For the last 12 months, Picostorm Code Labs has been operating in stealth as we work away on building Flozaic, our Social Mosaic platform. Recently we had the opportunity to attend Grow Conf 2011 here in Vancouver, and meet-and-greet some of the titans of our industry. At the same time we also found ourselves answering a lot of questions about Flozaic and what exactly it is we’re doing so secretly.
What is Flozaic?
Flozaic is what we call a Social Mosaic. By combining geolocation, social networking, news and content aggregation, and a relevancy engine that learns what you’re interested in, we’ve created an immersive, real-time information hub that connects you with your friends, peers, businesses and topical interests while at the same time promotes local and social discovery. Flozaic makes the world around you social.
No, but what actually is it?
When Intuit’s Scott Cook gave the advice to startups “Get uncomfortably narrow” in terms of focus and functionality, we took note. While this is certainly excellent advice, we decided to go left when everyone has gone right - you could say we got “uncomfortably broad”.
Instead of focusing on a single feature / vertical, we decided to look at solving some of the foundational issues with the social networking experience.
Current social networking leaves us feeling overloaded with information, while it fragments our social, professional, and academic lives, and scatters our interests across different platforms. The commonality at the center of all of these services is simple: people.
When we set out to build Flozaic, we wanted it to be a platform that moulds around your life, interests and activities. Our Modus Operandi, if you will, was to create something that makes your life better.
Flozaic, transforming the way people communicate.
Chris Poole gave a talk last week at web 2.0 summit that echoed our sentiments about social personas so accurately we wondered if he’d been secretly participating in our internal Alpha Demo. In his talk, Chris very concisely expressed why current social networks are failing to encompass more than one aspect of a person’s life.
Personas and the Prismatic Self
The idea of One True Identity is a social fiction created for convenience. We all interact differently with our various friends, acquaintances and family. Instead of imposing the same flat 2-dimensional personality set that forces you to use the same context across all of your relationships, we sat down last year and thought up something new. We call them personas, and it’s a simple identity system that reflects your “prismatic self” (thanks for coining that, Chris).
Currently you can create up to 8 personas per account, with (currently) 4 types of identities possible:
- Personal - Your Facebook / G+ type identity. Flozaic has no “real legal name” stipulation and you can call yourself anything you want - after all, it’s your life - unless you want a verified account in which case sending some form legal ID will add a ‘verified’ flag to your account. Personal personas are limited to one.
- Professional - Your workplace, professional or business self. We recognize that a lot of people have at least 1 or 2 different professional personas, so like Academic and Internet/Alias identity, there’s no limit on professional accounts.
- Academic - The schooling or trades-learning aspects of your life.
- Netizen - Your blogging personas, gaming names, community handles etc. Typically useful for anything you’d want to have some kind of psuedonymity.
There has been a lot of resistance to multiple identities recently, most notably from Facebook & Google, both giving a lot of dubious reasons as to why anyone would need something like this.
Mark Zuckerberg was quoted in David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect as stating:
“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
In many cases the former part of Mark’s comment is true. The latter part is just a bit of a weird thing to say, so we’ll ignore that. For most people there’s no concern about whether your family, coworkers or friends know about the other aspects of your life, and in that light personas are linked by default. On Flozaic this gives an added bonus of providing context to your different cross persona relationships.
Where we part ways in our philosophies of social identity is idea that they must be linked, and with this in mind Flozaic’s personas have a clever little button that allows you to unlink a persona. Why? Well, this can be quickly explained in what we call the “Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark” test.
Bruce has the following personas:
- Bruce Wayne - Personal
- Bruce Wayne, Wayne Enterprises - Professional
- Bruce Wayne, Yale Alumni - Academic
- [unlinked] Batman, the real one - Netizen
Tony Stark has the following personas:
- Tony Stark - Personal
- Tony Stark, Stark Industries - Professional
- IronMan - Netizen
When an account in un-linked it is treated by the system as an entirely separate entity, one which shares no connections with the other personas on the same account. For Tony Stark, having linked personas is not an issue - his personal life is business life, and everyone knows he’s Iron Man. However, for those in the billionaire spelunking crowd like Bruce Wayne who must be careful not to mix their work and personal lives, we offer the option of unlinking.
Flozaic is about choice, and we wanted to facilitate a system to reflect the real and legitimate separations people have in their life.
That said, Personas is not the only answer we’ve created in response to the “radical transparency” mindset being pushed by the major social networks. Mark Zuckerberg (again) said this on the matter:
“more transparency should make for a more tolerant society in which people eventually accept that everybody sometimes does bad or embarrassing things.”
While the sentiment may be noble (tolerance is always a good thing), the reality of this thinking is considerably more damaging. An example would be the fact that Facebook profiles are now part of 80% colleges’ admissions decisions.
Diaspora and Google+ attempted to refine privacy selection with their “aspects” and “circles” management solutions, respectively. They’re fairly good implementations, but both fail to address the single identity issues causing all this debate in the first place.
Each persona gets two easily tunable layers of privacy, which we call tiers and spheres. Yes seriously, Spheres. For whatever it’s worth, we coined it a couple of years ago, and we had a good laugh about it when the ol’ Big G released their “Circles” - talk about concept validation!
For every connection your personas have, you are able to easily (and we mean really easily) set the level of the ‘relationship’ to one of three different levels. These levels are (from most to least acquainted), Inner Circle, Friend, or Acquaintance. This makes it very simple to interact with a specific subset of people and contexts at the touch of a button.
The default level of Tiers is Friend when you request a connection from a persona, except if you follow someone, and then they follow that same persona back, you automatically become Acquaintances. This breaks down the creepy-barrier of requesting friendship with people you’ve never met and allows more substantial connections to be developed over time.
Spheres are a little like G+ circles, and add a layer of dimensionality to your privacy. While Dwight Schrute may not be in your inner circle of work friends, being able to post content to your “people I work with” sphere allows you to add that extra level of granularity to posting control. This allows your work group to bridge across all 3 Tiers.
Combined, these three (personas, tiers, spheres) features enable not just privacy, but also filter interactions. Aside from reducing the amount of mass-broadcast style content, you can also see content only from certain tiers in certain personas. It works!
G-Lo : connecting to the world around you
Geolocation is a major feature of Flozaic, and one we intend to fully expand as time goes on. Our desire is to connect you with your surroundings in a way that provides not only context, but also actual useful, informative, and entertaining interaction. To do this we’ve created G-Lo™, a geospatial layer attached to just about everything within the platform.
In this way, Flozaic can be used for creating some very unique and powerful use cases. To highlight, here’s a little example of some of the things you can use Flozaic for:
- Local Community Chat - Create a group chat, set the distance in G-Lo. Now you can see what people are up to in your apartment building, chat to people at the same beach as you. Alternatively, you could join somebody else’s group chat and chat to the people already there!
- Questions/Q&A - What was that bang outside? Does anyone know when the elevator in this building is going to be fixed? Where’s the best place nearby to get cocktails on a Monday morning? Ask the people around you. Not only does this empower locals and your community, but it can also allow you to interact when you are travelling for fun or abroad on business.
- Local Media - News and social content within a geographic boundary (be it 50 meters or 50km). Because sometimes you just want to read the local paper for a fluff piece on kittens being saved from trees, or the latest local political scandal.
- G-Lo MarketPlace - Imagine craigslist with accurate geolocation based search, and then combine it with the reputation system of eBay. If you’re buying a new mattress or sofa, you probably don’t want to travel 30 minutes to get it if there’s a similar one in your building. This is in the pipeline.
- Events - It’s nice to know where an event is before you get there. Similarly, it’s nice to know who’s there and who’s on their way.
- Location Awareness for friends - the idea of being able to see where your friends are is an old one, but one that has never been implemented successfully. Flozaic’s simple privacy system allows you to easily control who can see your location and when, making this finally a reality.
Our favourite use cases for Flozaic+G-Lo are focused on making new friends. In urban settings, apartments are full of people, but most of the time it is difficult to create meaningful connections. G-Lo allows you to create a group chat room with a small proximity and it’ll appear in the local newsfeeds of the people around you. Now you have a virtual common ground.
It’s a bit of a throw back to old IRC days of the Internet that we grew up with. We feel that something was lost when social networks became a bit of a walled garden in terms of connecting with people (MySpace was OK at this, but Facebook really took the idea of meeting people you don’t know, ripped the pages out of the internet guidebook and burnt them in a barrel).
With Flozaic we’re trying to promote free and open communication without people having to sacrifice their personal space and privacy.
We think the cookie-cutter Facebook/MySpace-look of every social site in the last 5 years and their subsequent layout clones have made the social networking space bland and inexpressive at best, as well as unintuitive and clunky.
We think this shows that people seem to have forgotten that the Internet is an intangible concept, and that sites and platforms need not all look the same.
When we designed Flozaic’s interface, we tried to build it from the ground up. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect in your daily Flozaic user experience
- Floating Dashboard - Flozaic’s trademark persistent interface, the all-singing, all-dancing, floating dashboard! The dashboard floats atop of the content and can be moved around on whim. From here you can do everything you’d want to - from posting updates, to uploading new media, even commenting. The dashboard is also context aware, and dynamically updating context menus allow you to interact with content from a single place.
- The Waterfall - Since the main content newsfeeds of Flozaic are controlled by the relevancy engine, there was a need to have a real-time social stream to quickly and accurately see what’s happening in your social sphere. The waterfall is also home to your notifications, messages and friend requests.
- Slide menus - Contacts, chats/currents/locations/etc, widgets and anything else that can be put into a list are displayed in a collapsible menu that slides out from the right side of the screen. It’s a good way to minimize clutter and maximize usability in a consistent and useful way.
- Chatbar - Flozaic’s chat system is affixed along the bottom of the site. A key feature that is immediately noteworthy is the widescreen chat format. We don’t think chat needs to be in tiny boxes. This is where you’ll find all your IMs and Group Chats.
An interesting news feed
One of Flozaic’s core features is the relevancy engine we developed and baked into everything (or at least, added the relevancy hooks to everything).
Flozaic learns what you are interested in over time and does it’s best to give you content that it thinks would be relevant to your interests. When you combine this with Flozaic’s content aggregator, you end up with a newsfeed you actually want to read. Every minute, every hour of every day, Flozaic is scouring the internet and publicly posted content for things you’d like - unlike some existing topical aggregators, Flozaic operates in real-time. How did we do it? Well, that’s a secret.
The Home screen of your Flozaic presently has 3 main tabs - Home, which is mostly relevancy enabled topical content; Social, which is all the things that are happening in your social spheres; and Local, which gives your local news and content (a bit like a newspaper). Each of these screens gives you a few options to play with (more coming in the beta), such as adding more locations for local, filtering by persona and tier in social, and adding Currents in Home…
What’s a Current?
Search is the go to tool on Flozaic for finding content, or persons. It is faceted search inspired that allows for quick navigation to the content you are looking for.
Search by itself is an ok tool, but when combined with currents, it becomes a very powerful interest and trend tracking mechanism.
Currents, for lack of a better comparative is what sparks was trying to be on G+ and central to the Flozaic experience (another concept validation). Currents are not searches, they are skeletons for communities to grow on. Currents can organize from the individual level, and scale to the community level.
Private currents might be used to follow specific interests, like windows phones, or space lasers. Unlike a regular search, a current can have specific sources defined, and like always, the relevancy and specificity can be adjusted.
Currents can grow into networks, where friends or associates are invited. For example an investment cabal, that shares investment ideas together. Members of the current are invited, and content is pulled from specific keywords, as well as member submitted content. This can be useful for tracking specific trends in news and media related to target markets, and allows for collaboration, discussion and sharing.
Currents can also be member submitted content only, such as a biking club, where rides are g-lo’d and submitted, trips are organized. Currents can also be private, where they are by invite only, or public where people can freely join and subscribe.
They can be moulded into organizational platforms, say teachers at south park elementary, where staff is kept up to date, via the current, and where spheres allow posts to the current to reach only the intended audiences. An example would be posting “Photocopier is down” to the admin staff, while, “curriculum change to volleyball” to only PE teachers.
Currents will be the foundation from which communities are eventually built out, as one of our rolling out features. They will be an adaptable tool, for organization around interests, and on a large scale, may act like similarly to reddits in one embodiment.
Currents will be curated and can be collaborative, with moderation tools, and delegation of authority as well.
Currents will be part of the platform for social discovery, following a current with your interests, coupled with our group chat, and privacy system, will allow you the security and freedom to be and express yourself.
Profiles, Posting & Pages : Show and Tell
Profiles in social network contexts have fallen to the wayside, reduced now to a list of interests, a picture, and maybe a quotation. To bring back a bit of the personal expression element and creativity, Flozaic has customizable profiles, with a drag and drop widget system & custom backgrounds.
Now we all remember the blinking GIF nightmare that was MySpace when they opened up customization to the masses. While Flozaic is open and customizable, it is also not the Wild West either.
Widgets will play a big part in this as well, as they will eventually have an API open up to allow for custom content to be accessed through them. Like a Last.fm music list, or Flickr stream as examples.
Posting content on Flozaic through the dashboard, is meant to be quick, efficient, and very easy to understand. From the Dashboard you can post updates, links, questions, polls, create events, and navigate and explore Flozaic.
Commenting on these posts have two main ways of happening. First through nicely threaded comments, no long lines of comments guessing who is responding to whom. And secondly, micro-comments which are a subtype of comment. The reason for this second category, is a lot of times, you may want to throw in a quip, or word or two, but don’t necessarily want to notify spam the rest of the commenters just to say “oh snap”. Enter micro-comments, a way of adding those quips without guilt, and diversifying the nuances of the conversation.
Pages will be the start of two future features of Flozaic, the communities’ functionality, and the Flozaic Business Platform. Pages will be about places or things, and can act as a homepage for businesses, icons, and communities. A Blenz coffee page, or Battlefield 3 page, Vancouver page, places and people will have pages to center around.
This is just the start
While this is a pretty comprehensive list of current functionality, there is much more to come :
- Mobile Apps!
- 3rd party API integration
- Social Browsing, Group Search
- Research Collaboration
- Verified Persona Identities
- Intelligent Calendar
- Vibes (think “likes”, and “+1’s” with a point)
- Flozaic Marketplace
- reputation tracking
- localized relevant search
- Flozaic Business Platform
- Real-time Relevant Deals
- Management console
- Vibes redemption
- Proximity Promotion tied to relevance
- Location Vibe Environmental management
- Check-in Platform
- SlipStream Advertising platform
- Flozaic Paywall
- Brick & Mortar SMB focus
Look forward to more description after our Technology Demo in Beijing.
So this is a high level overview of just some of the features we are demoing at TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing 2011. Post Demo, we will be further releasing more of the vision, but for now, these are the social features we are moving forward with.
Flozaic, transforming the way people communicate.
About TechCrunch Disrupt
TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing 2011(http://disrupt.techcrunch.com/BJ2011/) will bring together leading technology innovators and investors and numerous new startups. The conference will also bring the popular Hackathon – a 24-hour competition where 500 leading innovators develop and present new products – to China for the first time. TechCrunch Disrupt follows a format that combines thought-leading discussions with new product and company launches. Morning executive discussions debate the timeliest disruptions in the technology industry. In the afternoons, new companies will launch for the first time on-stage during Startup Battlefield. Around 15 companies were selected this year from a pool of more than 400 applicants. Another group of early-stage startups will exhibit in Startup Alley. TechCrunch will award a $50,000 grand prize along with other award recognitions at the conclusion of the conference. The Hackathon is Oct. 29 -30; the main conference is Oct. 31 - Nov. 1, 2011 at China National Convention Center (CNCC) No. 7 Tiachen East Road, Olympic Green, Chaoyang District, 100105 Beijing, CHINA.
TechCrunch (www.techcrunch.com) is a leading technology media network dedicated to obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies. Founded by Michael Arrington in 2005, TechCrunch and its network of websites reach over 13 million unique visitors and more than 30 million page views per month. TechCrunch was acquired by AOL in 2011 and operates a global network of websites including dedicated properties in Europe and Japan.. TechCrunch’s CrunchBase is the leading open database about startup companies, people, and investors. In addition to TechCrunch Disrupt, TechCrunch hosts a number of other recognized conferences and events, including the Crunchies Awards (http://crunchies2010.techcrunch.com) and various meet-ups worldwide, serving as community platforms for industry conversation and collaboration.