Springpad is launching a redesign of its cloud-based notebooks application today, along with revamped iPad, iPhone and Android applications. The Boston-based company has amassed over three million users since it launched in 2008, and today’s redesign seems inspired by social pinboard-style apps like Pinterest.
The company’s three co-founders were formerly part of the founding team of mobile advertising company Third Screen Media, which was acquired by AOL in 2007. They came up with the idea for Springpad in 2008, when they noticed that people were discovering content online but didn’t have a way to save it. “The idea was to create a cloud-based digital notebook to give people a way to save things for later,” co-founder Jeff Janer said in an interview.
Today’s redesign gives users the ability to follow people and notebooks they find interesting. “The whole notion of going social is new. To date it’s been largely a personal system, you use this to save things you want to remember and take action when you’re ready,” CEO Jeff Chow said in an interview. “In the grand scheme of things we think we have a better way to discover things of interest.”
Springpad users can create notebooks, invite others to collaborate on existing notebooks (the co-founders used the example of a notebook they used to plan the redesign announcement), and follow notebooks of interest around topics like tech, design, and food and drink. Users can discover new content in the Explore section, or can create their own (suggested notebooks include to-do lists, local restaurants, and books to read). Basically a user can create a notebook around anything topic, containing any media.
Users can save items to their notebooks using the bookmarklet, and classify it as a productivity task, such as an event, reminder, or something with an action tied to it. Or users can add a file, photo or video, or any content tied to a URL. Notebooks can be public, private, or only open to specific contributors, who users can invite to join via email. What differentiates it from an online bookmarking service, or something like Pinterest, is that by adding a URL, the service pulls in more contextual information. So if a user added a movie to a “films I’d like to see” notebook, the service would pull in showtimes, the trailer, and the Rotten Tomatoes rating. “What we’re thinking about is the intent is to watch this movie, so we’ll show you the showtimes and where you can buy tickets, but you may not get to it while it’s in the theatre, we’ll go ahead and proactively notify you when it’s available for Netflix streaming,” co-founder Jeff Chow said.
The service is free for users, and the company makes money from affiliate links to third-party services, so they take a cut if someone books a restaurant reservation on OpenTable through a link on Springpad. The next phase of the business model will allow marketers and companies to pay to send alerts to users who have expressed an interest in their product or service. There will also be the potential for sponsored brand notebooks.
In some respects, Springpad seems like it’s trying to be everything to every type of user. It’s a to-do list app. It’s a place to save recipes. It’s a collaborative tool for teams that can set automatic reminders. It’s a Pinterest-style pinboard of interesting things. “What we find are that people are using Springpad both for work and for home, it’s all ultimately productivity,” Chow said. “We don’t really make a distinction in terms of how you want to use it. What we think is that people will gravitate to one particular usage, and maybe I will or maybe I won’t use it for other things.”
But there are already niche services for people looking to collaborate with coworkers, like Google Apps, or for people who want movie info, like Flixster. Chow said it comes down to providing a solution that works across the board, and not providing niche apps for different tasks or interests. “I think our notion of enhancing and alerting you to changes in state cuts across all these different verticals and becomes useful in the context of a single dashboard.”
As for what differentiates them from Pinterest, another site that lets user save anything they find online in notebook-style groupings, Chow said Springpad is more about action than inspiration. “We think Pinterest is awesome for inspiration, but we look at our differentiation as being at some point, you may actually want to do something like cook this recipe or buy the ingredients, and how can we help you take that next step.” While they already have a large base of users, this one-size-fits-all approach might be hard to sell to potential users, especially when there are niche services and larger sites like Pinterest vying for their attention.