Yesterday, word leaked out that white-label social networking startup KickApps raised another round of funding. But the amount reported by PEHub (“over $13 million”), based on an old Reg. D filing at the SEC, wasn’t exactly precise. It wasn’t exactly wrong either.
KickApps CEO Alex Blum confirms to me that the company did indeed raise a C round of $14 million with a new lead investor, North Atlantic Capital. Existing investors Softbank, Spark Prism and Jarl Mohn also participated. KickApps either splits ad inventory with publishers on the pages created on its platform (60 percent to KickAps, 40 percent to publishers) or lets publishers buy out its portion of the ad inventory for $3 to $6 CPMs. Most larger customers choose to control the ad inventory themselves, which suggests that when social networking features are wrapped into a larger site, the ad rates don’t have to be counted in dimes (as they do on much of Facebook and MySpace).
Some examples of branded social networks built on KickApps include fan sites for the San Francisco 49ers, and Gossip Girl, Rachel Ray’s Incredible People, as well as NPR’s get-out-the-vote site and the now-defunct McCainSpace. Some last longer than others. A full 40 percent of its business is now overseas, including a Guinness World Records site and Guia Infantil, the BabyCenter of Spain. All in all, KickApps now powers nearly 50,000 social networks that, according to Blum, collectively attract 10 million people a month and generate 300 million pageviews.
But Blum thinks that page-based metrics are the wrong way to look at audience engagement. Rather, it makes more sense to measure how people interact with a site and with each other at the level of the app, which can also be measured offsite as well when apps get spread virally as widgets. Blum argues:
We are developing a new form of measurement as Omniture becomes irrelevant. Measuring page-based analytics is a commodity. It is given away for free by Google.
Of course, he would say that. But he does have a point.
KickApps is especially appealing to big media companies because it lets them put social features on sites they already control. Last year, Warner Brothers pulled a bunch of its CW TV sites (including Gossip Girl, 90210, America’s Next Top Model, and Smallville) from Ning and took them over to KickApps precisely because of this reason. It was adding pageviews and members to Ning’s total, instead of its own, and it didn’t like that. (Update: Ning CEO Gina Bianchini responds: “That’s not how it works for any of our domain mapped networks.” She says pageviews are accredited to the network creator’s URL and membership data can be exported in a CSV file).
Another part of KickApps’ appeal is that it has a dead-simple WYSISWYG app editor that lets even non-designers drag and drop entire sites or widgets, complete with advertising. It also supports both OpenSocial and Facebook apps, so those can be added as well.