With every passing day, Internet companies are making data easier to handle, understand, and put to use. Last week, we saw a billion-dollar affirmation of that fact when Monsanto acquired the Climate Corporation in an effort to make data more useful to farmers. But a bit down stream from the agribusiness giant, we’re seeing more efforts to take the complexity out of data calculations, structuring, analytics, and visualizations. Spinnakr wants to make data scientists obsolete. Ayasdi will give you answers from huge data sets without requiring you to ask any questions.
Soon, we’ll all be Nate Silvers, empowered with data-processing capabilities to elevate us out of the world of educated guessery and into the heavenly realm of informed decision and probability based predictions. And here’s another startup in the data-made-easy category: Amsterdam’s Silk.
Silk lets people create dedicated websites on which they can manage, organize, and visualize data sets without needing any expertise in tables, databases, the semantic Web, or any of those other complicated programmer words that serve only to cause headaches among those of us who find it hard enough to negotiate WordPress.
Essentially, Silk lets you build highly structured collections of data within a basic content management system. It negates the need to comb through spreadsheets by automatically converting information into structured Web pages that are organized according to tags. You can then use that tags to create charts, tables, maps, or similar visualizations in order to get an easy-to-understand overview of your information.
For instance, Human Rights Watch has used Silk to convert spreadsheets of voting records and United Nations commentary on voting patterns into a Silk site that lets users generate maps, tile views, Wiki-style pages, lists, and charts of every country’s UN voting record on human rights resolutions organized by country, year, region, and specific resolution.
The news for Silk today is that it has taken another step to maturity, adding $1.6 million from NEA to an extended seed round. It’s also launching its first money-making product, Silk For Teams, which lets organizations build private Silk sites, allowing them to handle such things as project management, customer relationship management, and competitive analysis. Silk had previously raised a $500,000 seed round led by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom’s Atomico firm.
Silk co-founder and CEO Salar al-Khafaji says that instead of focusing on the semantic Web and telling people they’d be happy if they had structured data, the startup decided to just put all that in the background and make a really simple and useful product. “Basically what we’re teaching people without them realizing it is structuring data is really useful and powerful,” he says.
Al-Khafaji himself is another reason why Silk is an interesting company. The 27-year-old was born in Syria to parents who are political refugees from Iraq. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Bulgaria, which gives al-Khafaji the unusual distinction of being a Syrian-born Iraqi whose first language was Bulgarian. He doesn’t speak the language anymore, but he was since picked up English and Dutch, as well as speaking Arabic.
Al-Khafaji did most of his schooling in Amsterdam, where his family moved after his father got a professorship at the University of Amsterdam. At university, the self-taught programmer, who has been coding since he was nine, studied physics. Silk is his second startup. He also founded another structured-content company, called Xopus, which was acquired in 2010 by customer experience management company SDL.
Silk, which was founded in January, claims 16,000 registered users from government, marketing, and the venture capital sectors. It also has a new URL: Silk.co.