OPW INTERVIEW -- Mar 15 -- Userplane has been busy. I interviewed Mike Jones, the CEO, to see what they've been working on since our last interview. - Mark Brooks
Why would a social network or Internet dating site choose Userplane IM over third-party software?
Userplane’s value as a publisher-oriented solution set hasn't changed. The technologies we’re developing and implementing are fairly complicated to build and tricky to maintain. With chat or IM, you have huge volumes, active and live server- intensive traffic that requires many resources. Even if open source or packaged solutions can be found, they can’t compare to the value of what Userplane IM has to offer.
The main benefit of using Userplane IM compared to developing/maintaining systems internally is that we can’t be beat on a pure cost analysis basis. If you post a large chat infrastructure internally, the labor cost alone will be much larger than Userplane’s costs. Publishers use us for expanded functionality, increased engagement, and large sources of revenue. They use a free product with ads, and substantial amounts are registering those advertisements back to themjb.
Can you tweak the look and feel of your IM application?
You can’t re-layout our buttons, but everything from language settings to graphics on the user interface, chat and IM are scannable. Our new mini-chat is a lighter application, with a smaller input and output window. It allows a simpler implementation of technology that’s still brandable.
Who would use Mini-chat instead of the full Userplane IM version?
Mini-chat is a complement or alternative to the Userplane Webchat. Users can drive more activity by copying and placing a version of the chat room anywhere on their site. Mini-chat can be built in a very small footprint, so users can easily place it on their social networking pages. Many sites use Mini-chat as an entry tool, allowing access to our full chat functionalities only when the user becomes a member. Mini-chat encourages users to test their sites/technology, and then they’re up-sold into full memberships.
What kind of money are Userplane partners earning at this stage?
Some partners are making substantial revenue, earning well above tens of thousands a month. Smaller webmasters are creating dedicated sites, driving traffic to the sites, which drive up the Userplane revenue as well.
Interesting. Any sites you could recommend looking at?
We’re now working with media savvy publishers like CBS and MTV, but as far as those who are doing smaller blogs and creating dedicated chat-oriented sites, it would be hard to single out one above the others. There’s a lot of outstanding work going on.
How is the Desktop app coming along?
We launched our first Desktop application (built in C++) last year, and recently re-released an upgraded Desktop as an Adobe Air application. This has enabled us to have a full multi-platform version (Mac and PC), easier download and upgrade process, advanced scanning capabilities and functionalities that enable large website pieces to be truly integrated onto a desktop.
Clients who use the C++ version got minor traction. From a positive perspective, clients seeing a 30 percent download–to-install rate were driving additional traffic from those users to return to the website while increasing overall website activityjb.
The Adobe Air Desktop version will be a solid competitive advantage to sites that truly embrace it because it’s easier to install, is Mac/PC friendly and has expanded functionality. You’ll see our marketing and sales efforts driven around Desktop for the next six months.
Is the social networking industry starting to peak?
I pay attention to numbers. Facebook is still growing, just not as quickly as the last few months. Across our entire network, I’m seeing growth from many big partners, along with new social networking clients who see expansive growth through our platform. We may see some fragmentation with those primarily using MySpace, Facebook and Friendster – users who want to complement their experiences with more niche-oriented sites. We’ll also see some fragmentation in traffic, but not a decline in the amount of social networking activity.
I don’t have specific metrics, but one in every “x” Americans visit a social networking site daily, unlike three years ago. The big deal is that when people open their browsers now they have more options. Five or ten years ago, they went to a portal news page and email account. Now, they’re going to their social networking site, email account, and portal news page or personal aggregator like Netvibes. Consumer behavior has changed quickly, insofar as where users spend their Internet time. Time spent online is not declining, and I don’t see another category rising to offset that behavior.
Are there any products in the works or new product features that you can leak to me?
Yes. Desktop was our big release, but we’re also putting out a Board product with a skinnable, Flex-based, bulletin boards application, with full SEO. That will be followed by a gifting product that will facilitate user-to-user gifts. In addition, we also released a media player product that enables users to upload customized videos and playbacks, with full chat built in and a revenue sharing option back to the publisher. We’ll host and maintain all video streaming, a big advantage to publishers. Finally, we’re releasing full AIM interoperability in our IM suite.
Currently, Userplane has substantial reach within the ad network space. We’re a social ad network that represents ad inventory for quite a few large and small publishers considered online dating social networking sites. We haven’t formally put out a big push to find more publishers or market ourselves as a social networking advertising platform, but our volume is substantial. In fact, we’re within the top few networks dedicated to reaching social media websites. In the next few months, many of our publisher-oriented services will begin to include monetization around social networking inventory, and we’ll actually make a formal claim in the market there.