Monday, November 16, 2009

Beautiful bookmarks Columbus' Toobla creates a visual library adding color, fun to finding favorite folders of online content

Monday,  November 16, 2009 2:59 AM
<p>Toobla CEO Brian Link's 5th Avenue office might look spartan, but the company has received more than $1 million in tech-assistance funds.</p>
Jeff Hinckley | Dispatch
Toobla CEO Brian Link's 5th Avenue office might look spartan, but the company has received more than $1 million in tech-assistance funds.
<p>A Toobla library search page</p>
A Toobla library search page
Save a link on the Web and then, months later, try to remember where you put it.
Most likely, you can't.
That, in a nutshell, is the problem that local Internet startup hopes to solve.
"People are overwhelmed with content, everyone from tech guys to my mom," said Brian Link, CEO of the four-man operation. "Nobody knows where to put it."
Toobla aims to be the central repository for users' favorite online content. The site uses folders with thumbnail photos to classify anything found online: links to Web sites, videos, images, documents, games, music and any kind of embeddable application or widget.
"Most of the currently available bookmarking sites are boring," Link said. "We are striving to create a bookmarking service that's beautiful and fun to browse -- like an iTunes for Web content.
"It's a universal tool, for small businesses, bloggers, college kids, researchers. It's good for anything you want to browse easily. My wife is making Christmas lists with it."
Although Toobla is intended to "reinvent bookmarking -- and sharing, for that matter," it is not a social Web site, Link said.
"The world doesn't need a new Facebook," he said. But Facebook is soon to be integrated into the site, "and it will automatically connect (to) and collect from Digg, Delicious and YouTube, too."
Columbus-born Toobla evolved to its current form in less than a year. Link was brought in as CEO by founder Jake Saxbe in February from There, he had been chief technology officer, helping that San Francisco-based company grow to 4 million users from 200,000 in three years.
Digg is a social news Web site where people submit links and stories. By voting for or against something -- digging or burying -- users decide which stories appear on the front page.
Toobla's name is derived from a combination of tabula rasa (blank slate) and "tube" for television.
The television part of the name refers to "one of our audacious goals to help merge the worlds of television and the Internet by building a next-generation media library," Link said.
Items in a Toobla folder can be viewed not only as a list or as a series of thumbnail images but also as a custom "channel." In the channel view, the user decides which items in the folder to arrange, layer and resize on a TV-like canvas. The channel can be embedded as a widget anywhere on the Web.
The headquarters for the operation is a cramped room near Grandview Heights, where Link and two other employees wearing jeans and sweat shirts sit slumped over their laptops.
"We do what we can to save money," Link said, chuckling.
Toobla's promise is bright enough that the company received slightly more than $1 million in funding in 2008 and early 2009 from the TechColumbus TechGenesis fund, the TechColumbus Pre-Seed Fund, Ohio TechGrowth and Ohio TechAngels.
"Brian is a visionary," said Will Indest, vice president of venture development at TechColumbus. "As a former chief technology officer at Digg, he's a very experienced Web guy, a consumer-based Web guy, and that's important to the success of the venture.
"We look at 400 to 500 companies, or ideas for companies, per year, and then we fund less than 1 percent," Indest said. "As part of our Third Frontier program, we have invested up to $400,000 in the company, and our counterparts in Athens have invested up to $300,000. We help them develop a business plan, and as they hit certain milestones, they are able to draw on the funding."
The next stage for Toobla is to gain and retain customers. "That's what most Web sites hope to achieve," Indest said. "Then they'll generate revenue through ads and other avenues they're still finalizing."
The site ultimately is to support itself through advertising.
"Like many Web 2.0 Web sites in Silicon Valley, we'll rely on Google Ads and the standard advertising techniques used on ad-supported sites," Link said.
"Advertising is the obvious thing we're focusing on," Link said. "Just like Digg, we're going to avoid some of the more obnoxious ads."
Toobla's ad plans also call for the content in a folder to "choose" a targeted ad, all the better to customize a site to a user's taste, he said.
Meanwhile, users can sign up for free at
There is plenty of competition on both sides of the Toobla equation. In social bookmarking, there are Delicious, StumbleUpon and Digg. In Facebook application, there are LivingSocial, Slide and RockYou.
But "Digg and other bookmarking Web sites are not visual," Link said, "nor do they let a user build intuitive collections of content that they can share with their friends.
"There are a lot of competitors that do portions of what we do, but no one that does everything that we do," Link said. "I'm taking a lot of the lessons I learned at Digg and trying to apply them here," Link said. "We are proud to be a San Francisco-style startup using cutting-edge technology -- right here in Columbus."


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