What goes on the Web, stays on the Web. But should it? The rise of the search engine, along with Google’s mission to organize the world’s information, has led to a fervor to index all that can be indexed. From the average searcher’s perspective, more content is better, spawning firms that aim to create searchable repositories of content, such as Youtube and Flickr, which are then indexed by the engines. In a twist of irony, the rapid growth of content sharing also has created a second market that aims for content privacy, where perhaps not all that is stored on the Web need be visible to everyone, or perpetually, for that matter.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to founding partners of two firms that represent the opposing ends of the content sharing continuum. In the “easy for everyone and anyone to find” corner sits Trip Adler, a founder of Scribd.com. His firm allows people to publish documents online, adding in the metadata required to be rapidly indexed. In the “discrete sharing” corner sits Sam Lessin, a co-founder of Drop.io, a place to privately share content with others, minus the search engines. His firm’s Web site states, “Most people don’t want their stuff just chilling out on the Internet for all of eternity.”
While their missions might seem competitive, these two men share more in common than one might expect. For starters, they both have a vast knowledge of how search engines work, and how exactly content ends up online. Second, they feel there is a place and time for each other’s functionality. There are certainly pieces of information that are much better shared in privacy, as there is content that should be shared for the greater good of humanity. Third, each firm has successfully raised venture funding, Scribd scoring $3.5 million and Drop.io $1.2 million. Lastly, Adler and Lessin both attended Harvard in the same class as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. (What exactly did the cafeteria serve that year?)
If you have never heard of Scribd, here’s an interesting fact: Adler reports that his site currently handles about four billion words, which is 1 billion more than Wikipedia. The site came to be when he and some fellow students were frustrated that there was no means of easily converting everything that sat on their hard drives into spider-friendly content on the Web. Scribd is to the PDF what YouTube is to video. To boot, the firm has brought sophisticated Web analytics to the masses, allowing users to view how many times their content has been crawled or viewed.
Lessin and Drop.io enjoy these very same Web metrics with a privacy bent. Wouldn’t everyone like to be assured that their online content had not been compromised? With privacy at the core of Drop.io’s service model, users can remain completely anonymous when they create a “drop” of content to share via unique URLs. There’s no sign up, e-mail request, or user account in the traditional sense. In the face of the Web 2.0 content free-for-all, Lessin feels strongly that privacy will only gain in importance, with the user determining how private content should be. Ultimately, the default will shift from “share with everyone” to “keep this private.”
Which raises a last and timely question: What effect, if any, will Google’s online storage service have on both Scribd and Drop.io? Like water off a duck’s back, both confidently responded “none at all.”