Websites with the X-factor

A new talent showcase is looking for the next Google or Facebook. Cast a vote and you can test-drive the best innovations – for free
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The Independent Tech

It's a talent show like no other. Bright young things from all over the world are squaring up against each other to win the public's votes, international acclaim and even untold riches. But this contest doesn't involve Simon Cowell, and the hopefuls aren't relying on their singing skills to see them through. Instead, it's a showdown between the best new software on the web – think WWW Factor – and it lets internet users get a sneak peek at what could soon be shaping our lives.

The CoolSW ("Cool Software") website, which went live last month, lets the public nominate and rank exciting software and fresh hi-tech ideas, and it gives developers a chance to show their wares. Just like Wikipedia, CoolSW is tapping into the Web 2.0 phenomenon of people power, where the collective judgement of web users is king. But the people behind CoolSW aren't cyber hippies out to promote software sharing for the good of the internet – they're part of Intel's software outreach group and, according to director, Steve Santamaria, their aim is to try to find "the next Google ".

CoolSW was set up as an internal Intel-only website to help employees keep abreast of what was new and exciting in software, with a view to investing in it. Santamaria realised that this site could be a powerful business tool and, after an investment of $40,000 (£19,000), CoolSW is now available to every web surfer.

"Not all of the emerging software companies are coming out of Silicon Valley," said Santamaria when the site launched. "Software is happening globally." Every software developer has to start somewhere – in Bill Gates's case, a garage – and this site aims to find them early on.

But it's a tricky business, predicting the next big thing, as brilliant ideas can come out of the blue. Anyone who has charted the success of Facebook (now worth a rumoured $15bn) will know that much. And Intel, like its competitors, is looking beyond the world of PCs to develop new gadgets and gizmos that we can only dream of.

Consequently, Intel isn't the only company interested in picking our brains to uncover new ideas – and new sources of revenue. Dell has its IdeaStorm, an online community site devoted to business ideas, and in America this summer, book publisher Simon & Schuster embarked on a project called MediaPredict, to use its readers to assess novel proposals.

Whether or not Intel uncovers the internet's answer to Leona Lewis or Will Young, it's certain that companies will be increasingly courting our collective judgement and letting us vote for our own software superstars.

http://coolsw.intel.com/

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www.iconcertcal.com

Cost: free

Want to know when your favourite band is going to be in town? Download iConcertCal, a free iTunes plug-in that monitors your music library and creates a calendar of upcoming concerts where you live and also informs you of new album releases. Available for Windows and Mac OS X, it could mean you never have to miss another Nana Mouskouri gig.

www.grandcentral.com

Cost: free

The big idea behind this clever piece of software is to provide its users with one phone number that works on all of their phones. Pick up work calls at home, mobile calls your work phone, or use one of Grand Central's nifty features to listen to all your voicemails in one place, switch phones in the middle of a call or blacklist anyone who's fallen out of favour. It's just been snapped up by Google so watch this space.

www.aimersoft.com

Cost: free

You can't normally copy songs from your iPod to your computer, but you can with Aimersoft. This means you can salvage your iTunes even if your laptop is stolen or dies. Aimersoft's free iPod copy manager copies music from your iPod to PC and also works with videos, DVD films and TV shows that are saved on your iPod. It also lets you can swipe sounds from a friend's iPod to build up your own library.

www.buzzoop.com

Cost: free

To make Christmas shopping a breeze, use Buzzoop, an online shopping cart that lets shoppers store product information from across the web in one place. Simply create a basket, start window shopping and then review your choices at leisure. Alternatively, use it to show family and friends what's on your festive wish list by using the share function.

www.stockreflex.net

Cost: free demo, or $29.95 to use long-term

Finance geeks can now test their stock-market skills by pitting their wits against real historical stock data. Stock Reflex lets you buy and sell virtual stocks, then get an instant overview of how you would have done in the real money markets and whether you're more of a Nick Leeson than a Gordon Gekko.

www.youlicit.com

Cost: free

Find the most relevant websites with this search engine that is run using people power. YouLicit is a New York-based site that has created its own algorithm to harness "the wisdom of the crowds" and suggest websites that people are finding important and interesting. By downloading the easy-to-use web browser plug-in, users can find the most recommended and similar sites to the site they are on.

www.task anyone.com

Cost: $9.99

A devilishly clever piece of software that lets you set other people's to do lists – and check if they're sticking to them. From making your partner do the washing up to ensuring that your colleague is hard at work on that presentation, plus sending additional "nags", the possibilities for the power-mad are endless.

www.ttiqq.com

Cost: free

Stuffed with tips and advice on topics as diverse as how to clean a room in 19 minutes to five cocktails that won't ruin a diet – mojitos and bloody marys both come in at under 200 calories – this delightfully random site is awash with useful (and not so useful) information.

www.minglenow.com

Cost: free

Like Facebook for barflies, MingleNow is a social networking site that's based around bars and restaurants. So if you can't remember who you spent last night propping up the bar with, this is the place to start looking. Users can create profiles, check out other members and share stories about favourite watering holes.

www.eventful.com

Cost: free

From cool concerts to animal rescue open days, political fundraisers to pyjama parties, every happening under the sun is listed on this events site. Its mission statement is "life is short... make it eventful" and there are thousands of listings of things to do across the world.

www.metropix.co.uk

Cost: free demo, £34.95 to use long-term

Would-be interior designers or flat-hunters can use this slick web service to view or draw up floor plans online, then see their creation as a 3D walkthrough. It can even email you a link so you can see your creation in Google Earth. Ideal for working out whether your potential new home is more of a shoe box than a penthouse.

www.qype.com

Cost: free

A Web 2.0 version of Yellow Pages that asks its users whether events, bars or services are "quality or hype" before listing them in its online directory. To add your opinion, you have to sign up and get a Qype profile which also lets you chat with other Qypers.

www.powerset.com

Cost: free

Fed up with garbled Google results? Hate refining your web searches? If so, PowerSet could be the search engine for you. Using "natural language", it outperforms Google by understanding the phrases you are searching for. It makes for a refreshing alternative to the reams of irrelevant findings that most normal searches come up with. Register now and you'll be emailed when the site goes live.

www.max.com

Cost: free demo; £29.95 to use long-term

Parents of children who are always on the web might like to check out Max Predator Guard, software that compares online communication with key words and phrases that are often used by child predators. It can be set up to automatically to notify parents via email if anything unusual is sent and it will instantly block further dialogue.

www.picnik.com

Cost: free

An easy-to-use site where you can edit all your online photos in one place, Picnik makes it easy to fix underexposed photos, remove red-eye, or apply effects to your photos then transfer them to Facebook or Flickr in an instant. Best of all, it's free, although a premium version is being launched soon.

www.trabber.co.uk

Cost: free

Whether you're looking for long-haul flights to Los Angeles or a short hop to Holland, Trabber is a straightforward travel site that searches 38 websites simultaneously for cheap journeys. Simply enter the date you want to travel and your dream destination and see what it comes back with.

http://uzurpatorul.blogspot.com

Cost: free

This is a blog rather than a piece of software. But when you visit this site, it will lead you to a nifty download – the "wasteometer" – designed to show you, in a pie chart, exactly how much time you waste each day, and on which useless activities. One word of advice – never, ever show the finished chart to your boss.

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