Interview with aNobii's Greg Sung

Happy New Year to our ZDNet Asia readers!Following last week's article on Web 2.
Written by Andy Chun, Contributor

Happy New Year to our ZDNet Asia readers!

Following last week's article on Web 2.0 online booklists and aNobii, a local Hong Kong company that is providing service in this area, I conducted an e-mail interview with Greg Sung, the person behind aNobii.

Creating software that helps people keep track of their personal libraries is an interesting concept. How did you come up with this idea?

I am an avid reader myself. Often times after I finished reading a good book I'd wonder who else might have liked it too, and what else they've read. So I set about building a tool that would satisfy that curiosity.

Your software has a lot of Web 2.0 characteristics. What would you consider to be the most important value-added features?

Well, the fact that you can find someone who is half the globe away and who shares similar book taste is fun enough for me. I've known a lot more interesting books through other people's reading lists.

We built new features based on feedback from our early members. Recently we added a new feature that basically lets you type margin notes into aNobii and find them easily when you need to. I myself find it very useful. It's not the sexiest feature but I use it extensively.

Do you think sharing booklists will take off in the same way as sharing bookmarks has taken off for Web sites like del.icio.us?

We serve a smaller audience. Not everyone loves books and adores his or her collection enough to build an virtual shelf. But we believe those who do will find aNobii useful and irresistible. That's our goal anyway.

Your product's first public beta was only in early 2006 and practically without any marketing efforts you have gained a sizeable user base. What would you attribute this success to?

So far we built our traffic solely by word-of-mouth. And word-of-mouth can take you to unexpected places. For example, we had quite a portion of members from Spain. That was not something we could've planned.

From day one we were clear that aNobii had to be easy to use. After all, you go to aNobii for books and people, not for a user interface challenge. We believe that's what sets us apart. From what we learnt from feedback, that really is a big plus. Making your product lovable is key, and it must be usable to be lovable.

As a new high-tech startup, what would you consider as the benefits and/or challenges of setting up a company in Asia and/or Hong Kong.

The Internet really breaks geographical barriers. So I don't think it matters much where your team is located. Hong Kong is a great place to start any kind of company. Registering a company takes only an hour here.

On the other hand, Web ventures are not very big in this part of the world. So you don't get to hang out with many other people from the same field like you do in Silicon Valley. For that you'll have to go to conferences--and often that requires traveling by plane.

Where are your plans for the product and company in the coming few years?

We don't plan several years out. It's not very useful for products like ours. But our near-term goal clearly is to grow the member base. Obviously the more people join, the more useful aNobii becomes. We believe we are close to moving out of beta for a real launch. It'll be exciting.

Thanks Greg for the interview and we look forward to your real launch!

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