Imo.im Tries to Turn Instant Messaging Utility Into Instant Social Discovery Network (Video)
Mobile messaging apps are so hot right now. Imo.im was both ahead of that trend and continues to ride it out. After launching on the Web five years ago to help people manage all their instant messenger accounts, Imo added synchronized mobile apps and group messaging features, and now is extending into social discovery features to help users meet new people.
The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company is led by Georges and Ralph Harik — Georges was one of the first 10 employees at Google, and left way back in 2007; Ralph is his younger brother (by eight years) and the Imo CEO. Georges invested $10 million in Imo’s Series A funding. (They pronounce it “eye-mo.”)
The brothers told me that seven million people have used their service in the past 12 months. On a daily basis they have 600,000 users sending a total of 45 million messages through MSN, Skype, Facebook, Google Talk and other networks. Half of their usage is online and half is through their mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry and Nokia.
Though apples-to-apples usage stats can be hard to find, Imo is considerably smaller than some other mobile messaging apps — for instance, WhatsApp has said it delivers more than 2 billion messages per day.
But beyond the basic utility of connecting people across IM networks, Imo is experimenting with becoming a social discovery platform. Georges said he owes his career to a woman at the University of Illinois computer lab who told him in 1993 he should really check out this Web thing, and to an out-of-the-blue email from a friend of a friend in 1999 that introduced him to Larry Page. He wants to help create that sort of serendipity online.
Inviting strangers to instant message you sounds like a recipe for abuse, but the Hariks have some interesting ideas about how to help users meet each other without turning Imo into a “troll haven,” as Georges put it. What they’ve designed is kind of like a real-time Quora.
Imo users can publicly post topics they’d like to discuss in a “Meet New People” section. Each person is basically a discussion thread that others can jump into. There’s a bit of an internal economy, where users’ posts rank higher when they share more about themselves publicly. Imo conversations aren’t indexed by Google, and they “expire” after a few days.
“Our real purpose is to discover connections between people, not necessarily to get questions answered,” Georges said.
In early testing, 65,000 Imo users have tried the Web-based “Meet New People” feature.
Imo has 17 employees and will likely soon raise additional funding, Georges said. The company has experimented with selling apps and advertising, but hasn’t made any significant revenue yet.
Here’s a video interview with Ralph and Georges: