Tippr and BuyWithMe’s Round 2, Dissecting Amazon’s Sales Tax Skirmishes, Clearwire’s Shakeup, & More in Seattle-Area Tech News

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on hand (judging by their Tweets, that is—some of us had to stay behind and work). Among them was Eric Koester, the lawyer who joined Appature last fall but was lured away to start his own new company after he and some cohorts put together bid-buying mobile app Zaarly for a Startup Weekend event.

The service lets users set a price for something they want in a particular area and see if the crowd will make it happen. It was appealing enough that Zaarly landed a $1 million financing round right before SXSW and got some pretty decent press coverage once they hit town.

—We also checked in with Seattle-based WhitePages, a high-tech company with an old-sounding name (no, they don’t make phone books) for a look at its new contact-info aggregating service Hiya. There are others who moved first in this arena, including Plaxo and fellow Seattle company Gist, which was recently acquired by Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM).

Hiya senior product manager Amanda Bishop said Plaxo is the more apt comparison for WhitePages’ cloud-based service. But the company is touting its own large database of street addresses and landlines as a big additional value. She also said any personal phone contacts uploaded to the cloud will remain totally separate from the public-information database—a key point they’ll probably have to make a lot to users.

—A familiar face made news in “the other Washington” when Democratic former Gov. Gary Locke was nominated by President Obama to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. We wondered about the significance for Seattle-area innovation companies in having a Puget Sounder in such an economically important post.

Two experts we talked to said, basically, that Locke can’t be a homer for Washington—but it can’t hurt. Locke got pretty good reviews for his work so far as U.S. commerce secretary, and his confirmation by the Senate seems like a pretty sure thing.

—Social-entertainment-gaming mashup King of the Web got a lot less stealthy when it threw open the beta-test doors for people tagging along on Facebook and Twitter. As I reported, it looks something like a more competitive version of YouTube—instead of racing for likes and views, people are jockeying for votes in monthly “elections” that could lead to actual cash prizes.

I guess we’ve all learned not to underestimate what people will do to gain notoriety and make money, so we’ll see how it goes. There are a bunch of notable Seattle tech vets in charge, including former Expedia CEO Rich Barton, Second Avenue Partners co-founder Nick Hanauer, and a few of Hanauer’s fellow aQuantive alumni.

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