We just updated our reviews page and I asked people around the company which were their favorite reviews. (Now we’re reviewing the reviewers!)
Christian says, “I like how our simplicity can be so powerful.”
Brian Jepson [Providence Geeks]: CrowdVine is totally crowd-centric: you answer a few questions, post a photo, maybe friend a few people in the group, and that’s it. From there, CrowdVine turns into a back-channel for an event or association, and is great for matching names to faces, finding out more about someone, or informal followups before, after.
Tony (that’s me) says, “This was our second conference and after this quote I knew we were on to something.”
Gareth Branwyn [MakerFaire]: Within a few hours, over 100 people had signed on, started linking and commenting, piping in their blog feeds, Flickr pools, social bookmarks. It really was kind of extraordinary.
Jay says, “I want CrowdVine to be a company where we can measure the value we create.”
Jeff Haynie [SoCon]: I think the tipping point was CrowdVine. I tracked the numbers during registration and like most events, there is an inflection point. In our case, that tipping point was when the CrowdVine social network came online.
Chris says, “I like that we have a clear value that’s easy to understand”
Sarah Worsham [Web 2.0 Expo]: CrowdVine’s networks are centered on allowing network members to connect and communicate. Everything on the network exists to facilitate this communication – profiles, comments, blog posts, and profile questions, all of which are featured on the homepage.
Sarah says, “This reflects my experiences. As an attendee, CrowdVine gets me more excited about conferences and gets me talking about them more. As an organizer, it helps me plan better
Grace Porter [JISC]: It is definitely adding to the buzz around the conference and it
certainly helps us…tap into what delegates are discussing in the run
up to the Conference…and who they are interested in hooking up with.
Terrie says, “I loved this review because it neatly describes our benefit….’Help me meet someone.’ CrowdVine’s power is that it helps you meet people you don’t already know, within the context of a conference. You could try friending and following other attendees using more general social networking software, but you lose the conference context…a few months later, you’re looking at your “friends” list and wondering who some of these people are! CrowdVine for conferences helps you create real living relationships instead of awkward accumulations of stranger-friends.
Chris Spiek [Search Marketing Expo]: I had never heard of CrowdVine, but it was free, so I had nothing to lose. Creating an account took less than ten minutes. I entered my interests, professional information, links to profiles (LinkedIn, etc), and uploaded my photo. When I logged in I knew I was on the way to accomplishing my goal. I still didn’t know anyone, but the discussions that were happening on the site led me to believe that other conference goers were hiring the site for the same reason that I was. Discussion topics included, “Who Is Arriving Early And Attending the Sunday Cocktail Party,” and “Who Wants to Find a Good Manhattan Wine Bar on Monday Night?” I joined in on a few of the conversations, and accomplished my goal. Then CrowdVine took it a step further. I received an email a few hours later telling me that someone wanted to meet me while I was at the conference. I clicked the link, and it was another online marketing professional with similar interests. Until then I hadn’t noticed the “+ Someone I Want to Meet.” link under the photo on people’s profiles. After scanning the profiles of a number of people on the site, I began clicking the link and letting people know that I’d like to meet them. This one tiny link was no great programming feat, but it’s inclusion in the software enabled it to accomplish the job that I needed to have done. Help me meet someone.
I don’t think I did enough to highlight this quote from a conference we did last fall for the Association of Learning and Technology.
“The ALT-C 2008 social network was delivered using CrowdVine and was, by all accounts, very successful. Having been involved with a few different approaches to this kind of thing, I think CrowdVine offers a range of functionality that is hard to beat. At the time of writing, over 440 of the conference’s 500+ delegates had signed up to CrowdVine! This is a very big proportion, certainly in my experience. But it’s not just about the number of sign-ups… it’s the fact that CrowdVine was actively used to manage people’s schedules, engage in debates (before, during and after the conference) and make contacts that is important.”
Seventy-three percent of delegates participated, and by participate we mean dove in with both feet. Since then we’ve been having a lot of success with conferences that were using our networks to push a learning agenda. In this economy, taking a few simple steps, like adding a social network, can make the value of your own event hard to beat.
I like when we can show the breadth of people who enjoy CrowdVine. So it was nice to read this review from an attendee of BarCampBank (i.e. a conference for the financial sector).
Say you are in a new industry and you are attending a conference in another state. You’ve heard about some of the innovators in the field who are going to be at the conference. But you also know there are going to be hundreds of people there who you’ve never heard of before, and want to meet many of them to start developing your personal network. CrowdVine lets you see who is coming to the event ahead of time, and lets you designate that you are a fan of someone, and also that you want to meet someone. Because of the personal items that you can import into CrowdVine (your blog, twitter stream, and flickr photos), you can really get a good sense of what a person is all about via that source. This is very different from a friend on Facebook, where you can’t get any info on the person until AFTER you’ve agreed to be friends with him/her, and rightly so because it is of a personal rather than professional nature. CrowdVine is all about making connections that happen because of an event in common. And it’s pretty good at what it does; it really is an icebreaker to have heard of, and/or seen a photo of, a person who is going to an event that you are attending.
Luke Gedeon has a wonderful review up comparing his experiences with CrowdVine and Ning. It’s actually a really thorough and fair point by point comparison and we don’t come out on top in every regard. But it ends with this very direct prediction:
my prediction is that Ning is going to get its head handed to it on a platter.
Although I’m glad we fared so well in the head to head comparison, I find that we rarely compete with Ning for customers and that, for the most part, a customer can make the right choice between the two of us without hurting either of our feelings. I’ve got some other criteria and explanation which I think are useful for making the right choice (and important for anyone who wants to understand where social network software is going).
CrowdVine and Ning have fundamentally different company structures and that leads to different approaches which I think, now and for the future, means that we will live in different segments of the same market. Also, I have tremendous respect for the team Ning has put together, starting with their founders Marc and Gina and including the engineers I’ve met (Brian McCallister in particular), so I don’t expect that anyone is going to hand them their head on a platter and I’m very sure that if anyone tries, CrowdVine won’t be the platter, the hand, or the instrument of displacement.
Ning was founded as a traditional Silicon Valley startup. It’s backed by venture investors who are by definition driving for massive growth (and they’re succeeding). Ning has massive amounts of funding (over $100M) and is by far the most successful of the venture backed social network software providers.
CrowdVine was founded as a traditional business. Our goal is to build a company that is sustained from the beginning by our revenue and that keeps building great software every year until we become too old and too tired to raise our pickaxes. We’re 100% privately owned and we’re profitable.
That gives us an independence that no venture backed startup can have, and I think that’s essential to the promise we’re making to niche communities. We’re promising them their own form of independence: a community that’s free and separate from the mass market social networks they had to live in before. I think that promise is strengthened if we as providers don’t also have a massive financial obligation (we have only a small obligation, which we’ve met, to pay the rent).
Because of that fundamental difference in company organization I find that CrowdVine and Ning have and will continue to have fundamentally different qualities. Briefly, those qualities in CrowdVine are that we make a direct connection between your time spent on our network and you achieving a goal, that we can and do make powerful niche customizations, and that you can get very high level support.
First, on the topic of connecting your time as a user to achieving a goal. Our customers are network creators who come with existing business goals. If we solve those goals we justify our pay. We have no incentives to keep you on the site, but lots of incentives to help you achieve your goals.
As a comparison, the first time I saw Gina (Ning’s CEO speak), she described Ning’s design philosophy as “if you’re hosting a party you don’t want to run out of activities.” They’re building very feature rich software so that their networks have lots of activities and so that they are good places to hang out. A lot of older people are confused by the popularity of social networks like MySpace and Facebook, but the truth is that these types of social networks are an upgraded form of leisure. People who knock social networks as not comparable to real life socializing are missing a crucial fact: social networks don’t replace face-to-face, they replace TV. Measured by usage this is probably the biggest segment of the market and so is a great opportunity for a venture backed startup like Ning. Ning is an eyeballs business. They need you to hang around (and if hanging around is a replacement for TV, then that’s a very good thing).
CrowdVine is a goal oriented business not an eyeballs business. Our design philosophy is to connect people and then get out of their way. That comes out in the features.
All our email notifications include everything you need to make a response through email: the full text of the message or comment, and the email address of the person on the other end. No need to return to CrowdVine.
Luke identifies OpenID as one of CrowdVine’s differentiators, but that’s just part of a larger example to connect and integrate with what people are doing outside of our networks. We also pull in your Flickr, Twitter, and blog feeds directly into your profile. We’d rather be the glue for your content than the repository.
Advertising is yet another way this comes out. Luke points out both that we have minimal advertising on our free options and that we could do a lot to optimize our ad revenue. However, we’re not an ad-supported company (less than 1% of revenue), so you’re not going to see any of our networks suddenly plastered with ads.
Second, on the topic of niches. We’re not always the right choice, but when we are, we’re very right.
The market for simple focused social networks is smaller than the market for leisure social networks. Partially this is true because so many of the best customers are businesses and they tend to either adopt later than consumers or have customized needs.
But if your goal is to connect with people, the fewer features the better. I learned this first hand on the team that launched Twitter. Every pundit we heard from compared us to earlier companies that had “more compelling features.” What none of these pundits seemed to get is that the only compelling feature for Twitter was the people. Any other feature was a barrier. If you have such a use case, then CrowdVine is the social network platform for you.
Plus there’s one specific niche where we do have a customized version, conferences. Our CrowdVine for Conferences product has features you can’t find in any social networking platform and that wouldn’t make sense for any use case beside conferences.
These “niches” are great for us because we can show real value to our customers but make a lot less sense for Ning because on the one hand the market for simple is smaller and on the other hand the individual markets for verticals like conferences are simply too small for that much venture backing.
Third, support. Put simply, you can get the founder of CrowdVine on the phone. I’m not out talking to the investors, or managing a huge team of people, I’m talking to our customers every day. Again, I think that’s part of being a business that depends on the success of our network creators. Plus, as a company that’s enthusiastic about conferences as a customized niche, you get specialized feedback and experience to go along with the specialized software.
We love to hear that! With social software we’ve found that the stronger the desire to connect the simpler your software has to be. The people need to be the center of attention, not us. However, writing simple software is a bit like writing a short essay. You need to work very hard to be succinct and it normally takes many drafts. Thank you Xavier for letting us know we’re on the right track.
And for everyone else, here’s 90 seconds where you can see for yourself:
Interaction 08 is only a week away, and I’m getting pretty excited about it. This is due in part to CrowdVine, a web service that allows groups to set up their own social networking site. Now, I’ve never had any particular interest in the likes of Facebook and MySpace. I do have a LinkedIn account, and while I don’t actively pursue it, I can certainly see its merits. I am really impressed with CrowdVine.
There’s more, including a nice clear description of our services. It’s wonderful to get this kind of feedback. Thanks Jack!