Checking In on Greplin’s Personal Data Search

I have a soft spot for the chutzpah of Daniel Gross, whom I met in March 72 hours after he came up with the idea for Greplin, at Y Combinator’s end-of-session Demo Day.

[I]f you looked hard enough today you could still find an iconic young founder living by the seat of his pants. Daniel Gross, an 18-year-old Israeli, presented Greplin, a unified search engine for users’ personal data and communications stored in the cloud. Multiple investors told me they thought it was one of the most promising ideas they heard. But as was whispered by his cohorts at the reception after the presentations, Gross admitted to me that he was working on a completely different project until all of three days ago (I loved his crossed-out name tag, pictured). He switched ideas, honed his pitch, is counting the positive response today as market research, and will now gun for an angel round. A web app should be ready by next week, he said.

“Next week” might have been a little optimistic, but at the end of August, Greplin went into beta. The company at first was letting anyone in, but then decided it was risking getting too much data before it was ready, so stopped accepting new users.

Those thousands of early adopters don’t just get to try out the service; they’ll also get some perks for their willingness to try something brand-new. Greplin founder Daniel Gross told me the company is going to automatically upgrade existing users to Pro accounts, which will include things like Evernote search and PDF indexing. “We want to tell these users, ‘you were the door-buster on Black Friday,'” said Gross. When the service does start accepting payments, it also plans to give all users the ability to pay for their accounts by referring a certain number of friends.

I’ve been trying Greplin, and I can see the promise of the service. I’ve indexed my Gmail, (s GOOG) my calendar, my Twitter, my Facebook, my LinkedIn, and searched them for all sorts of random terms. But a couple of things might be higher on my list than Pro features and cool user kick-backs. I’d like to see better metadata about when results are from, why they are being ranked highly, when my indexes were last updated. I’m also a little troubled by the current privacy policy placeholder; I’d rather have the real thing from the get-go.

Given the sensitive nature of this issue, we’ve decided not to copy-and-paste a privacy policy. We intend to write a clean and comprehensive policy as soon as possible. Until then, know that we highly value users’ personal data and privacy. Greplin will never give a third party access to any personal information without the user’s explicit permission.

Gross said he’s working on improving all of this, and also that one of the company’s next top priorities is a mobile service. It makes a lot of sense, given the premise of the service is to give you quick access to your data–something especially convenient on mobile devices. An API should be coming soon as well to help integrate Greplin into other services. (Gross said 20 percent of current signups have asked for an API, indicating a highly technical crowd.)

On the corporate side, since we met six months ago, Gross acquired a co-founder: Robby Walker, who previously co-founded Zenter, a Y Combinator company that was bought by Google (S GOOG). They are the startup’s only staff so far, and they raised $780,000 from investors including SV Angel, Chris Dixon, Bret Taylor, Keith Rabois and Paul Buchheit. This is the only known tech investment by Taylor, the CTO of Facebook and co-founder of FriendFeed with Buchheit, so that’s a bit of a special honor. Gross said Taylor has been especially instrumental as a technical advisor given his experience pulling data from different sites at FriendFeed. Greplin uses some of the open-sourced FriendFeed code.

At least throughout all of this Gross has talked the talk correctly; we’ll check up in another six months and see if he’s walking the walk then too.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my bio.

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