1. Just Like Friendster, But With File Sharing
A new Web service called Grouper allows people to invite up to 30 friends to share digital photos, music files, and videos with one another through a secure website. Grouper's software lets users stream music files to each other but prevents downloading, which keeps the service clear of copyright disputes. Grouper is free for now, though CEO Josh Felser says the company will be rolling out a paid version in the next few months. The idea came to Felser last year when he was looking around for a good way to share photos and music from the Burning Man Festival with friends.
2. Vending Machines for DVDs
Look for ATM-like machines dispensing DVDs to pop up across the U.S. this year. Two New York City-based companies, DVDXpress and MoviebankUSA, have installed more than 50 machines in supermarkets and drugstores in Manhattan. McDonald's is testing 120 DVD kiosks in Denver. Moviebank machines (which feature a 3,000-disc selection) charge 99 cents for a six-hour rental, or $2.50 for 24 hours.
3. Stop and Read the Roses
Speaking Roses, a company in Bountiful, Utah, is using lasers to inscribe images, messages, and corporate logos onto the petals of live roses. The company has customized flora at $70 per dozen for the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500 victory party, the Bill Clinton library opening, and the Radio Music Awards (for which Janet Jackson's image was etched onto a dozen white roses). CEO Blaine Harris recently opened offices in China and Australia.
4. Privatizing Organ Donation
A website called MatchingDonors.com has sparked controversy because it uses the Internet to pair potential organ donors with transplant candidates -- circumventing the official system that Congress set up in the 1980s. The site charges patients $295 per month (up to $582 for six months) to swap information with potential donors. Co-founder Dr. Jeremiah Lowney says these fees only cover his costs, and that he's not interested in making a profit. The site's first successful match occurred in late October, when a donor volunteered one of his kidneys to a Denver man.
5. The New Sunscreen Wipe
California mom Kelley Moreno was looking for a good way to put sunscreen on her junior golfer son, Ian, but decided both lotions and sprays were too messy. So she invented Spwipes -- a baby wipe infused with sunscreen. Initial sales of the product on the Web and at sporting goods stores (price: $8 for a 10-pack) have far exceeded Moreno's expectations. Now she's running a test with 10 ski resorts to sell Spwipes from vending machines. The company expects to pass $2 million in sales this year.