How Erly Will Organize The Digital Flotsam Of Your Life

Erly is founded by Hulu’s former technical and product leads. Collections is one of three applications the team plans to launch in the coming months. Combined, CEO Eric Feng tells Fast Company, they are "a utility you can live in," or "a constant living record of your life."

Pop quiz: Let’s say you want to revisit that golf weekend you took with your college buddies three months back. Where are you going to go online to find your memories? Maybe Flickr, where Bob uploaded some photos? How about Facebook, where you’ll scroll through your NewsFeed to find the scores that Paul posted, so you’d all remember who ended up top dog? And then there’s the resort’s website, with the map of the course, so you can relive the horror of the sand trap on hole 17.

Right. You’re really going to go hopping across the web to pull all that together? Not a chance.

But maybe a year from now, you’ll be using a new tool from a startup that’s just come out of stealth mode, called Erly, to recall all your important events, big and small. The tool, called Collections, which launches Wednesday, is an online application that lets people organize all their digital information about past events in a way that is easy to gather and review.

Erly is founded by Hulu’s former technical and product leads. Collections is one of three applications the team plans to launch in the coming months, whose collective goal is to help people organize all the digital flotsam about their past, present, and future lives. Combined, CEO Eric Feng, Hulu’s former CTO, tells Fast Company, they are "a utility you can live in," or "a constant living record of your life."

Whatever you call them, they are products whose time has come. Over the past decade, and particularly over the past several years, people have become increasingly comfortable with putting more and more of their lives online, through applications like Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. But the proliferation of digital flotsam has produced a new problem: There is no efficient way to collect and store all that data so that it’s as easily retrievable as an old-school photo album.

Collections, pictured above and right, attempts to solve that problem regarding events in your past. It’s a visual photo shoebox-cum-scrapbook. The application allows you to easily collect digital media and data related to particular events and gather it in a single place (top). And then the application displays that information back to you back to you in chronological order, organized by event (right), so you can easily scroll through and relive important moments.

Collections also leverages the particular capabilities of the web, and of social media, to make collecting that information as easy as possible. Using Facebook Connect, you can add other users to a particular collection, so that adding photos and other data becomes a collaborative endeavor. Collections links in with other applications, like Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram, so you can easily pull in any photos you want to include in a particular collection. And it even helps you think about what collections you might want to start, by scanning your Facebook photo albums, events, and check-ins to suggest events you might want to create a collection around.

The opportunity for a startup like Erly, however, is bigger than simply creating a convenient utility to help people manage their digital flotsam. Ultimately, it becomes "the Facebook of events."

"The mind organizes information in two ways: around people and around events," Feng says. Facebook has organized information around people—but in a way that makes it difficult to go back and retrieve event-specific information. Erly’s applications will do the opposite: Enable all that information to be organized around events.

But it won’t do it by creating a whole new social network that everyone will need to join all over again. Instead, Collections simply pulls in information from the places where the data is already being created the first time—your photo albums on Facebook, for example, or, for its product that focuses on the future, your upcoming events from Eventbrite—and creates a framework where all that flotsam is easily usable by the user.

"People are already generating so much content about themselves, our goal is not to get them to generate more, but to generate meaning about [the content that is already being created] and to organize it," Feng says.

And so just as Facebook has created the "social graph," Feng says Erly plans to create the "experience graph." Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which Feng joined as a partner after leaving Hulu last year, apparently buys it—the venture capital firm has invested in the startup. Partners John Doerr and Chi-Hua Chien have joined the company's board.

"In the same way that Google indexed the Internet, someone is going to index the physical world, and every single experience and event in the physical world, including the who, what, where, when, and why," Chien tells Fast Company. And he’s betting it will be Feng and his cofounders, Andrew Lin, Hulu’s former engineering head and Erly’s vice president of engineering, and Eugene Wei, Hulu’s senior vice president of audience and Erly’s vice president of product.

"Eric, Andrew, and Eugene are the team that built Hulu's products and technology from nothing, in the face of a lot of doubters, into one of the top sites on the Internet and one of the best consumer experiences around," Chien says.

Erly's business model is yet to be determined, and possibly even discovered. But Feng suggests it’s intuitive that it should be possible to monetize an experience graph, the same way Facebook has been able to monetize the social graph.

Feng says Erly plans to launch its next product, which focuses on your future life, in 60 to 90 days, and then its third one, which helps you organize your real-time, right-now information, 60 to 90 days after that.

Feng also cautions that all three products will be works in progress. The company has a thesis that the experience graph needs to be created and that people need to be able to efficiently organize their online information around the events in their lives, not just around the people they know. But the founders also believe that the only way to really figure out what products that serve those needs should look like, and how they should work, will be through real-world use and user feedback. So expect Collections, and its coming sister products, to evolve to some degree, great or small, over the coming year, and possibly years.

[Images: Courtesy of Erly]

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email

Add New Comment

1 Comments

  • Trevor Stafford

    The reason we have digital flotsam is that people don't organize their lives in the first place. I don't see Erly obviating that problem. I also don't think people open their analog photo albums all that often, so why would they care to online?