Famster (www.famster.com), which is based in Las Vegas but runs all of its R&D in Los Angeles, offers families a way to share photos, files, news, recipes, and even family trees through their own private web site. The company's Web 2.0-style services are available for a monthly fee, and don't carry any advertising. Interestingly enough, the firm started out in beta in August of last with a free access model subsidized by advertising, went live in February with a live version, and shortly after that switched to only paid accounts. We spoke with Bryan Opfer, the company's CTO, about how Famster fits into a crowded market, why the company decided to charge for accounts, and how that switch has gone for them. Ben Kuo spoke to Bryan.
What's the idea behind Famster, and what are your services?
Bryan Opfer: Basically, Famster is a private network for families. It's an area where the head of household--usually the mother or father--can set up a little networking area for their families to share. They can set up blogs, share photos and videos, instant message, share a calendar, and have the permissions and controls to who can control pieces--such as if you want your pictures to be public, or if only grandma can see them.
There's been a tendency of firms to offer free services on the Internet, however I see that you charge for your services-- how has the reception to a paid service been?
Bryan Opfer: It's been pretty good. We originally had advertising, and we got lots of feedback from people not liking it that much. So, we figured it was better to listen to them, and get rid of the ads.
So you actually started with advertising, and switched to a paid model?
Bryan Opfer: Right.
Why did your users ask for something private, as opposed to the trend on the Internet of putting everything out there for anyone to see?
Bryan Opfer: Lots of people, particularly the heads of household, are paranoid putting out pictures and videos on the web for everyone to see. The privacy gives them all the options to protect anything they want, or don't want to. It gives them the range to do whatever they want to do.
That's quite a contrast to services like YouTube and Flickr, isn't it?
Bryan Opfer: Exactly.
I understand Famster's part of a bigger company. What's the story behind Famster and its parent company?
Bryan Opfer: The parent company, iVenue, has been around for ten years. We were doing small business websites, and we were constantly getting questions from people wanting us to do something for their families, such as setting up a blog, or sharing photos. A couple of years ago, we thought we'd make an application that those people could use.
It seems like there are a lot of companies trying to tackle the same, family focused web page market. What's different about Famster?
Bryan Opfer: We sort of went for lots of features. There's stuff out there to do photos, out there to do videos, having it all in one place is really nice. You can send your whole faimily there, and not jumping all over the Internet. Everything is customizable.
Is Famster still part of iVenue, or have you received any backing for the firm?
Bryan Opfer: Yes, it's still completely owned and funded by iVenue.
What's the split of the company between Los Angeles and Vegas?
Bryan Opfer: Vegas is our headquarters, where the customer support team for iVenue is located. All of our development--our programmers and web designers--are in Los Angeles.
How did the development team end up in Los Angeles?
Bryan Opfer: We actually started in LA, I went to USC and started working for iVenue way back when. We started in LA, and the company that got interested in us and we partnered with was based in Vegas. They had facilities and buildings there, and decided to put customer support team there, and kept the programmers here, because no one wanted to move to Vegas. It works out pretty well.
What is the company working on now?
Bryan Opfer: We're working on improving our user permission system, so that you can actually set up users for everyone in your family. Right now it's two tier--there's a single member password, and everyone just enters that password to get to the private member area. We're setting up more of a tiered system, so you can set up users for everyone in your family, and granularly get access to pieces on the site. That's the big upgrade we're working on at the moment.