Shuzak is a new vertical social network which, in the words of its founder Jawad Shuaib, aims to "do for geeks what MySpace did for friends". The site has the standard networking features including the ability to create a profile, connect with 'friends', and send private messages, but interestingly users can't create a blog and instead the emphasis is on collaboration via group-based discussion forums.
The two key features that Shuzak has implemented that make it particularly geek-friendly are LaTeX support and code highlighting. What this means is that mathematicians can post equations that will render graphically as they would do in textbooks, and developers can publish code which is then appropriately highlighted on the site.
Shuzak also employs a Digg-like voting system for communities. Whereas on social news sites such as Digg and Reddit, people vote for links -- on Shuzak links have been replaced by threads so that users vote on the opinions of others rather than the topic itself. When a topic receives enough 'karma' it is then promoted to the "Interesting Topics" home page.
In an email exchange I spoke to Shuaib to find out more about Shuzak.
Tell me a little about your background and when you started developing Shuzak?
My family immigrated to Canada from Pakistan about six years ago. I was studying Electrical Engineering until I decided to leave that to start a software consulting business instead. A small ISV company hired me to code a corporate instant messenger, but I left when the boss erroneously claimed that their company will be larger than Microsoft in less than five years. Afterwards, at the age of 21, I decided to build a social network as that has always interested me. Shuzak has been in development for about 5 months now although the site was kept under the radar until just recently.
Anybody else behind Shuzak?
Shuzak is collaboratively maintained across its communities and culture by its active members. I discovered that this arrangement works as a good temporary alternative to having an actual partner. One of the great advantages of channeling the geek community is that they can help us out in coding Shuzak.
Shuzak runs on Open Source software, so our expenses are minimal. Consequently, until now we hadn't felt the need to summon funding for Shuzak.
What does the name 'Shuzak' mean?
My father's name is Shuaib Zakir; so making use of my lack of creativity, I fused together the first three letters of his name to come up with Shuzak. Since 2000, every word in the dictionary has been registered, so it is quite a challenge to come up with a domain name that actually means something.
How many users does Shuzak currently have, and what have you learned about your user-base so far?
At this stage, there are over 2000 members on Shuzak; we anticipated this number to jump in the following two months as a result of our increased visibility. Just a 10% increase in the overall activity would make Shuzak many times more useful due to its immensely interconnected community. Shuzak should reach its tipping point around the 15, 000 mark.
On Shuzak, I had the opportunity to network with several remarkably intelligent people pursuing PhD’s in the field of science and technology. There are a lot of interesting patterns emerging on Shuzak. For example, most geeks seem to be atheists. Many have interest in cognitive computer sciences. And almost everyone uses Mozilla Firefox to access the site. There seems to be an amazing culture developing within Shuzak as a result of the community’s diverse interests.
Why do geeks need a social networking site? Don't they have enough places to hang out already? e.g. digg, slashdot, and various development forums.
That is a good question. I think that while Digg does a great job at social bookmarking, it is not a particularly good place for meeting like minded people for networking purposes (I barely know anyone on my list of 200 friends). Moreover, Digg is positioning itself away from the geek niche in order to expand its market. As a result, Digg can only loosely be described as a social network for geeks. Development forums are a good place for asking questions and sharing thoughts, but as with Digg, they do not bring a social networking dimension to user generated content. LinkedIn, for example, could be viewed as a resume posting website. However, it is remarkably different from Monster or Jobster bearing in mind that it offers a business networking solution to recruiters by means of social software.
Shuzak does utilize some aspects of Digg’s voting system (i.e. user rated content) however its overall design is based on traditional social networks. Geeks have an ardent desire to connect and collaborate on issues they feel are important. Linux, PHP, SourceForge, and the open source movement are all examples of the wonderful creations collaboration made possible. The reason I believe geeks will love Shuzak is because it offers the sort of tools for them that other social networks (i.e. MySpace, Orkut, etc) never will. After all, where else could a person go to discuss the Poincare conjecture?