13/11/2007 - 22:00

Content drives social network sites

13/11/2007 - 22:00

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Three local web 2.0 entrepreneurs are embracing the worldwide growth of online social networking via the creation of niche-focused web sites.

Content drives social network sites

Three local web 2.0 entrepreneurs are embracing the worldwide growth of online social networking via the creation of niche-focused web sites.

Former Australian Leather Holdings general manager Alex Blain started Western Australian social networking site Loconut 18 months ago with the aim of creating an online hub for local news, events, businesses and groups.

The interactive online community allows members to create their own profile page, write blogs, post images and videos and, like other networking sites, invite other members to be their friends.

From a business point view, Loconut connects local consumers with advertisers of all sizes, from small businesses dipping a toe into the internet advertising waters, to large businesses wanting to target a specific captive audience.

But unlike the large global sites, Loconut combines the online space with offline opportunities, giving members access to discounts at local businesses through a member card, competitions and giveaways, and exposure to clubs and events in their area of interest.

“We wanted to create a WA online hub that would become an iconic brand in WA. We wanted to make it the first place to come for information in WA,” Mr Blain said.

“We wanted to be the central portal for individuals, clubs, groups, not for profits, unis, sporting clubs, bands, as well as business and government sector, to interact online. Everyone has their own space and can do what they want with it.”

Since going live in April this year, the site has already attracted 6,400 members and is growing at between 20 and 50 per cent per month with little to no promotion.

In October, the site attracted 40,000 visits and more than 440,000 page views.

Mr Blain expects the site will reach 20,000 members in the next 12 months.

He believes that, unlike other social networking sites, Loconut’s frequently updated content will keep members coming back to the site for more than just checking messages.

Online entrepreneur Clay Cook, founder of Nedlands-based web marketing company ineedhits, has followed on from the success of social networks Minti and Refurber by launching a new online community for web marketers.

Called Gooruze, the global community allows users to access a host of information and resources regarding online marketing, as well as advice from the panel of global web marketing ‘gurus’, who are specialists in a wide range of areas including digital, direct, and social marketing.

The site includes news, articles, forums and blogs, with members submitting copy which is then ranked according to relevance and quality.

Development partner and ineedhits Perth-based chief executive, Jackie Shervington, said the fast-paced nature of the web meant it was difficult for marketers to stay at the forefront of new trends.

She said the beauty of Gooruze was that it brought everything related to marketing under the one banner, acting as a highly targeted search portal.

“Keeping up with advances is so hard, but this brings it all together in the one place,” Ms Shervington told WA Business News.

The site runs on a platform called vibEngine, developed by Vibe Capital, a company started by the now US-based Mr Cook, his wife, Rachel, and Matthew Macfarlane.

In addition to Gooruze, Vibe Capital licences vibEngine to other web companies in exchange for equity.

To date, vibEngine has been used by its two websites, parenting online network Minti and renovation community Refurber, and has also been licensed out to UK-based niche building rating network, Building In London.

Ms Shervington said that spending on online marketing was expected to more than double over the next five years, reaching $US61 billion by 2012.

“This is a huge market and a unique opportunity to take advantage of this massive industry,” she said.

With more than 1,000 members after just one month, Ms Shervington estimates the potential membership for the site could run into the tens of thousands.

“We want quality not quantity, it’s a very targeted audience,” she said.

It's not all niche in WA, though. Accessing a global audience of 42 million people already hooked up to Facebook, Leederville-based web company TheBroth is one of the fastest growing web companies in WA.

It has developed a couple of dozen social media applications for online networking communities, including its flagship collaborative art application, which are used by more than 7.2 million members worldwide.

Its global mosaic art application allows people from all over the world to work together on an art project by moving around 1,000 coloured mosaic tiles to form an image.

The application also incorporates user blogs and discussion forums, with the final artwork displayed and open to feedback in a virtual gallery. To date, more than 10,000 artworks have been created.

TheBroth managing director Markus Weichselbaum said the ability to launch its stand-alone applications on platforms such as Facebook gave the company immediate access to millions of users worldwide.

“For companies who want to do something [in this space] it’s hard to gain traction,” he said.

“For many companies, it’s a case of should I develop my own website or just go onto Facebook.”

Dr Weichselbaum said the exposure its applications had received from Facebook had allowed some of its most popular applications, including an online jigsaw puzzle application called PuzzleBee, to be launched on its own website.

The online puzzle site is currently under development, with Chinese and Japanese language versions also on the cards.

“Facebook for us has been a bit of a springboard,” he said.

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