Punchbowl, Priceline, and the Post Office: Some Consumer Tech News Around New England

9/13/11Follow @gthuang

When last we checked with Matt Douglas of Punchbowl, a Framingham, MA, startup known for its party-planning software, he was taking a bloggy swing at Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR fame. Now he has set his sights on the greeting card industry and the U.S. Postal Service.

Yes, with his startup’s latest product—a way for people to send electronic greeting cards that mimic paper cards in their look, design, and (digital) feel—Douglas looks to be putting another nail in the coffin of the Postal Service, an embattled institution that is losing billions of dollars a year and looks like it might have to cancel its Saturday delivery service.

Reached by phone, Douglas called the broader trend toward paperless bills, books, and documents a “tectonic shift” in the business world, with greeting cards being “the last industry entrenched in paper.” He wondered aloud, “Do you think people growing up on Twitter and Facebook are going to send greeting cards through the mail?” (No, of course not, but I can’t say I have much faith in what they are going to do, either.)

Unbeknownst to Douglas, I am a fan of the Post Office (and record stores, bookstores, and greeting cards). Not the surly counter service, mind you, but the noble essence of what they do, day in and day out, delivering physical stuff to and from the farthest reaches of the country. So I’m gonna rip Douglas a new one here.

Just kidding. I don’t actually like greeting cards. But the rest is true. I’m a dinosaur. Anyway, Punchbowl is one of several consumer-focused Web companies in New England that are making news these days. Here’s a roundup of a few items, leading off with Douglas’s startup:

—Punchbowl isn’t just for parties anymore. The five-year-old company’s new product around digital greeting cards might end up being a major moneymaker. “It’s early days, but this thing could be big,” Douglas says. The startup has grown to a dozen employees (about 18 total people) and has been cash-flow positive and self-sustaining over the past year, he says. The company is in the midst of raising a small financing round as well.

—Priceline.com, based in Norwalk, CT, has released its first iPad app. Like the company’s other products, the free app lets consumers make hotel reservations, often at a steep discount from posted rates. The advantage of the iPad app is it lets you zoom in and out more effectively, to see where the hotels you’re considering are located on city maps. Let it be known, I’m only linking to this iTunes page because it has a photo of William Shatner.

—TripAdvisor, the Newton, MA-based online travel firm, is under investigation by a U.K. regulator for allegedly misleading consumers by claiming its user reviews are genuine, among other things. Travel tech site Tnooz pointed out that TripAdvisor has made a subtle change to its hotel pages in recent weeks: Instead of “Reviews you can trust,” it now calls its user-generated content “Reviews from our community.”

Springpad, the online notebook and personal assistant app made by Spring Partners of Charlestown, MA, is getting more social through an important integration with Facebook. As my colleague Erin detailed, Springpad now lets consumers aggregate their Facebook friends’ likes and check-ins and connect them to their notebook. The new feature has been rolling out to 2 million users this month.

—OK, this isn’t strictly a consumer app, but consumers are among the end users. Boston-based AisleBuyer, a mobile commerce startup, said it has developed a new tablet app (for iPad and Android) that helps retail employees interact with customers in stores and restaurants. The app includes things like consumer analytics and checkout features and will be available early next year.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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