The Web has been home to a fair number of questionable memes and websites over the years, really too many to mention here. One among them that you’re likely familiar with is “Hot Or Not”, the site that allows visitors to vote on photos of random people based on attractiveness. It’s not exactly high brow, but games like this have been around for years — in various incarnations. In the U.K., the theme gave rise to a popular reality TV show, called “Snog, Marry, Avoid” — the content of which you can probably guess based on the title.
The show is also the inspiration for a young British startup, called Snog.com, that has seen some serious viral adoption in the U.K. over the last six months. The startup was founded by Jonny Teeling and Will Peirce, two recent grads from Leeds University, who set out to create a social discovery site that offered a new spin on the old model, plus a way for young people to break the ice and interact without the awkwardness of traditional dating sites.
The idea was simple: Create a community that removes the daunting aspects of social interaction for young people, and make it easy for them to connect, meet, and maybe even snog. The co-founders rather obviously grabbed the concept behind Snog, Marry, and Avoid, brought it to an online audience (with enough to distinguish from the TV series as to avoid lawsuits), and, after an all-night coding session, the site went viral, recording 30,000 page views in the first two hours.
The story has a feel of Facebook’s early history, when Zuckerberg created Facemash, which attracted 22,000 views from Harvard students within an hour of being online. Of course, this is the problem that Snog.com has to confront: Facemash was only a precursor to the social network to rule them all, so the question becomes how to make sure Snog.com isn’t just a flash in the pan.
The site’s early viral activity almost immediately overloaded the servers, leading to more than a few hours of downtime. But, based on the early interest, the founders were able to raise a “six-figure” investment from Kevin Ham, the investor and former “man who owns the Internet”. The investment led to a team of developers, Amazon hosting, and an advisor well familiar with building popular domains; and since the early stumble, Snog has continued to surge. The founders tell me that the site is currently attracting more than 1.5 million pageviews a day, and users are spending an average of 20 minutes on the site per visit. What’s more, the site has pulled in over 260 million pageviews in all since January.
Clearly, Snog.com has struck an addictive chord for British teenagers, but there are many examples of early successes in Web 2.0 that later find themselves hosting a plot in the Web’s graveyard. Snog therefore seems to be an interesting case study for how to build a social web business, maintain early interest, and make it something more than just another updated Hot or Not. (Granted, Hot or Not did sell for $20 million.)
As of right now, Snog.com users can either choose to ‘Snog, Marry or Avoid’ based on another user’s photos and a small “about me” (or profile) section. The site also incorporates social elements, too, encouraging users to follow other users they like, write public notes, or send private messages. The average age on the site is about 17, which is certainly a coveted demographic for advertisers (Snog’s main monetization model at this point), but also somewhat limiting. The founders don’t want the site just to become a glorified chat room for teens, it wants to create a social discovery platform — not another social network.
For starters, Snog has just released an iPhone app that offers users a gallery in which they can see top members and which of their friends are currently online, play with their user profiles, check their responses, send private messages, as well as a “Shuffle” setting that allows them to quickly browse — and, well, shuffle — through profiles.
Mobile is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s really an added feature, what’s more important is baking more significant components into the site’s structure that make it a social discovery platform based on more than just a user’s profile pic and silly bio.
Next, Snog plans to add more enhanced location features (for both web and mobile) that allow users to connect based on proximity, and hopefully take online flirting and connecting offline. Beyond that, the founders want to integrate users’ interest graphs into the site, allowing users to search for people with similar interests and demographics. The founders also plan to add “like, love, dislike” buttons across the site, which visitors can use to vote on statuses, specific photos, movies, books, cities, brands, etc.
Snog is an interesting site, to be sure, and the founders clearly have a vision to transform their site a community platform — not to mention that they want to make “snog” an international word. There’s potential for both, especially for the latter (thanks to Harry Potter), but other young web entrepreneurs would be smart to pay attention to what happens to the site over the next year — it should be an interesting litmus.
What do you think? Snog, marry, or avoid?