SXSWi 2012 Pocket Guide

Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Serendipity: That was the buzz word at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. It was probably the same word as last year — but I wasn’t there so I couldn’t tell you. I’d love to tell you there was one major product announcement or even trend that defined SXSW, but I’d be lying. The experience was akin to being a metal orb in a pinball machine, bounding from one relay to another, having random conversations, seeing oddball sights and making unexpected discoveries. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Those who know me will tell you I’m not a go-with-it kind of guy. Conferences usually mean a packed schedule of meetings, lots of note taking, a ton of writing and absolute exhaustion. Fun doesn’t really fit in (in all the years I’ve attended CES and Comdex before it, I have never seen a Vegas show).

However, I had been traveling a lot in the weeks leading up to SXSW, (Barcelona, San Francisco), which meant I had less time to prepare. By the time I arrived on Thursday evening, I was in a state of panic: How do I cover this show?

That night, I walked over to the nearly deserted conference hall and picked up my badge. It would be almost 12 hours before I realized how big a deal this was. After wandering the mostly empty halls for a while, I headed back to my room to try and prepare for the day. In my hand I now had a pocket SXSWi schedule that detailed the dozens and dozens of panels I could attend. Some looked interesting, but almost none newsworthy. How do I cover a show without news?


This is Big


The next morning, I learned something important about SXSWi: News or no news, this was one hot conference. Remember how I waltzed in and walked off with my badge? Now there were hundreds of people in that same registration hall queued up for their badges and a line of thousands more that snaked clear around the perimeter of the conference hall. Some told me they waited three hours.

Obviously there was something here. As I had done before, I started walking the halls, taking pictures and tweeting what I saw. Panels didn’t start for a couple more hours, so I had time to acclimate myself. Outside, the driving rain, which had started when we arrived on Thursday, was only intensifying. It served to keep whoever came into the giant convention center inside. This, too, turned out be beneficial and helped me discover the most important part of SXSWi: The people.

Wherever I went, whether I was standing, sitting or walking at SXSW, I found people to talk to. Sometimes they were people I knew. Like a friendly PR rep who has helped me on many a story and actually connected me with Pinterest’s first investor while I was at the show. Other times, it was folks I’d only known through Twitter. I could recognize their avatars, but had never actually met them. There was the occasional Mashable fan and even some people who follow me. In every case, we had amazing discussions where I learned about cool stuff going on or around the show, new products and technologies and how to navigate SXSW. One guy gave me an important piece of advice, which would come in handy later. He said, yes, there are tons of panels, “but if you find yourself in one you don’t like, simply get up and walk out. There is no shame in that.”

Later when I went to a James Franco panel that ended up not featuring the multi-hyphenate actor, I quietly excused myself without even a hint of guilt.


Shuffling, Shuffling


As the morning progressed, I found myself wandering up and down the halls looking for anything that might turn into an interesting story or photo-op. I even hopped across the street — and out into the cold and rain — to check out Jud Apatow’s coffee stand for his new HBO series “Girls,” but mostly because I wanted more free coffee.

Even when I did find some newsworthy stuff, it was almost by accident. I wandered into a panel on documentaries mostly so I could sit down. Soon the panelists were talking about the most controversial doc on the planet: KONY 2012. Back in the halls, the ISIS NFC-based mobile payment system launch, which was news, was unhandled in a most un-news-like manner: They used a magician to show how ISIS worked. No press conference. In fact, I don’t think SXSW had a single press conference. I thought that was weird, but I just went with it.

I attended a couple of panels, but also got shut out of some others. SXSW is not really concerned with reporters. Panels are for everyone and if you’re not there early enough, you’re out of luck. When this happened to me, I just did my best to go with the flow and find other interesting opportunities.


Serendipity


Time and time again, the best parts of SXSW were happening in the halls. I met and chatted with Google’s Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz as they ate breakfast. They seemed genuinely happy to see me, even if I was standing between them and their breakfast tacos. After this chance meeting, I began to focus more closely on the SXSW crowd, actively seeking friendly and familiar faces. I made a conscious decision to approach everyone and anyone I wanted to meet. No one ever ran away screaming.

Clearly others were doing the same. At one point it took me an hour and a half to walk 300 feet. No one was blocking my way, I just kept meeting people (like Robert Scoble, Ed Baig, Guy Kawasaki, Andy Cohen, Tony Hsieh, Steve Case, Tobey MacGuire, Craig Newmark). All the notables were kind, funny and gracious. I also met many people most (or relatively few) people have never heard of, though I bet someday you will.

There was the very young entrepreneur, James Brown, who stopped me in the hall to give me a fast pitch on Goalee, a site that mashes up your social graph and interest graph to create an eHarmony-like matchmaking service for business and networking.

I have a near-perfect memory for faces and spotted Irene McGee, the former reality TV star (Real World Seattle) who now blogs about health-related technology at FYIiving.

I sat with Americans Elect CTO Joshua Levine who spoke passionately to me about fixing a broken political system. The online organization’s grassroots candidate (who will be selected from among 300 drafted candidates via virtual primaries in May and a virtual convention in July) likely has no chance of winning. But don’t tell Levine that.

Then there was startup founder Hajj Flemings who grabbed me in the hall to show off Gokit.me. He said it was like a mash-up between Pinterest and About.me (though neither site is in any way involved with it). The site (an app is coming later) adds layers of identities to help you manage your social personas and content boards. Flemings was not the first to promise me that his product could tap into the best parts of Pinterest.

Later I ran into young food lover David Segall who came up with a way to track chefs and pop-up food experiences on PopGrub.com.

When the weather cleared up, I met more people on the streets, at food trucks and in outdoor event spaces.

All these chance meetings were not just the best part of the conference, they were ultimately what SXSW is all about. When I left the show, I had a fistful of business cards and new insight into how small companies and startups develop and work to grab attention. Many were not above a stunt or intense pitch, but they were also willing to let you come to them.

My plan for a highly organized SXSW never materialized, but I had one of the best conferences of my career. I can’t wait to do it all again.


My SXSW Magical Mystery Tour


 

A look at the ISIS Mobile Wallet Booth

The mobile wallet software was a sponsor at SXSW.

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David Tucker is a principal architect at Universal Mind. As the resident Apple and Adobe expert, he works closely with Universal Mind’s clients to develop rich user experiences that leverage many of today’s exciting new development platforms. Follow David on Twitter @mindmillmedia.

Many companies have mobile apps at the top of their to-do lists, but while churning out a quick app is fairly straightforward, developing a strategic application or digital “solution” is considerably more complex. Smart planning is essential.

Here are 10 things to consider before developing your app.


1. Agree on goals for the program.


When developing a digital solution strategy, first examine your organization’s goals for the program. Are you looking to be seen as innovator, or fend off competition by showing progress in the space? Simply showing initial momentum and previewing the future roadmap can often place you ahead of the competition. Should your digital solutions help build customer loyalty and enable greater customer self-service, or is your highest priority to create new revenue streams? Once you’ve agreed on the goals, prioritize them so you’ll know where to start.


2. Understand your target users.


The next step is to understand who your target users are, their goals and requirements, and the technologies they use. This process includes researching the platforms your users are most likely utilizing, then gaining an understanding of each user experience. Every device is different, and every user has multiple needs. For example, a person might typically use an online banking application to pay a bill, but he might use the bank’s mobile application to find the closest ATM.


3. Build a user testing focus group.


Spending time with your target users is the only way to ensure you really understand what they are looking for in a mobile application. As you move through the process of discovery, you can discuss ideas with this group on a daily basis. Focus groups can provide value from the far beyond the initial discovery phase.


4. Identify a minimally viable solution set.


Don’t try to tackle the whole problem at once. Instead, companies should identify a minimally viable solution and start there. In other words, release a basic but functional app as a foundation, then take advantage of the efficient upgrade paths most devices offer to provide regular updates. This enables you to enter the market more quickly and refine as needed. Plus, periodically giving your users access to new developments ensures your organization stays top-of-mind.


5. Plan for multiple releases.


With mobile applications, releasing the initial version is only the beginning. Statistics show that many users will re-engage with your application when new features are added. Spread key functionality across the first handful of releases to keep your users engaged. Be careful not to release too often, lest users feel bombarded. In many cases, a 2-3 month window between major releases will keep your users engaged over a longer period of time.


6. Balance your users and your business.


Balancing business drivers with real user needs can be difficult. In many cases, the two are at odds with one another. Therefore, arm yourself with the right information to make smart tradeoffs. Collect research such as user studies, expert opinions, and business viability and technical feasibility studies. This body of data can then be weighed to achieve the best balance between user-centric solutions and business-value gains.


7. Know what is out there.


Spend time exploring apps in each of the platforms you plan to support. Each platform offers different interface paradigms and a different collection of applications. Experimenting with the most popular applications will help you understand not only what is possible on the platform, but also the user’s expectations. If possible, use a different mobile platform device during the exploration process.


8. Bring your IT team into the discussions early.


The far greater technical challenge is tying your backend business processes to a digital solution that encompasses smartphones and kiosks, for example. The technology infrastructure for a multichannel solution goes well beyond the platform you choose for front-end development. In order to be successful, companies must consider how to architect data delivery and API management as well as security, scalability, content aggregation, device optimization, API translation, etc. Bring your IT team into the discussion before you get too far down the planning path.


9. Decide on a technology you can live (and grow) with.


As the mobile space matures, there will be many more application develop choices. In many cases, your goals will help determine what you choose here. For example, if your goal is to reach as many users as possible across all platforms, you may choose an HTML framework with little hardware integration. If your goal is to provide deep hardware integration for augmented reality technology, then you’ll probably develop a native application. Decisions around technology can directly affect your app’s functionality.


10. Plan to analyze.


The final step in the process is determining how to measure success. With a morass of potential features, devices, platforms and technologies, success can be challenging to define, but it will affect your ultimate strategy. Consider the following questions.

  • Will this increase our transaction volume and, therefore, revenue?
  • Will this increase customer adoption and retention?
  • Will this increase our brand recognition and loyalty?
  • Will this decrease our costs?
  • How many people do we want using our app?
  • How do we want to integrate the solution with our social media program?
  • How will we integrate with our existing analytics tools?

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, TommyL, Nikada

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The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

QuipolName: Quipol

Quick Pitch: Quipol is a web application that makes creating and embedding polls on blogs easy.

Genius Idea: Quipol allows bloggers to get feedback from their audiences with a super simple and customizable polling template.


If Quipol were an ice cream flavor, it would be vanilla. It’s delicious by itself, but meant to be individualized by each person. Instead of sprinkles, nuts and hot fudge, however, Quipol customization allows for video, pictures and comments.

Think of Quipols as quick polls — extremely pared down versions of online polls (see right). Each poll displays one question with thumbs-up and thumbs-down options. A comments section encourages chatter.

The idea behind Quipol is to make customizable polls as simple and elegant as possible, Max Yoder, the 23-year-old entrepreneur behind the new web application, tells Mashable.

“I think of traditional polls as a hunched-over half ape,” Yoder said.

Yoder believes Quipol’s two answer options aren’t as limiting as you would think because they encourage bloggers to be creative with their question wording. Plus, they force readers to go with their gut and not be wishy-washy with their answers.

Yoder started developing the poll application eight months ago and tested the prototype with the groups that Quipol was meant for — fashion bloggers, avid Tumblr users, political bloggers, entertainment bloggers and tech bloggers. Forbes Magazine was one of the biggest early adopters. But Quipol was made for anyone to use — the average blogger who wants to get feedback about issues they care about.

Looking ahead, the goal for Quipol as a company is to keep the partnerships coming. Quipol is viewed by many as a company that does one thing very well, and big companies and small businesses use its product so they don’t have to write out and upkeep a polling dock.

“Building kind of a pared down poll will guide the ship,” Yoder said. “We will be here for you for all development, resources and upkeep.”

SEE ALSO: HOW TO: Poll Consumers on Facebook

There are many polling software products for online audiences. Toluna also lets users add videos and pictures to polls; Micropoll doesn’t require registration to create polls and PollDaddy gives users access to surveys, polls and quizzes on various platforms including e-mail and Twitter.

Yoder’s goal for the end of the year is to gain 25,000 users and really improve the product based on continued user feedback. People can already sign in for free with their Facebook or Twitter to embed their own polls. There is also a new video element where they can add a YouTube video directly into a poll (see video below). They can be as creative with the pared-down poll as they want.


Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark


Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

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Trapit Activity Feed

Trapit now has an activity feed to surface the most recent content.

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Trapit, a startup that personalizes content with the same artificial intelligence technology that powers Apple’s Siri, is launching its public beta.

Trapit was unveiled in June as a system for personalizing content based on keywords, URLs and reading habits. The company describes itself as a “Pandora for content.” By using its A.I. technology, Trapit can identify related content based on contextual data from more than 50,000 sources.

Like Siri, Trapit was born from the $200 million CALO Project (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes). CALO was the largest artificial intelligence project in U.S. history. It was funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the Department of Defense’s research arm.

Since its private beta, Trapit has been working hard to revamp its discovery engine. The biggest change is its shift toward search. Trapit now prominently features a search bar on the top of the page. A search for a topic (e.g. “Space”) returns 100 results (“traps”) with articles and content related to that topic.

Clicking on a result returns a trap filled with content related to that article or piece of content. These traps get smarter as you click on articles and vote up or down content within them, improving their relevancy over time.

Trapit has also thought about the site’s usability. The company has added a real-time activity feed that makes it easier to find the newest articles within a specific search or trap.

“You need technology to discover [content] for you,” Trapit co-founder Gary Griffiths says.

The changes directly position it against Google, though the company claims that it isn’t in the business of search. “We don’t think of ourselves as a search engine,” says Trapit co-founder Hank Nothhaft says. “We do think the web is shifting from search to discovery.”

Nothhaft and co-founder Gary Griffiths say “Google is like the yellow pages.” It is best suited for finding exact things like a replacement part or an exact date. It fails, however, as a real-time discovery engine — a way to find content you may not have even known you wanted.

“We’re going to be on a collision course with Google,” Griffiths says.

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Social gifting startup Sincerely, makers of Postagram and PopBooth, is bringing its popular mobile postcard making, printing and shipping features to an iPhone app you already love.

Sincerely is launching Ship, an iOS Library and SDK, as a plug-and-play software kit that developers can use to turn their iPhone photo apps into mobile printing studios.

“The printed photo [is] the world’s simplest but most ubiquitously appreciated gift,” Sincerely CEO and cofounder Matt Brezina says. “This extends [our] platform to a much broader user base. Right now, we have two apps in the App Store, tomorrow will have 14 … a couple months from now will have 100 apps in the App Store that are all exposing the Sincerely experience.”

More than a dozen launch partners will feature Sincerely’s print and ship technology in their iPhone apps, starting Thursday. Partners include Lonely Planet, Path, Pic Collage, Waddle, Quiption, Picsicle, Filtermania, Ship Mate, Interlacer, Pregnancy Progress, I’m Awesome and Color Effects.

At launch, Sincerely will continue to hand select app partners and evaluate interested parties on a case-by-case basis, Brezina says. The startup has already fielded inquiries from more than 200 developers, he adds.

App makers will earn 70% of revenue earned from the sale of each postcard above $0.99. Sincerely prices its postcards at $0.99 a pop, a fee that includes printing and shipping costs to anywhere in the world. App makers can keep the $0.99 price point in tact or price postcards higher to make a profit on sales through their apps.

Coincidentally, Sincerely’s SDK release comes just two days after Apple announced that it would enter the greeting card business with Cards, an iPhone application for creating, printing and sending greeting cards.

Brezina sees the Cards app as a competitor, but does not view it as a substantial threat to Sincerely’s business. In part because, he asserts, gifting is not Apple’s core business focus.

“I don’t think it’s a new direction for Apple,” he says. “I don’t think they’re going to make an amazing gifting experience or offer amazing products like Postagram…I think it’s kind of a checkbox for them.”

Meanwhile, Sincerely will forge ahead with what Brezina believes to be the best mobile gifting experience available. He points to Postagram’s high ratings on the App Store and Android Marketplace, and its appearance in a series of Apple ads as proof. Brezina would not disclose the size of the company’s user base or the number of postcards that have been purchased via Sincerely apps.

“We believe very strongly that a printed photo is this gift that every person on the street would appreciate,” Brezina says.

Sincerely Ship

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Spotify is releasing its API for iOS Wednesday.

The red hot music streaming service, which recently made its U.S. debut, will open its catalogue of more than 15 million tracks to third-party iPhone and iPad app developers.

The application package, Libspotify for iOS, is available to Spotify Premium users. It rounds out Spotify’s API suite, also available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux.

“We hope this will enable a new category of iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch applications with Spotify inside and allow for more immersive music experiences within iOS apps,” Director of Platform Sten Garmark says.

The API release is important considering the bevy of music subscription services competing for end user attention. Now, Spotify has the opportunity to piggyback on the popularity of Apple’s iOS platform to reach an even greater audience.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Andreas Blixt

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Boulder-based computer vision startup Occipital has raised $7 million in Series A funding, and aims to leverage the investment to develop a next-generation computer vision platform.

Occipital, a TechStars veteran, is most widely known for the hit barcode-scanning app RedLaser, which it sold to eBay last year. Now, the startup’s most notable app is 360 Panorama for 3D panoramic image captures via mobile.

But Occipital has bigger plans. It wants to be the computer vision foundation — just as RedLaser became the backbone of many barcode-scanning apps — powering apps that will help mobile users interact with the physical world around them.

“360 Panorama is just the tip of the iceberg,” says co-founder Jeff Powers. What’s the whole iceberg actually look like?

“The iceberg is what sits underneath 360 Panorama — it’s the beginnings of a sophisticated computer vision platform that aims to fundamentally transform the way we interact with environments,” co-founder Vikas Reddy explains to Mashable. “Think computer vision plus augmented reality and the applications that become possible when your smartphone has a visual understanding of its surroundings.”

This is where third-party developers will come into play. Occipital will be soon be launching a platform that will give enterprising developers a crack at creating new layers on top of the computer vision technology inside 360 Panorama.

“Currently, there are companies that have introduced specific mobile applications that use limited computer-vision techniques,” says Occipital investor and new board member Jason Mendelson. “No one has produced a platform that allows developers to create dynamic content that automatically leverages best-in-class computer vision technology.”

Occipital’s $7 million Series A round was led by Foundry Group. Jason Mendelson and Brad Feld of Foundry Group, Manu Kumar of K9 Ventures and Gary Bradski of Willow Garage will join the startup’s board.

Image courtesy of Flickr, jurvetson

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Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook all compete for top talent. In doing so, they lure and acqui-hire the brightest minds in tech — who, unfortunately for them, later go on to trade these cushy jobs for the rough-and-tumble life of a startup founder.

Which of these four mega powers in tech (at one point or another) has produced, and hence pushed out, the top talent in the industry? A little analysis of the startups that have come from the former employees of these tech heavy-hitters, and a look at the funding these startups have raised, might shed some light on the answer.

TopProspect to the rescue. The startup, a site that helps you get hired through your social network friends, fashioned the infographic below after analyzing data, dating back to 2006, from its users and their social connections — that pool includes more than 3 million folks mostly in the Silicon Valley area.

“We only focused on companies founded in the last 5 years,” the startup explains of its data analysis. “Second, we made sure that the companies had at least 10 employees in our network (a pretty good sign that they’re legit, and well-connected). Finally, we only included companies with publicly available funding information.”

Google is birthing the most successful founders, if you measure success by funds raised (which isn’t always the best measurement of success). The search powerhouse-turned-social-media company has spawned 13 qualified founders in five years — who’ve started companies including Foursquare, Color and Qwiki. Together, these startups have raised a whopping $309 million in funding.

Lowest on the totem pole, at least for now, is Facebook. Its offspring includes seven founders — altogether raising more than $65 million — who have gone on to found startups such as Quora, Path and Asana.

Surprised by the results? Check out the full infographic below and share your thoughts with us in the comments.




Image courtesy of Flickr, satanslaundromat

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Developers have already flocked to Evernote’s note-taking platform in droves to provide its 11 million members with additional utility. Now, six new application makers will vie for the crown of most inventive Evernote application or integration and compete for $100,000 in prizes.

The six finalists, being revealed Tuesday, are Colorstache, MyWorld, Notablemeals, Sniptastic, Touchanote and Zendone. Community members are being encouraged to vote for their favorites.

The finalists range from the practical to the fantastical. Zendone and Colorstache are more sensible in nature, for instance. Zendone focuses on applying a “Getting Things Done” methodology to notes, while Colorstache lets Evernote users browse and search for notes by Color.

The flashier MyWorld and Touchanote add spunk and character to the Evernote experience. MyWorld gives Evernote users an augmented reality browser for viewing notes, and Touchnote makes NFC note-tagging and association possible. More details on all of the finalists are included below.

The finalists were selected based on a few key factors: finish and polish of the application, utility, originality and integration with the platform. Each will be awarded $5,000 for placing in the contest.

“Evernote currently has over 6,000 developers working on software and hardware integrations using out API,” says Andrew Sinkov, Evernote’s vice president of marketing. “We wanted to see what would happen if we did a developer competition as an incentive. We’re pretty blown away by the results. We had over 1,000 developers enter the competition from around the world.”

The grand prize winner will be chosen based on community votes, the votes of celebrity judges and live judging at the startup’s first-ever developer conference in August. The winner will revealed at the event — the Evernote Truck Conference — and will take home an additional $50,000 in cash. Evernote will also award two additional submissions with $10,000 each in the wildcard and student categories.

Check out the Evernote applications below and share your favorites in the comments. Should you wish to attend the event, Evernote is offering the first 50 Mashable readers who register via this link (with the “ETCMASHABLE” discount code) a 50% discount.

Colorstache

Colorstache, by Reno Collective, offers Evernote users a way to browse and search their notes by color.

Touchanote

Touchanote, by Wiseleap, connects the capture and organization capabilities of Evernote with the convenience of physical NFC tags. Easily associate any note in your account with a real world NFC tag.

MyWorld

MyWorld, by Wikitude, allows you to save the places you love in Evernote, then view them on a map in Facebook. You can then share your favorites with friends and view the places they’ve been.

Sniptastic

Sniptastic, from Andrew West, is a set of developer tools that let you share and organize code snippets.

Notablemeals

Notablemeals, from John McLaughlin and Kal Michael, is an iPhone app that makes it easy to capture memories about meals.

Zendone

Zendone is a personal productivity tool based on the Getting Things Done methodology. It offers a simple, well-designed interface for implementing the GTD workflow, using Evernote for collecting and archiving projects and tasks.

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If you like clever data visualizations, you’ll love Visual.ly, a startup that lets you find and make infographics with all kinds of web-based data.

The site aims to be a repository for graphically organized information on the web, as well as a marketplace and community for publishers, designers, researchers and everyday web users.

Visual.ly contains three main components. First, it’s a search engine for web-based infographics. Second, it’s a silo of data from government agencies, non-profits and other research- and data-focused entities.

Third, Visual.ly is a web-based platform for creating infographics of your own — no graphic design experience or software required.

Already, the site boasts a collection of 2,000 infographics in its indexed and searchable galleries, as well as 60,000 users who signed up for beta access.

Here’s a demo of the site:

In a release, co-founder and CEO Stew Langille said, “We knew we were onto something big, having seen the power of data visualization work so dramatically across the Web.”

The service’s main infographic creation tool will launch in a few months.

Not only does the site aggregate and help you find great infographics, it also lets you make infographics of your own using various types of data. A demo of this capability can be seen right now with the Twitter Visualizer, a tool that lets you build and customize Twitter infographics.

Right now, you can use Visual.ly’s Twitter tool to generate infographics based on yours and others’ Twitter usage. For example, here’s a visualization showing my tweet data compared to data from Tal Siach, a Visual.ly co-founder:

Top image based on a photo from iStockphoto, spxChrome

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