stating the obvious archives | about

Just One Question for Dick Costolo
Dec 27, 1999 :: Michael Sippey

Every once in a while a site or application comes along that changes the way I think about the potential of the network. Yahoo did that for me in 1995, Amazon in 1996, the UC Berkeley GloMop project in 1997 and Natrificial Software's The Brain in 1998. This year, it was both HalfBrain (which I profiled last week) and Spyonit.

Spyonit is a free, web-based service that makes it incredibly easy for you to "spy" on things online. Spies can track when a certain page on the web changes, or when an article is posted by a particular author. Spies can alert you when a stock rises by a predetermined percentage, or when a particular auction closes. The Spyonit "Spy Catalog" contains a whole host of preconfigured spies which you can tweak -- making it easy to set a good number of spies loose on the web at your behest.

Spyonit smartly recognizes that different types of spies generate different types of messages -- with varying levels of priority. That's why each spy notification can be sent through one or more different channels -- your email address, an email-based pager, ICQ, AOL Instant Messager, or just on your "My Spies" web page. Additionally, Spyonit has made it very easy for webmasters to add spies to their own site, and will be releasing their SpyBuilder SDK to enable XML- and Java-based development of more complex spies.

Spyonit is slowly starting to change the way I use the web, enabling me to keep tabs on dozens of topics without having to graze hundreds of sites, and seamlessly migrating important information to more appropriate delivery channels (like that vibrating, beeping thing in my pocket). Which is why I was so happy that Dick Costolo, founder and principal of Burning Door, the Chicago-based group that's responsible for Spyonit, was willing to answer this one question...

Sippey: How has Spyonit changed your own net behavior?

Costolo: Spyonit has changed my net behavior in a very specific way. Before Spyonit, I generally spent a good chunk of my net time traversing a few specific sites for industry buzz, and I would visit another portal/news site religiously/obsessively throughout the day. Now I have a lot of Spies (a LOT) watching many different things for me, and I surf far less during the day, spending almost no time at the portal sites.

At the same time, however, I'm more informed than I was before about many types of information because my Spies are watching so many different sites for specific queries or changes. Basically, they're my proxy surfers, doing far more looking around and observing then I would ever have time for.

I have a more keen sense of, let's see, 'different kinds of interesting stuff'. A comment that vague probably requires some examples. First of all, there are many things I care about that I always forget to check: I have a Spy setup to tell me when it's going to rain or snow in Chicago; another to tell me when English Premier League soccer is going to be on TV; I've setup a spy to page me on my PCS phone when this article is posted to, and on and on.

More importantly, I'm able to keep tabs on things that I never ever looked at previously. For example, before Spyonit, I never visited any of the health sites (and there are plenty of 'em) for news that might affect me. Now, however, I have a health Spy set up to watch for a couple of terms being mentioned at one of six major health news sites. Whenever Spyonit tells me there's an appropriate article at one of the sites, I read it.

In the near future, as we begin to build out a lot more spies for demographics other than our own (hey, we had to start somewhere), and as our partners add Spyonit capabilities to their sites, it will be interesting to see if the surfing model really gets turned on its head for our users.



Other pieces about interviews: