Last night, on June 2, Jason Calacanis was introduced as Silicon Alley’s “original pimp” by Meetup’s Scott Heiferman and debuted a new version of his “human powered search engine,” Mahalo.com. “My wife is here,” Mr. Calacanis said to the crowd of about 775 entreprenuers, venture capitalists, tech geeks and Silicon Valley randoms who had shown up for Internet Week events. “If there are any women I used to date in the audience, don’t come up to me afterward.” On stage, at the New York Tech Meetup at F.I.T.’s Haft Auditorium on 27th Street, the founder of Weblogs, Inc., former Silicon Alley Reporter publisher and current founder and chief executive of Mahalo.com explained how his new company will work: Like Wikipedia, with money.
Originally launched in 2007, Mahalo’s Web directory combines search algorithms and content found by real-life editors to present results pages that include text listings, photos and video. It looks a bit like About.com. “We put Yahoo!, Flickr and Wikipedia in one page,” Mr. Calacanis told The Observer in an earlier interview. “People understand [the subject] better. You can send that page to mom, and she’ll get it.”
But now Mr. Calacanis will integrate a Wikipedia-like practice, and allow user editing—for pay.
Mahalo users can sign up and “claim” pages on the site based on their expertise. If they are, say, obsessed with Gossip Girl, they could “claim” Mahalo’s Gossip Girl page and be curate its content—updating it when a new character arrives or a scandalous news article is written about one of its stars. As a reward for their Chuck Bass knowledge, that user gets half the advertising revenue generated from Google ads on his or her page. Mr. Calacanis said users get a number of pages based on their “belt” level (white belts, or beginners, get two pages, tops), but they can claim more pages the more they use the site, answer questions, and get kudos from other users. If they’re lazy about maintaining their topic page, Mahalo can yank their rights to the page so another user can claim it. (Later, users might be able to start selling pages to each other, Mr. Calacanis told CNET News).
Launched in 2007, tech critics have been skeptical of Mr. Calacanis’ Mahalo—some even claiming, with this new version, that he’s hiring user editors because the venture is ailing. But he told The Observer he sees potential now that companies like Microsoft (which recently released Bing) are utilizing “human-powered” search engine results.
Ms. Calacanis, one of New York’s biggest tech egos, operates Mahalo from the West Coast but told The Observer he misses New York “terribly” and plans a return. He said on stage at the Meetup that after September 11, he couldn’t go downtown without crying. (He told The Observer that the aftermath of the attacks is one of the reasons why he left.) But, if Mr. Calacanis does return, he’ll come back to a new tech scene, revived with young, more creative companies than when he left, he admitted.
Some of them include those that presented at last night’s Meetup, like Aviary, which actually offers artists online photo, video and media tools for free. Vice President Michael Galpert whizzed through some new features including sound integration and editing. Their Web-based suite of tools won the CNet Editor’s Award for Technical Achievement in the 2009 Webware100 competition. Don’t have Photoshop? Check out their “Phoenix” photo editor, and see why they got the prize.
Bre Prettis gave a 5-minute runthrough of his company, Makerbot, which makes an an “open source robot” that helps people make their own robots that actually make things. Their prototype: The CupCake CNC, a bot about the size of a small TV that will perfectly frost cupcakes. Buy their OpenSourced 3D printer kit for $750 and build an army of bots. We’re waiting for a Shake Shack burger builder.
On that Shake Shack bit, you can find that burger joint, along with others, using UpNext NYC, a kind of Google Earth iPhone application of the city that includes 3-D imagery and easy restaurant and service searches (there’s a subway map too!). Users can ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ certain spots in the city and see other reviews from in the UpNext community. Another mobile service presented last night was, Centrl. Its a location-based application that allows its users to search for discounts, deals and landmarks within walking distance, and integrates social networks like Facebook and Twitter so users can interact with their friends.
Andrew Hoppin, New York State Senate chief of information officer, and C.I.O. team member Noel Hidalgo talked about “open government” initiatives for recently launched Web site NYSenate.gov. Chief executive Max Haot also presented a “pro” version of Livestream, an online live Webcasting service previously named Mogolus that received $10 million in funding from the Gannett Co. last July. They’re broadcasting that I Want Media “Future of Media Panel 2009” panel going on right about now…
Now, excuse us while we watch Gawker’s Nick Denton, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, the Wall Street Journal’s deputy managing editor Alan Murray and other media wonks bloviate about the “future” of the choking-to-death newspaper business. Shhh, watching right now.