Sunday, October 12, 2008

Take Back the Web!

When Tim Berners-Lee conceived the web, he dreamed of inter-connected documents, of surfing along from one person's page to the next, following a fluid path rich with information and discovery.

Instead what we we got is a big honkin' billboard, as commercial interests hijacked Tim's vision. Just look at any popular web site today and you'll find only two kinds of hyperlinks -- paid ones and self-referential ones (that keep traffic from leaving the domain). The only relevant links come from portals like Google that monetize search. So instead of deeply browsing the web, we search and click, search and click, search and click... So much for friction-free information and serendipitous discovery.

The web will remain captive to publishers until users exercise control over the hyperlinks that define the web's structure. GreaseMonkey, an open source platform for Firefox scripts, promised some relief to users who want control of their web content and links, but it proved far too esoteric and insecure for mainstream use. The startup Hyperwords also provides some relief to users who wish to right-click on words in web pages to perform an operation like search, blog or email, but Hyperwords requires new user behavior, and does not provide any element of discovery.

So 18 months ago my partner Justin Label and I started cooking up a startup to save the web. We conceived of a platform for creating and distributing mash-ups transparently and securely so that you can pick the news sources, e-commerce vendors, reference materials, social networks, media stores, etc. to which your web pages link. We even hoped to mash your web content with personalized objects (e.g. how closely are you LinkedIn to people you read about?), in-page media (e.g. streaming music) and fewer ads. We called it MashLogic.

Bessemer funded the newco, and we recruited search jock Ranjit Padmanabhan (right) and GreaseMonkey scripter Johan Sundstrom as co-founders. After 15 months in development, we're very excited to release a Beta product today, with 100 invites available here. Beta invites are also available on TechCrunch, where just this morning Arrington reviewed the product quite favorably:

"It's a frickin' swiss army knife for hyperlinks... So far in my testing, they've nailed it... I'm putting this on my must-have list of Firefox add-ons."

Obviously there are still wrinkles to iron out. Today we support both major browsers -- Firefox and Flock :-) -- but of course we'll import the plug-in to IE and Chrome.

To be clear, Mashlogic is NOT like Snap, Flyswat, Adaptive Blue, or any of the other startups who try to convince publishers to embed their javascript. We 're not in this to help publishers by giving them better pages full of ads and self-referential links. We're here for users. Which means that we never inject ads or sponsored links into our callouts, and we never add or remove hyperlinks to suit a publisher. We even let users prioritize sources of information, so that a Wikipedia link might trump TechCrunch, or vica versa. The publisher's original links are kept on by default, but you can subordinate them to the other mashes or turn them off altogether. We don't expect mercenary publishers to like us much.

So how do we plan to make money? Once we restore benevolent hyperlinking to the web, many of the links people choose to embed will relate to e-commerce that pays us affiliate revenue for enabling those links. For example, if you like the Expedia mash that displays and links you to the best fares from your location to any destination you read about on the web, we'll get affiliate consideration. So we're motivated to offer up mashes that you'll want to activate.

We know it's unconventional for big VC's to start with an idea and money and then find the team, but every once in a while the opportunity is important enough to warrant the work. As a plus, this approach means that we get to pick the best team in the world to execute the concept, rather than the team that happened to think of it. (This worked for me once before, when I started VeriSign the same way.)

I could show you screen shots but you really have to try it to get a sense for how MashLogic changes the web (you can partially preview the experience here but today our web site may be super busy). Please do comment with your feedback on the product, and let us know how else you might like to mash the web. Not only will we add lots of new mashes, but we're going to open the platform so that even non-programmers can create and share their own mashes in 5 minutes.

I hope you enjoy the new web on MashLogic, and if you see Tim Berners-Lee, tell him that we've got his back.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

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