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Early adopters could give Boston entrepreneurs a boost

A dozen years ago, Stephen Kaufer’s Web start-up was on the verge of running out of cash, and struggling to connect with consumers. It gathered reviews of hotels and attractions from established sources like Fodors and mixed them with write-ups from people who’d just returned from trips. Thanks to a smidgen of coverage in travel publications and strong word of mouth from early users, TripAdvisor found its way out of the forest. The Newton company now operates the most visited collection of travel sites on the Internet, and its stock climbed about 60 percent over the last year.

Boston entrepreneurs building consumer sites, apps, or products frequently complain that local investors are unwilling to back them. But in many instances, the investors are simply waiting to see early signs of consumer usage, which creates a Catch-22 situation.


I think that if Boston had more people willing to try out new technologies, offer feedback, and help spread the word among their social networks, it would increase the odds of launching more break-out consumer successes like TripAdvisor.

That involves you. So as the New Year arrives, here are some new things worth checking out — and talking about, if you like them.

I enjoy editing my own videos with iMovie, but have to admit that there isn’t always enough time. (I recently cut a home movie that had been shot back in May 2011.) The iPhone app Directr supplies storyboards, suggests what to shoot, lets you add opening and closing titles, and then assembles a short video for you, complete with soundtrack. You can make one in five minutes or less, and easily share it via Facebook or e-mail. Burst, available on iPhone and Android, is focused more on sharing videos among family and friends, rather than posting them publicly.


Two locally-built apps, TalkTo and Pingup, want to make it easy to text-message a business, with questions about hours, inventory, or making a reservation. I’ve used TalkTo more successfully, and usually get a response within 10 minutes.

The TwoHands tablet holder from Felix Brand in Hopkinton ($25) lets you position your device at the perfect angle for reading recipes or watching movies, without holding it yourself.

BrassMonkey turns your smartphone into a video game controller, letting you tilt, touch, and swipe to make things happen on the screen of a laptop or desktop computer. The Boston start-up now offers more than 30 games that can be played with its system, some of them for free.

For live music lovers, Timbre helps you find out what’s happening. It lists shows taking place tonight or in the future, plays clips from each band, and enables you to buy tickets if you like what you hear. Spindle scours social media to discover what’s going on around you, whether it’s a gallery opening or two-for-one entrees at an eatery., still in beta, is a speedy way to flip through articles included in a publication’s Twitter stream or RSS feed. In your Web browser, you can page through articles from the BBC, ESPN, or The New York Times almost as fast as you used to do in that ancient medium called print.

Fans tuning in for the rest of the football season ought to check out Spogo, an iPhone app that lets you guess what will happen next in the game. When you’re right, you earn points that can be redeemed for rewards at local restaurants and sports bars. RumbleTV Football, also for iPhone only, is designed to be your companion during the game, presenting the best tweets about what’s happening and letting you chat with friends who are also watching.


I’ve heard good reviews from people who ordered Bluetooth-compatible speakers ($120) from Vers Audio in Wayland, which let you play music wirelessly from most laptops, tablets, or phones.

Whenever you hit the highway, take RoadAhead with you. Passengers can use the app to see what sorts of food, lodging, or attractions are available at upcoming exits, in far greater detail than roadside signs.

Billerica-based Playrific guides youngsters to fun (and appropriate) videos, games, and websites, customized to their age and interests.

If your New Year’s resolutions include being more organized, it’s worth checking out Fetchnotes and Springpad, which let you make lists of things you need to do or buy, and then access them from any device.

The iPhone app Swirl wants to understand your taste in clothing, and help guide you to local stores where you can find stylish stuff (especially when it’s on sale.)

Tinkerers of all ages might enjoy a MaKey MaKey kit ($50), designed by students at MIT’s Media Lab, or Hexy the Hexapod robot ($250), made by Somerville-based ArcBotics. The former lets you turn all kinds of objects — like a beach ball or a banana — into input devices or triggers that can make things happen on your computer.


Hexy is a robot that can be programmed to do anything you might want a six-legged plastic machine with “ultrasonic distance sensor eyes” to do.

I use LevelUp a few times each week, not only because it’s a convenient way to pay — just flash the screen of your smartphone at the register — but because it tracks how much you spend at local eateries, and offers discounts when you become a regular.

Over the holidays, my sister-in-law boasted that she got a steal on a used Mercedes crossover vehicle earlier this year with guidance from the Cambridge site CarGurus .

The site evaluates whether a used car being marketed online is a good or bad deal, based on mileage, price, and accessory packages. CarGurus’ founder and chief executive happens to be Langley Steinert, who in 2000 co-founded a travel website called . . . TripAdvisor.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsmer.