If you’re a fan of content discovery veteran, StumbleUpon, or haven’t quite been sold by its new look, then you just might have some love for a new startup out of Helsinki, Finland, called Futureful. A product of Finland’s largest, seed-stage startup accelerator, Startup Sauna, Futureful has spent the last three years quietly building a predictive discovery engine that co-founder Marko Anderson says describes as “part toy, part tool” and seeks to provide users with a personal filter for the Web’s multifarious content.
Backed (and mentored) by Skype (and Kazaa) co-founder Janus Friis through extended beta testing, Futureful is today officially launching its iPad app, a personal and predictive interface for all the digital information flowing around you. While that may sound a bit wish-washy, Futureful can be hard to pin down in a few words.
However, like StumbleUpon, the app eschews the traditional web browser and familiar search mechanisms and has customized its own browser hybrid within the app based on the belief that there’s more to discovery than your run-of-the-mill web browsing experience allows. So, don’t expect to be able to enter your standard URLs, there are none of those to be found. Because search inherently requires the user to know what he or she is looking for, it doesn’t allow for the kind of serendipitous (but relevant) information discovery that Futureful is gunning for.
To that point, Futureful is neither a social network nor a newsreader, so don’t expect Pinterest or Flipboard. Instead the app is designed to be used to find all stripes of digital content, with news being one part of that discovery experience, and rather than creating its own social network, Futureful mines social data to help provide you with relevant information, but again, that’s just one of many signals it considers, as Andersen says that the startup has chosen not to “define people by their social relationships alone.”
Instead, Futureful analyzes patterns and trends from other users that it identifies as being relevant to you, looking for those who share similar interests or behaviors and serving content accordingly. The app is rooted in artificial intelligence, semantic tagging and machine learning, so it learns as you go. The more you (and other users) browse and discover, the more relevant its suggestions become.
As users peruse Futureful’s content, the app displays subject tags at the top of the screen, which take users to a page of related links, and so on. This sets up a dynamic in which users can continue through a chain (or tree) of links that are intelligently related — but not too intelligently — as the app wants to maintain a quality combination of both surprise and relevancy.
This means that, while Futureful can be a great way to uncover some Internet gems, it also has the potential to be a huge time-sink. It’s pretty easy to get lost in its sea of serendipitous, relevant discovery. After all, Futureful is confident that it will never show you the same content twice, so if you like something, you better take note.
But not to worry, the app allows you to “Fave” the stuff you enjoy, which then gets added to your “Faves” page (in the bottom center of the screen), allowing you to keep a record of all the stuff you’re digging into. Users can also add tags to save pages for later reference, in turn making the service just a little bit better for others. Want more content? Just swipe down.
As of now, Futureful is iPad-only, though the team wants to be on every mobile platform, beginning with Android, which it hopes to develop and launch later this year. The founders haven’t decided on a business model, though Andersen says that they’ve had a lot of inbound interest from companies looking to license its technology to help power predictive personalization in apps, websites and beyond. While this presents a potential future revenue stream for Futureful, the team plans to collaborate as much as possible without licensing, and also hopes to launch an API at some point in 2013.
As to how it plans to stay afloat? The team of eight raised a $1.5 million seed round from Janus Friis and family and friends, and Andersen says that it’s had “a lot of U.S. VC interest in doing a big A round,” which it plans to focus on more aggressively now that Futureful is love in the App Store.
“Stumbleupon is great for serendipity. And Google is great for relevancy,” Futureful co-founder Marko Andersen tells us. “But we think the space inbetween is where the magic is. It sounds very simple, I know, but it requires totally new AI and user interfaces and that’s what we want to provide.”