Trying to do something new in the hotly contested social network space, which is dominated by giants like Facebook and Twitter and which poses a challenge even for tech companies with virtually limitless resources like Google, may seem like a fool’s errand. But that’s exactly what newly launched social network CircleMe is attempting. CircleMe is the product of London- and Milan-based startup Cascaad, which has raised $2.5 million and counts Xerox PARC and Stanford alum Erik Lumer and ex-Googler Giuseppe D’Antonio as co-founders, and is trying to tackle the problem from a different angle.
What CircleMe wants to do is connect people not based on how they know one another, who they went to school with or who they’re related to, but instead around what they’re interested in. CircleMe allows its users to connect based on shared tastes, giving members the ability to “trust” one another’s taste in areas including books, movies, music and more, and then see each other’s activities in those areas. Users can connect to Facebook, Netflix, Goodreads and Foursquare to help populate their interests, or just add them manually once signed up.
“We focus on connecting you to the things you care about,” CircleMe marketing chief Javiar Galan told BetaKit in an interview. “In a way, we are connecting you to yourself, whereas other networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are more about what’s the newest thing, instead of about what you actually care about consistently.”
Galan also thinks that single-focus interest apps and networks don’t really manage to get the job done in terms of painting a complete picture for users. “There are so many networks like Goodreads and Spotify that connect you to a specific area of interest,” he said. “And there’s no place where first you can collect all your interests, and then get something out of it.” What Galan mean by getting something out of it, he explained, is that CircleMe provides a way to connect with like-minded users not just on one subject, but possibly also on a variety of shared interests, and then to take away valuable information about your loves and likes that can help you enjoy them more.
Galan may be right that CircleMe offers better access to more relevant information about things that actually interest people, but there is some question about whether such an approach can succeed, especially when tackled from the generalist perspective CircleMe is using. While startups like Goodreads, Spotify and Foodspotting have had success with a narrow approach, others like Oink that have tried to filter likes through a more general lens have met sad ends.
CircleMe has a much more robust social networking aspect, however, which encourages more discussion and interaction around likes, and also the company is betting heavily on mobile, with an iOS app which offers users the ability to “plant” interests at certain locations. For example, you could plant a favorite book at the local book store, or a hiking route at a favorite local trail. You can make them publicly viewable or share them with specific users, too, depending on who you want to be able to see the plant via the iPhone app automatically via geolocation services, or on the web.
In addition to plants, people using CircleMe can add “To Dos,” which is almost like a shopping or activity list culled from the likes of people they share interests with. You can add anything liked on CircleMe to your To Do list, which Galan says is a great way to get around that mental block people often have when browsing the book store for new reads or shopping on iTunes for new music.
Plants and To Dos are also tied to CircleMe’s eventual monetization plans, though Galan says the company is focused on “building the network” first before thinking too much about revenue generating opportunities. Some ideas being discussed are working with external merchants to provide direct “buy” links for liked products. CircleMe could also use its targeted geolocation expertise to surface relevant deals for for its users that are in line with their interests.
CircleMe definitely has an uphill battle ahead; the social networking space is filled with entrenched players, users are already invested in populating Facebook with likes, and niche products already provide ways for users to connect over shared interests in specific verticals. The company may appeal to people who want their social networks to do things for them and expose new activities and opportunities, rather than helping them stay in touch with those they care about, but gaining users and mindshare away from giants like Facebook and niche communities like GoodReads will be tough.