10 Canadian firms on the cutting edge of Web 2.0

Still kicking the tires on Web 2.0?

Perhaps it’s time to learn from the best– 10 Canadian firms that are using social networking tools and techniques creatively to win new business and influence customers.

Their innovative ventures run the gamut – from online ad marketplaces to GPS-enabled travel sites that let users create their own “un-packaged” tours.

These companies’ use of Web 2.0 technologies to drive business and brand has been studied by analyst firm IDC Canada, which has produced a report on the subject titled: 10 Canadian Web 2.0 Companies to Watch.

Authored by Krista Collins, analyst for Canadian ICT Innovation Export at IDC Canada, the study focuses on the following firms:

AdHack, a Vancouver-based, three-man company that provides a hosted site where ad creators can showcase their portfolio to various companies and potential ad buyers

dthree Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., that helps businesses contextualize online and offline interactive marketing campaigns.

Octopz Inc., a Toronto developer of an online collaboration tool that enables people work together on more than 100 different types of files.

Overlay.TV, an Ottawa company that has developed a way to tag items on videos and digital photos, and allow users to embed these on social networking site, Web sites or even blogs

PlanetEye, a Toronto-firm putting a new spin on travel Web sites by making it possible for footloose people to develop their own vacation tours using video, digital photos, online maps which can be hooked up to a GPS system.

Ramius Corp. This Ottawa company builds social networking systems for businesses using blogs, online communities, profiles, tagging and other Web 2.0 tools. Its Community Zero software was designed to help companies to build secure, scalable online communities.

SceneCaster, a Richmond Hill, Ont.-company that used its decade-long experience in Web services and rich media to develop a site where an community members can create online vignettes using virtual objects.

Standout Jobs, a Montreal-based Web firm that helps companies create job sites that use videos, blogs, podcasts, polling widgets and other Web 2.0 tools to generate better jobseeker contact and feedback.

Tomoye Corp. In ancient Japanese, the word tomoye means “revolution in the universe”. This Gatineau, Quebec company is essentially an online expert advice aggregator for businesses. It helps professionals learn and solve problems by networking and collaborating inside and outside of the companies they belong to.

Tungle, from a Montreal-based company is a free Outlook plug-in that helps users easily share their calendars to other people without the need for expensive exchange servers. Users can coordinate meetings across platforms such as Google Calendar, iCal, Lotus Notes and even with people not using Tungle.

Collins of IDC cites two key qualities common to these 10 companies. They are are: the ability to develop technology from eye-candy staged to market-ready products or services; and a willingness to walk users and clients through the ins and outs of Web 2.0.

“To succeed in this emerging market, companies need to move their product from ‘cool’ to ‘critical tool’,” the IDC analyst said.

The companies on Collin’s list facilitate adoption of their tools by providing online guided tours, Web-based instructions, and training.

“Many businesses, especially large enterprises, are not too familiar with social networking tools. They need some guidance.”

In reality some capabilities offered by these Web 2.0 companies are the realization of marketing aspirations that ad executives have entertained for decades.

One example is Overlay.TV’s digital image overlay technology. According to Ben Watson, the company’s vice-president of marketing, the firm was born while Tyler Cope, CTO of Overlay.TV, was watching a Sex in the City re-run with his wife.

“Tyler’s wife wondered ‘wouldn’t it be nice if I could find out right now where I could buy Carrie’s shoes?’ And Tyler got the idea for Overlay.TV,” said Watson.

This happened just last year, but advertising executives have for many years sought the ability to tag various items used by actors in TV for marketing purposes. Imagine being able to click on the outfit worn by an actor and getting information on where to purchase the same item.

Of course today, Overlay.TV has had to replace the television with online interactive sites such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr and Twitter.

The company offers people free use of their overlay software so that individuals can tag content they generate themselves or source from various social networking sites.

The tags display product information and online buying links. The tagged content can then be posted on any social networking site, the user’s website or blog page.

One popular tagged video video is that of Sarah Silverman singing with Matt Damon. Along the right side of the screen, are boxes featuring so-called “targets” or products in the video which could be purchased.

Content creators pick from a list of thousands of products created by individuals or businesses that Overlay.TV has previously signed revenue sharing contracts with. When a viewer purchases any of the products linked to the content, both Overlay.TV and the content creator gets a share of the profits.

When Overlay.TV goes live with its full service on September, the company also hopes to be able to generate revenues by licensing their overlay software to ad companies and businesses as well as offering professional online marketing services.

Another company that relies on user generated content is the aptly named AdHack of Vancouver.

CEO James Sherret describes his company as an “EBay for advertising”.

AdHack serves as a hub for ad creators who need a site to showcase their talent by way of posting on the site previous works or proposed ads. The ad creators can use photos, poster-type images and videos such as the Chocolate Love video created by Giant Ant Media which could conceivably be bought by a chocolate manufacturer.

Sherret said many companies looking for advertising artists are drawn to AdHack’s site because it’s like a “talent boutique”.

“Why would companies pay an ad agency upwards of $50,000 to develop a campaign, when they can come to us and pick out the talent that appeals to them.”

AdHack makes money collecting commissions when an ad maker is hired by a company for an assignment.

The company also hopes to earn revenues by renting out its Web 2.0 tools using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) payment model. AdHack’s software product allows users to create online ads and generate reports that track Web traffic and viewer response.

Standout Jobs of Montreal aims to aid companies in their hunt for talent by helping them create online hiring sites that are more attractive to their target audience. And for a large number of eligible young employees that means sites that offer multimedia collaborative come-ons, says Benjamin Yoskovitz, CEO of Standout Jobs.

“There’s a sea of competition out there. If companies want to stand out, they need tools that will move them away from the mostly bland online job ads you normally see,” he explained.

For now, the company is offering for free its software that enables clients to build recruitment sites that highlight their organization. The sites allows companies to post blogs, photos, feedback widgets and videos such as the one used by b5Media, a new media network based in Toronto.

Standout Jobs which launched its beta site in January this year, hopes to gain income later on by offering their product under a SaaS payment model.

The blogs, videos and other Web content provide companies an excellent opportunity to attract candidates looking for information about an organization they want to apply to, said Yoskovitz.

“Through employee blogs, photos of workers or videos of company activities, candidates can better decide for themselves there’s a good fit.”

Companies can gain more information about prospective employees through interactive features such as polling widgets that enable users to voice their opinions.

PlanetEye, on the other hand, seeks to capitalize on the growing market for digital cameras, camera-enabled phones and other digital image capturing devices with built in Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology.

Essentially, the site enables a traveler to create a personal profile much like they do on sites such as Facebook. The site’s underlying software then, uses this data and GPS technology to offer relevant places, events or items of interest that the traveler might find during a planned trip.

“But rather than boring text-based information, we use digital media such as video and photos to help travelers decide if they want to check out something,” said Butch Langlois, president and CEO of the Toronto-based firm.

The idea was hatched some two years ago when Rick Segal, partner at JLA Ventures, a Toronto-based investment firm saw great marketing potential in Microsoft’s Worldwide Media eXchange or WWMX software product.

The computer program uses digital mapping software and global positioning data to sort and present digital photos by precisely where in the world they were taken. “When you click on a photo, it can show you where the photo was taken or where the image can be found on a map,” said Segal.

Aside from earning from basic ads that are placed on the site, PlanetEye also receives revenue from booking affiliates such as hotels, restaurants, golf courses and other venues featured on its maps.

The company will also soon launch a hybrid licensing model where businesses can use PlanetEye’s software on their own corporate site.

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Nestor Arellano
Nestor Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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