January 5, 2017. Toronto.
When I introduced you to FindNext last year it was initially created as an overlaying enhancement to search engines. But over the past 12 months, my startup has become much more.
As a refresher, "FindNext is a social and collaborative layer on top of the search engines you use today. The FindNext app lets you add context to your search to get personalized results from trusted people nearby so you can find exactly what you need".
So - Why FindNext? - here's my answer, as well as a summary of the exciting developments in 2016 and what's planned for 2017...
Search as it exists today can be a singular and solitary activity. Just you and an input box, some results to sift through, a lot of refining, and a lot of trying again.
FindNext makes the act of searching easier by collecting the most popular search engines in one place, letting you quickly try all sources without retyping, plus gives you a way to describe what you are looking for so you can continue your search beyond just a list of links to tap the knowledge of others... that is... Crowd Search.
Start a conversation, add searches and locations putting context into your search. Invite people to assist you and share their experience and opinions. This cluster or compilation of knowledge and people becomes a 'Find' - a more complete result from your search.
2016: Building an App and a Business
The start of the year brought business planning, and the setting up and securing of servers and services. FindNext became FindNext Inc. FindNext became a registered Canadian trademark.
The first iOS build of FindNext was completed mid-March 2016. Mainly an API testbed at that point, many many more builds followed along with private betas for user feedback. And what great feedback it has been, both in helping to shape the platform but also providing some great thinking on how FindNext can succeed as a business.
In June, the Manager and Coordinator of BioLinc at Brock University were invited to participate in the Incubation Summit 2016 and invited me to tag along to Stockholm Sweden. I spent some time decompressing and thinking about next steps for FindNext. Both in checking out the fantastic tech scene there (second only to Silicon Valley in creating Unicorns) and in full tourist mode 'Jantelagen' came up - Sweden prides itself on striving for equality and 'just enough' for all. While the definition of The Law of Jante can read negatively, the cultural impact is that everyone wants to help everyone succeed, which improves the collective. This is what FindNext aims to do! I also learned about Fika - pausing to share ideas and chat over coffee and cinnamon rolls... you can expect this as part of FindNext's future company culture!
Search as a conversation came out of that week (as well as some user interviews around that time) and the app was reworked and enhanced to suit. An awkward list of links and comments became chat messages and a more familiar way to interact with eachother.
FindWords, Profiles, and Augmented Intelligence
People are helpful by nature and will jump in when they can, but it's possible open searches can get missed. FindWords connect searches with people that can help. Based on your previous Finds and results, FindWords are added automatically to your profile. As you use the app more and more, keywords are weighted and you may be contacted to share the knowledge you've gained along the way to help others complete their search. You can also manually add the topics that interest you at any time!
Your profile is also where you can build a trusted Crowd of fellow Finders who you feel have provided great search results to you and to others. Soon, those connections will also assist in getting timely connections for conversation, results, and locations for your searches and Finds.
In September, I attended the O'Reilly Artificial Intelligence Conference in New York City. I was curious about how machine learning could use the data FindNext collects to bolster profiles and the connecting of users as well as allowing bots to interact with open searches. It was quite the whirlwind and there was perhaps too much to take in, but the sessions discussing AI as 'Augmented Intelligence' and human-in-the-loop machine learning really clicked with what I had been working on.
It also became clear that anonymized data is just as valuable as data directly associated with a user or profile. I decided to open FindNext to only require signing in for providing results for others and search engine list customization - so you can get in and start searching right away.
I altered the API and app to allow this simplified operation. I also started work on a method for bots to be part of the conversation - allowing businesses to create and host their own simple systems to respond to quick queries (i.e. operating hours) or for researchers to connect to people in much more complex ways... this is what I hope to continue work on in 2017.
Also around that time, iOS 10 was released. I thought Apple's Messages app would be a great integration for FindNext's enhanced searching and browser - so you can now search inline within your existing conversations and contacts too!
2017: Next Steps
Waiting for Review
FindNext 1.0 will be pushed for App Store review momentarily. If you'd like early access, reach out via email email@example.com or visit FindNext to register and I'll set you up with a build via TestFlight right away! (iOS 9+ / iPhone 4S or newer please. Works great in iPad split view too ;)
To date, my build of FindNext has been personally financed. A big thanks to my family and friends for their support and sanity helping me stay on course!
Search and search engines are commonly supported by advertising. FindNext keeps the view of these engines just as you would see them in your regular browser (i.e. Safari or Chrome), so these ads will continue to display and support those services.
Searching using FindNext is free. Plans to monetize include costs for private profiles and Crowds, exclusive FindWords, commercial bot integrations, and verified business profiles and optimization to ensure they are connecting with their correct sales and marketing channels / staff and end users.
This encourages businesses and brands to connect person to person rather than buying links to static content that may or may not serve their customers, as is the norm in SEO and many other marketing implementations. This is Find Result Optimization or FRO for short.
Businesses can also choose to make their own public or private Crowds or whitelabel and host a FindNext instance for their own internal use.
The Next Phase
To finance user and market development - I'm considering: contract opportunities for my skillset, which may delay FindNext development; support via funding organizations, subject to availability of needed matching funds; or outside investors.
Development plans and needs include AI and bot integrations with Finds and Finder profiles, Crowd building enhancements and notifications, browser extensions, and the monetization features outlined above. It would be great to start assembling a team and connect with partners to make this happen!
Here's what I'm searching for. Can you help?
Questions or want to get in touch?
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org