Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search. Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies. No more asking a site questions and finding old answers. I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks. This is part IV of the series. For background, check out the previous articles Part I here and part II and Part III, Part IV here.
This social search series has mainly been focused on social applications morphing into search platforms. But recently a different but rather kick arse concept has caught my eye and since it’s fits into the theme of the future of search, I decided to write about it.
Very simply, Wajam places your social contacts in between you and your search results so the next time you search the web, you see results and recommendations from your friends. It basically narrows down your search results into a more manageable set of choices. Martin-Luc Archambault, Founder and CEO says, “Wajam is a browser extension that shows you recommendations from your friends when you need it the most”. For example, Wajam gives you social results when you:
- search on Google, Bing or Yahoo
- look for answers on Wikipedia, Ask.com
- search for a movie on IMDb
- search for travel advice using TripAdvisor
- search for a restaurant reviews on Yelp
- shop on eBay, Best Buy, Shopping.com, Walmart, Overstock
The cool thing is how slick and quick Wajam really is. Trust me, go and watch a demo. Or even better, try it out! Getting started takes about 60 seconds; you simply sign up with your Facebook, Twitter or Google account. Once connected, they start collecting the links, photos and other content from your friends and store them for you. The next time you search the web, they show you results and recommendations from your friends. This makes up what they call your “collective knowledge”. Amazingly, they have over 600 million items stored so far from Wajam users.
According to Archambault, the vision of Wajam ” to organise social data and make social search portable so that you can get recommendations from your friends when you need it the most.” This came out of realising there’s no easy way to search your social data and find content that you and your friends have shared. Also, in order to access photos and links from your private networks, you need to log in to each one and use their search tool (if they have one) — a time-consuming and inefficient endeavour.
Wajam works on any search engine and lets you search your data from all your social networks. For example, if you do a search for “restaurants in San Francisco” from Google, Wajam will add results that your friends shared on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Our vision is to make your collective/social knowledge “portable” and give you “push” notifications when your friends have something to recommend.
It works on most websites and soon on mobile as well. For example, if you search for a “hotel in Seattle” on TripAdvisor, we’ll show you results that your friends have recommended or if you search for the new Macbook Air on Amazon, we’ll show you different reviews that you friends have shared.
Wajam started as an idea within the Bolidea startup incubator as Martin-Luc and his partners discovered they had a problem — when doing market research, they figured out after a couple days of intense research that they mostly found the same links and content. So they set out to build around that.
In 3 months they had built a mini prototype with 3 features to accomplish the task. “It dawned on us that most people had a wealth of knowledge tucked away within their private social networks, and that there was no useful way to sort and use this data.”
After a year iterating the product, They launched Wajam in private beta at Startup Camp Montreal in January 2011.
Right now Wajam is focusing on providing a great product experience and depending on viral user discovery. Users are mostly discovering Wajam through word-of-mouth and from bloggers and reporters who’ve written about them. “We’re including more viral features so that our fans can spread the word, but in the end, we believe a great product will market itself.”
“Keep in mind that search is a big challenge— we’re being mentioned in the same breath as tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo.” That said, they are also pursuing distribution partnerships with web publishing companies.
Wajam is privately funded by Bolidea, a startup incubator and accelerator founded by Martin-Luc and partners Olivier Cabanes and Magali Janvier.
Next For Social Search – Improving The Experience and Going Mobile.
When asked what’s next, Archambault notes their plate is full. “Our goal before the end of the year is also to start monetizing and promoting Wajam through different distribution partnerships.” They are improving the relevance of search results by adding contextual filters such as location and ranking your friends according to interest. They are also working on a better search algorithm and implementing better machine learning with social signals and semantics that improves the results on the fly.
The goal is that if somebody searches for a “restaurant,” they automatically know from his social profile that he is probably looking for “French restaurant in Montreal for the tech crowd that is not too expensive”. It’s obviously very hard to do and is still not perfect, but for now it’s a really good start and they are starting to test this project in production with a few beta users.
Vastly important is the user experience: “We’re improving the user experience so that the average non-technical person can quickly understand what we do.” They’re working on mobile and the best way to bring Wajam to your phone, so that you can truly access results everywhere.
Keys to building a great Startup
Archambault believes the first challenge to starting any company is building a solid team. “What we are doing is very hard technologically and we are lucky to be surrounded by some of the best at what they do. Our team is passionate and hard-working and nobody ever shies away from a challenge. I’ve previously started and invested in a few companies already and I can honestly say that this is the best team I’ve ever worked with.”
Although they are playing with/against titans in a really hot market, they seem to be on a pretty good path to organise social data and make it searchable and accessible when you need it the most. Now it’s time to scale and take Wajam mainstream.
Here are a few Startup Lessons learned by Martin-Luc:
(a) Get a product in front of users as soon as possible. We’re big believers in the Lean Startup methodology. With the initial Wajam, we built a minimum viable product and put it in front of users right away. It became quickly obvious that the product would not work in its original alpha stage and that we needed to adapt. So the big lesson here is to get something in front of your users as soon as possible. In today’s tech landscape where things change a torrid place, speed and agility are your best assets.
(b) Don’t be too attached to your idea. Although we’re building traction with the current Wajam iteration, we’re aware that most startups go through many, sometimes drastic changes in their life cycles. Keeping this in mind has helped us keep emotional distance while at the same time capitalise on speed to figure out product market fit as quickly as possible.
(c) Explain your value prop in one sentence or less. How you describe your product is key to selling it. We’ve learned that marketing a browser extension is quite different from marketing a normal website and we are still looking for the perfect 1-liner that describes Wajam.
Since we’re innovating at the bleeding edge of web technology, one of the challenges that we have is actually explaining what Wajam does to the public. The average person does not know the difference between a browser extension, a downloaded program and a web app. In many cases, people download the extension but don’t understand what it does. They do so because their friend recommended it. Once they see the results in Google, they have a moment of revelation— that’s when they truly understand the power of Wajam and what it means for them. They often write back to us afterward to tell us how cool it actually is. That’s when we ask them how they would describe Wajam to a friend.
The future of search on the back of a napkin, that’s just awesome. Who’s next?