was ahead of the field at Disruptathon.
I was a touch surprised to see my friends from Publish2 included in this list of entrepreneurs since they have been around for a while and have had significant traction within the news industry. Publish2 is attempting to recreate the traditional newswire by making content easily sharable among disparate media partners with incompatible content management systems. Content is shared and virtualized in the cloud and can be picked up by any partner and formatted directly for its specific CMS.
Of all the presenters, Yowie has the potential for the largest scale. It also is perhaps the one least suited to the news industry. What Yowie tries to do is bridge the "last mile" of social connections between media figures (bands, politicians, actors or in this instance. It is a video queue that can be hosted and then brings commenters face-to-face with the media subject.
Outside of Socialize, ProConIt was the darling of Disruptathon Media. It is a system designed to change how readers comment and engage with topics. A "ProCon" is an embeddable debate platform that can be used as a social evaluation tool that provides a visual of the discourse of a conversation in Pros or Cons. It has the potential to be an interesting add-on to topics presented in the media.
Whereas most of the entrepreneurs at Disruptathon were services or features that can be used by publishers, NearSay kind of IS a publisher. It provides a platform for local news that is scalable and profitable. In terms of a pure business model, it has one of the purest visions of how to tackle hyperlocal news that has been dreamt up. It provides a way to local contributors to have a voice, aggregates local data and brings local brands and merchants to the table for discussion and awareness. I cannot see NearSay being successful in small town America, but it will work very well within large cities and has 125,000 users in Manhattan.
WatchParty is an interesting platform that can give marketers, advertisers and media companies valuable analytics into how people react to television on a moment to moment basis. The interface is nothing special ... it is essentially a chat room for TV designed to bring people together to discuss and react to shows. Yet, the data that their reactions provide can be a valuable resource.
Think of CNN iReport where citizen journalists can bring send pictures and video into the news organization to be used for broadcast or on the site. OneNews is a platform that can be integrated into local news sites that do not already have their own version of iReport set up and can help mobilize contributors to the scene of breaking news.
"Hyper-topical." Stry aims to transform the newswire with in-depth topical stories. "A band of reporters in pursuit of storytelling." Its founder, Dan Oshinsky, will be a fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri to study news-centric startups and impart lessons in being an entrepreneur.