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Web 2.0 innovation efforts in India: Hooeey

Social bookmarking was one of the early Web 2.0 trends, exemplified in del.icio.us; now a Bangalore company has ideas on how to push the concept forward. I chatted with Rajeev Purnaiya, an entrepreneur who sold an earlier company, CyberBazaar, to WebEx four years ago for an estimated $4 million and now is pouring his energy into Hooeey.

The idea behind Hooeey: It records your Web browsing history and lets you selectively share links with others, building a social network around various interests and finds. In a way, it’s like StumbleUpon, but with intentionality at its core rather than serendipity.

I found the concept interesting, but the execution a bit lacking; for example, the Hooeey site’s blog is overwhelmed by porn spam, and Hooeey’s operation depends too much on specific browsers and underlying operating systems for my taste. (In other words, I’m a Mac user and it doesn’t yet work on my systems.) But I found Hooeey intriguing for another reason. The Indian tech industry is often pegged as being long on basic engineering talent, but short on innovative thinking; Hooeey

shows that could be changing.

Check out the transcript of my IM interview with Purnaiya, below.

Fortt: Tell me why now is the time for a tool that records your browsing history and uses it as a tool for social networking.

Purnaiya: My motivation for creating Hooeey stems from the fact that I got tired of looking for Web pages that I may have noticed peripherally, but not bookmarked or tagged. I figured that this would be a common source of complaint. It seemed to me that the billions of pages browsed per day were vanishing into ether – no data could be recycled. One area that individual users had little control over was over information about their long term browsing. To my knowledge, an average user would spend all that time browsing yet have no measurable information about their long-term browsing pattern.

Fortt: That’s a good point – and it seems you’re aiming to make it easier to catalog what people are reading online. One thing immediately struck me, though, as a Mac/Firefox user: Does it have to be tied to Windows? It seems like so much of what’s happening with Web 2.0 now is platform agnostic.

Purnaiya: I’m very happy to say that we support both IE and Firefox. Windows for the moment. We plan to port to Linux soon. Mac OS is on our plan as well.

Fortt: Is there a way to do this so that it’s platform-independent? I imagine that as the mobile web takes off, people would love to track their mobile browsing history as well.

Purnaiya: I love that idea. I would love to implement that as well

Fortt: How long has Hooeey been out there, and what kind of reception have you gotten so far in terms of user growth and pages tagged?

Purnaiya: We put hooey into beta in September of this year. We initially were into the “Friend & family” program – we invited about 30 people to kick the tires and give us feedback. The number through word-of-mouth has gone up to about 75. We plan to move out of the beta phase by January, and we will be more active in getting the word out.

Fortt: What do you see as the revenue model for this?

Purnaiya: The easy one is serving ads to users – focused ads to people who form social groups around a theme like “Music” or “Cars.” The second model will look at charging for archiving browsing history/tags/comments. We may give one free year and charge a small fee for the subsequent years. The Third model is to look at macro trends from publicly shared hooey data and offer it as a service.

Fortt: How much thought have you put into security and privacy concerns? Some people are sure to be uncomfortable with the idea of a Web-based service constantly tracking their browsing history, even if there’s the option to turn it off.

Purnaiya: Absolutely. We tackle this issue on three levels: First, as you pointed out, the recording can be turned off. Second, the user’s data stays in his/her computer until the user chooses to upload it. The upload is a selective process where the user can choose exactly what he /she wants to upload. Third, the URLs and tags marked private are never seen by anyone except the legitimate user. Hooeey is very transparent in this respect. The idea is for the user to have secure access to their history without compromising on the privacy.

Fortt: That being the case, couldn’t you build Hooeey as a Web-based application that’s platform independent, and simply pulls in browser history?

Purnaiya: Hooeey is a Web-based application that requires the toolbar to ensure that the user has access to the browsing history and tags even off-line. While the Web-based history tracker is a great idea, it would mean that browsing data is being sent out in real time without allowing the user to apply discretion.

Fortt: If you were to scale back the functions a bit though, could you accomplish the same thing via Flash? That might allow people to store data locally and keep some control.

Purnaiya: It may be possible. And we will explore all options, but the tool-bar approach seems to give us the balance between features vs. convenience.

Fortt: I see. Well, since I’m on a Mac, I’m going to push the point, of course.

Purnaiya: I am with you on that. Our intention is not to let any platform be ignored.

Fortt: On another note, how is the software development/innovation scene progressing out there in Bangalore? Are we seeing the beginning of a culture shift where there’s more embracing of risk?

Purnaiya: The inflection point is starting to happen. I personally see that there are more professionals and even students starting to think in terms of doing their own start-ups. And this is a healthy sign, in my opinion. Culturally, certainly, there is a more risk-taking attitude and all stake holders in this eco-system are coming forward to do their bit – and this augurs well for entrepreneurs in India.

Fortt: What’s likely to move the process along? More success stories?

Purnaiya: I feel that the best catalyst for success is to see the success of other (India) start-ups and that is happening now.

Fortt: What’s the reaction over there to your own success and experience? Do people in the general public relate to what you’ve accomplished and what you’re working on now?

Purnaiya: I continue to be overwhelmed by the recognition that my first start-up has brought our team. It helps me in the sense that other first time entrepreneurs are seeking me out to discuss their ideas.

Fortt: Are you doing a little venture capital investing?

Purnaiya: I am investing primarily in Hooeey. I’m open to looking at small investments elsewhere, but my focus is strongly on Hooeey.

Fortt: Well, it’s nice to chat with an entrepreneur with his own projects and a view of what’s happening in the area. Thanks for taking the time.