The Changing Web

John Battelle wrote about "The Changing Web" in his piece on PubSub last week.

There are a number of interesting companies, including Google and Yahoo!, that are working on solutions to access The Changing Web.  The companies that are working specifically on the The Changing Web that come to mind are PubSub, Findory, Topix, Feedster, Technorati, and delicious.

But The Changing Web is not a new concept.

Ten years ago, mid 1995, I invested in a push technology company called Freeloader, that was started by Mark Pincus and Sunil Paul (both prominently featured in a Gary Rivlin piece in this week’s NY Times Magazine).

A big part of what Freeloader did was monitor changes to web pages that users selected and pushed those changes out.  Push was too early and dialup had big issues and the category was overhyped and underdelivered and both Freeloader and its competitor Pointcast were in the Internet history book by the late 90s. 

We did well on the Freeloader investment though because we were able to sell it to Individual Inc in early 1996 while push was still the rage.

A couple years later, our friends at SOFTBANK, who had invested in Freeloader with us, invested in a company called Netmind.  Netmind offered a tool to monitor web pages and get alerts when the pages changed.  Based on my experience with Freeloader, I figured it wasn’t going to fly.  But I was  wrong as Netmind was sold to Puma Technologies for a lot of money at the height of the bubble.

I just did a Google search on Netmind and found out that the service no longer exists.  I was directed to a service called Change Detect.

Around the time that Netmind was sold, I was an investor in TheStreet.com and was a regular reader of that site.  I wanted a service to monitor TheStreet.com and send me updates.  Dick Costolo, now the CEO and a founder of Feedburner, had just the trick with a service called Spyonit.  Spyonit was sold to a wireless middleware company called 724 Solutions, probably for a good price, and Dick and his tream moved on.

I just did a Google search on Spyonit and found that the service no longer exists.  Interestingly, I was directed to the Change Detect service again.

What’s the point of all this?

Well first that "The Changing Web" is not a new concept.

And that entrepreneurs and VCs have been making money (by selling these businesses before they become businesses) for over 10 years now.

But interestingly, none of "The Changing Web" businesses that I have mentioned in my little history lesson have become a meaningful part of the web services landscape.

I think that’s about to change for several reasons.

RSS, search, tagging, web 2.0, and peer economies are all coming together to make "The Changing Web" more important, more accessible, and more monetizable.

Two weeks ago, I heard at a dinner party that my friend Scott Meyer had just been announced as the new CEO of About.com.  When I got home, I went online and did a Google News search on About.com and Scott Meyer.  I got no useful results.  Then I did a Technorati search.  And a PubSub search.  And a Feedster search.  None of them got me the result I was looking for.

Frustrated and about to quit, I went to delicious and looked for tags with the word about in it.

The first link was to a ClickZ story on Scott’s new job.

I tell this story not only to promote the value of delicious’s role in The Changing Web but to make a point.

Peer economies, or the architecture of participation, or whatever else you want to call the user part of the equation is going to play a big role in harnessing The Changing Web for commercial applications.

It took one person, sucker12b to be specific, tagging the story on Scott’s new job to make it accessible for me.

Greg Linden, founder and CEO of Findory, wrote this comment to Battelle’s piece on PubSub:

The information overload problem looms large for these types of
alert systems. You really don’t want every job posting, book review, or
thing for sale. You want job postings appropriate to you, interesting
book reviews, and things for sale that you might want to buy.

Grappling with this problem isn’t trivial. Current solutions require
people to manually construct queries that only return manageable
amounts of interesting and useful information, a laborious task that
will frustrate most mainstream users.

Future solutions will need to learn what information you want and
construct the filters automatically, personalizing the information
stream for your individual needs.

Greg is right about this.  And I suggest to all of you that people – everyday people – will be the most powerful filter of all.