If you want to see a great site for niche social networking, check out AmateurIllustrator.com. This Lincoln, Lincolnshire (UK) based site launched today and I think there’s a good chance it’s going to thrive. Any targeted, topical social networking site would be well served to check out its look and feature set. There are quite a number of social networking sites that target niche interests but are ugly, empty and uninteresting. That’s not the case with this one.
It’s a place for amateur illustrators to share their art, vote on each others’ work and communicate. The site is very well designed – perhaps unsurprising given the developers’ backgrounds as artists, it’s beautiful to look at. Nick Franklin and an unnamed collaborator created the site while studying illustration at the University of Lincoln.
One of my favorite things about AmateurIllustrator is the prominence of quality, original text content. At launch the site features interviews with four skilled illustrators – to whom credit is due for the illustration in this post, click the images to go to the artists’ interviews. The administrators say they’ll be featuring more interviews with top illustrators, tips on the trade and contests with small prizes in the future. Compelling, well developed content is hard to come by, but offering it along side a social networking space is a great combination. It just raises the quality of the whole site; I hope this site will be able to pull of what they’re aiming for in this department.
The real crux of the site is of course social networking for illustrators who upload galleries of images. Anyone can rate individual works of art and leave comments. Registered users can send each other messages, upload art and participate in the forum. Membership is free and if the site can build an audience then the advertising that’s already present will solidify I’m sure. Given the topic and focused audience of the site, advertising is likely to see higher worth and conversion rates than many general interest, ad-driven sites. I’m sure the founders would like to take the site to the next level, make it a business and that will bring a whole new layer of challenges – but it looks good so far.
There are little touches that are nice, too. When you sign up for an account you are asked whether you want your email, a contact form or no contact information on your profile page.
The site just launched and is clearly the work of very talented… well, amateurs – so for example it’s hard to access the Terms of Service once you’re signed into an account and it would be nice to see the TOS spell out explicitly that artists retain rights to their art. You can tell that’s the intent and I imagine the administrators will polish up such matters soon.
Competitors that I can identify include M.A.D.E.Planet, which seems immediately abrasive to me but got a good review on PostBubble, and eSnips (our coverage). DeviantART is apparently the legacy site in this space; it has free and paid accounts and most standard features, but is missing some of the things that set AmateurIllustrator apart. AmateurIllustrator does not provide means for artists to sell their art directly but peoples’ contact information is available and the overall user experience is likely to matter most. I wouldn’t be surprised if sales through the site were enabled later, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t either.
On the whole, this is probably the best example of a well executed niche social networking site I’ve seen in some time. Give it a look, I think you’ll be impressed as well.