A new Y Combinator-backed startup called Kimono wants to make it easier to access data from the unstructured web with a point-and-click tool that can extract information from webpages that don’t have an API available. And for non-developers, Kimono plans to eventually allow anyone track data without needing to understand APIs at all.
This sort of smarter “web scraper” idea has been tried before, and has always struggled to find more than a niche audience. Previous attempts with similar services like Dapper or Needlebase, for example, folded. Yahoo Pipes still chugs along, but it’s fair to say that the service has long since been a priority for its parent company.
But Kimono’s founders believe that the issue at hand is largely timing.
“Companies more and more are realizing there’s a lot of value in opening up some of their data sets via APIs to allow developers to build these ecosystems of interesting apps and visualizations that people will share and drive up awareness of the company,” says Kimono co-founder Pratap Ranade. (He also delves into this subject deeper in a Forbes piece here). But often, companies don’t know how to begin in terms of what data to open up, or how. Kimono could inform them.
Plus, adds Ranade, Kimono is materially different from earlier efforts like Dapper or Needlebase, because it’s outputting to APIs and is starting off by focusing on the developer user base, with an expansion to non-technical users planned for the future. (Meanwhile, older competitors were often the other way around).
The company itself is only a month old, and was built by former Columbia grad school companions Ranade and Ryan Rowe. Both left grad school to work elsewhere, with Rowe off to Frog Design and Ranade at McKinsey. But over the nearly half-dozen or so years they continued their careers paths separately, the two stayed in touch and worked on various small projects together.
One of those was Airpapa.com, a website that told you which movies were showing on your flights. This ended up giving them the idea for Kimono, as it turned out. To get the data they needed for the site, they had to scrape data from several publicly available websites.
“The whole process of cleaning that [data] up, extracting it on a schedule…it was kind of a painful process,” explains Rowe. “We spent most of our time doing that, and very little time building the website itself,” he says. At the same time, while Rowe was at Frog, he realized that the company had a lot of non-technical designers who needed access to data to make interesting design decisions, but who weren’t equipped to go out and get the data for themselves.
With Kimono, the end goal is to simplify data extraction so that anyone can manage it. After signing up, you install a bookmarklet in your browser, which, when clicked, puts the website into a special state that allows you to point to the items you want to track. For example, if you were trying to track movie times, you might click on the movie titles and showtimes. Then Kimono’s learning algorithm will build a data model involving the items you’ve selected.
That data can be tracked in real time and extracted in a variety of ways, including to Excel as a .CSV file, to RSS in the form of email alerts, or for developers as a RESTful API that returns JSON. Kimono also offers “Kimonoblocks,” which lets you drop the data as an embed on a webpage, and it offers a simple mobile app builder, which lets you turn the data into a mobile web application.
For developer users, the company is currently working on an API editor, which would allow you to combine multiple APIs into one.
So far, the team says, they’ve been “very pleasantly surprised” by the number of sign-ups, which have reached ten thousand*. And even though only a month old, they’ve seen active users in the thousands.
Initially, they’ve found traction with hardware hackers who have done fun things like making an airhorn blow every time someone funds their Kickstarter campaign, for instance, as well as with those who have used Kimono for visualization purposes, or monitoring the exchange rates of various cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and dogecoin. Others still are monitoring data that’s later spit back out as a Twitter bot.
Kimono APIs are now making over 100,000 calls every week, and usage is growing by over 50 percent per week. The company also put out an unofficial “Sochi Olympics API” to showcase what the platform can do.
The current business model is freemium based, with pricing that kicks in for higher-frequency usage at scale.
The Mountain View-based company is a team of just the two founders for now, and has initial investment from YC, YC VC and SV Angel.
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*Correction: Pratap earlier misspoke and referred to signups as “tens of thousands” “10,000 is more correct and the post has been updated to reflect this number.