Contextual Search Platform Atlas Is Ivy Softworks’ First Spinoff

Ivy Softworks — a so-called “innovation studio” founded by Napster’s Jordan Ritter in Seattle — is taking the wraps off its first products today. It is launching a contextual information search platform called Atlas; and it’s also unveiling Recall, the first app for the Atlas platform. The launch marks Ivy Softworks’ long-anticipated departure from stealth mode.

Atlas’ eponymous product is a personalized platform that records the information you access across devices and contextualizes it for later use. Atlas is currently in a private beta, and will be available to the public in March of next year. While the initial public launch will be free to use, the company has longer-term plans of moving to a subscription model.

Atlas website

Ritter says his vision for the product first came about well before he founded Ivy Softworks.

“We’re in a world where a thousand files and folders – a 50 year-old metaphor – doesn’t really apply anymore,” he said, emphasizing his frustration at the lack of inter-device communication in an increasingly device-centric world. “All of these solutions to solve the reality of us moving between devices with our data are incomplete.”

Atlas’ ultimate goal is to be a layer between devices that allows for seamless transfer of information. It’s not trying to be an operating system – instead, Ritter and team are focusing on creating an information platform, agnostic to the underlying kernel.

Atlas’ team has spent significant amounts of effort on a seamless user interface for the applications that run on top of the platform, and it shows.

As the name suggests, Recall leverages Atlas’ deep understanding of the information users access and enables non-traditional search. As Ritter explained, Recall helps to solve a common problem – being able to remember reading something about a subject, but not clearly enough to search for the information successfully.

Recall lets you rediscover information that you previously only had a foggy recollection of, something that current tools on the market struggle with. While Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other major players have significant efforts for contextualized search, no search products by incumbent players can do what Recall does for this use case. However, it remains to be seen how large platforms will take Atlas’ muscling in on their turf – for Atlas to hope to succeed, it needs full cooperation from platform and app makers.

This is where Recall’s user interface shines. Searching for a test email about logistics for moving to Ballard brings up a thumbnail of relevant emails, documents, and messages across devices. Text messages, emails, and web searches all popped up in the same place, and clicking on an email brought up next to it a list of similar messages ranked by contextual relevance, time proximity, and other factors.

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Recall’s relatively humble use case belies the scope of the Atlas platform, though. TechCrunch got an exclusive peek at the team’s next release for the platform, called Foresight. Again as the name suggests, Foresight finds new pieces of information relevant to what is being worked on. When Foresight is enabled, every window onscreen has a bar sidecar-ed to the left side, with a list of similar items and pieces of information as what the window contains. When we opened an email (again about moving to Seattle), Foresight populated the sidebar with a list of area recommendations, housing prices, reviews, and map-based assessments. It’s easy to see how useful this could be if the system works in real-time as well as it did in the demo.

As great as the underlying technology is and as useful as the applications on the platform are, though, the very nature of Atlas brings up the traditional worries about information privacy. In a world where our control over our own data grows more and more tenuous, there is something worrying about having a software like Atlas sitting on our computers, always listening, always watching. It’s easy to imagine an occurrence where the software records your bank account information when you make a deposit or pay a credit card bill.

On the subject of security, Ritter explained the information Atlas captures is encrypted in rest and in motion, but not end-to-end. The product’s handling of copyrighted and other trademarked content is also unknown — an interesting detail, given Ritter’s Napster heritage. In any case, it is a question that will need to be addressed if Atlas catches on.

Ivy Softworks has not disclosed any funding information.