By the time Tristan Harris, Can Sar, and Jesse Young teamed up, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube had all taken off. But even with all those sites at their disposal, the three remained dissatisfied with the available options for bringing the Web's resources together. They wound up focusing their attentions on something seemingly mundane: the hyperlink. That work led them to start Apture.
With Apture's technology, publishers and bloggers can integrate multimedia into their pages through hyperlinks, which produce pop-ups that allow visitors to browse other content and sites without leaving the main page.
Say you're reading a story about campaign finance laws on WashingtonPost.com. You'll see Sen. John McCain's name highlighted in blue, and clicking on it will open up a new window with information on his voting record. As a result of such related links, users stay on pages longer, and the sites are able to generate more advertising revenue.
Harris and Sar met at Stanford, where they majored in computer science and later entered the school's graduate program. Beyond their aptitude for technology, they shared a strong appreciation for good storytelling, which they believed could be further enhanced by the Web. "I've always had a big interest in knowing what's really going on in the world," Sar says. "I realized that the tools we were using were not doing a good job of getting the sources out there."
Luckily, they had a resource close at hand to test their hunch: Stanford's Knight Fellows, a group of journalists invited by the university each year to study and conduct research in their field. In the summer of 2006, Harris and Sar met with two of that year's fellows, Pam Maples, most recently managing editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Martin Turner, now the head of newsgathering at BBC.
Around that time, they were introduced to Jesse Young, who was also in Stanford's graduate program in computer science. "We were thinking this could have a big impact, and we needed more people," Sar says. "Friends would tell me, 'Jesse's the most brilliant person I ever met." The three began working on their technology and met regularly with the Knight Fellows to discuss new features.
The following summer, in July 2007, they officially formed the company, with Harris as CEO, Sar as chief technology officer, and Young as chief engineer. Apture's connection to the Knight Fellows helped the company land its first meeting that fall with The Washington Post, which became its first customer. The company also received an initial investment from Stephen Taylor, the former executive vice-president of The Boston Globe.
Since then, Apture has inked deals with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and Reuters, and now more than 10,000 blogs also use the company's technology. Large publishers pay monthly licensing fees for the technology, while bloggers use it for free. As an alternative, the company is experimenting with integrating advertising into its platform and splitting the revenue with its clients. At the end of 2008, Apture also received $4.1 million in funding from Clearstone Venture Partners.
Harris hopes that Apture will not only enhance journalism online but fundamentally transform how people use the Web. "We can get photos, slideshows, audio across wires fast enough now that people should be able to have media wrapped all around them," Harris says. "But we're still moving between documents and media from page to page. The Web is capable of doing much richer things."