Well, many friends asked to stay current on my adventures outside the cubicle farms, and though it’s early days, here is one thing I’ve been up to: I spend one day each week working with a start-up called Semantinet.
It is an attribute of start-ups that they both empower and expect every person in their small team to contribute directly to the main thing, which is the application of innovative technology to create magic. You work hard, but you can really make a difference, as explained by Paul Graham in his insightful book Hackers and Painters. I like it a lot.
So, what magic do we make there? Semantinet, as the name hints, applies leading edge semantic search technology to enable a whole new manner of experiencing the web. Its product, headup, is a Firefox add-on that identifies on pages you browse names of entities like people, places, events, books, musical artists, videos, and more; and it shows you on demand a small window with additional information on any of these.
The additional information can be general – like financial data for a company, or albums and tracks for a band. But things get interesting once you personalize headup by pointing it at your accounts in social sites like Facebook, FriendFeed, or Last.fm. Then, headup starts surprising you with information like “your friends that work at this company”, or “upcoming concerts by a band you like in this city”, or “books that both you and this person like”, or “mutual friends you both know”. I call it a “Serendipity Engine”: you never know what it will discover. How does it know? By correlating information that you and others had published in any of numerous social sites. And because Semantinet is a start-up and works at the pace that this enables, new capabilities are added to the product literally every day.
If you use Firefox, give it a try – the application just went out of stealth mode and into public beta last week so you can download it at headup.com. And do share with me any comments and critique – at this early stage you, too, can make a real difference in the evolution of this magical product!