Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

Timehop’s Next Stop Could Be Your Calendar

Yesterday, the social media memory app Timehop turned Valentine’s Day into Groundhog Day, when it apparently spammed some users with multiple emails, reminding them several times of what they were up to a year ago yesterday.

The start-up quickly fixed the bug, as Betabeat reported, and issued a cheeky apology. The gaffe was probably annoying to some users who might not have wanted repeat reminders of what they did on hearts-and-flowers day 2011. But Timehop is still hitting the right nerve at the right time.

In other words, it’s trying to be funny, capitalizing on social media nostalgia in its efforts to chronicle all things pertaining to your digital history. And it’s looking beyond social networks as it bulks up the service.

A little Timehop history: A couple of months ago, you might have noticed, as I did, that you started to receive emails from “Timehop Abe,” with a Twitter message or Foursquare check-in you posted a year ago. And if you’re sensitive to email spam or simply lose track of all the services you sign up for, as I often do, you might have wondered, why am I getting this email?

Turns out you might have signed up for Foursquare and Seven Years Ago, which was the name of the app created at Foursquare’s first hackathon last year; or maybe PastPosts, a later iteration of the app. In December, the group behind those apps became Timehop — encompassing Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts.

But Timehop isn’t like Facebook’s Timeline, compiling a digital album of your past social media activity, said its co-founder, Jonathan Wegener. And it’s not an app that conducts a search for old tweets or status updates — something avid social media users complain can be an arduous task. It’s a small, digestible slice of the past, sent via email.

Shortly after the name change, the New York-based start-up snagged $1.1 million from a Who’s Who of New York tech start-ups, including Bryce Roberts, Spark Capital, Foursquare’s co-founders and GroupMe’s founders.

It was an interesting show of faith in the company, since Timehop — despite the fact that it works with mobile app APIs — has no mobile app of its own, is tied to Facebook Connect for Web sign-ups, and has no real moneymaking strategy in the works. Its user base is in the tens of thousands.

“It’s a ‘user-first’ model, like Twitter and Foursquare,” Wegener said. “Making money just isn’t something we’re thinking about yet.”

Email is the company’s biggest asset right now, Wegener said. “Our open rate is great — over half of the emails we send out get opened and, if nothing else, we could have some sort of killer email advertising business.”

Wegener said the company realized a while back that it had to change its approach with the daily emails being sent out. Some users complained they were too harsh, including one user who received a jocular reminder that he was at a cemetery for a funeral the year before. Timehop has since hired a part-time advertising writer to craft quips for them.

Timehop is also starting to add more context to its emails, such as references to what was going on in pop culture and the news a year ago to the day.

Eventually, the company hopes to tap into other data — such as users’ calendar events — to compile an even bigger digital glimpse of the past, something that Greplin has gotten a jump-start on.

“The data you have on your calendar, the photos you have on your phone and desktop — that’s the stuff we’re finding really interesting from a context perspective,” Wegener said.

With more and more concerns emerging about the sharing of personal data through Web and mobile apps, Wegener is quick to say that Timehop is a private product that doesn’t post on your “walls” or anyone else’s, and that the company doesn’t share email addresses or scan contact lists.

But in order to work, the app does require access to your social networks — leaving users to decide whether a good laugh from a daily dose of the digital past is worth it to them.


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