One of the more buzzword-y buzzwords in Silicon Valley right now is the "interest graph," which is supposed to connect people and the topics that they're interested in. Lots of startups promise to tap into the interest graph, but Pearltrees CEO Patrice Lamothe says a new app from his startup is "maybe the first time you actually see an interest graph."
The new feature, which Lamothe variously describes as "visual discovery" (his pitch to the tech press) and "related interests" (what it's actually called in the app), is included in the just-launched iPad application from the previously Web-only company. Related interests have also been added to the Pearltrees website, but Lamothe is clearly more excited by the iPad version—he warned that the Web experience probably isn't quite as good.
That kind of self-deprecation from a startup CEO is a little strange, except that the Pearltrees iPad app is pretty impressive. After bookmarking interesting articles and other Web pages, users can organize them into tree-like structures based on topic. Then, other users can explore those trees, marking their favorites and adding them to their own trees.
Over time, all of that activity (Pearltrees claims to have 200,000 users who have created more than 10 million bookmarks, called "pearls") has created a vast amount of data on how different topics are related. So starting today, when a Pearltrees user clicks on the "related interests" button, they can start exploring a topic based on the company's recommendations. Once the user has scrolled past the existing tree, new pearls will start appearing.
If you've created a tree about Steve Jobs, for example, Pearltrees will recommend other bookmarks about Jobs, as well as those on related topics. Each change in direction and even velocity will affect the recommendations—there can be some interesting surprises, like the way a Jobs-related tree leads to articles from the TED conference. It turns the interest graph from an abstraction into a specific—and potentially addictive—user interface.
As for making money, Lamothe says, "We're going to monetize a bit earlier than expected." Specifically, Pearltrees will start charging for the ability to make private trees that aren't visible to other users and don't contribute to the company's interest graph. Lamothe isn't ruling out the possibility of introducing advertising, but he said there are no immediate plans.