As if to demonstrate how powerful internet syndication technologies like RSS can be for the discovery of new media, Phoenix startup Genwi has been quietly developing an entire social network centered on RSS-syndicated content.
The site, which looks very similar to Facebook, provides all the basic social networking features: profiles, friending, messaging, etc. However, it also incorporates media from across the internet that users can discover and share with one another.
Content feeds – whether for videos, blogs, podcasts, or news – are pulled in as “channels” and each has its own page. These pages display most recent items, suggest related channels, and solicit consumer opinions.
Genwi’s wide-ranging selection of channels can be either searched by term or browsed by category. When you find a channel that you like, you can subscribe to it. Recent items from all of your subscribed feeds will show up on a personalized mashup page. If you can’t find a particular feed, you can manually add it to the site’s collection.
So far, this sounds very much like any other feed reader (although the browse, search, and discovery capabilities of Genwi are arguably better than even Google Reader’s). Genwi distinguishes itself primarily by its attempt to build a social network around the sharing and discussion of feed items. When you come across a feed or item you particularly like, you can opt to share it with all of your friends through your profile page.
It will be interesting to see whether Genwi can pull off an entirely autonomous social network centered around the concept of content sharing. RSS sharing is already possible within Facebook so Genwi will have to come up with ways to really enhance the media discovery experience. My hunch is that users will not be drawn in large numbers to the site until the company beefs up Genwi’s feature set to match Facebook’s non-RSS offerings.
Genwi may sustain an edge over other social networks by rolling out premium content integration, which it plans to do first with music sales. The co-founders Killian McKiernan and PJ Gurumohan were involved in the development of the MediaRSS standard, and they plan to use what they learned from that experience to turn Genwi into a distribution channel for a variety of ad-supported and paid content.
Genwi has been under development since early 2006 but only respectable since early 2007. It claims 100,000 uniques per month and about 4,000 registered users. The founders have operated without external funding so far.