Are We Simler? A Chat With Ryan Goodwin

You may have heard of a new site called Simler. Wait. You haven’t? Well, the first thing you should do is check Louis Gray’s latest coverage of the site. Why should you check this out? Well, Louis has written three posts on Simler, and normally when you get that much coverage from Louis, you are about to hear a lot more about it all over the web. The last two companies in my memory to get this kind of coverage were TweetDeck and SocialMedian. We can easily say that both companies have done very well.

So, if you got lazy and did not read Louis’ posts, here is the short description from the site itself:

Whether you want to discuss one particular topic or meet people that have a lot in common with you, Simler provides the easiest way to connect.

The quick description I came up with is a little different, Simler is a mashup of microblogging, forums 2.0, and a social network all wrapped into one sleekly designed site. It is a very interesting idea and one that I will definitely be keeping an eye on. I highly recommend you give Simler a try.

The cool part of all this is that I got to trade a few emails with Simler founder Ryan Goodwin and you get to take a look at what he said. Just in case you do not notice, my questions are in bold.

Q: First, for the benefit of our readers, when did you launch the private beta and when did the public beta go live?

We launched the private beta on September 15th and put the first users on the system, by invitation only. On October 29th we removed the invitation system and allowed anyone to create a profile.

Q: You mentioned that there have been enhancements since the private beta, what exactly changed?

Simler is striving to take a fresh outlook on networking by making the interests the social currency rather than who you know. With that main function at it’s core, It’s interesting to see how drastic the application quickly evolved from a proof of concept with 50 users to the feature set that we have now. I mean, our first users didn’t even have site-wide search for tags or users. Some of the major feature upgrades that we have made include:

1) New Homepage
There are now three home-streams: Home, My Tags, and My Friends. Home is the home-stream we all know and love already—posts from you, and your friends’ posts on mutual tags only. My Tags is a stream of every post made to the tags that you have added (from both friends and non-friends). My Friends is every post that your friends make (on tags that you have joined or not). This will create a great gateway into new conversations that you may be interested in. In the sidebar, you will now find five of the latest posts on Simler network-wide, so it’s much easier to see where the current action is if you’re looking to dive into a conversation immediately.

2) New “Like” feature

We now have a “Like” feature made popular by other social networking sites. Liking a post is fed into a ranking system that then features the top content provider on the Tag Detail page.

3) All hail the SimKing!
We will be featuring the top content provider for every tag with more than a hundred (100) people on it. We call this person the SimKing. To be featured, the content that you provide has to be liked by other people. This includes both posts and comments. If you go to the Simler tag page you can see exactly what this looks like. For every SimKing, you get a badge on your profile page—check out user MrG to see how this looks. We’ll be running the first rankings later this month.

4) Favorite Tags
You can now identify the tags that are the most important to you by clicking on the star on the Tag Detail page (or from the My Tags page within the Tags section). When you mark a tag as one of your favorites, it does two things. First, every post for that tag will now go in your home-stream (even if you aren’t friends). Second, it will serve to create better introductions with other Simler users since we will be able to compare favorite tags as well as tags in common.

Q: Why start Simler now, when Facebook and Twitter seem to be taking over the social media world?

Facebook and Twitter have managed to bring social networking as a platform into the mainstream. Geez, even my mom is on Facebook. Facebook and Twitter didn’t have Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word rapidly about their services. And although there have been some seriously compelling innovations developed by both and other sites, there’s still room for great ideas.

I can think of a long list of why the current social network landscape needs Simler. The first would be that it’s fun to talk to people you used to know a couple times, but that excitement quickly fades simply because you don’t have much in common anymore. Or, if you do, you don’t take the time to find out what they are. Simler can help you deepen the relationships you already have, while forging new ones based on the things that you share. We can increase your networking capability for people you’d like to meet on a tag-by-tag basis, or as a comparison of the tags that you have in common with other people. No matter how obscure your favorite band is, chances are there are other people that like it too. As we connect those people, we make the world a smaller place on an individual basis. We create instant belonging.

Secondly, I’ve found that a robust social network can become a lot of noise. My 785 friends on Facebook may be considered pretty lean by some, yet a vast majority of activity that happens in my stream is noise that I wade through to get to what I want. Sure there are some messages that I’m interested in receiving, but with both Facebook and Twitter, the messages you get are solely determined by who you want to hear from. By creating a topic based system, you can literally fine tune your social media digestion to deliver purely what you want to hear from the people you’d like to hear from. Gone are the days of having to wade through the Farmville updates or the Mafia War happenings to participate where you’re interested.

Q: Why do you think that people having conversations about a topic with people they may not actually know will work compared to the traditional social network concept?

We believe that when you get down to it, there is really only one human motivation to socialize anyway: similar interests. Any constructive socializing is always based on common ground. By bringing this to the forefront, you can meet people that like what you like quicker than ever before. You can strengthen ties to old friends as you instantly identify the things that you both like, while you ignore the things you don’t. A great place to look for a proving ground is trending topics on Twitter. Although a topic tag on Simler is drastically different than a hashtag on Twitter, you can see how the human psyche naturally leans towards commonalities. The very fact that something like #5wordsaftersex trends at all is a testament to that.

Q: You use self-tagging as the method to define interests and similarities, did you look at any other models?

You know, self-tagging seemed to be a natural progression. Our original idea was based on connecting using common interests. It only seemed natural that people would want to connect based on one interest at a time (for example, I’m a soccer player that wants to meet other soccer players), as well as finding other that share multiple commonalities. To us, tags were the obvious solution to both methods. So if we did consider other definition methods, I can’t even remember what they are.

Q: Given that tags are user entered, are there plans to “normalize” the tags or categorize them?

We do have plans for normalizing tags, absolutely. It’s important to our core purpose of being the easiest way to find and talk to people that like what you like. Sometimes tags are splintered into a few different groups, and it’s already making it a little more difficult than it should be. It will be a difficult balance between keeping tag creation very easy and fluid, while providing the structure to keep the tags both normalized and possibly, categorized.

Q: You mentioned user badges like SimKing and rankings. Are you concerned about people trying to game the system?

Yeah, we do want the rankings to be as real as we can get them to create the most value for the whole user base rather than a select few. I’m thinking we’ll keep the algorithm to ourselves on how the rankings are calculated to make it a little tougher to stuff the ballots. It’s also tough to know exactly how people will try and beat the system, so we’ll have to keep an on-going strategy and commitment to keep it as honest as possible.

Q: Now that Simler is public, what are you planning to do to combat spammers?

The main vehicle that we use actually starts with the fact that you can only post to one tag at a time. That keeps the content for that tag topic specific, while allowing the tag users to self police the tag. Spam on Simler is simply a post on the wrong tag. If the post is on topic, then the people that are interested will get it. So when users see content that is not appropriate for the specific tag, they can report the post for moderation. Enough users report a post, then the post gets moderated by Simler staff.

Q: Any interesting statistics you can share, like “a post generates 5 comments on average” or anything else that defines the level of interaction?

To date, a post generates almost three comments on average. The average user has 21.7502 tags. Average tags in common between friends on Simler is 15.25, while average friends in common is 8.5. This last statistic illustrates that tags are being used as the networking methodology over friends of friends, the traditional social networking methodology. That means it’s working!!

Q: I poked around on the site and saw calls to “/api/”. Do you have a public API or when can we expect one?

The API calls you are seeing are for our internal use only (ie, for AJAX calls). However, we do have a public-facing API that is undergoing tests by a limited number of external developers with a planned release in January. Stay tuned!

Q: Are there any other interesting features we can expect in the near future?

Abso-freaking-lutely! We will be making it even easier to find people that like what you like with some UI improvements. We plan on moving in a real-time direction. You’ll be seeing Facebook connect. An invitation system so you can invite your friends and suggest your favorite tags at the same time. A method that simplifies sharing tags with friends. HTML5. And much, much more.

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