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OpenSpace, Boulder-based start-up, wants to guide you to apps you didn't know about

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Open Space made a few headlines this week as a physical store in downtown Boulder that sells nothing. Instead, the 300-square-foot room has a few phone-and-tablet experts who promise to guide customers to apps they can use -- but didn't know existed.

That's the model behind the business launched by Robert Reich. The site offers collections of iPhone apps for all manner of tastes, assembled by OpenSpace developers (Reich has curated one himself called "zombies"), and a growing number of users.

To hear Reich explain it, search is the old way of finding apps, and the Apple iTunes app store has become increasingly technical and less consumer-friendly, with terms like "downloads" and "the cloud." OpenSpace plans to partner with app developers to get their apps in the spotlight through one of the company's "collections."

"We think search is the worst to find an app," Reich says by phone from the OpenSpace store in Boulder, which opened for business Tuesday. "Because if you know exactly what you want, it's really easy. If you don't know, you need to browse, and if you're browsing with search, it takes a long time."

The main draw of OpenSpace is its small library of curated collections, which any user can create. Interested in apps about tech news? Of course there's an app (or dozens) for that, but with OpenSpace, you can view an entire collection of them. And anyone can log in with his or her Facebook account and create a collection, which tugs at our collective urge to share our expertise in this digital age. (I am planning a list of apps around the theme of bacon.)

As curated lists online (see: Foursquare, Yelp) continue to grow in popularity because users want to be taste-makers, Reich projects a community of OpenSpace users will develop app suggestions far better than OpenSpace -- or, for that matter, iTunes -- could.

So how does OpenSpace, whose physical store has no cash register to speak of (although it does have Square), make money? Reich says he plans to partner with app developers in the coming year to promote their apps on the OpenSpace site, with a 70-30 split between OpenSpace and the developers.

And while Reich quickly notes that his septuagenarian in-laws now have iPads, and businesses like OpenSpace can guide them through tens of thousands of apps, getting early-adopter, tech-savvy consumers on board is something that's also possible.

"They all said they don't buy apps anymore," Reich says of the plugged-in sector of consumers. "The only way we get them is if a blog or friend says something about it." Reich clearly hopes OpenSpace is that blog.

Reich, who moved to Boulder from New York in 2006, recently sold OneRiot, his social advertising program that put ads in Twitter feeds...to Walmart.

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