Startup to launch after Secret London Facebook group amasses 180,000

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There’s a certain irony that TechCrunch’s in-house satirist Paul Carr is currently slaving over the sequel to his book about his failure to launch a startup. Fridaycities was to be a site which allowed anyone to swap information about London, in real time, and eventually other cities. The site failed, Paul wrote his book (and a few other things, let’s admit) and the rest is history, including our little run in, thankfully.

If only he’d done it in the era of Facebook rise into the mainstream. Because today, two weeks after launching, the Secret London Facebook group has 182,010 members and counting and is poised to propel it’s 21 year old creator into her first startup.

Bristol university graduate Tiffany Philippou originally set up the group in response to a competition from ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi to win a mere summer internship. Over 800 groups have now been created, such is the dire economy for graduates now.

However, it seems unlikely that Tiffany will be too bothered. There’s now a holding page and Twitter account (@secret_london) as Secret London morphs into a full-blown startup. Job one: secure some kind of URL, when most of the “Secret London” combinations have already been taken.

Meanwhile the original Facebook group motors on, with members sharing huge amounts of information about the city, including 5,000 photos already. Philippou (who remains Admin of the group) says people are posting information not just on what to do and where to go but simple things like their favourite park benches and undiscovered art galleries. It’s the kind of growth that took existing players like London-based TrustedPlaces and larger players like Qype and Yelp years to get to emulate, though they obviously remain much bigger entities for now. And let’s not forget Time Out, which has long thought itself the arbiter of London’s secrets.

The explosion in the SL group is reflective of the generation online now. As Philippou says “Everyone of my generation is on Facebook. I’m 21 and have completely grown up in the online evironment. Time Out doesn’t really connect with me on the Net. Things like crowdsourced content do.”

Translating the group’s success into a site and community may be a leap, but Philippou is already bringing in a team to achieve it and word is lots of other London startups are lending her a hand. She’s now also crowdsourcing the features of the site from the members.

The motivation is functionality. Philippou tells me that since Facebook groups have so few features, good recommendations and data is getting lost in the noise. So now the plan is to build a site along the lines of Yahoo Answers meets Qype/Yelp.

Interestingly there has been a certain amount of controversy coming from blogs and sites which thought they had the “lock” on London’s secret places, events and culture. One is titled “Why Secret London might ruin our city?

Whatever happens, it just goes to show that there are few areas untouched now by Facebook and social media.

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