Interview with Gideon Greenspan, Co-Founder and CTO Copyscape Indigo Stream Technologies
Gideon Greenspan can best be described as a serial entrepreneur. He created the famous Copyscape and has been involved in more projects than most of us can count. We sat down with him to learn more about his experiences and how he went into plagiarism checking, among other things–and how (and why) he went for a Ph.D., and of course, his entrepreneurial talents.
Hey Gideon – great to connect with you. Copyscape is pretty ubiquitous these days. What inspired you to create it?
Indigo Stream Technologies, the company behind Copyscape, first developed a product called Google Alert (now Giga Alert), which is a general search alerting service which sends an email when new results are found for user-defined search phrases. People use it to track mentions of their company, products or personal names.
In 2003/4 we got a couple of emails from Google Alert users telling us that it had helped them find instances of plagiarism of their content. A plagiarist had copied some text from their site, and used it on their own site, but were too lazy to even change the company or product name inside the text which they stole. Kind of ridiculous if you think about it.
In any event, after getting a couple of emails like this, it got us thinking that perhaps there was room in the market for a service which is specifically dedicated to checking for plagiarism of online content.
You have a PhD in computer science (hence the doctorate designation) as well as a masters in computer science. What made you pursue the graduate degrees you have?
I’ve been programming since I was a child, so I was naturally drawn to studying the subject in a more academic way. Although I was a decent coder before I studied at university, acquiring the theoretical background made a big difference in terms of my ability to develop efficient algorithms, scalable systems and the like. I studied the PhD specifically because I was considering pursuing an academic career, but in the end decided against that. But I did use a lot of what I learnt during my PhD when developing Copyscape and other services.
You’ve founded a lot of companies. Can you tell us about your experiences in these?
Each one is different, but where those companies have been successful I would describe the path like this: Choose an interesting emerging area and develop a good product which is related to that area. Your first product idea probably won’t be a hit, but it will enable you to gain some clues about market needs which are related to what you developed, and hopefully discover where a much bigger (but well hidden) opportunity lies. This second product is the one that will make the company a success. This is exactly the story of Copyscape and has happened to me several other times.
Would you consider yourself a “serial entrepreneur?” What tips can you give aspiring entrepreneurs who want to be like you?
I guess I am a serial entrepreneur, but I don’t think I can give tips to someone who “wants” to be like that. It is just my natural way of being, and happened to me quite by accident with my first business (Macintosh shareware). It is the result of an instinctive desire to find unfulfilled market needs and build products that answer them. But if someone does have this in their genes, then my advice would be: work hard, be a perfectionist in code and word, pay close attention to user feedback, persevere with an idea but not for too long, look for hidden golden opportunities, and the more you give the more you will get back.
How did you market CopyScape — or more succinctly, how did Copyscape get to be as big as it is right now?
The only thing we did which you could consider “marketing” is the Copyscape banners, which we offer people to place on their site. I think those are part of the growth story, but otherwise it was simply a matter of word of mouth, from content author to agent to buyer to agent to author, back and forth, many times for many years. I’d say it took about 8 years from when we launched Copyscape to when it had penetrated most of the market, growing steadily at 70% per year.
Can you tell us a bit about the premium plan of Copyscape and how that differentiates from the unpaid plan?
The unpaid Copyscape search allows entering content by URL only, performs a less thorough search, and is limited to a small number of checks per month, limited by domain and by IP. It’s really just a way to get a taster for Copyscape, and these days most of our usage is through the paid services. Copyscape Premium costs a simple and straightforwards 5 cents per search (of any kind), performs a more thorough plagiarism check, and has no usage limits.
What is Copysentry?
Copysentry is an alerting service that lets you set up your web pages once, and then it automatically performs daily or weekly searches for copies of your content, alerting you by email when a new copy appears online. It’s very similar to the idea of Giga Alert, but for finding new instances of plagiarism rather than general-purpose searches.
I see you’re also working in the blockchain world. Tell us a bit about that and what promise you see for this technology in the future.
Blockchains are a very interesting technology but unfortunately they have also been seriously overhyped. If we’re talking about closed blockchains rather than public networks like bitcoin, they are a way to enable a database to be directly and safely shared – in a write sense –between multiple parties, without requiring a central administrator. This is useful for all sorts of purposes, such as creating lightweight financial systems or inter-company records. Basically, it’s a new type of database, and analogous in that sense to the NoSQL category.
How do you simplify Bitcoin and similar technologies to people who don’t understand it? It still seems hard to reach which is why it doesn’t have the adoption it could.
I’m not so concerned by this question because I think bitcoin is a fascinating technology with some genuine use cases, but I don’t believe it has the characteristics that will ever make it popular for mainstream adoption. For regular consumers it’s worse than government issued money which sits in a bank account and can be spent using a credit card.
How do you have time for everything? :)
I enjoy working hard and I hate wasting time or doing any kind of task that can be automated with a bit of computer code.
Is there anything else you’re working on or that we should know about?
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