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Browsing Posts published on April 12, 2012

Springpad has long been compared to Internet note-taking sensation Evernote, but starting today Springpad will likely be compared to another darling of the startup world, visually oriented social network Pinterest. On Wednesday Springpad evolved into its third iteration, transforming the information capture service into a social networking engine. This social network, however, isn’t built around friends or relationships, but rather items of interest, lists or tasks.

Springpad essentially uses bookmarklets, browser extensions and its mobile and tablet apps to grab information off the Web for later viewing, but unlike other note-taking apps, Springpad tries to structure that information and add context. For instance, if you “spring” a review of a restaurant or a movie, the service will recognize the information for what is, adding to your notes information about opening hours and local box office show times as well as links to dinner reservation or ticket purchasing services. Users then store all of those items in individual notepads, which they can make public to the whole Web or keep as private files.

The new update allows users to share their notebooks with one another, publicly or privately, similar to collaboration features on Evernote. For instance, a family could share grocery or to-do lists among its members. A book club can keep a running list of reading ideas and cooks can trade recipe ideas. Users can share notebooks privately among friends, or they can make notebooks public, allowing any Springpad member to follow another’s particular interest. The feature is particular useful, since I might be fascinated by one member’s recipe collection, but have no desire to read his collections of religious or political essays. The tools allow me to selectively follow what I find interesting and filter out the rest. Here’s a video Springpad produced to highlight the new features:

Like Pinterest, Springpad relies heavily on images to represent the items and notebooks, leading to a stunning visually layout within the application. But according to co-founder and business development VP Jeff Janer, Springpad is adding many more layers of contextual information to make the service into a sophisticated social collaboration tool.

“We want to form active micro-communities that revolve around particular interests,” Janer said. “Pinterest is focused on inspiration that may lead to a transaction, but there’s not really any collaboration there.” While Janer isn’t dismissing inspiration – which has made Pinterest an overnight success – he said Springpad sees a lot more potential in inspiration-oriented networking than in simply driving customers to retailer Websites, though such transactions are a key part of Springpad’s business model as well.

A mixed bag of revenue

Like Pinterest, Springpad takes a little off the top from any transaction originating from its notebooks, whether it’s a CD from Amazon or a movie ticket from Fandango. But Janer said Springpad’s primary business model will be based on advertising and offers. With detailed information about each user’s interests, Springpad’s advertisers can tailor specific coupons, based on the exact items they have stored in their notebooks. If you have saved a specific Sony HD TV in a gadgets notebook, Sony could ship you a discount offer specifically for that TV, Janer said.

Springpad has added a few other features with the new update as well. It’s introduced natural language understanding features to its search and item creation bar. So typing “Call Jeff tomorrow” into the add item bar will automatically generate a reminder task, which is then automatically synced with Google Calendar. It’s also generating alerts, based on items in stored in notebooks. If you a add a movie trailer, it will send you a notice when the film is available in your area and later generate another note when its is released on DVD and Blu-ray.

Springpad is still a relatively small operation. It launched in 2008 with funding of $7 million, and has since grown to 3 million registered users and a staff of 17. Much of that growth has been fairly recent driven by its mobile apps.

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The number of freelancers is on the rise with estimates of their eventual numbers ranging from more than 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020 to 1.3 billion worldwide by 2015. All of these mobile workers obviously have to set up shop somewhere. Luckily, the coworking movement is growing at a breezy pace as well, but will supply of workplaces keep pace with demand so that finding a space remains relatively straightforward?

Not exactly, if a recent report on NPR is to be believed. The story by Kaomi Goetz for Morning Edition looks at the evolving coworking movement and suggests some spaces are getting far pickier about who they admit as members. “More companies are adopting a selective approach known as ‘curated coworking,’” says Goetz, offering Grind in New York as an example.

Joining the space is no simple matter of filling out a brief form and handing over your credit card. “If you write two words and two sentences [on your application], you’re probably not going to hear from me. But if you write two pages about why you want to work at Grind, I will bring you in for an interview,”explains Benjamin Dyett, a Grind co-founder who Goetz describes as the “company’s chief gatekeeper.”

But getting past the coworking velvet rope isn’t a matter of coolness or what you have to contribute to the networking pool, Dyett insists, but serves a nobler purpose. “None of it is to be elitist and exclusive. It is to create a strong, cohesive community,” he told Goetz. Whatever the exact reason for the somewhat arduous selection process, it’s not turning off potential members – the space has a waiting list of 100. Meanwhile, Loosecubes‘ Campbell McKellar says the app also vets potential members for fit, likening the process to dating. “There could be 10 men in Brooklyn that have brown hair that are in my age range, but I really would only like one, for reasons that are very hard to describe. It’s about chemistry,” McKellar says.

So what does the changing process for seeking admission to spaces say about the coworking movement? In one way it’s good news as it shows spaces are maturing and making money, and are able to turn away potential paying customers. Others might object that the practice is leading the movement away from its communitarian roots by creating a cool kids club, indicating a scene that’s left its heady early days and moved into a more mature, less idealistic (perhaps less fun) phase.

How does this more intense vetting of potential coworking space members strike you? 

Image courtesy of Flickr user JeffMaysh.

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