Swipp, a Mountain View-based startup taking the wraps off of its products and platform today after two years of development and with $3.5 million in funding from Old Willow Partners. The startup has been cagey about what exactly it was building until now, but co-founders Don Thorson and Charlie Costantini provided me with a demo of the Swipp’s “global social intelligence platform, commercial and consumer apps” ahead of today’s official launch.
Thorson (Swipp’s CEO) and Costantini are no strangers to innovation and product development. Thorson was once a creative director at Apple, as well as a top marketing executive at both Jajah and Ribbit. Costantini was also at Ribbit, and also held an executive position at Talenthouse, a creative social agency for celebrities and brands. Both saw the value in existing social media channels for delivering consumer insight to brands about products, content and campaigns, but they also believed that things like Facebook and Twitter just weren’t going far enough.
“Swiff is a new type of social intelligence platform, and on that platform we’ve built a new class of social intelligence apps,” Thorson explained in an interview. “What we have with Swipp is a fundamentally new approach to merging data types, and create what we think of as a new social data category.”
To accomplish that, Swipp is taking a three-pronged approach, featuring consumer-focused apps, commercial-focused software, and a platform that can be integrated into other products by developers via a public API. All of these are built with the same end-goal in mind: to capture consumer sentiment on anything on the web where polling user opinion can be beneficial.
In the consumer app, which has iPhone, web and mobile web versions, this takes the form of asking users to instantly rate and comment on items and topics in real-time. The consumer app is a bit like a Thumb or an Oink, allowing users to browse categories and share their opinions along with others on the network via a 5 point scale that’s visually represented by the Swipp logo expressing varying degrees of either a smile or a frown. Users can also upload pics of what they’re rating, and view the opinions of others, optionally filtered by whether or not they’re connected to you via social media, location, age and gender.
That definitely sounds like the kind of general opinion sharing network Kevin Rose and company were trying to get off the ground with Oink, but Thorson says there’s a reason they won’t share the same fate, and that has to do with the fact that they’re not putting too many eggs in any one basket. Hence the simultaneous development of the commercial platform, and also the API for third-party devs.
“We’re going to watch and see what happens on the consumer level, but it’s what we call a multi-sided market,” Thorson said. “We’re very careful to launch the consumer component, because while it could be you get millions of uptake, that’s an unknown. But then you do the business component because you need them to push it into reality, and then we’re doing the API to see what the developers and integrators do with it.”
The business component has Swipp building apps tailored to specific verticals or events; for instance, they’re creating a Superbowl-themed one that will talk about the ads, players, performers and more while the event itself is on, providing an interactive second-screen experience. The idea is that any business or brand can have Swipp build a similar app, pulling in data from the broader network while also allowing for laser focus to target particular consumer or viewer segments to gather more relevant data. Swipp Plus is the branding of the business angle, and Swipp Plus widgets will allow businesses to build Swipp polling right into their product, much like you see Twitter and Facebook share buttons now, but with a completely on-site experience.
Finally, Swipp will launch an API, which will be opening up for third-party access later this year, to allow outside developers to build products around Swipp’s interest graphing. In other words, Swipp wants to unlock the data that Facebook keeps guarded when it comes to consumer taste. The API may be something a lot of businesses want to get their hands on, but I’m sure they’ll wait and see how the first two components work out in terms of attracting user attention before jumping on board, because in the end, Swipp needs people willing to share sentiment to make the whole thing work.
Swipp has been in development for two years, and the effort shows: a broad global launch (with international localization and people on the ground in different countries), complete with a consumer and commercial product, and an API to follow soon represents a considerable achievement in itself. But taking on existing, entrenched networks where users share their opinions like Facebook and Twitter is arguably a Sisyphean task, so Thorson, Costantini and company definitely have their work cut out for them.