Five Questions: Steve Falcon

Monday, 24 September, 2007

YouMob logo

Five Questions is where I talk to bloggers about their projects and some of the other things they are doing. I ask {Q}uestions, and hopefully get some {A}nswers!

Bloggers are always interested in hearing about new, server melting, ways to promote their work, and if it’s a mob scene you’re looking for at your place then go no further than YouMob. Co-founder Steve Falcon came in to tell us all about it…

{Q} So what exactly is YouMob, a virtual equivalent of a flash mob maybe?

{A} YouMob is a way for people join together in live virtual crowds, or “mobs” on the web. We made it so you can start mobs on any website, without the owner’s permission.

The mobs can be for any purpose, but news and current events naturally generate the biggest, most active ones. Unlike flash-mobs, which are essentially group goofs, YouMob is more about people, situations – stuff deserving attention.

If something big happens, you get stirred and so do others. When something bad happens, maybe you’re sad or even outraged. YouMob is a way to join up without having to pile in a microbus.

A mob is a crowd of people all looking at the same page. Anyone can send shouts, using text, and everyone sees them live. It’s not a chat though. We make sure that all mobbers are heard even when shouts come fast and furious.

We support thousands of mobbers – that’s per mob – and we let you read historical shouts. You can also send “yays” and “boos”, and reactions are shown for the whole mob continuously. That’s coolest when the mob has live content like a broadcast feed.

Finally, YouMob is a way for site owners, bloggers and other web leaders to draw crowds. Mobbers can build social networks and share their favorites using invitations and unique widgets.

For example we have “beacons” that are like bookmarking buttons. Beacons blink when the mob is active, or when a certain user is mobbing. Beacons work anywhere without java/flash and lead more people, and traffic, to the action.

{Q} When did YouMob launch and what inspired its creation?

{A} YouMob is young. We’re in public beta now after less than a year in development by me and Rob Bearman. It all started during the US congressional mid-term elections last year.

The inspiration was how people were fed-up with current events. The web, great as it is for alternative news and commentary, doesn’t provide a more visceral outlet for the masses. Sometimes the situation calls for that.

Plenty of sites provide ways to link, rank and comment on articles, but we weren’t interested in that. We thought that their past-tense perspective wasn’t exciting and didn’t satisfy people’s need to occasionally rise up and be heard, right now.

{Q} How does YouMob differ from other social bookmarking sites like digg.com?

{A} You know, I can go digg an article that has 8000 already and it doesn’t matter. That spike is history and it can’t be revived. But a mob lives and breathes. It can heat up as events dictate.

If you mob a site with 30 other people… let me tell you, that’s a scene. And big mobs are amazing. You can feel the energy of the other people. There’s something about live groups that social bookmarking sites don’t tap at all.

Another big difference is how YouMob naturally fits with the goals of users. Digg and others have to fight their own users who try to game their lists. That’s an issue for those guys because their user-cost for a vote is very low.

You don’t even need to see a page to vote – you just click the button and move on. This leads to drive-by voting, lemmings and paid spam. Digg even had to bury their own top diggers list because they got too good at wielding their influence.

YouMob is novel because you have to be present to be counted. Since that user-cost is high, it’s hard to get rank without compelling content and an audience who really cares.

So our culture is different. We want you to use all the tricks and influence you have to bring more people in. This more closely resembles the real world, where getting participation isn’t so cheap and easy.

On one hand, you won’t see as much mob activity with the more mundane posts. On the other hand, when you do see activity, you know it matters.

{Q} What sites, blogs, or stories featured so far have attracted the biggest mobs?

{A} So far the biggest mobs have related to events on the political scene. Stories and media related to US government figures like Vice President Dick Cheney have gotten lots of action.

Recently YouMob promoted video coverage of US General Petraeus’ congressional report on the Iraq war. That mob got great participation with over 3000 mobbers – some just watching and others with lively shouts, rants and discussion.

There is also a wide range of mobs that don’t have large numbers of simultaneous mobbers, but get plenty of traffic over time. Our mob lists give most credit to live mobs, but historical visits also earn credit that ages over days or weeks, depending on mob size.

As to when and where the biggest mobs will be, just follow the news. When something big happens, that’s the time to join a mob or start one. Anybody can do it, even anonymously.

{Q} Are there any plans to expand on the YouMob idea, or introduce other features or enhancements?

{A} Absolutely! There’s a bunch of things we plan to do, some of which are underway. I can say we will be enhancing the mob experience to add more kinds of interaction.

We’ll also be adding more viral tools and ways to promote active mobs. There are UI improvements, and then some juicy stuff that’s top secret, of course :)

Everything we do is to make more, bigger, LIVE mobs on the web!

Thanks Steve!

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