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.
Each weekend, Mashable hand-picks startups we think are building interesting, unique or niche products.
This week we’ve chosen three new takes on established online staples: digital books, ID and shopping.
Booktrack, for instance, adds audio to digital books. Miicard provides reliable digital identity verification. And Grabio takes online classifieds local.
Quick Pitch: Synchronized ambient sound effects for books.
Genius Idea: Technology that recognizes an individual’s reading speed and paces the soundtrack with corresponding text.
Mashable’s Take: Booktrack’s sound effects for iPad and iPhone books are designed to create a background soundscape that matches the text. Sherlock Holmes, for instance, opens with the sound of a heavy rain. At moments that match the text, there might be sounds of footsteps, an explosion or suspenseful music. A scrolling arrow keeps track of the reading speed at which the app is matching sounds to text and can be easily sped up or slowed down.
Says Booktrack founder Paul Cameron, “It makes a new and engaging way to read and really enhances the experience and enhances your imagination and keeps you in the story longer,” he recently told The New York Times.
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, the company’s lead investor, evidently agrees. HarperCollins, Penguin Books, Sony/ATV Publishing, and others have agreed to at least try the format.
Crazier concepts have succeeded, and other book platforms are experimenting with adding social networks and videos to texts — both of which are arguably even more distracting than sound.
But one thing I like about books is that they’re not movies. There’s an inherent silence on the written page that is part of the experience of reading and a pleasant departure from the constant pinging of screens.
It’s not hard to imagine that concentration on one medium at a time will become outdated. But for me, the written word is still perfectly adequate on its own.
Quick Pitch: A digital passport that proves ‘you are who you say you are’ purely online and in real time.
Genius Idea: Using verified online accounts to validate your identity.
Mashable’s Take: MiiCard is an identification “card” for the Internet.
Signing up for MiiCard involves the familiar process of verifying your email address. Before the site will vouch for your identity, however, you need to link to other accounts such as those from your bank, credit card and utility companies. Adding more links gives you a “stronger” identity verification.
After you establish your MiiCard identity, you can use it on its partner sites. When you attempt to purchase a product or service online, the “Level Of Assurance” that you need is pre-determined by the vendor or service provider and its regulator. This could be handy when buying and selling online or on an online dating profiles.
It might be hard, however, for people to hand over data about their financial accounts to a startup. The company tries to counter this hesitancy with a safety explanation: “miiCard uses bank-level security to protect your information — utilising multi-factor authentication and industry-standard encryption to ensure your data is secure.”
Quick Pitch: A location-based marketplace that connects buyers and sellers within a predefined radius.
Genius Idea: An alternative to online listing sites like Craigslist that brings classifieds closer to their roots at local papers.
Mashable’s Take: Let’s say you want to buy tickets to a sports game at the last minute. You don’t have time to take an hour-long drive to receive them, and the tickets that people posted last month on sites like Craigslist have already been sold.
Grabio aims to be your solution. Its app lists items and services for sale near you in real-time and allows you to post things you’d like to buy (“Need two tickets to the Cubs game tonight”). Buyers and sellers can connect within the app to set up an exchange.
It’s an obviously good selling method for a number of items: tickets, textbooks on campus, dog walking services. But it’s so useful, Grabio has a slew of established competitors.
Zaarly focuses more on odd jobs and services (“Bring me an ice cream cone and I will pay you $10), Goshi hosts image-based listings and Taap.it also has a similar platform.
Grabio’s success depends largely on its ability to distinguish itself from the many other players in the space.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, mbortolino
Series Supported by 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.