Four companies took top prize at today’s start-up competition in Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play incubator.

They included Gigya and BlueGem Security, which we featured yesterday.

[Update: Video blog Vator.tv, which also presented at the conference, has more in-depth coverage here.]

The other two are Zipidee, an online marketplace with an optional DRM wrapper, and Twiki, a surprisingly old but hardy wiki project. All four companies are based at Plug and Play’s incubator offices in Sunnyvale.

zipidee.pngZipidee wants to offer you an easy way to buy and sell text, music or video, with an optional protective wrapper so that it can’t be pirated. It is targeting authors, musicians, videographers and other creative types who want to sell their digital works online instead of giving them away for free. It offers an online marketplace that lets these sellers wrap their works in the company’s digital rights management (DRM) software. Buyers purchase and download files through the marketplace; if the seller choose to use its DRM, the buyer must also download the company’s desktop DRM player to access the files.

Sellers can also use the company’s widget to sell their works from their own web sites, which is similar to online classified company Edgeio’s digital marketplace widget, launched last month.

There’s no doubt demand among artists for a better way to sell digital information, but the recent decisions by some record labels to give up on their own DRM projects may undercut independent efforts like Zipidee’s. Hoping to skirt the unpopularity of DRM, Zipidee is going after people who have carved out niche audiences willing to pay for digital content. For example, one of the company’s clients is an online distributor of VHS and DVD titles, fittingly called Education 2000 — a resource for all sorts of retro videos.

[Update: The company clarifies and discusses its use of DRM, below.]

twiki.png TWiki is trying to take advantage of the slowly but steadily growing interest shown by many businesses in using social software such as blogs and wikis.

Better-known wiki companies such as Jotspot, SocialText, Atlassian, WetPaint, PikiWiki, PB Wiki and others have been founded, funded and, in Jotspot’s case, bought in the last few years.

TWiki.org is an open source wiki software project that has been around since 1998. It has flown under the radar, accumulating more than two million total users and more than 60,000 installations, it claims, and is in use somewhere within many Fortune 500 companies.

TWiki.net is the for-profit manifestation of the software. It launched last month at Linux World, offering services like automated software updates and email and phone support to businesses for a fee.

Perhaps the company is well-positioned to catch the wave of hype around using social software in businesses? More than eighty percent of commercial software will be open source by 2011, a Gartner analyst said yesterday.

The company is led by TWiki.org founder Peter Thoeny, together with Rod Beckström, a veteran entrepreneur who co-authored a widely read book called “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.”

We recently sat down with Thoeny and Beckström to learn why open source wiki software is interesting in 2007.

What is the philosophy behind TWiki? How are you trying to take advantage of ways that organizations naturally behave:

RB: In The Starfish and The Spider, we describe how old line “centralized” spider companies [such as Encyclopedia Brittanica] are now competing with more “decentralized” starfish organizations [such as Wikipedia]. Another important trend is spider organizations becoming better at decentralization through collaboration, so that they look, feel and act more like starfish organizations. The key to collaboration is having open systems that everyone can contribute to, but which have some structure, much like the neural ring which connects the various independent arms of a starfish.

The TWiki collaboration platform was built to allow the user much freedom to create and edit new web pages, for example, but also allows structure, so that employee records, client records, projects, inventories and other activities can be managed with templates, forms and custom applications.

How did you promote Twiki when you started working on it in 1998:

PT: The initial good fortune was being lazy and picking up another open source product call JosWiki to get started with. JosWiki only had 400 lines of code, but it gave me a start. Sometimes I wish I had started from scratch, but the good luck was taking something which was open source, which led me in turn to invite more community into supporting the TWiki open source product. As soon as I invited people to use it and contribute, they came and are still coming.

We now have a huge and growing community of tens of thousands of contributors, developers and evaluators on TWiki.org, and millions of users around the world. If I had started with a private source solution I had built just by myself, that never would have happened. So my luck was being lazy and starting with a free open source solution. The product now has over 300 plugins and extensions. All together, the core engine plus these add-ons have about one million lines of source code and more than 800 individual developer names recorded on the copyrights. Many more, in fact, have contributed. This is the unstoppable power of an open source community.

What are the special advantages that you think TWiki has over other wiki software companies, such as JotSpot, Atlassian, Socialtext and PB wiki?

Both: 31,000 registered community members on TWiki.org for starters. While other companies may talk about how they are “open source”, they don’t have real communities like this because they are private company spin-outs. TWiki has a rich and vibrant community behind it with a clear mission: To build the best open source wiki for the enterprise. That is the greatest difference. Another difference is our massive installed base of more than 60,000 organizations with somewhere between 2 and 4 million actual users. There is also a key architectural difference from every wiki except for JotSpot. TWiki and JotSpot (which we believed was modeled after TWiki), are the only two structured wikis which allow users to build and program applications inside the wiki. In other words, these two wikis allow users to define data structures, forms and templates, without having to write computer programs outside the wiki. All other wikis are just publishing wikis. With publishing wikis users are in control of content; with structured wikis, users are in control of content and applications.

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.