Swipp, a new “social intelligence platform,” is trying to bridge the gap between evanescent, useless social data (I ate a B.L.T. for lunch today! Look at this cool mural!) and more lasting, but less personal, knowledge, like the Wikipedia entry on San Francisco.
“We want to create a smarter, wiser planet,” co-founder Don Thorson told me in an interview recently. “It’s like the Borg Collective, with a more compassionate bent.”
The combination depends on an ambitious play: Getting people to share updates with their friends that include a unique 11-point rating, from -5 to +5, through Swipp’s iOS app and website, both of which launch today.
So, for example, you might use Swipp to post an update about the 49ers winning the game last weekend. Like Twitter, there’s a place to put a short note (up to about 250 words long), and you can attach a photo.
But unlike Twitter, the last thing you do before “Swipping” something is give it an emotional rating with a slider at the bottom of the screen. There’s a cute cartoon face that animates from sad/angry to happy as you slide the scale left and right.
Here’s where it gets interesting: Everything on Swipp is tagged with a geographic location, connected to similarly-titled updates, and aggregated. You can then browse the site to see what other people think about the 49ers, the Ravens, Pablo Picasso, Barcelona, or the new MacBook Air. Because Swipp has geographic and demographic data, you can drill down to see how opinions on these things shift by geography or by gender.
“We think of this as a living encyclopedia,” said Thorson.
In other words, your off-the-cuff photo of an ugly public fountain doesn’t just amuse your friends; on Swipp, it becomes part of a global fabric of knowledge about the world.
For marketers, this could be a dream come true — and the founders of Swipp realize that they have a potential goldmine here. While basic browsing is free, they plan to make money by selling more detailed reports to brands that want to do instantaneous, global market research. They will also let companies embed Swipp on their own sites — so, for instance, an electronics retailer could include a Swipp widget on every product page, and use that data to help build customer data, product ratings, and more.
Swipp uses Facebook Connect to authenticate you, so you can easily sign up and sign in with your Facebook login. It also lets you share any Swipp updates you post to Facebook and Twitter.
Here’s the problem, though: For this to work well, Swipp needs to get a huge amount of data into the system. It probably needs millions of people to be “Swipping” things every day before its dataset truly gets useful. And that’s a problem, because who needs another social network? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ already keep me plenty busy, thank you very much.
Thorson and his co-founder Charlie Costantini recognize this issue. “We call it the keychain problem: How many keys are you going to put on your keychain?” Thorson said.
To address it, the team is betting on three things. First, it is seeking lots of corporate partnerships to embed Swipp on websites, expanding the distribution of the fledgling network.
Second, Swipp will have an application programming interface that will eventually let developers build Swipp-based apps — or, perhaps, integrate Swipp with existing social networks. If you could post a photo to Instagram and give it a Swipp rating through the same app, that might help bring in more users.
The company will start deploying its API in Q2, and open it more widely in Q3. It plans to add location-specific advertising opportunities in Q4.
And third, Swipp’s launch appears to be a well-coordinated global effort. It’s launching in 45 countries and 5 different languages today, and more than 100 “ambassadors” worldwide will be helping promote the service to local markets. That planning reflects the deep marketing background of Thorson and Costantini, who over the years have worked at Apple, Atari, Netscape, Jajah, and Ribbit.
Swipp’s not the only company trying to capture more detailed data than just “likes.” Knotch, for instance, recently launched an iPhone app that is similar to what Swipp does. Facebook’s new “flexible sentences” will let app developers capture more data than simply consumer likes — for instance, a Facebook app can record that you “read” a book, or “completed” an exercise, and that kind of data will shortly show up in Facebook’s Graph Search. And Google’s “knowledge graph” is also collecting global data and assembling it into useful knowledge.
An Android version will come later this year.
Swipp started two years ago in what Thorson calls his “love shack” behind his house in Palo Alto, and is still based in that town (though not in Thorson’s back yard any more). It has raised $3.5 million to date from Old Willow Partners, and currently employs about 20 people.