One of the only Australian start-ups to present at the recent round of conferences in the US was Sydney-based spellr.us, which has launched a Web-based tool to check and monitor websites for spelling mistakes.
Founder Kevin Garber, who is also founder and general manager of spellr.us parent company Melon Media, told bootstrappr that the self-funded start-up grew from the need of some Melon's customers wanting to keep their websites free from typos.
To use the system, website administrators create a log-in, input the URL of their site and set a number of options, such as how many pages they want to be scanned, how often the scan should run (from no scheduling right up to once per month), and what dictionaries they want to use.
So far only English is supported, with options for US, UK, Canada, and international variants, although users can also set the site to take account of Australian slang, technical jargon, medical terms and so on. The European set of languages (Spanish, German, etc) are "under construction".
Garber has quite a bit of experience in the online arena, having previously worked for local start-ups during the dotcom years, as well as the Australian division of internet giant AOL. He has also worked for a South African talkback radio station.
The immediate next steps for spellr.us will be to transition from beta into a live version and gain traction with paying customers. The site reveals that pricing is "still being finalised", and states that there will be a variety of different options, including a free plan for small sites and a corporate option for customised solutions. Spellr.us is also planning to offer a reseller program.
Garber said the firm's goals were to grow fast and extend its product range; the founders would not consider an exit until the medium to long-term time frame.
There is no doubt that spellr.us has potential. The start-up has come up with quite a unique idea that translates well into a Web service that bootstrappr can see quite a lot of people being curious about, especially large sites that publish a lot of their own unique content.
However, there are some massive roadblocks in the company's way.
Firstly, when we tested spellr.us with ZDNet.com.au, we didn't find the service that impressive as it's currently implemented. We set the "International", "Australian slang" and "Tech jargon" options and hit go. Spellr.us took quite a few minutes to come back with a result. Unfortunately the results weren't spectacular.
For starters, the estimated "50 seconds" timer on the query was inaccurate ... it took a few minutes. The spellr.us page refreshed several times during that period for no apparent reason; unusual in this day of sites built on AJAX technology.
When the service did eventually finish scanning, it listed a number of common technology words (virtualisation, VoIP, ITIL, PDAs, datacentre, whitepapers, XP), local company names (Telstra, Optus) and even ZDNet.com.au sister publications (CNET, BNET) as among the 3,000 errors found. In fact, none of the top 20 errors were, in fact, errors.
(Credit: Renai LeMay/ZDNet.com.au)
Drilling down, it did find a few legitimate errors, such as "weathe", which should be weather. But the vast majority of the problems found by spellr.us were correctly spelled words. We had a similar experience when we tested spellr.us on wotnews.com.au.
Sure, ZDNet.com.au is a niche site with a lot of technical jargon, and spellr.us does allow you to add words to its dictionary. But very few sites are written in plain English; most will have company or industry specific jargon. In its current form spellr.us didn't "just work" for us, which is our crucial test for any start-up.
The second problem is the site's business model. The fact remains that most large companies that operate websites (even banks, for example) employ in-house copywriters or editors to put up content and check for errors. Sometimes this sort of content is published by the website development team, or a marketing/communications specialist.
Sure, having the ability to automatically check for spelling mistakes is useful. But by and large, when most large companies already have staff members paid to do the same thing, it's hard to see them paying extra for such a service. In short, we haven't seen much of a problem with typos on websites.
Spellr.us' service could be ideally rolled into a Web hosting platform as an optional add-on for hosting companies to sell to large or small businesses or individuals, but even then we can't imagine people paying a lot of money for such a service in the short term. It would likely be a free add-on to a content management system; Australian Web hosting businesses typically offer dozens of such free add-ons (although we haven't seen anything quite like spellr.us just yet).
Sorry spellr.us. We know Jason Calcanis gets, loves and wants your offering. But bootstrappr thinks you've got some work to do.
bootstrappr opinion: BUST
A fan of the service in the TechCrunch50 demo pit: