Google & Brainpaste

In 1999, my friend Jeff Richard and I started a company called BrainPaste. The product was a neat little software toolbar that sat at the bottom of your Internet Explorer window, learned about your interests and likes over time, and helped you create your own personal portal. e.g. if you got a lot of Wal-Mart stock quotes, it would remember that and keep that information closer at hand (you’d have your own personal BrainPaste.com page that had up to the minute information based on your expressed interests.) All of this was done with a high regard for privacy and basically it was a neat consumer tool that filled a usability need not yet filled.

Now, where it got very cool was in some of the back-end e-commerce stuff we could do. We were the first to use a method called “dynamic customer acquisition” which Kevin Maney wrote about in a USA Today article a few months after we kicked off. We were able to ascertain what products a consumer was considering purchasing, and present them with a competing offer in real-time, and even link them over to that item. So, if they were at Amazon.com looking at the new Nebula 2005 collection, we could say to Barnes & Noble in the background, “hey, I’ve got this guy here, I won’t tell you who he is, but he spent $2500 online in the last 9 months, he’s 35, blah blah blah – how much to link him over to you for this purchase?” We could use a portion of that referral to incent the buyer to click. “hey dude, i’ll give you $10 off that book if you get it HERE”. (No, not pop-ups, we would just change the content of the toolbar to make the offer.)

We eventually sold the company (and its four pending patents) off to a company called R3Media. R3Media had raised about $25M or so from folks like CMGi and Exodus. I became their VP communications for about 9 months – approximately the amount of time it took them to spend the $25M on cocaine and hookers, and my four-month tab at the Westin Century Plaza (I still have thousands of Starwood points from this.) They certainly didn’t spend it on legal fees because they allowed the pending patents to lapse, despite authoring four regular patent applications in support of them. Oh well.

Over the years, companies like WhenU and Claria have been doing similar stuff but not in an identical way.

The reason this is especially relevant now is because, as Jeff pointed out to me on IM overnight, Google is, with the “autolinks” feature of their new Google Toolbar 3, doing exactly what we were doing. They are mining the URLs and then linking the URLs to their partners. Their business method seems clumsy – they are almost “sneaking” the feature in – but their technical approach is the same as ours. Now, Google has the reach to make this work. I hope they clean up their business practices a bit, though, because it’s not going to be well-received in its current form. Links should not be automatically inserted. A customer should be given competing alternatives and should, when they click, get what they expected and wanted.

I am also going to dig out our patent applications and source code and release it into the public domain so anyone who wishes to do so can go to town with the stuff. Ever used IBM Sash? I didn’t think so. 😉

2 thoughts on “Google & Brainpaste”

  1. Anthony,

    Someone took your [obvious] tongue-in-cheek R3Media remarks about the $25 million and the hookers and cocaine SERIOUSLY…I just realized that this was something that was probably used against me during some recent due diligence. Thanks, dude, for putting this nonsense out for idiots to believe.

    Actually, anyone who believes anything at face value from a blog isn’t someone I want to associate with anyways. Perhaps you have done me a favor. And besides, it smacks of something Young Chris might do, glomming onto the facetious hearsay and trying to pass it off as “insight”.

    As for the patents, I, Cronin, and Courty spent tens of thousands of dollars of our own money pursuing those patents and defending the company against one lame investor long after everyone else had turned tail and run. Meanwhile, most everyone else except for you and Peter had their hands out reaching into our pockets for whatever pork they could pull before the train finally crashed.

    We raised more like $8 million, and most of it was spent on bloated development costs for 90’s-hyped software developers and designers who felt they should be paid $200 per hour PLUS equity, not to mention the TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS that was paid, a lot of it by checks personally signed by me, to the likes of BROMBERG SUNSTEIN and KIRKPATRICK LOCKHART and others for “patent development work”.

    We didn’t get much for our money, as far as I could see, and by the time it mattered, our esteemed largest investor had already self-dealed the company down the toilet in a paper transaction that was designed to benefit them in the eyes of their capital sources. It didn’t work: their ham-handed approach to the “reorganization” was so sloppily delivered and so blatantly transparent that none of us went along with it, and the ensuing discord basically scuttled the whole thing at everyone’s eventual expense, including yours.

    In general it was a crazy time. I am glad I experienced it, but am glad it is a fading memory too.

    But in the interest of clarity, and to be sure: THERE WERE NEVER ANY WHORES OR DRUGS BOUGHT WITH R3MEDIA MONEY; as you well know, the only whoring was done by certain early personnel who either sat around and did nothing and/or complained and played every side of the fence and every angle for their own selfish gain (at the expense of long-term friendships and their own integrity), and the only drugs were the drugs the ones the people who *did* work hard in good faith must have been taking to have not done something sooner about those cancerous loafers, naysayers, and hangers-on.

    If I had any advice to give to bold souls who dare try to start their own company it would be this: when it comes to start-ups, choose both your friends and your investors very wisely.

    Jonathan D. Linscott, Founder of R3Media, Inc.

  2. Anthony,

    Someone took your [obvious] tongue-in-cheek R3Media remarks about the $25 million and the hookers and cocaine SERIOUSLY…I just realized that this was something that was probably used against me during some recent due diligence. Thanks, dude, for putting this nonsense out for idiots to believe.

    Actually, anyone who believes anything at face value from a blog isn’t someone I want to associate with anyways. Perhaps you have done me a favor. And besides, it smacks of something Young Chris might do, glomming onto the facetious hearsay and trying to pass it off as “insight”.

    As for the patents, I, Cronin, and Courty spent tens of thousands of dollars of our own money pursuing those patents and defending the company against one lame investor long after everyone else had turned tail and run. Meanwhile, most everyone else except for you and Peter had their hands out reaching into our pockets for whatever pork they could pull before the train finally crashed.

    We raised more like $8 million, and most of it was spent on bloated development costs for 90’s-hyped software developers and designers who felt they should be paid $200 per hour PLUS equity, not to mention the TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS that was paid, a lot of it by checks personally signed by me, to the likes of BROMBERG & SUNSTEIN and KIRKPATRICK & LOCKHART and others for “patent development work”.

    We didn’t get much for our money, as far as I could see, and by the time it mattered, our esteemed largest investor had already self-dealed the company down the toilet in a paper transaction that was designed to benefit them in the eyes of their capital sources. It didn’t work: their ham-handed approach to the “reorganization” was so sloppily delivered and so blatantly transparent that none of us went along with it, and the ensuing discord basically scuttled the whole thing at everyone’s eventual expense, including yours.

    In general it was a crazy time. I am glad I experienced it, but am glad it is a fading memory too.

    But in the interest of clarity, and to be sure: THERE WERE NEVER ANY WHORES OR DRUGS BOUGHT WITH R3MEDIA MONEY; as you well know, the only whoring was done by certain early personnel who either sat around and did nothing and/or complained and played every side of the fence and every angle for their own selfish gain (at the expense of long-term friendships and their own integrity), and the only drugs were the drugs the ones the people who *did* work hard in good faith must have been taking to have not done something sooner about those cancerous loafers, naysayers, and hangers-on.

    If I had any advice to give to bold souls who dare try to start their own company it would be this: when it comes to start-ups, choose both your friends and your investors very wisely.

    Jonathan D. Linscott, Founder of R3Media, Inc.

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