Spokeo now a place to track friends

Spokeo, which I profiled at the start of the year, has re-launched its social network aggregator -- taking the unusual but refreshing step of narrowing its focus and actually ditching most of its social features.

Spokeo now a place to track friends
Spokeo, which I profiled at the start of the year, has re-launched its social network aggregator -- taking the unusual but refreshing step of narrowing its focus and actually ditching most of its social features. The end result is a slick application that's much simpler to grasp, and does one thing well: tracking your friends content across multiple social websites. Think of it as Google Reader but for friends rather than news.

And whilst Google Reader and other RSS clients can achieve much of the same functionality, Spokeo is designed to make it much easier to add friends across the networks you want to track, through a simple user interface and integration with those site's that offer an API, as well as being optimized to acesss media content within Spokeo itself i.e. music, video and images.

spokeo social networks

By making it as simple as possible to subscribe to friends' content from most of the popular social apps, without the need to understand the concept of RSS feeds (although these can be manually added too), it looks like Spokeo is hoping to be a social aggregator "for the rest of us."

I caught up with co-founder, Harris Tang (via email and IM), to find out more about Spokeo's new direction.


What was the thinking behind the redesign and what's new?

Everything (the UI, the back-end, and the value proposition) is new. Our value proposition has changed from "aggregation" to "tracking". Before we aspired to be the Meebo for social networks (like Profilelinker and Profilactic); now we are simply a reader.  Before we tried to integrate different social functionalities into one place (like the Google-funded SocialStream and Streamy), but now we concentrate on tracking your friends' content across the Web.

Why?  Because we realized that the value of aggregation is "convenience".  If an aggregator is harder to use than the original sites themselves, why would anyone use that aggregator? An aggregator is a tool that helps people make sense of their ever-increasing information consumption.  It's not a community where people hang out and socialize.  We should't mix these two "conflicting" value propositions together.

Why conflicting?  Why not build a social aggregator?

The reason is that aggregators have to be dumb simple, but social networks have to capture as many social interactions as possible. Every social feature we put into our aggregator will make the UI more complicated, and that compromises our core value proposition.

You actually dropped features, right? Tell me what's been taken out and why?

We dropped tons of features, basically anything unrelated to tracking your friends.  For example, we took out the sharing and Digg-like buttons.  While these features contribute to building a community, it does not directly benefit our users.  People come to Spokeo to read their friends' stuff, not to share and find out what's popular. Therefore, dedicating huge screen estate (at least one button in front of every article) for sharing does not make sense.

Sometimes more does not equal better.  We fell victim to the social network hype, and we force-fed as many social features to our users as possible.

It's hard to realize that we lost our focus, and it's harder to throw away 6 months of features and hard work.  We did it, however, because we don't want to deviate further from the right direction.

Who are your competitors, and what makes your product unique?

Our competitors are not Profilactic or Profilelinker, and our competitors won't be the upcoming SocialStream or Streamy.  We will not add any social features, and we will not become another community.

Our competitors are reader tools like Google Reader, Bloglines, and Newsgator.  Spokeo not only tracks RSS, but also photos, music, and videos from social networks.  It is not a hub for news and work-related stuff; rather, it allows you to see the latest updates from your friends.

Tracking friends are different from tracking work-related blogs.  For work-related information, you need complicated mark-as-read management to ensure that you don't miss any piece of information.  However, for your friends' content and most other blogs you track, you just want to quickly go through your subscriptions.  This is why our mark-as-read is automatic and simple, and you don't see extra buttons and options that further complicate the interface. Our current version already has the least amount of buttons compared to any other reader (yes, even compared to Google Reader), and our future releases will have even less clutter. Is it the same team as before? How are you funded?

Yes, Spokeo is still comprised of the same old 5 people who are friends/roommates back in Stanford University.  We are still self-funded.

How many users do you have?

Sorry, we cannot disclose this at this time.

Anything else you want to mention?

Check out our drag-and-dropable buddy list.  Now you can reorder, group, merge, and edit subscriptions without going to a separate management screen.  All advanced functionality is easily accessible in the right-click menu.

Your attention changes all the time.  Sometimes you are more interested in certain feeds than the other.  In any other reader, you would need to go to a separate screen, scroll through your long list of subscriptions, then edit them one-by-one.  Now in Spokeo, you can simply drag the ones you want to track more closely to the top of your subscription list.  To delete ones you don't want to see anymore, simply right-click to delete them.

Since managing subscriptions is now as simple as editing your AIM buddy list, you will find yourself editing your subscriptions more frequently, keeping them more relevant than ever.

Thanks for your time Harris!


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