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Grokking Furl: Storage, Search, and the PersonalWeb

By - April 19, 2004

furlToday I finally got to talk with Mike Giles, the fellow behind Furl. He’s based near Amherst, Mass, but used to work out in California, most recently at Vitria, a businessprocessenterpriseapplicationsoftware (ie, BigBoringButImportant) company. He started there when it had 20 employees, rode it out as it went to 1200 and went public, then bailed (it’s now at about 300 or so). Before Vitria he founded a startup, then, closed it. In other words, he’s one of us – he’s been through the roller coaster, and he’s wiser for it.

Something tells me he’s pretty happy in his current gig. He’s the only full time employee, but works with a small cadre of contractors and friends. He’s got between 5-10K users since announcing the beta in January.

Mike started Furl about a year ago to solve a problem he – and a lot of us – had with bookmarks. Namely, bookmarking is a lame, half-assed, unsearchable, flat, linkrotten approach to recalling that which you’ve seen and care to recall on the web. Now, a lot of folks have made stabs at solving this particular problem, but Mike’s got a lot of very cool features built into his beta, and more on the way.

And from my conversation with him, he’s got one more thing that others might be missing: a clear sense of what Furl could do if it were part of a massively scaled platform like AOL, Yahoo, Google, or MSN. If I’m reading him right, he’s smart enough to realize that what he’s built will probably be a feature set on everyone of those platforms before the end of 2005, and he’s also smart enough to know that by launching Furl, he’s forced all of them to consider him as the person to watch in the space.

So what is it about Furl that made me write that past paragraph? After all, it’s just a web page-saving application. Right? Well, yes and no. Furl does a good job of helping you manage your web browsing. It adds several features that others don’ t have – full text search on your saved pages, for example. But Furl saves the entire web page you’ve “furled”, not just the URL, which prevents link rot, on the one hand, and creates what I’ll call a “PersonalWeb,” on the other.

Now, having your own PersonalWeb is a very cool thing. Every page you care about is now saved forever, and is searchable. How I wish I had Furl while I was researching my book for the past year. This application was inconceivable before the cost of storage and bandwidth began to fall toward zero.

But wait…there’s more. You can share your PersonalWeb with others. And Mike just added a recommendation engine, so you can see links the service thinks will be interesting to you, based on what you’ve already Furl’d. Now, let’s play this out. Imagine Furl on, oh, Yahoo, for example. Or Google. You now have a massively scaled application where millions of people are creating their own personal versions of the web, and then sharing them with each other, driving massively statistically significant recommendations, and…some pretty damn useful metadata that can be fed into search engine algorithms, resulting in…yup, far better search (and…far better SFO (Search Find Obtain) opportunities).

Speaking of SFO, imagine the business model. (Mike has, trust me.) If you have a system that has stored millions of people’s PersonalWebs, webs they have literally voted for by *taking action* and *saving* or even *annotating*, then it’s not such a trick to apply some contextual advertising mojo to the whole lot. After all, Web 2.0 is built on the premise that taking action – voting, in effect – can create scaled value (the best known expression of a scaled “voting system” is Page Rank- a link is a vote.) With Furl, saving a page is a vote. Apply a bit of Gmail-like ad play to the PersonalWeb, add in a bit of A9 SFO juju, and presto, it’s Really Contextual Advertising and a Really Useful Shopping Service to boot. BTW, Amazon groks this, of course, it’s why the A9 Toolbar has so many Furl-like features in it. (I’m not claiming Udi and his team stole from Furl, the ideas are out there for anyone to leverage.)

I have to run to a meeting, or I’d rhapsodize a bit more (personal Database of Intentions, anyone?). Suffice to say, there are probably scores of biz dev folk banging away on Furl build/buy spreadsheets in Seattle, Palo Alto, and Dulles. Bravo Mike. Keep up the good work.

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  • http://gen.kanai.net Gen Kanai

    John, nice profile of Mike and Furl.

    Please consider doing a profile of Joshua Schacter and http://del.icio.us next.

  • http://oliver.thylmann.com Oliver Thylmann

    Very nice post and Furl deserves it. All the people I have pointed to it up till now love it and I do agree (earlier post: http://owt.typepad.com/blog/2004/01/orkut_google_fu.html) that Furl can be part of something very big. It could also be Google’s shot at a lock in.

    Oliver

  • brian

    Isn’t the copying and saving of web pages a massive copyright infringement esp. if the purpose is for-profit business?

  • http://tonyg.blogspot.com TonyG

    I’d have to agree with Brian here… There’s a whole lot of content out there that’s freely available for a limited duration for individual, non-commercial use (i.e., newspaper content)… after which time you need to pay to access the archive.

  • http://www.vistera.com Tom F

    The reason FURL isn’t copyright infringement is because of “Fair use” provisions in U.S. and int’l law. For example, you can make copies of copyrighted material for personal backup purposes, i.e. software CD, a copy of a magazine article.

  • http://a9watch.blogspot.com Randall Newton

    I was hoping Furl would remain my little private treasure trove a little longer, but I guess there are no secrets on the Web any more. Good write-up!

  • brian

    Tom F., it is copyright infringement because it is not your property you are saving/caching. Moreover, it is not non-commercial (like quoting an article), because FURL is a business enterprise.

  • http://keynet.blogs.com/networks/ Earl Mardle

    I also think Furl has a great future, the latest functions make it something a lot more than a bookmark manager, which is what attracted me in the first place. Note on the copyright infroingement, the saved content is not publicly available, it is just a link to the original copy, the saved full text is a personal copy only and no different from saving to my hard drive.

    The export function will achieve that with minimal hassle as well.

    Great tool and I am even more in favour of the fact that Mike is a sole operator, with networked occasional help. The perfect internet operation.

  • barney

    A company that offered many if not more that FURL does existed several years ago and did not make it. The company was called iHarvest.
    Here’s a review from PC Mag.
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0%2C4149%2C86557%2C00.asp

  • http://willets.org Kendall Willets

    I’m curious why this shouldn’t be a desktop application, apart from the data-sharing, which is still possible under a local archiving setup.

    It seems like a local web archive would be more functional, for instance when offline.

  • http://nearlythere.com/ heather

    for me, the fact that is it not local is crucial. i move between machines at work, machines at home, machines at school, and being able to add to my furl has wonderful. before that i used netvisualize, which was great, but – i couldn’t get it away from home.

    now i furl it all: http://furl.net/members/heather

    also, the shared aspect of recommendations and subscriptions is great (and could not work locally?) http://del.icio.us and http://stumbleupon.com/ have this aspect as well

  • webb

    Say you are an engineer designing a mechanism with OEM parts which are defined on internet pages. You could use furl to record data regarding such items for inclusion in you project folder. Then do the same thing on each of your subsequent projects. So, the questionis whether such groups of pages can be grouped into a file on furl, and whether that file can be shared with others who are looking for detailed information on the project without compromising other ‘furled’data saved by the same originator.

  • Francois

    How can this service be provided free of charge?
    FC (ignoramus?)

  • http://mjkeahI@AOL.COM myron j. keahi
  • http://mjkeahI@AOL.COM myron j. keahi
  • http://www.seekxl.de seekXL

    for me, the fact that is it not local is crucial.

    greets
    Markus

  • http://www.haarpoint.com Haarentfernung

    I think a local web archive would be more functional, for instance when offline.
    Regards,
    Marc

  • http://www.furl.net/members/erwinkennythomas erwinkennythomas

    Furl is an Online dream! For years I have wanted to make a record of the websites that I have explored on the Internet. It was only by chance that I stumbled unto Furl. Mike Giles its creator has definitely solved my problem. At my own pace I could review sites, look for information, undertake projects, shop, and do much more.

    This has definitely turned out to be lots of fun! When I am Online I do not feel that my time is wasted by going over the same websites that I have come to have an interest in by not being able to save them. Often, I would seek out sites that I feel my friends would like too. With Furl’s tools I am able to organize my selections and call them up when I wish by a click of the mouse. It feeds my quest for entertainment, spiritiuality, and edification.

  • http://www.arzt-preisvergleich.de Zahnarztmeinung

    I also think FURL is great – however, what I’m wondering about is why there an no more websites in competition to FURL.

  • Suchmaschinenoptimierung

    In my opinion FURL is a very nice website.