Online research can be a messy process. Anyone who's ever searched for something online, only to find themselves hours later, hazy and buried under dozens of open browser tabs, will have some idea of the impetus behind Wellington software startup Twingl.
Trailblazer, Twingl's first product, is a web browser add-on that automatically tracks and visualises the various paths people take as they follow their nose through any form of online research.
The obvious application for such a product is the education market, which is exactly where Twingl and the company's backers are taking the product first.
Andy Wilkinson, Twingl's founding chief executive, was in the late stages of a multi-school pilot programme and on the verge of launching a nationwide school holiday Minecraft competition when he took time out to explain how Trailblazer takes the donkey work out of documenting the research process.
"Trailblazer makes your learning visible. Say you're researching something new - it might be a paper at uni or an overseas holiday - and you end up with dozens of open browser tabs, bookmarks and a Word document full of notes, well we've built a browser extension that turns all those tabs into a map which shows you why that tab is open and where to go next. It also automatically organises the notes you take. And in schools, your teacher will be able to see your map as well, so they can become better at teaching you how to research more effectively online."
Wilkinson's belief that humans are spatial thinkers kicked off the idea for Trailblazer.
"The internet doesn't give you a very good sense of space, it's almost edgeless in a way and anything we can do to help shape and adapt that content to the way our brains actually work is a good thing."
Twingl itself is a product of New Zealand's flourishing startup ecosystem, beginning with Wellington Startup Weekend in 2013 and progressing to the Lightning Lab business accelerator programme this year, where Wilkinson and his fellow co-founders, Greg Signal and Matt Kennedy, raised $100,000 in seed funding to develop Trailblazer.
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Wilkinson spoke fondly of the tough three months Twingl spent in Lightning Lab, developing a proposition good enough to take to Wellington's angel investor community.
"We went in with a vision and an unfocused product; we came out with a mission, a focused product and a business. It was a stress-test. We experienced three years' worth of personal development in three months."
It was through this programme that angel investor and mentor Brett Holland first met Wilkinson, Signal and Kennedy.
"Their basic idea for the business resonated with me and I liked the guys on the team. When they decided to focus on bringing their product to schools to help in project-based learning, I got really excited. I could see the direct application with my own kids."
Holland says the responses from teachers involved in the initial trials of Trailblazer have been very positive, but the responses from students have been even greater.
"They see uses for Trailblazer well beyond research for class work.
"In the initial trials, students kept coming up to Matt and Andy telling them about how cool it was to use Trailblazer to map out pathways on Minecraft and help them remember where they went and what they did."
Minecraft is a highly popular online game, where kids can build their own block worlds, block houses, block people and block pets and battle block monsters on their own or against others.
As an investor, Holland says he believes Twingl has a chance of becoming a success in New Zealand and internationally.
"I think Trailblazer is a product that could eventually have millions of users.
"The guys at Twingl certainly have the smarts and determination to make that happen. They want to make the world a smarter place.
"It's a lofty goal, but one they may well pull off."
• The Twingl Minecraft competition begins at the end of September. Students should check www.trailblazer.io for details.
• Trailblazer is a web browser add-on that automatically tracks and visualises the various paths people take during online research.
• It turns tabs into a map which shows you why that tab is open and where to go next.