Startups Aim to Bring Personalization Back in Style

penn&tellerMorning panels at this year’s TechCrunch 50, which showcases 50 startups over two days, have wrapped up in San Francisco today, and so far we’ve seen big announcements from the non-startup world. Mint confirmed that it’s being acquired by Intuit, and Microsoft unveiled a visual search feature on Bing that lets users browse through web images, such as digital cameras or past presidents of the United States, rather than links. The feature, which is publicly available in beta today, will be particularly useful for online shopping because you can narrow your search to display images for a specific price point or choose to view the top products searched by users.

For startups that had a tie-in to mobile, it was clear that the iPhone was the platform of choice today. Vegas magicians Penn & Teller developed an iPhone application, which is currently available in the iTunes Store for $1.99, that’s a magic card trick you can play with your friends. It fools your friends into thinking you actually know Penn & Teller by sending texts to your phone from one of the two magicians who guess what playing card your friend has in mind. The app is a clever idea, but something users could tire of quickly after trying it on their friends a few times.

storysomthingStorySomething took the stage next, with a service that lets parents create personalized children’s books for their kids on its web site. Once the book is created, parents can print out the story or, to be more eco-friendly, email it to their iPhone. Toybots built a platform that connects physical toys to online and mobile games. Using the iPhone, for example, parents on a business trip can record themselves reading a bedtime story to their child via an app built on the Toybots platform, and then send the recording over the web to the child’s stuffed toy.

toonstunesPersonalization was another theme that surfaced multiple times during the panels. During this morning’s panel on youth and games, many of the startups touted products that users can tailor to their interests and personality. The unanimous favorite of the judge panel was ToonsTunes, a web site where kids can create their own music in a space-based virtual music studio. ToonsTunes taps into the hot music game market that’s been dominated by video games companies such as Activision’s Guitar Hero and Electronic Arts’ Rock Band and, according to the judges, should be the startup to watch. Other upstarts that touched on the personalization theme are Clasemovil, a web-based learning community for Latin American students that lets them pick which educational games they want to complete, and Sealtale, which lets people pick and create stickers they can put on their web pages and blogs.

Images courtesy of Penn & Teller, StorySomething and ToonsTunes

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