Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Qwiki and RockMelt Swear Off Silicon Valley Users…And Make iOS Apps (Video)

Two young start-ups, both claiming to target a more mainstream user and content consumer than found in Silicon Valley, are this week launching iOS apps. RockMelt, a browser focused on social networking, is launching an iPhone app, while Qwiki, which creates multimedia summaries of information, is launching an iPad app.

Both companies take pains to say they are not building for the information-horfing techies of Silicon Valley. They also say that the apps are not a broader mobile strategy but rather a dedicated lens for their product that is customized for each respective device.

Also, for what it’s worth, the companies have each raised about $10 million in funding and both were founded when the moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars. Just making sure you’re paying attention.

In an interview this week, Qwiki CEO Doug Imbruce described how the company’s iPad app–its first non-Web-based version–makes information more relevant because it is correlated with the user’s location. Qwikis are today based on reference material (often from Wikipedia) and combine video, photo and text to introduce topics in an accessible and visual way. Less than half of Qwikis are geo-tagged, said Imbruce.

Imbruce demonstrated how a traveling user could learn more about his or her surroundings by surfing around the iPad app’s map and diving into nearby Qwikis. When the iPad app opens, the front page automatically sets to a map of the user’s location.

Imbruce has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about perceptions that Qwiki is a lightweight project. “Silicon Valley doesn’t get Qwiki because it’s not created for hyper-literate individuals with two degrees from Stanford,” he said, recounting criticism that has dogged the company. We got him to elaborate on this point in the video below.

Meanwhile, RockMelt, which my colleague Katie Boehret reviewed this week, has a soon-to-launch iPhone extension of the company’s browser, which opened to the public about a month ago and has “a few hundred thousand” users.

The RockMelt iPhone app is really more of a social dashboard than a browser, allowing users to scan through their Twitter and Facebook feeds as well as any other Web sites they subscribe to.

To me the app feels a bit like MyYahoo–a sort of lightweight feed reader to help users easily glance at their news rather than checking Web sites or apps individually. Users can open Web pages within the RockMelt app, but this functionality is already basically available through Safari integrations in many social iPhone apps.

The advantage of the RockMelt app is that these key information sources, including social networks, are aggregated and updated in one place. The mobile app doesn’t include all the functionality of the full RockMelt browser; for instance there’s no chat.

RockMelt CEO Eric Vishria said the app is “designed for the average Web user,” especially young people who are avid users of social networking sites. (Forty-one percent of RockMelt’s existing users are in high school or college, and internationally the browser is especially popular in “places where people are going online to be social” like Brazil, India and Southeast Asia, Vishria said.)

If nothing else, since Silicon Valley is often used as shorthand for “early adopters,” it’s interesting that these companies think their prospective users are likely to have iPhones and iPads.

Asked whether “average Web users” have iPhones, Vishria contended that the devices are quite popular in RockMelt’s demographics. Okay, but what about other smartphones? “I don’t want to ship a piece of junk on every platform just to have coverage,” Vishria said.

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