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Interview with Scott Rocher, The Black Stripe

I've recently been looking around at Web 2.0 companies, the companies and often just projects that are helping to pave the next generation of the Internet. I happened to run across The Black Stripe (www.theblackstripe.com), a web site that is getting some buzz in Web 2.0 circles. The Black Stripe allows for collaboration and sharing of photos, stories, blogs, and other information with friends, and I discovered that the site was based in Los Angeles. Even more, I found out--like many Web 2.0 projects--that it's the work of a couple of enterprising developers as a side project. I thought it would be interesting to hear about the site, so I talked with Scott Rocher, one of the creators of the site on how it came about.

Ben Kuo: What's the Black Stripe, and how'd you come up with the idea?

Scott Rocher: The Black Stripe is a collaborative photo/social-sharing website based on real-life friend networks. The idea for the site came from a little web tool that Stewart King built on his personal website to share photos with his friends. I saw it and thought it would make a great website. We starting converting it in September 2005 and it's taken off since. The thing that makes us most unique is the way we've implemented the social network -- it's not about meeting new people through the internet -- it's about sharing photos and information with people you're already friends with in the real world. This creates a new kind of intimate online community that's less about connected and more about staying connected.

Security is an important component to The Black Stripe and we feel that sites like MySpace have done it all wrong. We've locked down the security on The Black Stripe so only your friends can see your information and vice-versa. This ensures that The Black Stripe won't become a ground for people with less-than-appropriate intentions.

BK: How long has the site been in operation?

SR: We started programming the site in September 2005. But it's been open to the public since November 2005.

BK: It looks like putting up a Web 2.0 site is pretty easy. It only took you a month to develop and start running the site?

SR: It took a month to get the first version of the site online. It had very limited Web 2.0 functionality. We've been working for the past six months to add a long list of features, refine the usability of the site, and improve the speed of our code.

BK: What tools are you using to develop the service, and how much of that is proprietary development by the founders?

SR: Most of the code on the site is proprietary. We program in PHP/JavaScript/MySQL. PHP is pretty much the easiest language to program in (for the web) and we've chosen to code in it because we can be FAST. Speed is so important -- if we're discouraged by the programming tasks, we'd never implement our creative ideas.

BK: How are people using the site, and how have they been hearing about you?

SR: The primary functionality is photo-sharing. But people use the site to share just about any kind of information. Think of it as a tool that real-friends use to share information, photos, travel plans, and life changes.

The photo sharing works like this: sign in, upload a photo of George, then that photo shows up in George's list and sends him an email. Some people use the site for photo-hosting but it's not really designed to do that.

Our new feature, travel, lets people input their upcoming and past travel plans. We've got a few more tricks up our sleeves including some new blogging features that are truly unique. Look for those in the next couple of weeks.

BK: What's your background, and the background of your co-founder?

SR: My experience in building websites spans over ten years. In 2000, I created web design firm Key Lime Media which serves various clients across the country. A graduate of the Communication Studies program at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, I presently serve as a Project Manager at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies in Marina del Rey, California. I continue to build and maintain entrepreneurial projects like The Black Stripe in my spare time.

Stewart King went to Harvard. Although his degree is in Psychology, he really I spent all of his time in college working on websites. King also works as a web developer at the USC Institue for Creative Technologies, but side projects like The Black Stripe have always been his main hobby.

BK: Have you thought about turning this project into a real business, and have you looked at funding the firm?

SR: I think about turning The Black Stripe into a full-fledged business all the time. I think if more people knew about the site, turning it into a business would be easy. Our biggest hurdle right now is growing the user-base.

We've just started to talk to some investment contacts and we're optimistic that funding is in our near future.

BK: Thanks for the interview, and good luck on the site!


 

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