Posts Tagged 'Catalyst Member'

January 15, 2016

Vuukle: Helping Publishers Manage Comments and Match Readers with Content

I recently had a conversation with Ravi Mittal, the founder of a company called Vuukle. Vuukle is based in New Delhi and has just graduated from our Catalyst startup program.

Vuukle actually started out in Silicon Valley—Ravi launched his first product iteration with the goal of trying to source public opinion on the Web. Key to his initial offering was a proprietary algorithm he developed to sort comments in order of credibility—a highly valuable aspect of the product, but something he quickly learnt wasn’t enough value to encompass a product.

Through experiments with Vuukle’s early customers (including the Santa Clara Weekly), a major problem emerged which appeared to pervade the online publishing industry: reader engagement wasn’t sticky enough to compel them to post (and reply to) comments. In order to solve this meta-problem, Vuukle pivoted into a new type of comment publishing system, which helps publishers see engagement through custom analytics.

The major problem Vuukle faces is not unique to just the publishers they service. It’s a pretty large scale global problem, extending beyond news publishers and into all content-based publishing online—so you can imagine how much competition is out there around the globe in this space. When I asked Ravi how he differentiates Vuukle from recently dominant players like Livefyre and Disqus, he offered, "Most customers aren’t using those other services; they have their own commenting systems. If anything, we were pitted against Facebook commenting. In the few cases where Disqus is being used, we’ve seen problems with load times, throttling limits and so on."

In order to set Vuukle in a class of its own, Ravi and his team—which is globally dispersed, with people in Egypt, the Ukraine, U.S.A., and India—have architected an infrastructure for super-fast load times that work at amazing scale, employing SoftLayer servers in our Singapore and India data centers, as well as working with a third party, ScaleDB, to handle database queries and traffic. Of course, that alone doesn’t give them a unique value proposition; Vuukle truly sets itself apart by dropping publisher costs upfront to a minimal platform access fee and offering a 50/50 revenue share model. Vuukle not only is set up to handle high traffic websites with commenting, but it also promotes user engagement with comments by integrating with actual publishing systems. Vuukle passes traffic between posts and offers editors insights into how readers are commenting, in addition to creating a new revenue stream through comments—from which it sources the majority of its own income.

Interestingly, Ravi’s move from the Valley to India came because of family reasons and ended up being a blessing to the business. Early after his move, he realized that there was a ton of opportunity for Vuukle with the major Indian newspapers that had cobbled together their own infrastructure to power websites. Just a couple years in, Vuukle is powering comments on The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle, and Indian Express, three of the most highly trafficked news websites in the country. To help global adoption amongst all sorts of publishers, Vuukle also offers a free WordPress plugin.

Vuukle seems to have gained traction through Ravi’s hard work chasing customers at home, and he’s proud to be finding success despite being bootstrapped. When questioned about the local startup scene, Ravi said, “Nothing much is unique in the Indian startup ecosystem. [It's] kind of like a gold rush in India, where founders are hunting for investment before they have a clear market path and products that are market-ready. A lot of copycat businesses [are] launching that are focused on Indian markets (taking models from the States and elsewhere.) Not many patents are being filed in India—not much actual innovation, indicative of a proliferation of large seed round raises (around $1 million) and a lot of startups spend funding on staff they don’t need.”

The future seems bright for Vuukle. Its growth beyond India’s borders will happen soon and will be financed through revenue rather than venture capital rounds, of which Ravi seems quite wary. Now that Vuukle has graduated from Catalyst, I was keen to hear whether the company would still keep the majority of their infrastructure with IBM—it turns out prospective Vuukle customers love hearing that their infrastructure is hosted on our cloud and that a core aspect of Vuukle’s value proposition is the scale and reliability we offer their solution.

I really think this company is an exciting one to watch. I look forward to seeing greater success for Vuukle as they grow with our ever-expanding footprint of data centers in the Asian region and globally.

-Qasim

Based in Toronto, Qasim Virjee manages the Catalyst Startup Program in Canada and can be reached on twitter (@qasim) or via his personal website.

October 7, 2015

Give me a MOOC with social proof

I’ve spent the last few weeks investigating the technologies needed to deliver e-learning, and it’s been a real eye-opener as to what’s hot.

I thought the only way to investigate was to try out a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for myself. After all, “eating your own dog food” is an essential skill for any entrepreneur.

Most of my learning in the last 20 years has been through the School of Life—I haven’t been in formal training for a while. Going back to school (or at least digital school) has been a fascinating experience. MOOCs, as offered by the likes of Coursera, iVersity and Udemy, represent a real step change in learning technology.

We all have areas of interest beyond technology; mine is global politics and development. (So keen am I on this subject that after a recent hackathon, I started running an employee advocacy program for the United Nations: the UN Social 500.) I enrolled in a Coursera course, Configuring the World, to learn how data drives political decisions. Perfect for a startup founder offering automated statistical release software!

The course covers eight weeks of lectures with reading material for each week and a quiz at the end of the week. You can watch the videos in normal or double-time on the web, or you can download them to your mobile device of choice to watch on-the-go.

Having the content accessible via mobile turned out to be essential for me. I thought I was going to block out the time at work (two hours every other day), but client needs always felt more pressing. In the end, I found that perching the phone above the sink whilst doing the washing up worked best (although I frequently have to dry my hands to press play on the next video).

As head of a company offering digital services, the mobile need has been a great lesson for me. You can’t always expect your users to either have Internet access or the time to sit at a desk. Mobile offers the experience offline on a smartphone and is utterly necessary if you want to retain your customers.

The second key I picked up from the course has been the value of interaction with others. It is in the discussion forums that you can review the lectures, ask questions, and extend the conversation beyond the confines of the curriculum.

I’m a social person, so you’d think I’d love the discussion forums. While helpful, they aren’t enough for me. They lack a killer feature, which is a social proof mechanism: a way of comparing my progress with other participants. On Twitter, I have a social proof mechanism: I can compare numbers of followers. That may be an overly simplified score (what’s the value of a follower anyway?), but at least it allows me compare progress via some standard metric.

What I really craved was a similar mechanism in my course. Not because I particularly wanted to compete—I’m not aiming to be top of the class—but because I wanted to make sure I am keeping up. Are my quiz scores worse or better than the average? Am I watching enough of the lectures?

The traditional way for us technologists to solve this problem is to offer a dashboard. You know the type: a page of multiple bar graphs, dials, and gauges.

The trouble with these types of data dashboards is that it is pretty difficult for the user to figure out whether he or she needs to do anything or not. The insights are not exactly “actionable.” If one gauge has gone up and another has gone down, is that good or bad overall? Moreover, should I be panicking?

Dashboards of this nature also tend to be fairly passive. Unless you remember to check them regularly (and who does?), they are quickly forgotten. I would prefer to see a single composite score (much like what Nike+ does for running or Klout for social media) that has an embedded weighting method for the relative importance of each metric. For my MOOC example, watching videos is important, so that should be worth 60 percent of the score. Scoring well on the quiz also counts, which should be worth 30 percent of the score. That leaves 10 percent for the discussion forums.

Now that I have a score, it should be sent to me each week (no passivity here), and I’ll know whether I’ve done well or badly. Even better: show me how I compare versus others across the world or in my country on a leaderboard. Then I will really have a social proof mechanism to help guide my behaviour.

-Toby

Toby Beresford is CEO and founder of Rise.global, a social utility to share the score. Rise provides an automated statistical release service to create composite single scores and to distribute the results via web, social media, and email. Rise scores and leaderboards have been used across enterprises for multiple use cases including employee advocacy programs, partner management, e-learning, audience development, digital marketing, and digital sales enablement. Rise is a member of the SoftLayer Startup Catalyst program.

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