FindIt Launches A Universal Search App For iPhone With A Visual Twist

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FindIt, a new mobile application offering universal search across emails and files stored in the cloud, is today making its official debut. With the FindIt app for iOS, you can quickly connect your Gmail, Dropbox and Google Drive accounts, and then proceed to search by keyword, person, time or file type. But the ability to search for items is not what makes FindIt unique – it’s how you search.

The concept of aggregating a user’s email, local file systems, and various cloud services in order to offer a single mechanism to search across data sets is not a new one. FindIt currently competes with other file aggregators on web and mobile, including, for example, CloudMagic and Younity (which, coincidentally, TechCrunch just took a look at today). But more broadly, FindIt also competes with some of the moves Google has been making in recent months to personalize search. Its opt-in Google Search “Field Trial,” for instance, combines data stored in Google’s more personal services like Drive, Calendar and Gmail, which then becomes searchable through Google.com.

However, explains FindIt co-founder and CEO Levi Belnap, the problem with search, and especially mobile search, is not in the capabilities of the back-end search technology involved. It’s the process of searching and the way that search results can be narrowed and filtered that needs a change.

“Search technology, in and of itself, is actually pretty good these days,” he says, noting that many companies, his included, likely take advantage of the same open-source technologies to power their backends. “But the process of searching on a phone is broken. There’s not enough space to open up advanced search and type in all these different variables. Plus, nobody wants to type anything on a phone,” he adds.

With FindIt, after you connect your accounts during setup, you can then search in a manner that more closely resembles how humans think about the things they’re trying to remember. For instance, if you’re trying to remember a restaurant you visited, you wouldn’t just type in “Italian,” but you may remember that you ate there a month ago, or that you went there with certain friends.

That same concept of drilling down in a more natural way is applied to FindIt’s own search interface, and to get there, you just tap. You can either kick off a search with a keyword then apply filters, or you can start off by tapping on “search by person,” “time” or “type” directly from the homescreen.

After you type in your keyword(s), you then tap on filters to narrow your results, specifying you only want emails or images or presentations, perhaps, or only want to see files from last week or 30 days ago.

This is easier than swiping through a long list of results on your phone, which is what you have to do today when using some competing apps, or even your native mail client, or the Gmail, Dropbox or Drive apps themselves.

In the version of FindIt awaiting App Store approval now, the app will support multiple accounts and will introduce an even more visual way to search through time. (Pictured below.)

Belnap says the idea came to him after having left his earlier work with a clean-tech nonprofit to attend Harvard Business School. He trained his replacement for half a year, but then found out that a month after he started school, the guy had quit. “I learned that he didn’t work with the right people and the right things,” says Belnap.”He just didn’t have the information he needed when he needed it.”

Belnap had, of course, left a wealth of this info in files and folders, but for the new hire, it was a matter of not knowing where to look to find it. This, he says, inspired him to begin thinking about whether or not there could be a technical solution to that problem.

Initially, FindIt was conceived as a web app, but user feedback soon pushed the team, which also includes co-founders Alex Pak and Ben Morrise, toward mobile.

Now participating in TechStars Chicago, the company is planning on quickly adding several more cloud services to FindIt, beginning with ones professionals would need, such as Box or Microsoft Exchange, for example. Longer-term, the plan will be to go freemium, where paid users will be able to access data from more complex, business-focused platforms, like Salesforce.

FindIt plans to move to the Bay Area following TechStars (likely Mountain View/Sunnyvale), and has a small amount of seed funding from the incubator, friends and family.

The app is a free download here in the iTunes App Store.

Exclusive: In Yet Another Internal Hire, Yahoo’s Mayer Makes Mann Search Head

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Longtime Yahoo techie Laurence “Laurie” Mann, who has recently been SVP of engineering operations at the Silicon Valley Internet giant, has been given the new job of heading its search efforts, according to sources inside the company.

The appointment by CEO Marissa Mayer, also announced in an internal memo last week, puts Mann in a key position at Yahoo, given the need to fix its troubled search partnership with Microsoft, which was struck in 2010.

That is likely to come under great pressure in the days ahead, given that its performance has not been as expected, although that did improve in Yahoo’s most recent quarter.

Still, despite the improvement, Mayer called attention to the overall problem at a recent appearance at an investment conference.

“One of the points of the alliance is that we collectively want to grow share rather than just trading share with each other,” she said. “We need to see monetization working better, because we know that it can, and we’ve seen other competitors in the space illustrate how well it can work.”

By competitors, Mayer meant Google, whose share of the search market is close to 67 percent. Microsoft has just above 16 percent now, and Yahoo above 12 percent, a near flipping of share from two years ago.

Mann, who came to Yahoo in 2002, had been one of the execs at Yahoo who worked on the original deal under former CEO Carol Bartz, vetting the terms of the agreement for the company. While he has a degree from Canada’s University of Regina in business administration and computer science operations research, he is better known at the company for his deal-making and negotiating skills than as a techie or product exec.

That will be important, given that the end of the performance guarantee that Microsoft has had to pay to Yahoo since the partnership began comes in April.

Sources at Microsoft said the company is unlikely to extend the agreement without major concessions, and that any efforts to end the overall deal will be difficult for Yahoo.

“There is what [Yahoo] wants, and what’s possible,” said one person close to the situation.

In his new job, Mann will be in charge of improving the situation, which he has had some experience with. Mann, said one source, “used to spends hours at night on the phone with Microsoft trying to get concessions from their lack of RPS achievement,” referring to revenue per search.

Whether that means he can fix the situation — either by extricating Yahoo from the deal or improving Yahoo’s search experience to boost revenue and market share — is unclear. Mayer herself has a lot of search product chops from her time at Google, so she is expected to play a dominant role in the arena.

Another important effort for her, obviously, is still recruitment, given that a number of her choices for top product and tech jobs at Yahoo have been longtime veterans who were in place when the company was experiencing its continuing downward slide.

Among her options is buying a small search company, trying to end the Microsoft deal and perhaps strike another one with Google, or even reenter the search business with innovative engineers.

That is a big job. When Mayer was hired last summer, it was thought that she would bring in talent to reinvigorate Yahoo’s top echelons from outside the company.

But, for the most part, that has not happened, and she has appointed a lot of Yahoo’s longtime veterans to important roles in the turnaround.

For example, Mayer brought back Jay Rossiter to run platforms, appointed Scott Burke to head advertising tech, and now has put Mann into a top job in search — all of whom report directly to her on her executive staff.