Springpad Overhauls Web App, Aims to Be Your Personal Assistant and Mobile Life Manager

11/17/10Follow @gthuang

Today is a pretty important day for Jeff Janer and his startup. Charlestown, MA-based Spring Partners is releasing a new version of Springpad, its online notebook service for organizing all the information in your life. (And who doesn’t need that?) What’s more, it could be the make-or-break moment for the startup as it strives to differentiate itself from other consumer-focused digital filing systems on the Web—and get a lot more people using it.

“This is a very significant launch for us,” says Janer, Spring Partners’ co-founder and CEO. “We rebuilt our whole Web app.” And the company is looking to get much wider distribution through mobile app stores via Apple (iPad and iPhone), Google Android, and eventually Microsoft (Windows Phone 7).

My colleague Wade has reported extensively on Springpad, including this head-to-head comparison of Springpad vs. Evernote for online note-keeping, earlier this year. The basic idea behind the company is to help consumers store and organize all the interesting info they come across in daily life—whether it’s a bottle of wine at a restaurant, a movie or book worth checking out, or a hotel or attraction relevant to a future trip. Just save it with Springpad (which is free for consumers), and it’s there for you to come back to later.

Springpad emerged as a beta version in 2008, focused on a few niche areas like cooking and parenting. Back then, Janer called the service an “anti-Facebook: a place to focus not on your social network but on yourself and all the tasks and information you have to manage.” Subsequent releases made the process of saving lifestyle information to the Web interface simpler and more convenient. In the past few months, the company has added alert features that tell you when the price of something you want to buy drops, say, or a movie you’re interested in seeing comes out on DVD.

“It started out as a digital filing cabinet, and now it’s a personal assistant,” Janer says. Now it’s about “what if I want to work with my stuff and organize it,” he adds.

The key to Springpad is that it detects the kinds of information you save and structures them in a smart way, Janer says. That allows the software to pull in other relevant links and services from around the Web. It’s also the key to making money, through contextual advertising and affiliate marketing. In other words, while using Springpad you can book a restaurant reservation through OpenTable or buy movie tickets through Fandango, and Springpad gets a cut of the proceeds.

The Web application being released today (and built using HTML5) has some new organizational features too. There’s a new homepage for each user, which is customizable and can be organized by categories (“notebooks”) like trips, restaurants, wedding or project planning, and so forth. The app can also be personalized for mobile devices. And the information you save (on books or movies, say) is automatically categorized, so you can tag it for recall later. That also makes it easy for the service to pull in information from outside sources like Netflix or Amazon.com, where you can make purchases. What’s more, Springpad has an extension for Google’s Chrome browser, so people can access their data from anywhere on the Web, not just in the app itself.

I could go on and on—HTML5 means the interface is snazzier and you can drag and drop stuff around and do things like add labels and maps—but really people should just try it out and see if it works for them (check out a video demo here). A slick new version of the free Springpad app for the iPad is also expected to hit the iTunes App Store this week; one of its features is a corkboard-style screen where users can pin individual notes.

In the meantime, Janer has been meeting with heavyweights like Google (both Android and Chrome groups), Apple (for the iPad app), Microsoft (Bing), and Facebook, looking for new ways to integrate with them and get broader exposure. Like many consumer apps, Janer says, “we’re not inherently viral. We need word of mouth to not spend a bloody fortune on marketing. Word of mouth takes time.”

Spring Partners raised a $4 million Series A venture round from Fairhaven Capital in 2008. So far, the company has been focused on customer growth and engagement, which Janer says has been “dramatic” since the introduction of the company’s mobile apps earlier this year. Asked to quantify the growth, he said Springpad has seen a 10-fold increase in its user base, which now numbers 500,000 registered users. The company currently has 13 employees, and will look to raise more money in the first half of 2011, he says.

I wondered about the broader significance of the new release, and how it relates to the consumer feedback Springpad has gotten so far. “People have been looking for another layer of organization,” Janer says. “We’re going to see a big uptake, because it’s easier and more functional for people to use. If they use it more, all good things happen from that. The value proposition is, the more [information] you save, the more you get.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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