StartUpdates: 1000memories Introduces Shoebox App, Animoto Makes Video Creation Easier, HealthTap Taps 5,000 Physicians

Author’s Note: I’ve got a problem. Because Xconomy is still relatively new to the San Francisco Bay Area, most of the stories I write are about companies we’re covering for the first time. Because there’s an endless supply of new companies, I can never quite empty out my notebooks. But at the same time, there’s a constant stream of news from the companies we have written about; annoyingly, their founders keep innovating! In an attempt to balance things things out, I’m introducing a new type of Xconomy story: StartUpdates, occasional articles reviewing recent developments at companies we’ve featured in the past. Here we go.

1000memories: It’s Not Just Facebook for Dead People

When I first met the 1000memories team in the summer of 2010, they were just finishing the Y Combinator startup incubator program and had recently turned on their website, which was designed as a place for the friends and family members of deceased people to collect photos, remembrances, and other materials. When I checked in with them again in February, they were announcing that they’d cashed a nice $2.5 million Series A check from Greylock Partners and a group of individual investors. They’d also redesigned the “memory pages” where members share photos, and had created an experimental page commemorating protesters killed during the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt last spring.

But now 1000memories has embarked on a more dramatic transition, shifting away from its original emphasis on multimedia-enhanced memorials for the dead and positioning itself as a place to share memories of all kinds. To support that new mission, on Friday the startup introduced an iPhone app called Shoebox that makes it easy for users to digitize and post old photos—the ones stacking up in the classic shoebox in the closet.

It’s still possible to create pages that memorialize loved ones, but now that’s just one use case; now everyone tagged in a photo, whether alive or dead, has their own memory page. Co-founder Rudy Adler says the changes grew out of the company’s observations of its own users. “We found that most of our users are not coming to tell just one person’s stories-they are coming to tell many stories,” Adler says. “The original use case really got people to dig out beautiful content—old letters, old photographs, the stuff in the shoebox, and we were becoming a repository for that.” By refocusing the site on the content itself—and introducing the iPhone app to make it easier to capture and upload this content—“we are making it easier for people to tell multiple stories.”

The new app is simple: it turns an iPhone into a handheld scanner and saves image content directly to the 1000memories site. Users can straighten, rotate, and crop images before uploading them, and add captions and dates. The company points out that the 8-megapixel camera in the iPhone 4S can take pictures at 2448×3264 pixels, which offers the same resolution (or higher) than what you’d get with a commercial scanner. And through a partnership with the Internet Archive, the company says everything users upload to 1000memories gets “backed up and preserved forever.”

“We have always been trying to develop a ‘past tense’ for the Internet, and there is no other photo-sharing site that caters to that,” says Adler. With Facebook about to roll out the new Timeline format for all user profiles, many users may wonder why they should turn to 1000memories rather than their existing social network as a place to store memories, but Adler says he isn’t worried about the competition. “To see Facebook developing a past tense is really interesting, because it validates the direction that we’re going, and it validates the idea that people crave a narrative. And people forget that Facebook was started only seven years ago. I’m 30, and that means 23 years of my life are not there. There is this huge gap, and that’s what we are focused on bringing to the Internet.”

Animoto Simplifies Its Stealth Video Editor

San Francisco- and New York-based Animoto has a clever business model: they let you make super-slick music videos from your home movies and photos without making you struggle with traditional video editing software. The company upgraded its videos to high-definition last spring and pocketed $25 million in new financing in June. More recently, it’s been putting some of its new resources into making the work flow for creating a video even simpler.

Earlier this month Animoto introduced an overhauled project workspace on its website that lets users create new videos in as few as five clicks. All you have to do is pick a style for your video, upload the photos and videos to Animoto’s cloud servers, choose some background music, add captions, and click “Produce Video.” But for those who want to get a little more hands-on, there are a lot of customization options along the way. To my mind, Animoto’s secret is that they’ve built a nearly full-fledged video editing suite—it’s just that it lives on the Web and is designed to work virtually automatically for people who just want to click and go.

“The magic of Animoto has always been the ability for anyone to quickly create extraordinary videos through a simple, intuitive interface that doesn’t feel like an editing tool,” CEO Brad Jefferson said in a news release earlier this month. “Our all-new creation flow is a huge leap forward in simplicity and provides the framework for us to innovate on our vision faster.”

HealthTap Ramps Up Physician Population, Expands to 82 Medical Specialties, Release Mobile App

Back in April, when I covered the initial rollout of Palo Alto, CA-based HealthTap, the health-advice startup offered reference information and physicians’ advice in just two areas—pregnancy and early childhood—and it had roughly 550 physicians in its network, each one available to answer users’ health questions. By the time I checked in with HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman this fall, the operation had grown enormously. As of late September HealthTap had recruited 5,000 physicians, spanning 82 fields from cardiology to oncology to (believe it or not) space medicine. So if you’re a former astronaut wondering about how to treat your bone-density problem, you might be able to find some useful data on the site.

HealthTap isn’t a vast online medical encyclopedia in the mold of WebMD. Instead, Gutman has coined a new word for its model: “trustsourcing.” Each doctor who joins HealthTap has to be a licensed U.S. physician, and the startup checks their medical licenses and makes sure they’re in good standing with their professional associations. Their role on the site is to write short (400 words or less) answers to specialized questions coming in from members, such as “Can forced-air heaters trigger allergies? Or “Is there a stronger medicine than Percocet for my fibromyalgia?” (The doctors answering that last question agreed that opiates like Percocet actually make fibromyalgia worse.)

With more than 60,000 answers now available to browse, HealthTap has become an extremely sticky site, Gutman says, with users spending an average of 19 minutes per visit—an engagement level that’s up in the Facebook-level stratosphere. There are physicians in HealthTap’s network from all 50 states, and more join the service every day as the result of word-of-mouth referrals from their colleagues.

The motivation for doctors? “There is no place right now for physicians to display their knowledge and wisdom, which is the one big asset they have,” Gutman says. “We’re making that visible to consumers and other physicians, which not only drives new patients to their practices but referrals.” Another benefit, Gutman says, is that doctors can use their own archive of answered questions on HealthTap as a kind of “virtual practice” where they can send their own patients for background reading on health conditions and treatments.

About a month ago, HealthTap introduced a mobile app that lets users ask questions and find answers from their iPhones and Android devices. “I think that most of our usage will be on mobile in the future,” Gutman says. “Health happens on the go—it doesn’t happen when you are in front of a computer.” One unique feature of the mobile app is that it shows answers from local physicians first—the assumption being that people using their smartphone to research a health question are more likely to be in search of a connection with a nearby provider. “Now that we have such a large network of physicians, not only are you getting the right answer, but the answer is coming from a physician who may practice next to where you live,” says Gutman.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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