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Interview with Mark Sylvester, Likeabilitee

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

 

How do you sort through all that social media activity you are driving, and figure out who really cares about what you're posting? Santa Barbara-based Likeabilitee (www.likeabilitee.com) has come up with a new, highly visual service which makes it very easy for you to analyze and understand how people are engaging with your social media posts on Facebook. The service was created by experience serial entrepreneurs Mark Sylvester and KymberleeWeil, who some might know from creating service introNetworks. Mark Sylvester sat down with us to talk about the new project, and how it's applying what they've learned building their visual analysis tools to the world of Facebook and social media.

What is Likeabilitee?

Mark Sylvester: Likeabilitee is a project my partner, KymberleeWeil and I, came up with about a year ago. We were fascinated with data visualization. Since my Wavefront days, through introNetworks, I've always looked at where we could apply our unique, dynamic data visualization in a beautiful way. We initially looked at LinkedIn, but we thought it would be more fun to do something in Face book.

What's the idea behind the service, and what can do with it?

Mark Sylvester: Likeabilitee is in beta for consumers. They can register at Likeabilitee.com. The concept is, it's an application that runs inside of Facebook, and for consumers, it gives you an alternative view of your timeline. On a day, week, month, or year view, I can see everything I have posted to my timeline and on my wall. We've applied mathematical logic to give each piece of content a score, which tells you how vibrant that piece of content is, based on likes, comments, and shares. So, when you look at the visualization in a graph, you'll see what is working, what's engaged you with your friends, and what's not working, so you can start doing things that are more likeable. From there, because you can drill down on a week, month, and year basis, you can look and say--at any time, what top 5 pieces of content are interesting? You might find that people really love pictures of your family, are really engaged when you're talking about tech subjects. Everyone is different. If you're going for popularity, you might want to get lots of likes. If you are going to start a conversation, comments might be important. If you're trying to have something you are doing go viral, maybe shares are the most important. We allow you to monitor a page on Facebook to get insights, something that consumers don't usually have access to. For the first time, for free, they can get that. We make it fun, and we also show your Likeabilitee score to the two friends ahead of you, and the two behind you, so that you might aspire to be more likeable, and understand what your friends are doing that make them more likeable, so you can mirror their behavior.

You have been working on introNetworks, why you decided to create new the service?

Mark Sylvester: That's a great question. We love data visualization. introNetworks is still going strong and has some of the biggest customers in the world, like NASA and McCann World Group. Those sites are on the large side, with 20,000 or 30,000 people. They are big, private communities. Because of that, nobody knows about introNetworks unless you've had direct experience with us. We're entrepreneurs, and we like to build our business, and wish we were known a little more. Our client actually like to keep us a secret, because we're such a significant advantage to their business. So, we tried to figure out what would put us out there, but which would still be consistent with what is important to us. We wanted to bring the beauty of data visualization, of actionable insights to people in a very easy, very fast, very simple but very well designed way.

We said, in addition to being B2B, can we also do B2C? The answer was yes, and we also saw that we could begin to play at web scale, be hosted in the cloud, be scalable in an extensive way. It's a way for us to flex our muscles, as you will. We felt it would be a fun project, and meet a desperate need to understand the impact of social media, especially as it relates to Facebook. Right now, the service is for consumers, and free, but in August, we'll have a beta of our Pro version, which will be for brands and brand managers, page managers, the people who are managing an organization's presence on Facebook. Anyone who is keenly interested in being more likeable. Those folks are any tool they can find to help them, any new tool they find.

How has your shift to the cloud worked for you?

Mark Sylvester: We started with one service, who I won't name, and got off of them. They had been recommended as a preferred provider for Facebook application developers, but it didn't work. We then actually went to the leader, Amazon, and we're in the web services group. We're using Elastic Beanstalk. In a world of hard-to-come-up-with brand names, I love that name. It allow you to grow and scale as required, which is the promise of the crowd. We're working on how quickly we can provision servers, and what those metrics are, and it's been fantastic. We're still in private beta, and have just been doing tests on large numbers. Every good entrepreneur dreams really big, and we're planning on having 1 percent of 37 million brands on our platform.

Has working on a Facebook app been different for you, given your roots in Flash?

Mark Sylvester: It has been different. You hit the nail on the head. Our roots are in Flash, and in fact the company came about as a project for Macromedia. We were even funded back in 2006 by Adobe, to move over to Flex. As you know, however, there isn't any flash on iPhone or iPad, which has been problematic for us. A year ago this month, we did a deal with Socialtech, a firm which was recently acquired by the Bedford group. Socialtech is an enterprise wiki, social business platform in Palo Alto. What they wanted, and what they loved was our pin view and visualization, and they loved our matching technology and what it provides. But, they were an HTML app on a LAMP stack. I thought, what are we going to do? What we did, is we made our first foray into HTML5 and Javascript. We spent several months taking and doing all these experiments, to make sure there would be no latency in switching our components to HTML5. It turned out really well, and I've been super happy. It was that work, when I said to Kimberlee, who runs engineering, that it's time to get our feet wet in HTML5 In a much bigger and ambitious project.

We looked around to see what we should do, and we found that Facebook has the APIs and everything you want. Although they're a bit fluid, still, they are motivated to build an ecosystem of applications, evidenced by their recent App Center launch. There have been challenges, but the tools are there, there is tons of support, and there's a robust developer community. I don't feel like, from talking with Kimberlee, that we've ever hit anything that was a roadblock and was killing us. For us, what we need is really fast access to the database, and ability to draw very quickly, and we can't tolerate latency, and our users won't tolerate it. We did end up coming up with interesting things with initially loading things, particularly for someone who has several hundred thousand posts, so that it's not a chore to make updates. In fact, we run updates every hour to keep everyone's score up to date.

Is there anything interesting you've learned using your own tool?

Mark Sylvester: We're only starting to study the data. My current score is 79, and the top number of views is 11. That's on the low end of the scale. It's odd, but now I feel like I have to post intriguing stuff. People don't care about my Foursquare and Places checkins, but what they do care about is interesting. In my case, it's the interesting photos that I take. I was a chef before I was in software, and for the last two years I've been into raw food. When I take pictures of my raw food, people go nuts. When I document that, I get lots of love on those things. That's just me, personally. Kymberleefind that caption contests and posting interest photos gets lots of people checking in. Those are just personal observations, however, as we don't have enough data to statistically understand it, though we'll be looking at things like time of day, gender, geography, and types of posts. It will be analyzing Likes versus shares and comments. That's what the pro version is all about, and those kinds of insights which are our hook. The data is all public through the APIs, but it's how you make sense of it as an image, which clearly our leg up on everyone else. Our goal is to help people spot what is working for them, and optimize.

Thanks, and good luck!


 

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