Timehop Revives Old Memories from Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter

2/8/12Follow @jpruth

Everyone wants to recapture pieces of the past these days. Facebook for example changed all profiles to the timeline format this year, and others in the social media space are pursuing ways of tracking the past. New York-based Timehop has developed its own technology to let individuals recall content from their personal histories, via once-day e-mails. Jonathan Wegener, CEO and co-founder of Timehop, believes the e-mails offer deeper looks into the past than its rivals in the market.

For the team behind Timehop, the technology also marks a major change from where they were one year ago. Back then, they were also working on a startup called FriendsList as part of TechStars’s inaugural NYC class. FriendsList is now defunct. And the tale of how the team scrapped FriendList and moved forward with Timehop provides an interesting case study on startup strategizing—with a dash of nimbleness.

Timehop sends its users e-mails each day that tell them what they were doing exactly one year ago, based on information gathered from their Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and Instagram profiles. These personal newsletters, Wegener says, offer more context than what the sources offer individually. “There’s a big opportunity in history, and no one is doing it well,” he says. Wegener says Timehop gives its users a picture of how they spent their time, whom they spent it with, and what they were thinking across the social sphere. “Effectively you’re writing a diary without really doing anything,” he says.

One-year-old Timehop raised $1.1 million in seed funding in January from OATV, Spark Capital, and individual investors who include Foursquare co-founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai. Wegener says the seed funding will go towards fleshing out the team to six full-timers, who will explore new opportunities to be more competitive. “We’re working on expanding in terms of the sources Timehop pulls from,” he says. “The vision for the product is to collect all the data you create across different services and devices and give it back to you.”

Wegener and co-founder Benny Wong started Timehop as 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo last February at the first Foursquare Hackathon. The original plan was to let users replay their past Foursquare checkins in the present. Other versions of the product were developed to work with Facebook and Instagram. Wong and Wegener eventually pivoted and combined all the versions into a daily e-mail that covered the gamut of the users’ activity.

At the time, Wegener and Wong were developing FriendsList as part of the first class of NYC TechStars. Wegener says FriendsList was supposed to be a Craigslist rival, where friends recommend jobs and other social classified ads to each other. “We worked on it through May before deciding that we didn’t see a future in the product and that type of business,” Wegener says. He and Wong killed FriendsList last summer to focus on Timehop.

Sharing content from the past is an increasingly competitive space. In addition to Facebook’s timeline, New York’s Proust.com is an online scrapbook to keep track of and share personal moments. Staying alive in this segment, however, can be challenging. Internet company IAC, parent of Proust, almost pulled the plug on the scrapbook in January but at the last minute chose to keep Proust.com active. IAC did not respond to requests for comment on Proust’s near demise but it is not hard to imagine Facebook’s timeline belligerently attacking this space like a honey badger.

Wegener says Facebook’s timeline is a different kind of product. “Ours is a more personal, private product about digesting your past one day at a time,” he says. Wegener says regardless of what others have done with content from the past, he sees Timehop as a more effcient option. “Twitter doesn’t even have a way of browsing past tweets, you have to scroll down,” he says. “We think there is a lot more to do with personal data and record keeping.”

The next step in the entrepreneurs’ evolution will be to figure out how to monetize their new company. At the moment Wegener says Timehop’s team is more focused on developing the product than solidifying a business plan to generate revenue. Wegener says he thinks of Timehop as similar to Flickr and iPhoto for storing memories. “If nothing else, we have an effective advertising business here,” he says. Timehop boasts an “open rate”—a measure marketers use to track how often e-mails are opened by the recipients—that’s up to three times the market standard, he says.

Wegener says his team is developing more features, including the ability for users to share Timehop content . They are also working on ways to make the content more interactive, with comments and tags. That will spell a change in medium in the future. “It means transitioning from an e-mail to a website product,” Wegener says. He also says Timehop is developing ways to help users document their lives now. “Those features are going to produce more content that lives on Timehop, versus Timehop scraping other services,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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