Qwiki: simplifying the overwhelming information era.

30 09 2010

Qwiki
Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.
Founded: Oct. 2009
Raised: $1.5 million
TechCrunch Disrupt $50,000 Grand Prize Winner

Qwiki is like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikker’s Guide to the Galaxy come to life: type in a topic, any topic, and you’ll get a narrated, multimedia tour of the subject. Co-founder Doug Imbruce sums it up well: “We think in the future information becomes an experience that you watch,” he says. “Today, everyone is absolutely overwhelmed with information. We need to simplify.”

Imbruce uses Qwiki as his alarm clock, waking up each day to a pleasantly intoned run-through of his e-mail inbox, the weather and upcoming events. (One Startup Battlefield judge dubbed the system “your personal HAL.”) The site’s visual interface is its most obvious breakthrough: “It’s amazing to see a product that’s in beta have so much attention to the product design,” judge and Twitter product head Jason Goldman said. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington dubbed it “the sexy Ferrari with absolutely no promises of launching.”

That sizzle factor was enough to win the judges over — and the audience. They met the news that Qwiki was the event’s grand prize winner with wild cheering and a tweeting frenzy.

The venture’s real secret sauce is its data-crunching and visualization technology. Sorting through the Internet’s vast information stores and returning only the most relevant content, synched up with images, is a daunting task. But Qwiki co-founder and CTO Louis Monier has the skills for it: He’s a computer-science Ph.D. who did a stint at Xerox PARC, co-founded AltaVisa, led eBay Labs and worked at Google on the company’s internal search engine. Imbruce and Monier see Qwiki as a platform, not an app — they’re eager to turn their technology loose on all kinds of data search and visualization challenges.

As Imbruce put it at the end of his brief acceptance speech: “Let’s change the world!”

By Stacy Cowley, tech editor


NEXT: A filter for Twitter’s firehose

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