Voyurl, a New York City-based startup that tracks your browsing history and shares it with your friends, will face an uphill battle with privacy advocates. But for those who are comfortable with the creepier aspects of the company’s technology, there’s a wealth of content to be discovered and insightful information to be gleamed.
The service, which is currently in private beta, relies on a browser plugin that tracks your web history. You can make your Voyurl account public, which shares your browsing history with friends and other users of the service, or you can keep it private. Voyurl offers you content recommendations based on your browsing history — something you can take advantage of even with a private account.
While it seems crazy to grant a small startup access to your entire browsing history, founder Adam Leibsohn believes Voyurl is being far more transparent about how it users your data than other companies. Online ad companies, for example, track users’ browsing history quietly with cookies to optimize their marketing. Voyurl, to its credit, is being pretty up front about what it does.
“I saw a lot of white-label apps that were gathering and selling personal data in this really irresponsible way — people would tell me that they literally do nothing for their users, while collecting all their information behind the scenes,” Leibsohn told Fast Company Design earlier this year. “We take that data and turn it around and give it back to you, to improve the user experience.”
Voyurl could be seen as a successor to Delicious, which required you to manually tag and file interesting sites, and treated link sharing like a secondary feature. Unlike Delicious, with Voyurl you can “set it and forget it.” Your links are added automatically and pushed to friends who subscribe to your feed. And of course, Voyurl keeps track of popular content in its “what’s hot” section. The only thing you need to remember to do is turn off the plugin when visiting sites of the adult variety (and you can also filter out certain sites to automate this aspect as well).
“It exposes what a dearth of innovation there’s been in the browser,” says Scott Weiss of Andreessen Horowitz during the Demo Sage review of Voyurl after the company’s demonstration. “This should be part of the browser. There’s a lot of data and cool stuff you can do once you open that lens.”
The site’s interface is fairly simple: A central dashboard lets you view sites you’ve visited, as well as sites from people you’re subscribed to. There’s also a live button that lets you watch current activity on the service in real-time — it’s like the Internet equivalent of watching live code in The Matrix.
Beta users are clearly sharing quite a bit with Voyurl, as you can tell from the infographic below. In the past 30 days over 8.9 million sites were visited and tracked, and members spent the equivalent of 14 years and 213 days online.
It remains to be seen if average users will be willing to give up their browsing histories so easily, but Voyurl seems like it’s on to something. With privacy standards slowly eroding across the web (I’m looking at you, Facebook), it seems inevitable that for some, the benefits of sharing everywhere they go on the web will far outweigh the costs.
Voyurl is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Fall 2011 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After our selection, the companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.