Are we ready to archive our online lives? Archify hopes so

Privacy is a funny thing. While some of us (OK, me) get worried about being tracked across the web, others may actively seek out that very function. That’s essentially the core feature of a new service called Archify, which launches today.

Archify, funded by Balderton Capital, basically records your web-surfing via a browser plugin and makes it searchable. What’s that? You’re reminded of Slife, Hooeey and Infoaxe, none of which took off? Fair enough – there are similarities.

But before we make comparisons, let’s first look at how Archify works.

‘Photographic memory’

“You can think about it as a photographic memory for your online surfing,” CTO Gerald Bäck told me. “The browser plugin captures a screenshot and the full text of every page you see. A typical use case is when you remember you saw a video on something, but you can’t remember if you saw it on Facebook or Twitter.”

Users can link browsers on various devices to one account, to assemble a unified archive. Logging in can happen via Facebook or Twitter accounts, but also Gmail – interestingly, the user can choose to have their surfing history stored in a Gmail folder, providing an alternative way of organizing and searching the archive.

Privacy is a big concern, obviously. Archify won’t record HTTPS or private browsing sessions, and the team swears all communications with its servers are encrypted to the hilt.

And it’s not just straight archiving – there are ranking algorithms at play here too. The more frequently a search term is entered, the better it is scored. Archify also scores pages based on how long you spent on them: the longer you spend, the higher they’re ranked. This kind of data-crunching isn’t just useful for helping you search through your browsing history. Like Slife, it also throws you back some analysis.

“We provide statistics about your surfing behaviour, like how much time you spend on every webpage, how many tweets you get every week and so on,” Archify CEO Max Kossatz told me. “For example, in the last eight months I can see that 63 different webpages were responsible for over 50 percent of my surfing traffic, and I visited 2,600 different domains.”

These kinds of stats are where Archify may end up making some money off its planned premium accounts, which will target corporate users and other teams. Kossatz and Bäck also suggest that other premium features could include higher-resolution screenshots – after all, the Berlin-based company is going to have to store a lot of data here, so it keeps things low-res as default (it also deletes screenshots after eight weeks in the basic version).

Will it work this time?

So, back to those comparisons I was making earlier. As Kossatz put it, “none of those services were able to cover all aspects of your online life”, whereas Archify draws in browsing, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on.

“Additionally, some of these services tried to put themselves in a B2B context where it is really complicated to be successful,” he added. “Others tried to push their plugin as a bundle with other software so that at the end they where seen as malware by browsers.”

Bäck put the biggest difference down to advances in technology.

“Most of these services started too early, so they were not able to handle the amounts of data necessary. This is because the software technology was not around,” he said. “Some of them were only storing title and URL, while others stored the URL and grabbed the content with their own spider, which brought up non-personal results. None of them had screenshots and combined web and social history search.”

It is true that we now split our our attention across all kinds of different platforms, and the records of the time we spend there are accordingly split. Archify represents a way to bring all of that activity together, to make it easier to figure out where you saw that video and, if you’re into that kind of thing, to analyze how much time you spend where.

Will the idea take off this time? Who knows – that will probably be down to our evolving user behavior and wishes. But the interface is slick and the recording spectrum fairly comprehensive. Maybe Archify can indeed revive the idea of the personal search engine.