When I’m not working for reviews.com (the full time gig), finishing up writing my latest book (Beginning SimpleDB), or helping develop a new socially-minded start-up (Catchafire.org)…I’m working on (and becoming more and more addicted to) a concept I call wow.ly with Whitney McNamara.
If you follow me on Twitter or facebook you’re probably already sick of me talking about wow.ly and wow.ly related projects, but this is the ‘first’ official mention I’ve had about it here on the blog, so indulge me for another quick moment and let me explain.
wow.ly is basically an umbrella project for a handful of small, focused, applications built on top of various open, social, applicatation programming interfaces (API). So little things I’m building on top of services like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and others.
I won’t go into detail about each project right now (though I do hope to do that in future blog posts very soon), but the current list of wow.ly apps that are either in-production or at least in-development is:
I’ve also got at least two others kicking around in the back of my head that I’ve only scratched down a few notes about…and of course secured domain names (knowabout.it and simplejson.com).
Anyway, a few of our initial projects have already started to gain some media and user attention, and this in turn has helped to fuel my obsession with the overall concept. In fact, my obsession has now been fueled enough that I’m starting the process of trying to raise some money around wow.ly and build it into a 'real’ company.
And so as I’ve been building out these things (with much help, feedback, and direction from Whitney) I’ve also been talking to a handful of industry experts that I really admire and respect.
One specific person that’s been helping me flesh the overall wow.ly idea out (especially as it relates to seeking funding) is Darren Herman (also check out his awesome blog at http://www.darrenherman.com/).
Through these conversations with Darren I’ve compiled quite a few random thoughts that I think are worth sharing:
1. All the wow.ly stuff is basically built on top of open social APIs…what I am really trying to do is aggregate and augment that data in ways that hopefully proves useful for consumers (and eventually businesses).
2. They way I actually do each system right now is to essentially build an internal API for each service, and then build some type of front end on top of that. So the idea of letting other systems access, use, and augment our data sets is actually baked into the core and I’m very open to helping make that happen (it really just means me locking down, cleaning up, documenting, and adding a few extras to our API stuff so others could use it too).
3. From a business point of view, I’m struggling a bit to figure out where and when to monetize. I know long term, the massive and unique data collection and insight (that I’m just starting to build) will be insanely valuable, but I’m not quite sure yet how far off that point is (or just what the best initial things to do to monetize it will be).
4. For me, I think the first step is to just build out a collection of small services that people (hopefully) use…each one should be fairly focused, insanely easy to use (this is actually a lot harder than you might think to accomplish), and do something at least a little unique/interesting (ie. none have to be all that ground breaking, but since they are low barrier entry systems, people give them a shot and/or set-and-forget). I call this phase one.
So phase one is really just a masked 'data collection’ phase. Though I do think there’s a chance some of the apps in this data collection phase could generate subscription or ad revenue if promoted properly - it’s not my initial focus and I want to be careful not to sacrifice the data collection phase (and long term revenue vision) just to make a small amount on consumer services.
Anyway, this phase one at the moment is only about the people using wow.ly stuff (and the people they are directly connected to – ie. tagging, talking to, talking about, monitoring, etc).
So phase two is all about building out consumer and business intelligence apps.
I envision this phase two starting once we have a critical mass of interesting data (and honestly I don’t know what that is just yet or how long it’s going to take) but once we hit that point, I’ll shift from building out more and more consumer apps that really just collect data to building out consumer and business intelligence apps that use our collected/derived data for marketing reports, branding campaigns, and/or improving consumer experiences across the internet. It’s this phase where I think the 'big’ (and recurring) profits can start to roll in. (from my experiences building/running supermug.com, draftwizard.com, and statsfeed.com, I’m convinced business-to-business sales beats the pants off business-to-consumer sales as a route to profitability - and so this is route I want to take here again)
With all of this in mind, I think working with other services/apps is a really intelligent way to help speed up phase one…though I’m not sure if there’s any direct money path that makes sense (from either end really), I guess it just depends on the end-game for each system/service (and I think since mine is to collect as much 'interesting’ data as possible, it makes sense to make my systems as open, free, and useful as possible to other systems).
And so my thinking is that raising money would really help me execute, speed up, and survive phase one. Technically I can 'survive’ it just like I am, and the only thing that really suffers is speed-to-market (and again, I honestly don’t know how important speed-to-market is for this stuff yet). But I really don’t know enough about raising outside money, and being a developer at heart, I really just want to focus my limited time and energy resources as much as possible on building and improving the systems/apps (and I like to think that’s where my strength really is anyway).
This is where Whitney and many of the other people in my extended network are coming into play (and I’m starting to initiate extensive conversations with many of them about all of this as I get myself ready to chase funding).
Anyway, getting back to the 'vision’ real quick. In my mind the ultimate marketing question is “who is this person and what are they interested in?”.
The data set I’m building helps identify that AND then also helps me to direct them to even more/better content that fits their personality.
I like to think of it as the Netflix movie suggestions model powered by social data/actions instead of movie rating data. When done correctly, the result is a very powerful search/recommendation/filter system for content and people in general.
I feel like I should also mention that this is all just my off-the-cuff thinking as of late with the system and direction things seem to be heading. I’m still at an early enough point that I can be easily swayed to another (better) vision if one presents itself.
Before I started doing things under the wow.ly umbrella, many of the other little systems I was playing with were at least indirectly toying with this long-term vision of 'using your social data to improve your internet experience’ in some way.
A large part of the motivation behind that though is just because, done right, it’s easy to see the revenue potential. But this is becoming a very crowded market space and getting more and more crowded every day.
My approach to the problem with wow.ly is instead of working a ton on one or two key products that HAVE to hit, I would build out a large number of smaller projects (until one or two DO hit and become those leading projects).
The hope is that in that process maybe I build/identify a handful of smaller, still interesting, and potentially profitable in ways I didn’t expect, projects (or even companies).
At the same time, the wow.ly approach makes it easy to step back on any given project, say this is a much bigger hill than anticipated right now…let’s table this one and move to something more interesting (ie. fail fast and small, win big and quick)
So that’s where I’m at right now and where I’m looking to go.
What do you think?
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Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
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