Spool is a new service aimed at addressing the problem created by the multi-device, multi-screen environment we now live in, where the content consumption experience can vary widely from platform to platform. On iOS devices, for example, you can’t watch Flash videos without serious workarounds. On an iPod Touch or other standalone media player, you need a Wi-Fi signal in order to browse the Web.
But with Spool, you don’t have to think about these sorts of things. Any Internet content, including audio, video and text, can be made available for immediate, offline viewing on mobile, simply by using the Spool app, browser add-on or bookmarklet. And because Spool is intelligent, it knows what part of a webpage to save, and what part to discard.
Simply put, Spool works like an evolved version of Instapaper, the popular service that saves long-form Web articles for later reading either on your computer, iPhone, iPad or Kindle. Like Instapaper, there’s also this idea that what works on the Web isn’t necessarily what works well on mobile. But where Instapaper cleans up and reformats text for easier reading, Spool works with any media type, whether it be text, audio or video. It can even parse multi-page content for you, saving the entire article or forum thread, for example, not just the first page.
The service uses artificial intelligence and a computer vision engine to read the webpage the way a human would and extract the relevant parts, while discarding the rest (like the ads, the header, the footer, etc.). Most importantly, perhaps, it converts video into mobile-friendly, HTML5-based formats that play within any modern smartphone or tablet browser. The videos and other content are also cached to the device, for offline access.
In the short-term, Spool solves the problem of content incompatibly that arises, for the most part, from Apple’s decision to ban Flash from its mobile devices and publishers’ delays in moving to the iOS-friendly Web standard HTML5. It also provides a viable workaround for the still-present “offline” problem that results from poor cellular coverage and dead spots.
For now, Spool lets you take snapshots of a page using its mobile app, Firefox or Chrome extension, or browser bookmarklet. These saved pages and related media can be viewed within the app or online, and favorited for easy access or archived when you’re finished viewing. The storage space Spool uses can also be adjusted in Settings, and for Android users, storing content to the SD card is supported.
In the future, Spool will focus on adding deep linking (automatically pulling down the content for the links within an article you saved), plus intelligent “spooling” of your favorite sites without an explicit request on your part.
The app is free for now (in private beta), while the founders consider monetization options involving freemium services, search offerings and mobile CDN models.
Spool is currently addressing some real-world problems, but arguably not those that will be around forever. Spool’s technology, on the other hand, may have a longer shelf life than Spool’s apps. The company expects five patents to come of its artificial intelligence, computer vision, video extraction, video transcoding and browser emulation infrastructure. The amount of funding Spool received is currently undisclosed.
AL: How to grow business?
A: People are already doing this behavior. Big fans of Dropbox, Evernote – sites that have solve pain points for big parts of online population.
DM: What about when network connections are better?
A: Network infrastructure can’t keep up with number of users. Even if it does, that means Spool gets faster pipes, loads pages faster on phones.
MP: Love it, can’t wait to try it. How does it compare to competition?
A: A lot competitors focused on article content (Instapaper). This is about different types of content, too. (Videos, audio, etc.)
JS: Do people really return to read stuff they archive to read later?
A: We can also intelligently fetch things for you in advance, at some point in the future. But yes, it’s not an immediately mainstream product.