Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Shaun Swanson, who is a member of the Ayloo team. Post interview, I wrote: “Well, it’s official. You’ve completely have my respect and admiration. This interview will be one for the memory books. Very impressive!”.
Shaun expressed his desire to establish separate voices for his Ayloo team saying “I think allowing for us to have our own individual opinions, separate from Ayloo’s, also cushions us in a necessary way – separates us from the politics a bit – which allows us to be very open with our ideas and beliefs, so that we can effectively communicate them to our users and the blogging community giving us the necessary feedback we need to remain relevant to our users. That’s a pretty Important thing for Ayloo, I think: communicating and listening to our users and peers. And that’s something that I think is missing from current social networks. But I’m sure we’ll get to all that below.”
So let’s get started finally, eh?
Q: Can you briefly explain what Ayloo is and why people should join?
Ayloo is a place to have meaningful conversation with the people you know and the communities you care about. This is the one-sentence spiel we’ve been toting around a lot lately, and it’s quite loaded so I’ll spend this question really breaking it down. The justification for why I believe this sentence is true will be addressed in the following question (as, really, our focus on conversation is what separates us from current social networks and makes us unique).
What do we mean by ‘meaningful?’ Well, I think I can speak for a lot of current social network users when I say that it can be difficult sometimes to find an interaction where people are really digging deep into a subject. Being from a technical background myself, I can recall a lot of times when I’d post a status update on Facebook that would start a technical discussion I was enjoying… and it would be pretty much quelled by the third or fourth comment.
I’m not saying that every interaction on Facebook (or any other social network) should be technical, or ‘deep,’ but I do think it’s difficult to have those interactions when you want to using current networks. So I would claim Ayloo is a place (for reasons specified in question 2’s response) where these kinds of deeper interactions can occur… and they can occur as often as you’d like!
Now why ‘people you know,’ and why mention ‘communities?’ Well, we are going for a Facebook-like social graph, in the sense that we would like people to mostly connect with their friends, family, co-workers, etc. Actually, that’s only partially true. From what I’ve seen with our beta community, people mostly connect initially with people they know, but when they start to join in on the communities on Ayloo (which I’ll discuss in a second), they end up getting to know many people they didn’t originally.
So maybe I should refine my previous statement to say that only initially is your graph Facebook-like. But no matter what it evolves into, I believe you can always argue that your contacts are people you ‘know,’ either in real life or through interacting on Ayloo. And we give you the means to interact with self-defined groups of your contacts on your own terms via our ‘contact lists’ feature.
Ayloo hosts local communities, called ‘streams,’ which are connected through our social graph. They are ‘local’ as defined with respect to you (not necessarily geographically). This local nature is Important for what we’re trying to construct with Ayloo – no matter how big Ayloo gets, you’ll mostly join streams that your contacts are in. So at any given moment, you have defined with respect to yourself a social graph of relationships with people in your life and the communities they form online.
A good example of the non-geographic nature of this ‘locality’ is a public stream called ‘World news.’ It’s made up of people who are in each others’ contact lists – so they know each other – but they’re from the U.S., Sweden, etc. And that really allows for the inclusion of many different perspectives in a conversation, which is quite valuable (and is actually something we’re pursuing further through some of our marketing efforts).
Q: How does Ayloo compare to Google+ and Facebook? What makes Ayloo unique?
A: The main difference between Ayloo and other networks is that, rather than focusing on connecting as many users and content as quickly as possible for brief interactions, we aim to improve the quality of the interactions (conversations) on our network through support of relationships formed, interests shared, and communities built between our users.
I’d like to state right off the bat that I don’t think we’re in direct competition with Google+, Facebook, or Twitter (In fact, we just integrated Twitter into our site in a pretty big way just recently). The goals of our ‘competitors’ are way different from our own. Their style of social networking provides a steady stream of content in a certain way, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing… it’s simply not what we’re aiming for.
People are going to use current social networks to stay in touch through status updates and to share content quickly and briefly with their friends for the foreseeable future. We just want to put our service out there for when people want to talk more substantially and consistently about topics they’re passionate about.
Now here’s the part where I justify everything I’ve claimed above! Ready?
Our network empowers users to take control of their identity online, and offers the proper context or interactions so you can feel comfortable and speak your mind. Through the streams that form on Ayloo, people with similar interests gather to discuss topics they’re passionate about. So, through proper context, control, and the ability to find relevant and interesting content, we foster more meaningful conversation.
Let’s go into them in more detail (I hope I’m not boring you to death!).
Context: We are the only network out there right now that gives you complete context for every interaction on the site. Facebook’s new privacy push allows you to see who your friends have shared with (i.e. Friends of Friends) but not the people specifically. Google+ does better in allowing you to see specific people who were shared with, but they cut off the number after about 23 or something.
Context on our site is central and we believe the communication we have on Ayloo is better because people feel comfortable and can be themselves (or whatever version of themselves) around others. This seems natural, and leads to less broad-casting and self-branding and more genuine interaction.
Content and Control: Facebook’s new privacy features have improved the ability of their users to control who they send content to (as we’ve dubbed ‘user output control’), which is basically what Google+ pioneered with circles and what we’ve had on our site in the form of contact lists. Neither network currently has good ‘user input control,’ however – where you can really control what content is coming at you.
We feel there’s an abundance of (often) irrelevant content hitting your eyes every day on traditional social networks and in order to fix this we’ve focused our site around the aforementioned online communities where people can join and find the content that interests them at any given moment. And on top of input and output control, we are also heavily feedback-focused.
We believe our users should have control of the direction of the site itself. Instead of making them feel like our customers, we really want to treat our users as peers — and we believe Ayloo should constantly evolve to keep up with their desires for the network.
To really seal the deal, we also provide the means to evolve conversation organically. Our ‘Sprouts’ feature keeps conversation fresh and gives users the opportunity to explore interesting directions within a conversation that they may have overlooked otherwise.
Q: What are the main selling points of Ayloo?
A: Since I’ve already covered a lot of the selling points, I’ll interpret this question to mean ‘Who would be interested in Ayloo?’
Of the tools available on the internet today, two of our stream types most closely resemble traditional blogs and forums. To the best of my knowledge, no one before us has combined them together with a social graph, however, which I believe actually enhances all three components.
We’ve already covered how adding streams to a social graph benefits the users in terms of input control and content discovery. Ayloo will also appeal strongly to bloggers who have had trouble in the past establishing a steady audience and to forum-goers who wish they could easily integrate people they know into discussions they’re passionate about.
Q: In the “Working With Us” section on your website, it explains how Ayloo can be used for business. Do you have an example of how a business can benefit from using Ayloo and where you envision this going in the future?
A: First and foremost, I want to make it clear that our users always come first in any decisions we’ll make. As a company, Ayloo doesn’t condone the act of gathering our users’ information to sell to third parties. We are currently exploring monetization options that will keep our users’ privacy secure and will actually add a lot of value to their experience.
In my opinion, ads aren’t tremendously effective. We’re getting immune to them. And even if data doesn’t back me up on that, I’d still argue that they lead to pretty weak branding and hardly ever add value to the user’s experience.
Our first step will likely be to move ads out of your personal space online. Private streams and feeds for contact list posts will be completely ad-free. Ads will likely show up in Ayloo’s public streams, but the power will be in the users’ hands – they get to choose what brands to feature for their community based on aesthetics, brand-loyalty, interactions brands may have with these (often) interest-based communities, etc.
But we don’t want to stick with ads forever. We have bigger plans, but we’re not yet ready to reveal much. What we can say is that we’re hoping to give brands the tools they need to create unique social experiences for those public streams that choose to enhance their communities with an interested brand’s presence. Vague enough for you? Haha.
This dedicated branding channel on Ayloo is not yet established, but we will allow interested parties to sign up for a brand invitation during the sign-up process. We’ll be releasing more information concerning these efforts in the near future.
Thanks for the interview!