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We'll All Backflip
by Andrew Goodman, May 23, 2000
A couple of times, we've mentioned that there are a lot of online
bookmark services. They're all good, but it just stands to reason
that only a few can survive. Reason: most consumers are going to
be hard pressed to incorporate even one new tool into their daily
routine. Once they've signed up for one online bookmarking service,
are they likely to sign up for another?
Just to clear
this up right away, an "online bookmarking service" is
a web-based version of your browser bookmarks or what Microsoft
Internet Explorer calls "favorites." That allows you
to access your bookmarks from any web-enabled computer, no matter
where you are.
out a few of these, and while they're mostly good services, one
seemed to stand out. When I talked with the company, it wasn't hard
to see why.
CEO and co-founder, Tim Hickman, was senior product manager for
Netscape Communicator 3.0 and 4.0. This background in the "browser
wars" gives him a clear understanding of how people browse
the net, and why they save their favorite sites and pages.
background with that of co-founder Chris Misner - he co-wrote the
business plan for the Netscape Netcenter portal - and you've
got a team that understands how consumers browse, and which has
dealt with some of the ups and downs in attempting to leverage the
browser to drive portal traffic. Evidently, they've done quite a
bit of thinking about how the act of bookmarking can be extended
to allow for community, enhanced research possibilities, and collaboration.
Few companies are likely to succeed in their attempt to turn a single
service into a ubiquitous activity (or even a portal) - Hotmail
is a rare one, Netscape Navigator was another - but this group seems
like it's got a good shot at doing just that.
HAS BEZOS-LIKE ENTHUSIASM
manner - he likes to say "super cool" - reminds one of
another e-vangelist, one named Bezos. And it's hard to disagree
that Backflip is "super cool." But for the ordinary user,
cool just doesn't cut it. It has to be intuitive and easy to learn,
too. "Getting the web" is all about adding functionality
that meshes with the way people
already work, rather than forcing them to change their ways.
In a manner
reminiscent of Amazon.com, Backflip has worked hard on the
details of their service to force users to perform as few complicated
operations as possible. A first-time user is signed up quickly with
only a minimum of personal info. The ease of entry gives way to
a recognition that Backflip is full of cool potential. The company
isn't eager to leak the details of all the interesting potential
that can be built around the personalized interests people express
as they build their online bookmark collections, but they're making
noises about taking on direct email reminder services such as Lifeminders.
And a half-dozen
other "killer apps" spring to mind when using the service.
They're already offering handy top-ten rankings of the most-bookmarked
web sites under any sub-category you choose. For example, I quickly
learned that Raging Bull is the
fourth-most-bookmarked site in the Finance & Money category.
(Schwab is #1.) Will revelations never cease! In the "searching"
category, Altavista is the most bookmarked by Backflip users.
#2 is that goofily-named Dogpile, while the connoisseur's
search engine, Google, is in the #8 slot. I would chalk up
the relatively low rankings for Yahoo!
in many categories to the fact that most people don't need a bookmark
to remember Yahoo!!
sub-categories, that's one of the strongest elements of Backflip.
Your favorites are organized into a Yahoo-style directory, but what's
even better, Backflip's intelligent technology will auto-file a
page for you, saving you clicks. You can strengthen your categorizations
later on if you want.
Backflip will do is to perform a keyword search of the entire contents
of your collection, not just the titles of the pages. So if you've
worked hard to save a lot of relevant materials, you can "deeply
search" your own collection. It's almost like having a personalized
web spider, and is a clear advance on the functionality available
with your old browser bookmarks.
IS A KEY FACTOR
are a dozen other companies with online bookmark services, but market
share, as with many technology categories, is going to be vital.
If many users will be clicking on "Backflip this page to find
it again," are they likely to go through someone else's registration
process as well? It seems likely that many users will be stumbling
the Backflip icon as it becomes more prevalent at major content
sites. If you go to a leading site like TheStreet.com, Rolling
Stone, Red Herring, Salon.com, or CBS Marketwatch, you'll be
offered the option to "Backflip this article to find it again."
thinking about various community-oriented uses for the service,
such as allowing users to share collections and share interests.
Users looking for a recommendation for a good restaurant in the
San Francisco area, for example, will be able to tap into the knowledge
of other members to get recommendations they can trust.
Already, user-inspired collections of lifestyle interests and pet
topics are being called Backflip Tours. The "tours" may
be a bit lame for the time being, but are a good way of discovering
cool new sites in areas of interest.
it isn't a search engine. Maybe so, but it may well turn out that
Backflip will be the web navigation story of 2000, just as Google
blew us all away in 1999. Or, if they have their way, it will be
the next big story of community - perhaps as interesting as About.com.
advanced technology, ease of use, and interesting community collaboration
potential, Backflip is well on its way to being "super-cool"
enough to satisfy CEO Hickman. Add to that its early market share
advantage, and it's a safe bet to say that someday soon, you too
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