Demo is probably the longest lasting of the tech conferences, justly so. Each year a host of companies — 77 this time — demonstrate their products on a stage in front of several hundred technology folks including venture capitalists and other investors.

There are occasional triumphs. I was in the audience at this gathering in the mid-1990s when Palm Computing launched the first Palm Pilot. I wrote in my column that night that these folks had cracked the code for handhelds. A few years later, TiVo became one of those aha! moments.

I’ve also witnesses some spectacular flubs, where demos utterly failed, humiliating the companies’ presenters and pretty much killing their futures, at least in front of this crowd. I’ve had my own speaking messes, so I emphathize.

Will something leap to public conciousness this year? Unlikely. But the array of ideas I’ve already seen this morning, in just the first few products, is already fairly impressive.

Liquid Planner has promise, for example. It’s yet another web application, but this one is pretty intriguing for people who plan complex projects. It’s taking what the Basecamp folks do to a much more granular level, including Gantt charts that reflect uncertainty in scheduling.

Citiport, another web app (most of these are) is a bottom-up aggregation site, created mostly by users, of local favorites in cities people visit. People share information about the places they’ve lived and visited. (Note: I have a conflict here, as we’re encouraging people in Dopplr, a company I co-founded, to do this too, though that’s not the main purpose of Dopplr.) Like other things of this sort, Citiport’s entire business depends on achieving a critical mass of users.

LeapFrog, an interactive tool to help kids learn to read, looks dynamite. It’s getting some buzz in the room.

I was interested in SkyFire, a new mobile web browser, until I discovered it only works on Windows Mobile handhelds. The company says it’s going to support Symbian (good for my Nokia N95), but it’s not remotely competitive with, say, Opera Mini, which runs pretty much everywhere. SkyFire is about mobile multimedia more than anything else, as far as I can tell. And it’s pretty good at that. But this is not my primary purpose in using a mobile, and the comparisons the demonstrators are making with other phones are therefore not quite fair. Interesting app, though…

Joggle, from a company called Fabrik, shows you your own data from a variety of places in a central view. it aggregates from local and remote sources — “access to all your stuff,” as a demonstrator explains. This is on the track of something valuable.

SpeakLike does almost real-time chat translation, though not always instantly, with what’s described as a hybrid of automation and human translators. The idea is fascinating, but there are a lot of potential gotchas. This service will need plenty of disclaimers, but there’s great potential.

The first mini-flop of the day: A demo of noise-cancelling system from Step Labs, which didn’t work well enough to make me want it — yet. But there’s some interesting work going on in that company, and I’ll keep an eye on what they do in the future.

I’m getting too much email about NotchUp already. This is company that claims to pay people for interviewing for a new job. You set an interview price. The security problems are obvious. What if your current company finds you here? You can block one domain, but if your company’s recruiters only use their own email domains they’re idiots, and no doubt they’re also using third-party folks to scan for employees.

New portal: — for parents to help figure out the education system and get resources for their kids. “All in one place” seems to be the mantra.

I’ll be posting more as I see interesting items during the day…

(Note: The Kauffman Foundation, co-funder of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s journalism school (my new gig), is a major sponsor of Demo this year. This is an interesting branching-out for an organization like Kauffman.)

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