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Traffick - The Guide to Portals.
© 2000 Traffick.com.


Someday, 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.

I've tried 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.

Backflip's 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.

Combine Hickman's 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.

HICKMAN HAS BEZOS-LIKE ENTHUSIASM

Hickman's upbeat 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.

HOW IT WORKS

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!!

Speaking of 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.

Another thing 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.

UBIQUITY IS A KEY FACTOR

Sure, there 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 on
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."

Backflip is 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.

Backflip insists 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.

Between the 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 will Backflip.

 

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