Facebook isn't getting too many likes on the stock market, but it has consolidated social media's Internet dominance. Fresh players are emerging in this space and riding the crest of this new wave of startups are Indian-origin entrepreneurs, with ventures that range from connecting neighbours, a network for children to video microblogging and a social app for restaurant recommendations.
Within the wealth of new social media plays is Nextdoor.com, billed as the "free private social network for your neighborhood". The San Francisco-based Nextdoor was formally launched in October last year. The question that the Nextdoor team asked was: "Is there a part of our lives that isn't covered by social networks?"
"The lightbulb moment for us was realising that a giant part of people's lives, a very critical part of their lives, is where they live - their neighbourhoods," Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia said.
Obviously, this was a space that needed to be filled, since Nextdoor has experienced strong growth. Almost 4,000 neighbourhood communities have been formed in the US. It has also been welcomed as a tool by local governments. "Since we launched, we've been contacted by hundreds of city governments that have wanted to adopt Nextdoor as one of their official or endorsed communications mechanisms," Tolia pointed out. Governments in 60 American cities work with Nextdoor to post official information.
It fosters the somewhat forgotten art of knowing real world neighbours. "In our busy lives and careers, we've become a little more disconnected with the world right outside our front door. Many people say that technology is the culprit, we want to show that technology can be a force for bringing these communities back together," Tolia emphasized. With nearly $20 million in funding, Nextdoor has certainly attracted the investors' community.
If Nextdoor is connecting neighbours, Kazaana.com, headquartered in Menlo Park, California, is looking at linking children, aged six to 12.
Kazaana, derived from the Indian word for treasure, went live in late July. Safety and privacy of kids in a social media environment may just be Kazaana's killer app. Kazaana requires parental verification for kids who register, and parents need to approve those their children add to their network. That is placed in a child-friendly environment. As Kazaana's CEO Rajul Kadakia said, "It's actually like a virtual world for kids with 3D avatars, customization features and virtual currency, which they gravitate towards naturally. We've overlaid social media features on it, like video and text chat, mail, a wall."
Tech sector insiders aren't surprised such niche ventures are flourishing. Ray Sharma, Founding Partner at the Toronto-based Xtreme Venture Partners, is among them: "What we're seeing is the next evolutionary wave after Facebook established the market, commercialized it. Specialised social networks are the next logical evolution for the industry."
It's not just Facebook, new companies are also taking their cues from other behemoths like Twitter. For instance, Toronto-based Keek is described as "the fastest way to watch and share video updates." Among its founding team is Roger Rai.
Rai summed up Keek as "36 seconds of short messaging via video." Keek users can post messages, get responses (Keekbacks), gather followers or follow celebrities.
At their office in midtown Toronto, Keek's CEO Isaac Raichyk said: "Roger has been our face to the outside world. He's our contact with the celebrity world, to the investment community." Launched this March, Keek boasts of strong numbers: 1.5 million registered users by July, 70,000 videos created each day.
If Keek does for video what Twitter does for text, then Fondu is "kind of like Twitter meets Yelp, you can write really short, bite-sized restaurant reviews, with a character limit of 175," as its co-founder, New York-based Gauri Manglik said. An app for the iPhone, on Fondu you can subscribe to friends' or experts' feeds.
The idea originated while the co-founders were at university and faced the question college students often do: "Where should we go to eat?" The result, originally, was an app called SpotOn, which evolved to Fondu, launched in March.
"SpotOn was like a recommendation engine. We asked you to rate places and then we would give you recommendations. We would say, 'You should go to this restaurant because you liked two restaurants similar to it.' Then we saw that people cared more about what their friends said than just scientific recommendations. Fondu is trying to find you interesting and fun places to go, but it's a completely social approach," Manglik said.
The social media universe does face the challenge of monetisation. New ventures like Gumroad see an opportunity there. Based in San Francisco, Gumroad lets users sell content through links shared on Facebook or Twitter, for a cut.
The idea came to its founder Sahil Lavingia as he tried to sell a Photoshop creation. "I found it really difficult to do that online. So I figured I can make it easier," Lavingia said. Investors see value in his proposition since he's already raised $8 million for it.
Others are also in the social network mix. There's even an app out there for those taking a bathroom break, bringing "together pooers from around the world." That would be iPoo, founded by, among others, Torontonian Amit Khanna.
As social media expands its domain, entrepreneurs of Indian origin are using their savvy to populate it.
Social Media's New Friends to Follow
Nirav Tolia at Nextdoor
Idea: A social network for neighbourhoods
Bio: Tolia, 40, was born in Philadelphia and raised in Odessa, Texas. Silicon Valley veteran as an early employee at Yahoo, and founder of a successful venture, Epinions. This is not Tolia's only recent venture - his wife, Megha and he recently had their first child, Deven.
Rajul Kadakia at Kazaana
Idea: A safe and secure social media space for kids.
Bio: Kadakia was born in Chicago. Dropped out of med school, turned to investment banking, before becoming a full-time "mommy mom". Now an entrepreneur with Kazaana, originally called PixyKids. She has a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter.
Roger Rai at Keek
Idea: Described by TechCrunch as "the Twitter for video-based status updates."
Bio: Rai, 41, is a Toronto native, with roots in West Delhi. He has been involved with startups in the video-streaming and animation spaces.
Gauri Manglik at Fondu
Idea: "A fun and easy way to share bite-sized restaurant reviews with your friends".
Bio: Manglik, 23, was born in Raipur, Chattisgarh and is a recent graduate from NYU. Fondu rents space in New York City from Foursquare, the location-based network, which has an Indian-American, Naveen Selvadurai, as one of its founders.
Sahil Lavingia at Gumroad
Idea: Users can sell content, ranging from unreleased music to blog posts and poems, through links on Facebook, Twitter, etc, for a small fee and a percentage of the transaction.
Bio: Lavingia, 19, whose parents are originally from Mumbai, was born in New York. Left school to join Pinterest, at 18, before moving on to his own venture, which currently operates out of his living room in San Francisco.