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Open Web

ThinkUp App Goes For-Profit In Bid To Decentralize The Social Web

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ThinkUp App, the open source web application born from the non-profit Expert Labs that lets you capture, store and analyze your activity across various social networking sites, has rebooted as a commercial entity.

ThinkUp the company will be headed up by Lifehacker founding editor Gina Trapani and famed early blogger and entrepreneur Anil Dash, who have been working together on Expert Labs since 2009. Expert Labs, meanwhile, will be shutting down, according to blog posts by Trapani and Dash.

To help fund its early operations, ThinkUp is seeking to secure some $1 million in a grant through the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge (ThinkUp estimates it will need a total of $2.4 million in outside funding.) And this is where it gets really cool: According to its application there, ThinkUp aims to utilize the content it collects on existing corporate social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Foursquare to essentially subvert the closed ecosystem they’ve come to embody — “using those connections to enable the creation of a new decentralized network behind the scenes.” In effect, ThinkUp wants to use the weight of the existing social web against it — a Judo move to ultimately make the Internet a more open place.

So why is ThinkUp going to the journalism-focused Knight Foundation for help with this? Because it also plans to build a sexy, newsy website to convince people that decentralized social networking matters. From ThinkUp’s Knight application:

“We will draw people in through a compelling media site that encourages participation via our decentralized platform. We have unique experience in creating some of the most important tools and most influential sites on the social web. And we’re using that experience to build a decentralized, peer-to-peer network that powers a great media property with broad appeal — imagine if Digg or Reddit were open, decentralized and powered by a network instead of votes.”

It all sounds very ambitious, but also very worthwhile. Open web advocates believe that decentralization is essential for maintaining the competition and diversity necessary to keep technology moving forward. But as more and more people spend the majority of time interacting with the Internet through a handful of websites controlled by increasingly powerful companies, in many ways we’re farther away from an open web now than ever before. ThinkUp wants to shake up this status quo. Dash explained ThinkUp’s mission in his blog post thusly:

“…What ThinkUp represents is a lot of important concepts: Owning your actions and words on the web. Encouraging more positive and fruitful conversations on social networks. Gaining insights into ourselves and our friends based on what we say and share. And the possibility of discovering important information or different perspectives if we can return the web back to its natural state of not being beholden to any one company or proprietary network.”

ThinkUp acknowledges that it is not the first to try to make the open social web a reality, and that Diaspora and Singly’s Locker Project have similar aims. But ThinkUp’s Knight application says these projects have limited traction because they “focus on the tech first rather than a compelling user experience.” ThinkUp, on the other hand, is building a super slick app from the start. It also is apparently looking to work alongside the Facebooks and Googles of the world, not totally against them — and to me, that is what could ultimately make ThinkUp a winner.

To be sure, ThinkUp has a long road ahead of it, as it is facing off against some of the most powerful forces on the web today. It’s great to see big names such as Trapani and Dash committing to such an endeavor, and it will certainly be interesting to watch ThinkUp’s evolution in the weeks and months ahead.

Photo of Gina Trapani courtesy of Flickr user ginatrapani; photo of Anil Dash via dashes.com.