Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

N3twork Wants to Reshape Online Discussions Around Interests

Online forums today look like throwbacks to the Web of the 1990s. Lots of text, lots of page breaks, lots of hard-to-follow conversations. Meanwhile, more modern social media conversations on Twitter and Facebook spring up around hashtags, but they aren’t organized. You can see if a topic is trending, but Twitter offers only basic tools for curating tweets.

A product called N3twork wants to be the new center for those conversations. It’s a daunting task to try to attract the people of the Internet to leave wherever they are and have their conversations on your own property. But the folks behind N3twork hope people will be attracted to it because it is built expressly for mobile, and it is highly visual.

Today’s active, general-purpose discussion sites, like Reddit and Wikia, are lacking on both those fronts, said N3twork CEO Neil Young in an interview at the company’s San Francisco office. “They aren’t visual. They aren’t well integrated on the devices we have in our pockets all the time. And they have segmented audiences,” Young said.

That’s the other things about N3twork — it creates personalized feeds of activity around every topic a user is interested in, so they don’t have to click around to visit each page or discussion. This is done by users following hashtags, which are the central element of the service.

Users are invited to create posts that are collages of content, including Web pages, photos and videos. N3twork has a nifty trick where it captures a preview of a video and plays it silently and automatically, so the content looks alive as you scroll.

But there are a couple of big challenges in launching a tool such as this. One: How are you going to get people to join and care about something, when it’s so broad? And two, how are you going to avoid the inevitable problem of people spamming feeds by posting over and over to various hashtags?

As for the first, Young said that his experience building games at Ngmoco (which was bought by DeNA for $400 million in 2010) taught him and his team how to build things that grow and get people engaged. And on the second, he said he trusts that people will report spam, and repeat spammers will get banned.

N3twork has some time and resources to figure it all out. The company has raised $12 million from Kleiner Perkins, Floodgate Fund and Google Ventures.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik