Amit Kapur envisions a Web that's more about him. When he visits a news site, the headlines will be heavy on technology, his passion; when he opens Yelp on his iPhone, the restaurant review app will already know about his upcoming trip to San Francisco and recommend restaurants there. "I imagine this future where everywhere you go online or any application you open on your mobile device is in some way personalized to you and your interests," says Kapur, 29.
Gravity, the Santa Monica (Calif.)-based startup he co-founded last year after leaving the No. 2 post at MySpace, is the vehicle for bringing Kapur's imagined future into the here and now. The company first demonstrated its technology at the Web 2.0 Summit on Nov. 16, revealing how it creates detailed profiles of users based on the topics they frequently discuss on social sites like Twitter and the places they check into using location-based smartphone apps like Foursquare. The company's computers recognize over 100 million colloquial phrases and use them to discern users' interests; for example, someone who mentions a "free-throw shot" on Twitter is pegged as a basketball fan. Gravity's goal is to create a kind of digital fingerprint for each user. Other websites can then plug in Gravity's information and instantly personalize content and advertising for their visitors.
Many companies before Gravity have tried to perfect personalization; Pandora, Netflix (NFLX), and Amazon (AMZN) have all been somewhat successful at it. But Kapur says these companies are mostly focused on improving their own services. There's an opening, he says, for Gravity to become an outside personalization engine that powers custom Web surfing on many different kinds of partner sites.
Kapur spotted the need for such a service while working at MySpace. He joined the social-networking site in 2005, shortly after graduating from Stanford with an engineering degree. He was one of the first dozen employees and rose to the rank of chief operating officer. As social networking sites proliferated and the amount of user-generated content grew, Kapur realized people were struggling to deal with information overload. He and two fellow MySpace executives left the News Corp. (NWS) unit in March 2009 and started Gravity as a way to help extract signals from all the noise.
The 20-person startup hasn't announced a business model, but Kapur suggests it could make money by sharing ad revenue with sites that use its technology. Partnerships "will make or break this company," says Geoff Yang, founding partner of Redpoint Ventures, which participated in a $10 million investment in Gravity in May 2009. Kapur, who in 2008 helped broker the deals with music labels that paved the way for MySpace Music, says he's up to it. "We really believe that this is where the Web is going."
Earned an engineering degree at Stanford University
Raised $10 million from venture capitalists in May 2009
Apps and web sites that know who you are and what to recommend