Montreal-based StatusNet, the company behind the open-source microblogging service identi.ca, is closing an $875,000 seed round today. Investors include Montreal Startup, iNovia Capital, Fotolia co-founder Oleg Tscheltzoff, and Xavier Niel. The startup, which changed its name a few weeks ago from Control Yourself, raised a previous seed round of $150,000 from Montreal Startup in January, 2009.
StatusNet wants to become the WordPress of microblogging. It created an open-source microblogging software platform (formerly called laconi.ca, now called status.net) which anyone can download and run on their own servers. Now, it is working on a hosted version of Status.net, currently in private beta. (We have 50 invites for anyone who includes the invitation code “TC09″ on the signup page).
The company recently hired Brion Vibber, the former CTO of Wikipedia, as its senior software architect. It also hired the former community manager from Creative Commons, Jon Phillips.
The bet here is that just as millions of people run their own blogs, millions of people and companies will want to run their own microblogs as well. Offering a microblogging platform as a hosted service will allow StatusNet to pursue a strategy similar to WordPress.com. It will offer the basic service for free, and then charge power-users for extras. Note that WordPress is itself pursuing this strategy with P2 (which used to be called Prologue), as are other startups such as Shout’em.
The real market, however, is likely to be with businesses that want to run their own private Yammer-like micro-messaging service. The fact that the software is open-source is appealing to many CTOs. Already Motorola, SAP, and Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) are testing out the private beta. StatusNet plans to charge corporations about $1 per user for basic service, just like Yammer.
Currently, Status.net is only available as a download (which can be run behind a firewall). There are about 2,000 public microblogging sites in total running on status.net right now, with somewhere between 200,000 to 300,000 active users. The biggest site running on status.net is the Twitter clone identi.ca, which the StatusNet itself runs as a way to demonstrate its technology. It has only about 80,000 active users.
As I pointed out more than a year ago, identi.ca is never going to rival Twitter. But StatusNet is not trying to do that. Any StatusNet microblogging service can act as a Twitter client and send out messages to Twitter as well.
The idea of a federated, open-source microblogging platform is powerful because of its distributed nature. In fact, Twitter might want to think about doing something similar, and sell Twitter server software to corporations.