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The surfing gurus
Two Indian Stanford graduates in the US are changing the way we discover new things the web has to offer and how the internet responds to us.
Twitter reached its first million users in two years. Delicious, a leading social bookmarking service reached that in three years. Four square, a leading location based social networking site did it in a year. But the same took Flipora, a service that helps you discover web content, ten months.
Adding an astounding 25, 000 users a day (12 million users and counting), Flipora, which is re-engineering the way a web-user uses the internet and discovers websites, could be called one of the fastest growing web surfing services in the world. Although the startup is based in Sunnyvale, California, it has a strong India connection. Not only was it launched by two Indian Stanford graduates, Jonathan Siddharth and Vijay Krishnan, one third of its user base is from India. In India, its reach is wider than those of Bharat Matrimony, Craigslist, RediffMail and Instagram.
It started when they met as grad students in Stanford. "We were using a social web-bookmarking system then that helped us carry our work from the college lab to the dorm room. But we felt bookmarking and tagging was too much work. You want technology which has complexity at the backend but is incredibly simple and delightful to use for the user, " says Krishnan, co-founder of Flipora, previously known as Infoaxe.
Think of the service as a friend who reminds you of the website or TED talk you were looking at a week back but cannot find now. "You would never forget a webpage again. The product helped you get back to where you have been on the Web. But that was never the end game. The question was what we would do next with all the data we were collecting from millions of users, " says Siddharth, the other co-founder.
Trending topics on the web, page rankings and what is top-of-mind for users are immensely powerful today, when ubiquitous e-commerce sites and content delivery sites, such as newspapers and news blogs, are linking themselves to what people are surfing online.
Understandably, that is where Flipora went next. The service added a discovery engine, which, much like an intuitive and wise friend, tells you which page or story you would like to read next. Flipora tells you what the next best site is for you depending on what you have been reading/surfing till then. "Our vision is to predict the next page after every page. The benefit is that it is not a system that requires constant and active input, as in you don't have to tell it what you like (with keywords), whether it is grunge music, Apple computers, the US Open or Anne Hathaway. It will learn that itself by your browsing habits, " says Siddharth. The dynamic nature of the service also allows it to modify the sites it throws up for you depending on your changing and often fickle web interests.
While social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter already connect you to what your friends are reading, "liking" and sharing, this kind of content distribution has its limitations.
Siddharth says, "The trouble is that today 'web discovery' happens mostly through social discoveries - Facebook, Twitter, what your friends are sharing, and people they follow. We are one of the few companies who are trying to solve it algorithmically. Social discovery has a problem in the assumption that you are interested in everything your friend is interested in. Imagine politics, very often your friends and you don't have the same views, so you might refrain from posting an insightful article. Or say a photo shoot of Megan Fox. "
But Flipora will pick up on those interest spikes in your surfing behaviour anonymously and predict what you will like to read. Another problem social networking poses is scarce web recommendations for people who don't have enough friends or followers. In Flipora, this is not a limitation since your recommendations are determined algorithmically based on your interests and topics you follow, and are not limited solely by your friends or followers.
Any online service that collects user data can raise privacy concerns regarding the eventual use for the data. But Krishnan says that 99. 9 per cent of users are okay with data sharing with third parties today, as long as they get enough value out of the service. "People are more and more comfortable with data sharing thanks to social networks. For the 0.1 per cent for whom this is an issue, we have a lot of privacy settings in the product that let them control and limit what they want shared, " he adds.
Soon, Siddharth and Krishnan will be launching Flipora Connect, which like Facebook Connect, will export what users are interested in from the service to any third party website. Krishnan says, "With this, a user can, say, authorise Times of India to look at what you are interested in at that moment. TOI could know that this user, who likes chess, cricket, movies, badminton usually, is heavily into politics this week. Imagine how much more personal each site could become. "
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