Eight SXSW Startups That Ad Age Can Love

From Bump to Chomp, Beluga to Wantlet, the New Apps We Think Have Promise Beyond Austin

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Five days and dozens of panels, meetings, parties, tweet-ups, hashes, demos, corporate-sponsored cocktails and demanding editor emails, we're tired. Real tired. But while we pack up another SXSW, here are the apps that made it all worth while, and maybe a little bit easier. First is Hashable, but we already told you about that. From a Facebook for cars to a service that pays consumers to tweet about your potato chips, here's the rest of the marketers' guide to SXSW:

1. GroupMe. While an app for group texting feels a bit 2001, GroupMe is a solution for how big and unwieldy most people's "social" networks have become. This app lets users text-message groups of up to 25 people who self-organize around certain topics, such as drinking buddies at SXSW or tribes at music festivals. Once a group is set up, you can message or conference-call the tribe and see the running string of comments. Co-founders Steve Martocci and Jared Hecht hatched the idea as a way to keep track of friends at multi-day concerts. When someone fell ill in Mr. Martocci's family, it was a great way to keep multiple people up to speed on his recovery.

Like location-based services were last year, group messaging is shaping up to be 2011's big mobile trend. Yobongo is another way to group text, but instead of chatting with people you already know, this iPhone app connects you to 10 people you may not know in near proximity.

2. Beluga. Here's another app under the hot group-texting category. Like GroupMe, the cool kids used Beluga as a way to stay in touch with each other for both work and play among the tens of thousands of people in Austin. Facebook announced it acquired Beluga just one week before geeks descended on Austin, meaning even the big boys have their sights trained on this category. Beluga lets users join groups and communicate in real-time -- at SXSW, that meant figuring out which panel to attend or which party to skip. Beluga is able to cut through the noise on Twitter; instead of updates from thousands of people, its users formed groups around their hometowns or interests and stayed in touch with people important to them at that moment. Beluga offers merchants and marketers a chance to influence users before they choose where they will eat or what movie they'll see. Co-founders Ben Davenport, Lucy Zhang and Jonathan Perlow are all Google veterans, having worked on AdSense, Google News, Docs and Gmail.

3. Bump. This website and mobile app has assigned every car in America its own email address and voicemail box. Why, you ask? "We spend about five years of our lives of our car," said founder and CEO Mitch Thrower. "We also spend a tremendous amount of time broadcasting who and where we are -- now we can do that based on our vehicle." So today, you can email your neighbor's Honda as long as you know his license plate number, using the address state.platenumber@bump.com.

Think of Bump as a Facebook for vehicles -- you create a profile for your car, go to Bump.com and you can forward messages to your primary accounts, enter insurance info and link your vehicle to social networks. The idea is that drivers and brands can then reach out to owners of specific vehicles.

A major California fast-food chain is planning to test Bump. When a customer enters a drive-through, a camera scans the license plate and then the restaurant can attach the drivers order to that number. Bump has developed a loyalty program and a recommendation engine to message drivers back. "From a marketer's perspective, Bump can be Groupon and Foursquare with a AAA component," Mr. Thrower said.

4. Whrrl. This location-based app created by Amazon veteran Jeff Holden wants to learn so much about its users that it can tell them what they want to be doing and who they want to be doing it with. Whrrl has the usual check-in capabilities, but users can also make a list of what they want to do and join groups of people with similar interests. On Whrrl, users are grouped together by their interests rather than their friends. Mr. Holden calls Whrrl an "ecosystem of inspiration" where people come together and inspire each other to do new things. While the app is definitely about restaurants and bars, it's also about running a marathon and going to museums, since groups can form around any topic. The more things that Whrrlers -- as the users are known -- do on Whrrl and in the real world, the more influence they gain. The most-influential users have the most weight attached to their recommendations. Whrrl knows that people want discounts, too. Its rewards program lets businesses offer prizes at places that Whrrlers win by checking into, and the most-influential people have the best odds of winning the prizes.

5. NeighborGoods. The idea here is that people can save money and resources by sharing stuff they own with their neighbors. But companies who choose to participate in this community can proclaim their green status and market environmentally friendly upgrades to a neighborhood that may need a new lawnmower or leaf blower -- both of those items being common examples of what is shared on NeighborGoods. This startup focuses as much on local resource-sharing as it does on helping users get to know their neighbors. "Why buy when you can borrow?" founder Micki Krimmel asks. Ms. Krimmel is a strong advocate of the green mindset -- she helped Al Gore run the social-media campaign for "An Inconvenient Truth." NeighborGoods users post items they own and are willing to share on their profile, gaining trust and status through completed "transactions" with other users in the vicinity of where they live. For more-expensive items, users can ask for a monetary deposit. Ms. Krimmel said that participating in this community can help users save not only money, but their sense of neighborhood and community as well.

6. Chomp. Leery of the reviews in Apple's App Store from disgruntled app defectors and self-promotional developers? Try Chomp, an app for app reviews that allows users to "heart" or "un-heart" any app and then sync those preferences with other review data to generate recommendations. The reviews are comprehensive and in real-time -- one point of contention with the App Store. Chomp's available on iPhone and Android and through its website. Chomp has picked up more than $2.5 million in venture funding since launching in January, with more than 300,000 users and 1.5 million reviews thus far, according to VentureBeat.

7. Crowdtap. OK, so the name is a little startup-name-by-numbers (Ad Age referred to it at several points as GroupTap and TapMe), but hear us out: Crowdtap is a game-ified approach to crowd-sourced marketing. Think Nielsen BuzzMetrics meets "The Apprentice" with real Madison Avenue traction. This startup comes from New York-based social agency Mr. Youth, whose managing partner, Brandon Evans, is CEO of Crowdtap. Mr. Evans describes it as a self-service tool for marketers and agencies to purchase consumer marketing actions on-demand. Through Crowdtap, consumers are rewarded for performing various social-media tasks for brands with cash, charity donations or invitations to VIP parties. Launched with a splashy party, Crowdtap has trial campaigns with more than 50 brands and agencies. Clients include AOL, Bing, GolinHarris, MSN, Pepperidge Farm, Weber Shandwick, Translation and Playtex. Crowdtap isn't alone: GutCheck is another tool for marketers to incentivize everyday Facebookers and Tweeters to shill on their behalf.

8. Wantlet. While Wantlet was hardly a buzzed-about new service at SXSW, it's definitely in a category retailers should keep an eye on. This Helsinki startup is trying to make the link between Facebook chatter about products and actual transactions. In a 700-person survey the company conducted, 75% of respondents said friends and family's online recommendations positively influenced them to read ads or check out product pages. Eighty-two percent said they look for input on deals and product comparisons on social networks. With Wantlet, you log into the site with your Facebook account, search for products, and post your wants to others on the site and to friends. It also creates product wish-lists that could be useful for birthdays and holidays. Wantlet is trying to crack the social commerce nut, and while Ad Age isn't in love with the service as its stands today, it's one of the few startups at SXSW heading in the right direction.

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