Wallop: Seeding a social network

'Get into Wallop, make it yours!' is the exhortation of the Wallop social networking site, but it is not necessarily easy to 'get into Wallop.' I spoke with Wallop's CEO about how the new site aims to gain traction in a crowded, MySpace dominated, online social networking world.

“Get into Wallop, make it yours!” is the tag line and exhortation of the Wallop social networking site, launched in beta in September. It is not necessarily easy to “get into Wallop,” however, and that is by design.

Wallop proudly touts that it is “the exclusive social experience” that attracts “select groups of users,” and available by invitation only.

Wallop has its beginnings in a Microsoft research project began several years ago. Sean Kelly, CTO and founder, initially led the development of the Wallop prototype as a research software developer in MSR’s Social Computing Group. Karl Jacob, CEO and founder, joined forces with Kelly to “fulfill his vision for leapfrogging the current state of social computing with a marketplace business model.”

I spoke with Jacob about Wallop’s social networking philosophy and how the new site aims to gain traction in a crowded, MySpace dominated, online social networking world.

The Wallop concept is grounded in social interaction field research conducted by social scientists, psychologists and computer scientists; Real people were observed interacting in real social settings, in the real world.

Jacob told me the research found that in the real world, people interact “around pieces of media”; When introductions take place, they generally involve “shared media” between the parties. Shared media experiences enable people to have “conversations around pieces of media,” and promote strong ties, Jacob underscored.

Wallop is designed to simulate such a vision of real world shared media experiences by enabling “self-expression” through customized media online.

Wallop touts:

A revolutionary new user interface brings point-and-click simplicity to social networking and makes it dramatically easier to express a user’s individuality.

Wallop unlocks the true potential for self-expression online with free, one-click customization versus the hassle of HTML coding necessary to personalize other social networking platforms. In addition, Wallop’s marketplace model empowers people to further enhance their online image by purchasing ready-made, interactive graphics and features, called “Mods,” from a community of Adobe Flash developers and designers…. and easily incorporate designs into their profile to make it uniquely their own.

How much traction has the Wallop marketplace garnered so far? The company has publicly declared that “designers and developers on Wallop already cashing checks”:

Two months after the company’s beta launch at DEMOfall, Wallop is proving that its unique business model is already delivering income to developers in its Wallop Modder Network (WMN), with over 17,000 transactions already occurring through the network. Wallop’s marketplace has grown to over 700 Modders in two months. With each Mod sold, 70 percent of profits go to the respective developers.

I drilled down on the numbers with Jacob:

17,000 “transactions” within the WMN includes both free transactions and transactions for a fee,

The “cost” of  Mods ranges from Free to $2.50,

Each new Wallop member receives a $5 credit in “Wollars” to “purchase” Mods.

Bottom line: “70 percent of profits” may go to developers within the WMN, but the unqualified “17,000 transactions” does not shed light on the economic traction of the Wallop business model to date.

By offering some Mods at no cost and subsidizing new members’ acquisitions of Mods, Wallop is financing “transactions” to jump-start member “self-expression” via Mods at Wallop.

Wallop is also jump-starting membership in Wallop by pro-actively inviting “image-aware trendsetters and VIPs among its hip consumer base”:

To get invited, talk to friends who may already be members, look for soon to be announced Wallop parties in your city, or send us an email telling us why you should get invited!

I asked Jacob who Wallop is particularly interested in “inviting” in. He told me:

Creative people, with large real world networks.