Today 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.