Monthly Archives: September 2006

Context is Meaning

Everyone has a theory as to how MySpace became the dominant social networking destination.  Was it weak competitors?  Better technology?  Interface design?  Savvy grassroots marketing?  Timing and momentum?  Blind luck?  Maybe all those things had something to do with it, but I tend to think that MySpace took hold on the strength of its original purpose: bands, music and underground hip (and hot girls also had something to do with it, I’m sure).  In other words, MySpace provided an initial context through which their community took root and grew.

Since then dozens of new social communities have appeared, funded by tens of millions of dollars from the venture capital community eager to participate in this aspect of the Web 2.0 tsunami.  Some have more and better features, others more robust architectures, yet none of the new general purpose portals have taken significant market share from MySpace.  So, is it game over?

KickApps is premised on the assumption that the next wave of successful social networking (and user-generated content) communities will come from major media websites and other content providers that offer their audiences contextually specific reasons to aggregate.  It’s easy to imagine why very large communities will form overnight around specific cable networks, reality shows, talk shows, radio stations, newspapers, universities, religious groups, expatriate organizations, gaming enthusiasts, celebrities, extreme sports, etc, etc.  And it’s easy to see why advertisers will be willing to pay a meaningful cost per thousand for advertising within a community with knowable demographics and closely moderated content.

From a user perspective, uploading photos and videos to new, niche-oriented communities is not a significant barrier to entry—anyone under the age of 35 can handle that task in a matter of minutes.  But from a webmaster perspective, the harder barrier to entry is technology development.  This is especially true for major media properties that will require sophisticated media management, administration and reporting functionality to protect their brands (and advertisers) from pornography and other potentially offensive material.  Building a very basic application that accepts video uploads and displays them on a page is relatively easy.  But when time-to-market is a critical competitive issue, building all the tools necessary to moderate and customize a community experience is quite another story.

So we built the KickApps platform with an eye toward serving many thousands of websites, big and small, with a hosted, turnkey approach to implementing sophisticated community functionality.  Our emphasis is scalability and customization with a range of tools that allows websites to focus on creating premium content and tasks more relevant to their core competencies.  Our roadmap will increasingly enable features that provide additional branding, real-time reporting and the dynamic inclusion of premium content within pages served by our platform.  Our implementation paradigm of “Viral Widgets” will allow our affiliates to present contextually relevant user-generated and premium content with an ever-growing array of styles and flexible layouts, and our Affiliate Center will evolve into a data-mining dashboard, providing real-time information.

The KickApps “Open Portal” philosophy is about providing easy access to a range of hosted technologies that enhances the community experience within our affiliate websites.  More on the Open Portal concept in my next entry.

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Eric Alterman, KickApps Founder & CEO

The idea of starting the company I now call KickApps Corporation came to me in the winter of 1995, the morning after an evening visit with my grandmother. Grandma Ann was about ninety years old at the time, and we had spent a long evening eating Chinese food (Chow Mein was her favorite) and talking about her life growing up in Lower Manhattan. We had had this conversation many times before, but this time I remembered to bring my video camera and was able to capture two hours of fascinating storytelling from a women that was nearly a full-grown adult at a time when “the iceman” delivered house-to-house from a horse-drawn carriage. According to Gram, electric refrigerators didn’t make it to her neighborhood until “long after the War” (I’m still not sure which war she was referring to).

Anyway, I went to sleep that night very pleased that I had finally videotaped my grandmother and woke up the next morning with the idea of building a company that invites people to share their video memories online. Timing is everything, of course, and in the pre-cable modem era no self-respecting venture firm would touch my idea with a ten foot pole. So I put “KnowHow Video” (that’s what I called it in those days) on the shelf and began building a series of venture-backed companies based on technologies I licensed from military contractors like ITT and Lockheed Martin (e.g. Meshnetworks, SkyCross). But I would periodically return to my video sharing idea (always my favorite), and eventually built an initial prototype at www.KnowItAllVideo.com.

KnowItAllVideo was around long before the world knew anything about social networking and user-generated video, and we continue to keep that website live in its original form, mainly for nostalgic reason. Although I must admit that it stung a little bit to see the birth and explosive growth of similar sites that followed KnowItAllVideo, building a destination website was never part of my entrepreneurial DNA. My vision was always to power every website with user-generated content and social networking functionality. So KickApps is a hosted platform company designed to do just that.

I write this blog on the eve of our public launch with high expectations. We have a talented and motivated team, supportive investors and a vision that we all believe in. My grandmother is gone now (she made it to ninety-nine!), but I know she would have been proud of what she inspired.

Me and Gram