SNW INTERVIEW -- Jan 18 -- This is Mark Brooks with Social Networking Now. I'm here with Christian Wiklund who is the CEO and founder of Skout.com. Christian thanks for joining us.
What is Skout's founding story?
The founding story is pretty interesting. I was actually snowboarding at Lake Tahoe 2 years ago and was figuring 'why can't I upload a picture from my mobile phone out of this beautiful mountain to share this with my friends and have it shipped to their web browser.' So with that premise I thought of building a prototype with some of my friends that later became the co-founders of Skout.
We quickly transformed it into a location based social networking service. We thought that it would be pretty interesting to keep track of your friends, where they are what they are doing? Then it developed into 'who is around me and what are they posting?'
i.e. 'what strangers around me in San Francisco and what pictures did they post tonight? What is up in my town?' All this from a little device. We then in 2008 created our user base and looked at what everyone is doing with Skout and it turned out that 83% said we're using Skout for dating and flirting. The killer space is going to be dating and we decided to move full throttle into that space. That is why we're now announcing that Skout is the first ever LBS social dating platform.
So are you relying on the telephone to tell the Skout service where people are at?
The core philosophy we have in the company is to not exclude people based on their device or based on what carrier they happen to be on. So we want to cover even the simplest handset, so as far as location goes if you don't have access to a fancy device you can enter the location manually. You can actually tell the service I am in Seattle at this address or you can tell it I'm in L.A. at this address by entering it in clear text.
As the device becomes more sophisticated, for instance with the iPhone app, which we're launching very, very soon, we take the GPS chip and just make a query to that and get exact GPS coordinates or cell tower coordinates. So depending on the device you have a different experience, more or less automatic.
So what are some examples of phones that will do location based services and talk to Skout right now?
iPhone is one. Android is interesting with Google Gears because it can actually make queries to the location API via the web browser? Skout works on any phone that can access mobile web, so we have built 4 different interfaces for the mobile web experience. We know what phone you're accessing Skout from. So depending on the screen size and the properties of the phone we're going to direct you to a unique experience, one of those four.
It's very, very costly to support many platforms. We have to look at the mobile ecosystem. It's more or less what the internet was in 1995 with a lot of platform fragmentation and a lot of big players who do not want to play well together.
So let me pose a scenario for you, it's Friday afternoon and I'm sitting in a coffee shop and I sign into Skout and I would like to go on a date. What happens next?
What happens on Skout is we have passive and active Skout. So you actively open up a browser for your mobile web experience and you say I want to see other singles that match the criteria I'm looking for in the area. We're going to make a query against our database and depending on how much traction there is recently in the area, we're going to present singles to you, as close as possible.
So let's say Sarah is 5 blocks away, you will be able to see that Sarah is 5 blocks away, you will not be able to see exactly the address but you'll see the distance. You can then start chatting with her and look at her pictures.
You might be in transit, you might be in a classroom, etc. and use active scouting to look for profiles in your phone…who is close to where I am, who is active right now, who was active within the last 2 hours?
Then we have passive scouting where we set up something called the geo-sense. What is a geo-sense? That is when you say I want to meet someone who fulfills these different criteria and I'm willing to travel "x" amount of miles today. So then you put the phone in your pocket and as the match enters this geo-sense which might be a 10 block or 5 block radius, you'll get a text message sent to your phone saying hey Mark we've found a match that just went online on Skout. She is 5 miles away, click here to start chatting.
You click on the link and depending on what device you have its going to open up the mobile web experience and you can instantly look at their profile and she's going to be online so if you send her a chat message and start chatting instantly. So Skout is all about the conversation.
Can you also set certain criteria? So you would say I'm only interested in people within this age range who also don't smoke and that sort of thing?
In the first release for the Skout dating release we have age definitely, we have been quite lightweight on other properties. We believe that love is about the conversation and not about algorithms. So we are trying a lightweight approach where the profile picture and your age and the conversation via mobile chat is going to help you decide if this is a good match or not. We believe timing, location, profile picture together with age is going to take you quite far.
How about video?
Six years ago I was able in modern Europe to do video conferencing on my cell phone. The phones in the US right now do not have this capability and I definitely see that coming. I see it as the next step. So if you look at the communication abilities of Skout, first you can do what we have now which is chat and the next step I see anonymous VOIP or an anonymous numbered call and talk to the person in the here and now and the next step will be video.
Skout is the mobile social network for the internet dating and social networking conference which is coming up in Miami on January 22 to 23. Can you tell us more about how that is going to work for the attendees?
Yes I'm very excited about this initiative. What is going to happen is everyone who comes to the conference is going to be preregistered on Skout. They are going to be friends with everyone else who is at the conference. What does that mean? You can instantly get an overview from your mobile phone what is going on at the conference.
Let's say my business development guy is looking for a content exchange deal with some company. He can place the post in his phone, hey I'm Rich from Skout and I'm looking for content exchange deal, please chat me up. He can instantly get replies from other users at the conference.
We did our first actual real life case for this in San Francisco at a conference where there were 300 attendees and we had 70% signing in and using the service and chatting about the different panels. They sent pictures and they tied the conference together in a very interesting way. I think it will be very, very possible.
Is there any way we can live blog the sessions?
Yes definitely and we even have RSS feeds. So you could actually post an RSS feed from the conference, so anything that happens at the conference could go out to the outer world. Basically the text updates we have are very comparable to Twitter, so you can post 140 character text from your phone. If you want to take a picture you can take a picture, we also support video. So if you have a mobile device capable of recording video you can post it at Skout and its going to show up in the RSS feed tagged with the location, who sent it and when it was sent. Then other users at the conference can comment on the different media that is being submitted by the users.