Business, Featured - Written by Jude Fiorillo on Monday, July 7, 2008 16:13 - 4 Comments
Interview with Dipity CEO and co-founder Derek Dukes
What interests me most about the Internet is that it is a reflection of the physical world, and the same people, information, and problems inhabit both worlds. In the physical world it’s easy to experience information overload but because we approach this world in a linear, case-by-case fashion (time structure), it can serve to temper how much information we are exposed to all at once. In the virtual world, everything is non-linear (no time structure), which means that you can get access to anything you want at any time, but because of this, it’s much harder to manage information because there’s so much of it coming at you. Enter Dipity – this free, and easy to use application proposes that time can work for you on the Internet, and I’m inclined to agree. Dipity timeline tools allow you to manage online media by ordering related content chronologically. By using Dipity you can create a slick timeline interface that allows you to keep track of videos, pictures, blog posts, and RSS feeds, and I suspect that these applications are just the beginning. We’ve created a timeline for the Wikinomics blog, and it’s easy to see how having visual feedback helps in the way we view and access information.
Derek Dukes, CEO and co-founder of Dipity was kind of enough to sit down with us to talk about this quickly growing company, and what follows are excerpts from that discussion.
Question: What’s the ‘Dipity in 30 seconds’ pitch?
Derek: Dipity was started by three friends who got together and who were long time Internet professionals, one from development, one from design, and the other from a product user and consumer perspective. We were all struggling with the same problem – the tools available that tell stories and provide backgrounds around particular topics are lacking because the web is so media rich now. If you look at the way people use information or when people write stories, they use text and don’t really integrate photos or videos and images.
We thought of a better way to create an interactive experience around topics that takes advantage of the web, people in the world, and the fact that everything is connected. Dipity allows you to easily create interactive experiences around particular topics; could be people, could be places, could be subjects like Darfur, and aggregate information in one place. This creates an easy summarization of a topic that’s easy to understand and a richer experience.
Question: What kind of world do you want to create around Dipity, in terms of creating a unique experience when people come to the site?
Derek: The goal is to become a great starting point for people when they want to understand something. Right now if you want to find something, you do a search, like you’re looking for that “needle in a haystack” right? You enter a key term and it comes back with a list of results and that’s great. Our ultimate goal would be “hey, I want to learn more about a particular topic, I’m going to come to Dipity, get a set of aggregated knowledge that’s crowd sourced, that takes advantage of all the social services that are connected and use the power of their communities. If I was a consumer, describing Dipity to someone or, why I like Dipity, I would say Dipity is the best jumping point for me to learn more about a particular topic.
Question: Sounds great, but how does it work?
Derek: There’s a couple of different ways; there’s a fine grained permission model so if you’re passionate, say you’re a blogger about Darfur, you can create a Darfur timeline that has your blog post, images that you think are compelling from Flickr, key videos from YouTube and throw in a couple specific news sources from New York Times or CNN or a particular journalist who covers Darfur in a unique light. You can choose whether you want other people to extend your vision or your passion for Darfur or you can lock it down and say “hey, you know what, this is my interpretation of the Darfur conflict.” But other users are able to go in and create a competing vision so they can basically clone your timeline and edit out things they don’t think are as relevant or just add to yours.
Question: What kinds of data can you use Dipity for, and what kinds of data do you think that you won’t be able to integrate Dipity very well with?
Derek: In terms of what types of data you can use, we have focussed things around one constant thing, the element of time. That’s where we are today and it’s a stake in the ground, for now. Going forward there might be a time when we realize oh well, there’s other type of data, it’s not necessarily time based but we want to capture and represent it the right way. We’re not trying to be a super broad-based visualization platform. There are great pieces of software out there that will do that, like ‘SliceandDiceData’ and stuff like that. In terms of directions we might have, there’s natural things that you might want to be able to do around a timeline, so look at a set of events and then look at some historical data as a background for that story.
Take the example of Bear Stearns; what’s really interesting is if you’re able add the background of what the stock was trading at for key points during this story, you can mashup what’s happening from a media perspective and then what’s happening from a data perspective. That’s very much in line with our vision around how time helps tell a better story so it’s a natural progression for us.
Question: Are there any plans for, in the future, automating the aggregation of data to tell these stories?
Derek: Yeah, so we collect and essentially build a huge database of events, we look at it in a couple of different ways. The community layer is where we’ve started because it’s a great driver for just getting people to share what we’re doing and to tell their friends about it. That’s the icing on the cake and it’s the stuff from the community that really makes the timelines shine.
Our approach is to look at different ways to connect to content. Some of that will be indexing much in the same way a search engine would. Some of it will be connecting to services, like with a mashup we built, but basically it’s a Dipity timeline front end on, and say YouTube back end, so you can search for a key word and it’ll return a timeline of the 15 most relevant videos that match that key word. That’s an example of taking the best of both worlds. You’re adding the human element, this broad based community that is YouTube, and using Dipity to pull and show the most relevant things that match that key word. That’s one example of the API approach that we’re taking.
Question: What other kinds of mashups are you looking to develop in the near future?
Derek: We look at mashups as doing a couple of things. It showcases the power of our API which we’re extremely passionate about. We’re a small company but we’re able to do amazing things in a short period of time. We’re a small group of folks and by putting an API out there and creating some showcase examples of what you can do, the hope is to ignite a community of developers to really go out and create.
It’s a great way for people to use the technology in a way that’s important to them. We’ll continue to develop mashups we feel are interesting, to go around particular verticals and potentially those verticals may get integrated into a bigger Dipity, but right now we’re just viewing them as one-off exercises. The first one, TimeTube, was designed to find limitations in our API, how easy it is to build on top of what we built and find holes in our product.
Question: On a more personal level, what’s your favourite Dipity timeline?
Derek: The Internet Meme timeline is pretty good. My favourite changes week to week because I always find something new or a new use of Dipity that someone has invested their time in.
The Internet video games timeline, that’s amazing. The guy that created it, put it up there, left it open and people quickly started to get that they could go in and change things. He had photos, but people were scouring YouTube and different video sources and within a couple of weeks it was well flushed out. It’s amazing to me you can just get a small set of people super passionate about something they create…it’s such a great product in such a short time. It’s just a testament to the power of the Internet you know. I know that sounds hokey but it really is pretty cool.
Question: From a commercial perspective, what’s Dipity’s business model?
Derek: In terms of the business model, it’s pretty straight forward, what you’d expect from an Internet business. We haven’t ruled out advertising on the site or a premium services model. There are two reasons for that. One – advertising is something that works best at scale; we’re obviously just getting started so ruling it out ahead of time isn’t really something we’re interested in doing. And then the second – it’s about questioning whether there is a new model of advertising that works better around Dipity.
In terms of rolling out a premium service, again we’re new, we’ve got ideas and we’re getting feedback from the community around the features most important that are not in the product. We’ll look to create break points in the product around storage or around particular features that attract people to a premium service model. We’ve also had a lot of interest from organizations like companies, universities, etc., that are really interested in an organizational level of support for a product that requires some incremental development from us, so we’re looking at that revenue stream. Then as I alluded to earlier, if there is a particular use of the API that makes sense for us to monetize, then I think that’s something we’ll explore. Right now we’re not actively looking to monetize the API.
Question: What is the most difficult part of being a small startup, and what growing pains has Dipity experienced along the way?
Derek: I’m used to a big company and with a big company you have the luxury of infinite resources and identifying ‘this type of thing’ is going to require ‘x’ number of people. That’s great because you’re a large company. The reverse is true for us. We’re a seed funded company, we’re a small group of guys and we’re hyper focused on what’s most important this week. If we get off track and pulled off course for a bit, it’s really costly. It’s costly to our users and it’s costly to what we can accomplish given the funds we have.
I’ve been amazed with how quickly we’re able to execute. I have a good mix of seasoned people and some junior people, so we’ve got people to point the direction out and say “okay, here are the things we need to do and we’ve got the right mix to go and execute against that vision.” We need to be more nimble then a large company so if we make a mistake, there are no egos, we can say “hey, we kind of messed that up, we need to go back and fix it” and nobody feels like their personal ego is hurt; there’s advantages like that in running a small organization.
When you’re looking at starting a company, there’s a couple of different buckets of risk that you look at. You know there’s technical risk, there’s execution risk, there’s team risk. The biggest risk for us and for any new company, is always market risk. We’ve begun to eliminate market risk over the past couple of months or so and it’s been a really great feeling. I’ve been confident about the other risks because I know the guys I’m working with, I know we’re all competent, can execute and we’ve managed to do that really well.
Thanks for reading and visit www.dipity.com for more information about Dipity.
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