Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

What–the Sign-up Page That Got 50K Users in a Day–Actually Does (Video)

A certain type of social Web user is virtually rabid for the new hotness.’s page had all the right hooks: A cute and simple domain name and design, the enticing header “Reserve your username and get early access,” and rewards for getting connections from your social network to sign up as well.

And it worked. 50,000 users signed up in a day earlier this month, each of them giving the site credentials for one or more of their Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts.

The viral frenzy earned a quick backlash of criticism, most notably from the Sophos Naked Security blog, which warned of the potential for identity theft and cybercrime from an outfit that didn’t even have the decency to tell would-be users what it planned to do.

But in fact, the San Francisco-based team is an earnest group of online data portability and personal identity nerds. The two founders met while collaborating on XDI, “a data structure for context graphs.” Co-founder Drummond Reed was previously the director of three separate non-profit open identity foundations and consortiums.

But Reed and his fellow user-centric identity advocates have mostly been at the fringes of the social Web, with corporate outfits like Facebook Connect overpowering efforts to spread more distributed and independent alternatives.

Reed said in an interview with NetworkEffect that he feels it’s time to turn all this work into a commercial project that gets something done. We ducked into a relatively quiet room out of the South By Southwest hubbub to shoot a video about his company.

So what is Reed describes it as a personal network, rather than a social network, where users control the information they want to share with a vendor. So instead of a brand creating a page on Facebook and getting people to “like” it within that corporate-owned context, the brand and user could have a peer-to-peer relationship. And brands may pay a premium to access these voluntary users. has raised $300,000 in angel funding and plans to launch in May.

The problem–ironic considering the viral success of’s sign-up page in comparison to other companies’ social networks–will be how to grow a sort of anti-social alternative in the face of massively social competition. If you lose the social part of an online network, you lose the carrot that gets people to participate in the first place: their friends.

Further, how can communicate its concepts to users in a way that resonates and seems accessible and useful? Reed said he’s hopeful that media attention to users’ loss of online privacy–like the Wall Street Journal’s “What They Know” series about tracking technology–will bring the masses in his direction.

But for the moment, Reed is using geeky descriptors like “a trust framework around the way we exchange personal data.” In fact, the company’s platform is to be branded the Respect Trust Framework.

On the other hand, the one thing we can say for certain about is it has an aptitude for getting the word out.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus