andrew burke






Posted on: 2007-12-04

Here are the obligatory tags: 'democamptoronto' 'democamptotoronto16' 'torcamp' Happy David?

Last night I went to DemoCamp16. The last few DemoCamps that I had attended were kind of uneven, but this one was a great improvement.

The venue was the big presentation room at the Toronto Board of Trade. There was a large buffet and a cash bar, and a nice mixture of seating styles. The presentations were varied and interesting, and none of them bombed - this might have been helped by the fact that both LCD projectors managed to work this time, and the wireless stayed up.

Being at the Board of Trade, the audience was a bit more businessy than geeky, although both crowds were in strong attendance. There were even elevators, in which hopefully some pitches were made.

The preliminaries started a bit downbeat, letting people know about Marc Orchant's heart attack, but the event picked up quickly.

Here's some of what happened. These are, by the way, from rough notes and a bit of web research. I missed names and possibly mis-spelled them, and may have factual errors in here too. Sorry in advance!


The announcements were interspersed among the presentations, but I figured I'd put them all up front. From the number and tone of the announcements, it's looking like we're in another boom phase in technology ventures, especially in Toronto.



The first presentation was from SlashID Corp., who provide a kind of OpenID framework without actually making you trust the provider. They described it as "The HushMail of identity management". It's built around client-side JavaScript and allows users to set up their own profiles which can be used on participating sites. They were a little vague on how exactly everything works - which I guess makes sense, since it's their 'secret sauce' - but it would be good to know a bit more about what they do. Trust online is a tricky balance of secrecy and openness.


Both of the student presentations were really interesting at this DemoCamp. The student presentations are often the most inspiring parts of DemoCamp - they often show quirky leading-edge stuff based on their enthusiasm for pure technology rather than trend-following 'shiny tagged-rss-feeds-social-network' commercialism.

UTest allows programming professors to submit Java or Python code and then have their students run test suites against it and against their own code. This allows students to compare their solutions with the correct ones and find out if they're writing successful code without actually seeing how the professor did it.

The system in itself, letting you upload JAR or TGZ files to the website, was pretty nice. What was even nicer was the slick integration with Eclipse, where you could run your tests locally or against UTest just from a menu option.

Facebook Weekend

Colin Smillie from Refresh Partners talked about the recent Facebook Weekend, where five groups holed up and hacked out some Facebook applications over only a few days. He discussed one of the projects that leveraged social networks to get groups of people to pay for pet food testing. One of the questions afterwards was about marketing: "How do you market your application? There are 5000 other Facebook apps..." to which someone interrupted " actually 9000" "See? 9000 other Facebook apps and growing!" Colin used that opportunity to point out that Facebook Marketing is what his company actually does.

The other projects from Facebook Weekend were for bug tracking and software project management, a collaborative learning project, and 'HealthBook'. In the discussion, I also found out about the so-inevitable-why-didn't-I-think-of-it CatBook.


Dan Donovan came up to show HealthSpoke, his online portal for helping health professionals and clients manage their information, appointments, and more. The main medical industry is quite slow to change and has lots of legal and regulatory issues to untangle for something like this to work - but he's cleverly focusing on the 'Wellness' and 'Allied Health' services, such as physiotherapy providers, chiropractors, etc. These are smaller more nimble operators, and it's an industry that's taking off. The project is still in progress, and it was nice to see a mixture of slick functionality and 'under construction' screens.

To make up for not having much to actually show, he demoed a nifty ASP.NET tool he found that scripts Internet Explorer so you can run automated tests against the actual user interface. I didn't catch the name of it, though.


The biggest crowd-pleaser of the night (graphics apps always are) was ShapeShop, another U of T student project. It looked a bit like a mix of the ease of use of SketchUp with the clay-like modeling interface of Spore. The app lets you draw shapes freehand and then pillow, extrude, or spin them into 3d solids. The pieces can be smoothly merged together, but they're still independent entities that can be rearranged, texture-mapped, pivoted, etc. really effortlessly. It was a very nice demo of a very slick-looking app. The fellow demoing (didn't get his name) showed how to draw a dog - and admitted he's more of a programmer than an artist, so hasn't done much else besides dogs. However, he did show some nice abstract shapes (still sort of dog-like though) that he had doodled while on the phone. As he pointed out: "Not many other graphics programs let you doodle!"

The only comparable demos I've heard of or seen at DemoCamp were BumpTop and ConceptShare - both slick and graphic-intensive projects.

Ignite Presentations

I hadn't seen an ignite presentation yet - I had to leave the previous DemoCamp early. They're basically enforced-speed slide presentations - 20 slides at 15 seconds / slide. The best thing about these was that they really make the presenter focus on the slides and the content. I've seen a lot of hideous PowerPoint presentations in my time, and these definitely weren't.

Mark Kuznicki gave a presentation on Co-creating the Creative City. Because of the limitations, it was more about general ideas rather than detailed plans. He did have some great catch-phrases. "BarCamp to Burning Man" "Heterarchy vs. Modernism". He mentioned Transitcamp as "not a complaints department - a solutions playground", and FixMyStreet, which seems really cool.

The second Ignite presentation was from Fraser Kelton of AdaptiveBlue. He gave a glossy overview of their tips for startups. It was a lot like Getting Real but with better pictures. It was a nice presentation - although I can find a few holes in his statement that "If you hire the best people - the rockstar programmers - then you won't need management" - in my experience it is often the rockstar programmers who need some management. Other points I liked: "spoil your early adopters" "outsource your servers", "don't have long-term plans" - and possibly the best slide text of the night (referring to business plans): "1. Collect Underpants ... 2. ? 3. Profit!" He finished by saying they're trying to keep it real while also making money and promoting - so they're like P. Diddy in the Macy's commercial.

Next up was one of the early members of iStockPhoto, who talked about "How a bunch of rednecks in a warehouse changed an industry". They mentioned that they started their company selling CD ROMS in the post-bubble post-911 bust - and they managed to stay nimble and creative enough to survive. The big event that raised a lot of VC and corporate interest was to enter the Alexa 1000 and Alexa 500 rankings.

Finally, the hosts, The Toronto Board of Trade gave away a free membership to a slightly surprised (or uninterested) fellow who may have been from LIFT.

There was some milling about afterwards, followed by a mass takeover of the Duke of Brunswick pub downstairs. I think Microsoft may have bought me a Guinness. I guess I owe Bill Gates or Ray Ozzie a pint next time they're in town.

Overall, one of the better DemoCamps I've been to. Toronto seems to be becoming a real hotbed of technology and interesting ventures. The organizers should be thanked for providing such a great forum - and on a free-or-donations basis! One small quibble, though: DemoCamp seems to now live on several different web sites, Google Groups, Facebook Groups, Wikis, and payment processors - each with a slightly different set of information from the others - and only one with the correct date, time, and location for the event - and none, as far as I could find, with a list of the presenters! Maybe these things could be standardized and clarified a bit?

Besides that, a great event. Hopefully the next one will be as good.

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