Springpad Wants to Be Your Online Home for the Holidays, And After

If you’re like me, you go through life with the vague hope that someday, technology will help you become a more efficient person. How often I’ve driven to the grocery store or the library to pick up one thing, knowing full well that there’s some other item I needed, but that I’ll never be able to locate it beneath the dust bunnies of my memory.

New tools for tidying up one’s brain come along all the time, of course: the File-o-fax of the 1990s gave way to the Palm Pilot, which eventually gave way to online services like Jott, Evernote, Remember the Milk, and Ta-Da List, and to the hundreds of personal productivity applications available for platforms like the iPhone. There’s even a whole website, Lifehacker, devoted to tracking such technologies.

But I’m still waiting for the über-application, the one central online repository that will allow me to a) file away all of the noteworthy bits of information coming in every day via e-mail, snail mail, catalogs, the blogs and websites I read, the mass media, billboards and posters, and the like, b) curate that information—that is, organize, annotate, tag, rearrange, and share it, and c) retrieve it when and where I really need it, whether I’m using my computer or my cell phone. The tool that currently comes closest to doing all that, for me, is Evernote, created by the Sunnyvale, CA, startup of the same name (I wrote a column about Evernote back in July). But now there’s a promising New England candidate, though it’s still in its embryonic stages: Springpad, an online notebook service launched in beta form last week by Boston-based Spring Partners.

Springpad is a system for creating customizable, task-oriented Web pages called, logically enough, springpads. To each springpad, you can add blocks of data such as text notes, to-do lists, contacts, calendar events, maps, and digital documents such as photos. You can build as many springpads as you want for the various tasks in your life. The company provides useful starting springpads designed for dozens of activities, from planning a vacation to tracking your pet’s medical records. There’s a powerful personal database system under the hood that allows you to tag, search, and share individual blocks, and Spring Partners—a 10-person, venture-backed startup located in Boston’s quaint Charlestown neighborhood —is working on add-ons such as an iPhone app and a Web clipper that will allow you to send information you find on the go or on the Web directly into your springpads.

Springpad Front PageIf you go to Springpad right now, you might get the impression that it’s all about holiday planning—the same way MyPunchbowl is all about party planning or Geezeo is all about financial management (both of those life-tool startups happen to be located in the Boston area too). But the Thanksgiving and Christmas motif at Springpad is a bit misleading—and actually represents a marketing gamble of sorts for the startup.

As co-founder and CEO Jeff Janer explained to me when I visited the company Wednesday, the team had to start somewhere. Spring Partners—which consists almost entirely of transplants from Boston-based mobile advertising company Third Screen Media, acquired by AOL in 2007—has extremely ambitious plans for Springpad. Janer sees it as the central place for consumers, starting with the Web-savvy 25- to 35-year-old demographic, to organize all their life activities—shopping, chores, hobbies, eating out, exercise, travel, research, you name it. He describes it as a kind of anti-Facebook: a place to focus not on your social network but on yourself and all the tasks and information you have to manage.

But that’s a lot to explain to prospective users—and historically, quite a few super-duper personal information management tools have fallen victim to what Janer calls “blank slate syndrome,” the problem of having a great tool in front of you, but not knowing what to put into it.

So that’s why Springpad’s front pages are currently full of the kind of tips and advice you might find on the cover of the December issue of Better Homes & Gardens or Real Simple: an “8-week Holiday Preparation List,” a “Christmas Card Log,” a “Holiday Meal Planner.” The tips are linked to pre-built templates that guide users through the traditional tasks related to Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations. “The idea was to show people, in a focused way, how to survive the holidays,” says Janer. “Yes, there are all these other templates and features and functionalities available, but … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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