Top 20 Web 2.0: PICK 20 - 2009
NOTE: The print edition of this article will be available in the July/August issue of Backbone magazine - to be released on newsstands and in the Globe and Mail on July 28, 2009.
20 companies that are driving innovation and changing the way we use the Internet
By Peter Wolchak
Welcome to the second annual PICK 20 roundup of Canada’s leading Web 2.0 pioneers. Created by Backbone and KPMG, the PICK 20 is the only national ranking of its kind. To compile the top 20 we assembled a crack panel of judges and asked them and the public to nominate worthy companies or projects. This year we received more than twice as many nominations as last year, generating an even broader picture of Web 2.0 in Canada. And about “Web 2.0”: it has to be said that the concept itself can be slippery. Some experts don’t use the term. The Web, they say, is constantly evolving and assigning a big label is overly simplistic. Others argue you cannot properly discuss anything without terminology. Absent the word “tree” how would you talk about a tree?
This year we stuck with our definition from 2008, because while the technologies have changed, the purpose hasn’t. We defined Web 2.0 as the use of “online social platforms to link individuals to each other and, increasingly, to connect companies to partners and clients. The real point, though, is that Web 2.0 happens when the talk goes from a monologue to a dialogue, when everyone gets a say and when those voices can actually change opinions, company policy, government decisions and so on.”
To assemble the final ranking, the judges scored the nominees against five criteria: ROI, competitive advantage, ongoing value, execution and innovation. One important note: any judge who was in any way involved in a nominated implementation did not participate in its judging process. This allowed us to engage Canadian experts while maintaining the integrity of the process. Also, any nominee who appeared on last year’s PICK 20 was judged only on developments or progress in the past 12 months.
Congratulations to our 20 winners
Early in 2010 we will announce next year’s PICK 20 details, so if your company isn’t on the list this year we’ll look for you next year.
In addition to the final rankings, each winner was placed into one of four categories
1) Problem solving: customer response, idea generation, solution brainstorming
2) Innovation: crowdsourcing, market prediction, participatory feedback
3) Collaboration: jams, customer input, user rankings
4) Knowledge sharing and management: teamware, wikis, blogs and collaborative content creation
The Judges - 2009
A senior analyst at IDC Canada, Napier has deep insight into some of the most interesting emerging Canadian-headquartered ICT companies, and closely follows their growth. Napier advises these companies on their positioning and profiles emerging companies for investors, ICT companies and government organizations.
Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. Geist serves on the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Expert Advisory Board, on the Canadian Digital Information Strategy’s Review Panel and on the Information Program Sub-Board of the Open Society Institute.
Myers is the vice-president and general manager of Open Text. Prior to working with Open Text, he was general manager of Nortel’s worldwide messaging business unit.
Michael O’Connor Clarke
A vice-president at Thornley Fallis Communications, O’Connor Clarke has more than 20 years of experience in technology marketing and communications. He has been a blogger since 2001, has designed and participated in numerous successful social media initiatives and consults on the strategic integration of social media.
A social media and digital marketing expert, Trgovac is president of LintBucket Media, a boutique marketing agency headquartered in Vancouver which focuses on social media, community building and digital content creation. Kate writes about the intersection of marketing and technology on her marketing blog.
The CEO of Media2o Productions and a popular keynote speaker, Bradley produced six award-winning seasons of Dave Chalk Connected and is the host of Connected Life on Sympatico/MSN and BackboneTV. He is also a regular panelist on CKNW radio and appears every Friday on Global’s Morning News.
McDerment, co-founder and CEO of FreshBooks, built the service for his design firm in 2003. Since launching in May 2004, FreshBooks has touched more than 800,000 lives and he and his team are dedicated to serving people who love their work and want to focus on it, instead of on paperwork.
The Winners - 2009
Online invoicing and time-tracking service
FreshBooks landed in the number two spot last year and now climbs into first place. The company scored with the judges for innovation and use of social media: Trgovac said it continues to “go where its customers are, develop its app and reach out on social media channels.” O’Connor Clarke said, “FreshBooks continues to lead both in the implementation of its system and its approach to support and community participation.” Napier praised the site’s benchmarking facilities: “This includes a quarterly report card which tracks revenue, average invoice size and expenses, and can [compare] that data against other companies in the industry. Companies can also compare number of staff, salary, location and LinkedIn connections or software in use, which can provide valuable feedback and best practices for running a successful company.”
2 Myca Health
Online communication platform linking patients and doctors
Myca Health is a platform of services, which includes Hello Health, a system that mixes “in-person office visits, text messages, e-mail and video chat.” The mix impressed Geist (“An important entry in an important area”) and O’Connor Clarke (“A superb implementation of an idea whose time has come”). Napier agreed: “The problem Myca is addressing is acute. With doctors and patients increasingly mobile, online and strapped for time, a better process is needed to provide flexible and valuable services to patients, while reducing the burden on health care professionals so they have more time to care for their patients. Myca is well-positioned to do just that. Patients familiar with consumer and corporate social networking sites will feel at home with this solution.”
Real-time blogging software
“These guys are simply the best at what they do,” O’Connor Clarke said. “The UI is intuitively easy, the feature set is terrific and they’ve done an exceptional job of marketing themselves within both the obvious blogger community and, more importantly, the international mainstream media. CoveritLive is…a national treasure.” Geist said the company “sets the standard for real-time blogging and reporting,” while Trgovac said the company is “still in the early stages of its business model, but they seem to have a realistic picture of their options.”
Smartphone content delivery software (news, weather, flight status, etc.)
This “exciting Canadian startup has a chance to get significant global visibility,” according to Geist. O’Connor Clarke points to the site’s use of RSS, “one of the defining Web 2.0 technologies,” and said it “bridges the gap between the desktop feed reader and the mobile world. Viigo is the most important app on my BlackBerry after e-mail, and with some of the new channels they’re adding, it’s only going to get better.”
Real-time social media monitoring and analysis
Companies need “simple tools to sift through the (social media) clutter and make sense of it all,” according to Shende. And Napier put numbers to that: “Radian6 provides extensive coverage of social media sites, including more than 100 million blogs, tens of thousands of forums, more than 20,000 online mainstream news sources and more than 450 rich media sites (YouTube, Flickr, Google Video), macromedia sites (Twitter.com, friendfeed.com) and LinkedIn Answers.” The company is, according to O’Connor Clarke, “one of the very best solutions currently available for comprehensive online reputation monitoring. They offer a terrific set of tools and keep adding value with new features.” And, Napier added, the future looks bright: “Radian6 is in a favourable position to transition from early adopters in PR and advertising to more mainstream corporate customers.”
On-demand social media content management and application development system
Trgovac called this “the company I wish I had founded. White-label social media components that other companies can use: super smart.” O’Connor Clarke called Filemobile a standout player in a crowded market because of its “breadth of solution offering, the flexibility of the UI, the quality of the analytics and the availability of functional APIs.” Napier highlighted brand management: “Filemobile’s solution enables brand management with editing tools to let customers moderate their media services and approve and deny content, so they can protect their brands while simultaneously extending themselves to find and engage customers.”
Board-level governance and compliance solution
The judges saw promise in this solution, but also challenges. “It’s a good idea but it does not answer the question of the target demographic’s (generational) reluctance to adopt new technology,” Shende said, with Geist adding, “The company may have identified a solid entry point in Web 2.0, but the challenge will be migrating bigger corporate players. The strongest opportunity is with SMEs with governance issues, but will they (ever) pay?”
Napier, however, said “BoardSuite’s go-to-market strategy sets it apart: the solution is free for SMEs and NFPs, while BoardSuite’s network of partners pay for the solution as a way to improve and streamline their own processes in dealing with these organizations and create an ecosystem of essential services for corporate boards. It’s a win-win situation.” However, she added, “the company has already established partnerships with notable organizations and it will need to continue building upon those partnerships to increase its visibility and reach in the market.”
Crowdsourced/participatory news gathering
A winner last year, “NowPublic continues at the forefront of the reinvention of news media,” according to O’Connor Clarke. “They continue to impress with the rate of their growth, their constant innovation and their overall leadership in defining the future of citizen media.” Napier said the company’s “scan tool, which acts as a filtering system, appears to be positioned to help readers get the information that is most valuable and relevant to them,” but Trgovac, while impressed by the company, is “still not sure how they make money.”
Online scheduling software that works across companies, systems and time zones
It’s safe to say Trgovac is a fan: “I can’t deal with how great this app is. The cross-platform/cross-calendar integration is phenomenal and this solves a very real business problem in the multi-platform reality of business.” This is echoed by Napier: “Tungle has addressed a key pain point: the time-consuming process of coordinating multiple schedules with attendees inside and outside of the office. Tungle’s solution is simple to use and intuitive. The company is in a good position to partner with complementary solutions such as conferencing services, social networks and productivity tools.
Trgovac said her one worry is the business model. O’Connor Clark has an answer to that concern: “I can see this getting picked up by Microsoft or Google sometime in the next 12 months.”
A Twitter toolbox that manages multiple Twitter profiles
“Once again,” O’Connor Clarke said, “Canadian innovation in the social media universe blows my mind. HootSuite is one of those solutions that’s so good you don’t really realize how much you need it until you start using it.” Napier said there are “a number of applications on the market right now designed to improve the Twitter experience, which will create competition for HootSuite, but the company has an intuitive and attractive user interface that makes it easier to manage a Twitter account, and it has identified an approach to monetize Twitter by integrating AdSense.”
Trgovac (“I really adore HootSuite”) is also eyeing the revenue stream: “This is a service I would pay for, and that’s another monetization path for them.”
Intranet software which incorporates social networking features
A winner last year, ThoughtFarmer “is still great, although they’ve got some tough competition. Still, it has a solid team, smart products and really cool marketing,” according to O’Connor Clarke. Trgovac also sees “lots of competition in the marketplace” but also calls ThoughtFarmer “one of the best social intranet applications I’ve seen, with a great interface and features.”
12 AfterCAD Online
Enables viewing and publishing complex data sets over the Web
The judges felt Aftercad offered a good product but it faces stiff competition: “real potential” (Geist); “cool widget, and I can see this possibly getting picked up by Autodesk and rolled into their portfolio, but given that they already have something fairly similar in place I’m not sure how likely that is” (O’Connor Clarke); and “since there are a number of competitors serving the CAD collaboration market with SaaS-based low-priced solutions, emerging companies need to emphasize those aspects of the solution that differentiate it in the market” (Napier).
Web site creation and management service for amateur sports teams
A solid niche product and “a great tool for quickly and simply creating a space for sports teams; it’s like a community centre 2.0 for the coaches and teams to drop into anytime,” Shende said. Napier added: “TeamPage’s solution has the specific features and functions to optimize team communication. With players and coaches using the site to post pictures, message team members and plan activities, it will be essential that the site continue to provide a high level of security to protect players’ privacy.”
14 The Manufacturing Innovation Network
An online network built for Waterloo Region manufacturing companies
Geist said the site does a “nice job of mixing Web 2.0 with area economic promotion” and O’Connor Clarke said this is “exactly the kind of thing the read-write Web should be fostering more of. This is a terrific use of Web 2.0 tools.” Napier commented that Igloo, the company behind the site, “boasts experienced technology leaders that it can leverage to grow its visibility both in North America and abroad. Still, there are an increasing number of companies offering corporate social networks in the market that will make it difficult for vendors like Igloo to stand out from the crowd. Igloo’s pricing allows it to differentiate itself as an affordable solution, which will be particularly important.”
An online health, beauty and skin care store
Well.ca generated high marks for its design and functionality, but a lack of extensive Web 2.0 features hurt it a little. O’Connor Clarke is “a fan and follower of Well.ca” but added the site is not really “a 2.0 Web solution. They’re getting there—with the addition of more commenting, rating and community features—but they’re not there yet.” Napier, however, pointed to the company’s “chat application called imWell, which enables customers to ask a live pharmacist questions through the Web site. The smart recommendation engine was designed in-house to recommend products to individual customers based on other items they are viewing or purchasing. The system leverages an interconnected hyper-graph of all its products, learns about them and builds relationships with other products.”
16 Clarity Accounting
Online accounting for small businesses and the self-employed
A solid offering, according to many judges, but not among the most innovative. Geist said Clarity operates in a “crowded space, but it’s good to see a Canadian entrant” and Trgovac said it’s “a little me-too, but the implementation is straightforward and relatively intuitive.”
Napier is looking for future growth: “The company’s agility and responsiveness are strengths: it has a customer request page where customers can make suggestions for future developments, vote on other customer suggestions and see which features Clarity is working on. If the company continues to work on the product features and increases its visibility, it could begin to attract a larger customer following.”
Online voice-over talent agency
Shende categorized Voices.com as “voice agency and casting 2.0. Well executed,” and Trgovac said the site is “a good niche social network.” Overall, though, the judges would like to see more aggressive use of Web 2.0 tools.
Enterprise e-mail management and knowledge sharing
By working to manage the flood of e-mail, Taglocity “targets a real problem using innovative solutions,” Geist said. According to Napier, “a solution like Taglocity, that combines both e-mail management with collaboration and knowledge-sharing tools like micro-messaging, enables knowledge workers to capture, organize and share information from within Outlook without having to jump to or learn a different platform or application.” O’Connor Clarke concurred. “Taglocity addresses the problem right inside the knowledge worker’s main desktop environment: Outlook. It requires only small changes to existing behaviour to show immediate productivity benefits. Excellent stuff.”
Interactive-engagement and community-building solutions
PollStream offers an “interesting niche and solution to collaborative business communications” (Shende) and is a “very solid entry with a clear vision of target market and strategy” (Geist). According to Napier, “one of PollStream’s strengths is the attention it pays to customer project implementations to ensure its solutions deliver ROI in the long run.”
A site where people create, publish, share and remix comics
Geist enjoyed seeing something “new and creative” and Shende said Pixton “outputs creativity, collaboration, crowdsourcing and community all in an innovative new spin on an old, previously non-democratic medium.” The judges hope Pixton can monetize the service. “If the company can continue to attract classrooms willing to try the solution, and highlight the value delivered to entice institutions to pay for the subscription, the company could turn a fun comic-strip tool into something that’s really adding value and providing a revenue stream,” Napier said.