Interview with Sociabell CEO Yoni Ram

Social search is garnering quite a bit of hype now that Google is further integrating Google+ into every aspect of the search engine, and with Microsoft and FUSE Labs gaining traction on their social + search experiment So.cl. In light of this, I decided to revisit Sociabell, the social search app for Facebook that allows you to search all networks and search engines directly from Facebook’s search bar. Sociabell’s CEO, Yoni Ram, was kind enough to spend some time answering some interview questions for me about Sociabell.

Sociabell social search app for Facebook

  • What inspired you to start Sociabell? 

During a surf trip in Costa Rica, I arrived at an Internet Café. As always, I opened my Facebook account to get updated and chat with my friends. I also had to search for a place to stay, and find some local restaurants, bars, surf spots, etc. I constantly moved back and forth between Facebook, Google, and other sites. It was time consuming. The clock on the Internet Café kept ticking, and I felt that there must be a better way for Facebook users to search the web. If Facebook is my “home base”, the website that is always open, and it already has a search box, why can’t I search Google, YouTube, and more directly from there?

In the development process we came up with our second main feature: Social Search – with one click you can share your search query from Facebook search box to the News Feed, and let your friends help you find what you’re searching for. It can be “a good restaurant”, “a boutique Hotel in NY”, or “an idea for a birthday gift”. We discovered that people are also using the Social Search to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions, for example: “Dan is searching for peace and love” or “Alice is searching for someone to stop Joseph Kony!”.

  • The integration we’re seeing from Google+ and Microsoft is a strong indication that social + search is gaining serious traction. What are you doing to maintain relevancy and differentiate Sociabell?

While Google and Microsoft start to offer different combinations of social and search, our goal is to provide a better search experience for Facebook users, specifically for those who see Facebook as their “home base”. In the future, when Facebook rolls out their new search, we will continue to develop Sociabell to offer Facebook users an enhanced search experience. Our unique position – being between the two giants Facebook and Google, lets us provide Facebook users with capabilities that Facebook is not likely to offer (e.g. searching Google and YouTube directly from Facebook’s search box). As one of our users wrote us: “Finally, one search box that does it all!”.

  • What plans do you have for improvements to functionality and design of Sociabell? What can we expect to see next?

As we see so far, we are really onto something. Our users love Sociabell and get pretty addicted to it. We receive very positive feedback, with many ideas and requests for new features. We are constantly exploring new ways to evolve our product, and our current focus is on allowing customization and personalization of the search panel.

It sounds like Sociabell has a respectable leader heading it in the right direction to handle the current trend in social media. I can’t wait to see the personalization options that Mr. Ram mentions. Facebook has been almost rapid-firing new features lately, so we’ll see where and when they finally land on a social search option to compete with the likes of Google and Microsoft. Perhaps Sociabell will receive a call from Facebook accountants offering to buy their already well-integrated app and save Facebook the development time.

If you haven’t already added Sociabell to your Facebook apps, it’s definitely worth it. It’s free, and they respect your privacy (a rare aspect in the social and search world these days). Thanks for reading, and special thanks to Mr. Yoni Ram for participating in this interview. Check out this video, highlighting Sociabell’s functionality. Now go get your social on!

Can’t Keep Up? Which New Social Networks to Consider or Ignore (Part 3)

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve begun dabbling in other social networks, just to see what kind of things are popping up now that Facebook had its less-than-stellar IPO. Although I still see Facebook hanging around for quite a while, there are definitely some others that may be worth noting.

Path not Pinterest

Path – The mobile-only network

Path

You can’t talk about emerging social networks without bringing up Path. I won’t spend too much time discussing this one, as I’ve actually already written a blog post reviewing it here. There are still some aspects of Path that could bear improvement, and for me it’s still not quite engaging, since I haven’t succumbed to adding a bunch of randos yet. I think it sorely needs some sort of way to search out common interests for those of us who don’t have a bunch of friends on it. Otherwise, it’s a great mobile app with a fluid interface. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s worth a look, especially if you’re heavily involved in the mobile sphere.

Another network that just came to my attention as emerging is Social Dashboard. I came across this article thanks to Repost.us, and I have requested to be accepted as a beta tester. For now, you can read up on this “socially conscious” network (or is it a browser? Not sure yet). The big deal with this network is that there’s a major focus on respecting user privacy, not profiting from user information, and streamlining with other networks. Sounds interesting and I hope to get more information to share soon!

5 years ago Facebook replaced MySpace. 2 years ago the movie “Social Network” exposed Facebook’s beginnings. Today, Facebook’s User Agreement permits them to sell your behaviors to the highest bidder. Social Dashboard is being developed as the next leading social network. Palo Alto, CA (PRWEB…

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Can’t Keep Up? Which New Social Networks to Consider or Ignore (Part 2)

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve begun dabbling in other social networks, just to see what kind of things are popping up now that Facebook had its less-than-stellar IPO. Although I still see Facebook hanging around for quite a while, there are definitely some others that may be worth noting. A couple I’ve been invited to as Klout perks (and I’m a sucker for free stuff and exclusive access) and a couple are already establishing themselves well.

LoveIt touts that it is “your personalized visual community where you can easily share everything that interests you, find people who have similar tastes and discover new things you may not have found otherwise.” That’s all well and good, but I haven’t been able to find a single thing that distinguishes it from Pinterest other than the cute squirrel logo. I came across LoveIt as a Klout perk, gaining early access to it. Once I signed up, It was immediately evident that it was going to be a Pinterest-type site. I gave it a chance though, and began actively searching for things that differentiated it from its predecessor. Now, I understand taking an idea and trying to improve on it with new features or better functionality, but this is not the case. LoveIt is exactly like Pinterest. I can’t find any distinguishing characteristics. If I’m missing something, let me know. Otherwise, if you already have Pinterest, skip this one folks. It’s not worth starting your boards all over again. Sorry LoveIt, you’re just not original enough for me to love it.

Image from Learni.st

Learni.st is another social network that bears similarity to Pinterest. This one, however, makes certain to distinguish itself from its predecessor both in improved functionality and cause. Learni.st is meant to be a learning community. As their help board puts it “Use Learnist to share what you know. Create a Learn Board on a subject you understand and add ‘learnings’ by pointing to existing web videos, blogs, images and documents. Anything.” The site cleverly has an entire section of Learn Boards dedicated solely to the user experience, complete with FAQs, problem reporting, feedback and terms of service. Learni.st is currently in live beta, where you can sign up and use some of the site’s primary functions. You can get full access if someone invites you (see below if you’d like me to send you an invitation to get started!).

There are a handful of key distinguishing factors that I think make Learni.st pretty cool:

  • Your interaction is more than just liking or re-adding (i.e. repinning) a post. You can actually check off that you’ve ‘learned’ it, and your profile will keep track of your learning progress in specific categories. In this way, you can actually visually build up your credibility in a category by showing how many blogs you’ve read, videos you’ve watched or articles you’ve perused. You can also check up on others’ progress on their profile and see if they’re a resident expert, or still have some work to put in.
  • If someone has a Learn Board that interests you, you can follow and like that board. Even better, if you have something you think would make a great addition to that board, you can suggest a learning for that user. Suddenly boards can become community projects, which enriches the experience of other visitors to that board.
  • Let’s face it. Some sites just aren’t pin friendly. Either the images don’t come up to select, or the ones that do come up are rubbish (or ads for something unrelated). Learni.st lets you get around that by allowing you to directly link to an image URL or upload your own images. I’ve found it nice to use a grabbing or snipping tool to capture something from the page and save it to my computer, then upload the image to represent my learning. You may even be able to use Curate.us to create an image, although I haven’t tried that yet.
  • As is becoming a standard, you can add an applet to your bookmarks bar, allowing you to ‘Learn It!’ whenever you’re browsing the web. I really dig that ability. Streamlining is key.

A snip of what the Learni.st interface looks like

The team at Learni.st are obviously still working out some bugs, since it is in beta, but they have been amazingly quick to respond, and the turnaround and communication is unparalleled. This is a great set of people, with an awesome mission, and brilliant customer service. I’ll be using Learni.st for a while. I want to see this one launch.

There are a couple areas of potential improvement. An on-site notification of interaction (likes, follows, comments, etc) would be great. To my knowledge, there is not anything set up aside for email notifications. Also, tagging people in comments would be nice, especially if you want to recommend that someone checks out the board. This may help with inter-board traffic, which will enhance the social feature a bit more.
Are you using Learni.st already? Do you want to check it out with full functionality? If you leave a comment below and email me at robzaleski1@gmail.com (if you’re not comfortable tossing your email address in a comment), I will send you an invitation for full access! Watch for part 3 of this series next week.

Now go get your social on!

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Can’t Keep Up? Which New Social Networks to Consider or Ignore (Part 1)

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve begun dabbling in other social networks, just to see what kind of things are popping up now that Facebook had its less-than-stellar IPO. Although obviously Facebook will be hanging around for quite a while, there are definitely some others outside the top 5 (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest) that may be worth noting. A couple I’ve been invited to as Klout perks (and I’m a sucker for free stuff and exclusive access) and a couple are already establishing themselves well. Let’s take a look.

Image courtesy of So.cl

So.cl (pronounced “social”) is an experiment in social search from Microsoft and FUSE Labs. It has the appearance of a social network (most closely resembling Google+) but is more of a piggy-back network. So.cl gives up some functionality that other big social networks have, touting in its FAQs that it is an experiment on the fusion of social and search. In their words So.cl “Let’s you use search to express and share ideas though beautiful story collages.” Here’s the setup.

  • You have a feed that you can filter by Everyone, People I Follow, My Interests (which you pick upon setup), Conversations (between you and other So.cl users) and your own posts. You have the option to like posts (using the “:)” emoticon button), “riff” on a post (add your own visual reaction via an image that you search for), comment or share. So far, clicking the like button doesn’t seem to undo the function, so be careful that you’re sure you like a post.
  • So.cl has a function called “video parties” that I initially expected to be similar to Google+ Hangouts. Turns out, you can join one and add videos for others to watch (typically revolving around a theme). It ends up becoming almost a crowdsourced MTV (y’know, since MTV doesn’t actually show music videos anymore). This function is pretty cool. You could start a party of 80’s hair metal and get a group of people who love big hair rock to all add videos. Anyone can join (there doesn’t seem to be a private setting, so you may have to watch for eventual trolls to ruin the fun). You can even keep the videos playing in the rightmost column of your page while you continue to work away, creating background music for you while still allowing you to view the video without being stuck in a chat room-like setting.
  • You search (using Bing) for terms and post updates all in the same box. This is not by accident. Your searches are completely public (unless you click the button to the right of your search term box, thus locking it). The reason for this is that your searches are meant to become visual representations on your post so others can see. So.cl display search results from the network, from people you follow, and from general internet results, much like Sociabell does for Facebook. You can also opt to make So.cl your default search in your browser so that you can “benefit” from So.cl (as the site claims). People, please be careful with this. I already called out a guy who searched for popular adult film star Alexis Texas, and his search (along with numerous pictures of her abundant derrière) showed up as a headline on the top of my feed, and likely many others’ as well. He promptly deleted the search term post from his profile after I commented. Embarrassing.
  • The posting mechanism is very similar to Google+ in that you add links separately from your post text, and you have the option to go back and edit your post after it goes live. Just like in Google+, there is an arrow button to the right of your post that allows you options to edit, delete, acquire embed code and translate.
  • Directly from the homepage, there is an Applet button that you can drag to your browser’s bookmarks bar, which will allow you to post to your So.cl profile from any website you find interesting. Also, similar to other networks, you can @tag people you follow in posts and comments.
  •  In the FAQs, So.cl makes it abundantly clear that all activity is meant to be VERY PUBLIC. There is no illusion of privacy associated with So.cl and you should proceed as such. Whereas this may not be the place to record your deepest, darkest meditations, I can see brands taking full advantage of this soon. So.cl could be to Bing what Google+ is to Google. I have yet to find any info on whether you’re more likely to show up in search results from Bing.com, but So.cl users that are searching for things relative to your business may find you as a resource to answer their questions within the social network.

The social network seems to be very popular with users outside of the U.S. Keep this in mind if you use it, as the time frames when it is going to be most active may be slightly skewed to your own. I think So.cl has potential to garner many more users, as it is already off to a strong start, and seems almost poised in direct opposition with Google+ (you use your Facebook or Windows Live login to set up your account). I’ve talked to some users who have found interesting uses for the network. One guy named Rodrigo Viana actually managed to get help on his homework! He used the network to crowd source tutoring. How’s that for a positive use of social networking? Although it is specifically mentioned that So.cl is not meant to replace other social networks, I have a feeling that there should be a parenthetical addition adding (yet) to that clause.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I discuss another interesting network to look at, and one not to even bother with.

Now go get your social on!

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