TR: I got a preview of Wallop’s system last week. They’re developing an entirely new interface for their social networking system, whereas you’re sticking to a more traditional one. Why?
DC: I haven’t seen a lot of successful things that used brand new, totally different interfaces. When I was at Stanford, I had this class in 2000 or 2001 where companies would come in and we would help then run a usability test. One company was showing us their voice-over-Internet phone application. It had this onscreen graphical user interface that was very kludgy – it looked like a phone and you dialed the buttons with your mouse. The company said, “Everybody hates this? Why?” That was the problem given to us. The answer was because it was kludgy and weird and stilted. That’s not how people naturally use software. Now compare that to Skype, which is just an IM client. It’s the most natural way to do voice-over-Internet that I can think of. They made VoIP into an experience that millions and millions of people understood.
TR: One of the things imeem has been up to lately is building imeem sites, or communities, around events such as the Sundance Film Festival. What’s the idea there?
DC: We were thinking, if we could be topical to whatever is going on right now that’s cool, and show people behind-the-scenes content, it would be a great way to illustrate the idea and get mindshare. It’s been amazingly successful. The thing we’ve noticed is people are incredibly impressed with what you can do with imeem. They aren’t jaded like everyone in Silicon Valley. When they see what you can do with it, they say “Wow, this is way better than MySpace.” That is their frame of reference.
Our tools are very powerful. It’s almost like they’re too powerful. If you give people this huge beautiful blank canvas, where do they start? These [event sites] have been helping quite bit. And I think we’re going to be able to do bigger and better things as we move from being completely guerilla to doing official partnerships. We’ve been partnering with magazines like Urb. And we’re the official community for E3 [the Electronic Entertainment Expo, going on this week in Los Angeles].
TR: How many users do you have now?
DC: We have about 50,000 registered users and have seen a whole lot of growth just recently. We’re going to these events, and we’ve been getting a lot of press. I was in Newsweek recently. In social networking, there are the Yahoos and the MySpaces, and then there is a huge pack of companies that no one has heard of. I think we’re officially in the middle now.
With social applications, there is a tipping point. Which is another over-beaten phrase – but based on our traffic, I think we are at the elbow where all the hard work we put into the technology is going to start paying off really nicely. It’s been fun being in tiny startup mode, but I think we’re graduating to real-business mode.