MapMyName is a fresh project made in Portugal by João Ribeiro and Sérgio Veiga, both software architects that had the brilliant idea to try to count the number of internet users – they have a cool video presentation that explains the project.
Before going to the 10 questions and answers I’d just like to add 2 interesting points: one of the cool things in MapMyName is the integration with google maps so you can point out exactly where you live/ where you are currently located. After joining the project and confirming your email you can spread the word to your friends, this is one of the crucial points for the project to become successful.
The interview is a bit long but really interesting, it is worth the time reading – specially answers number 5 and 8.
1. When and how did you come up with the idea for MapMyName?
Mapmyname was born from a conversation we were having, while taking a cup of coffee. We were talking about “What a small we live in”, because I’ve found out that someone I knew for a long time was also a friend of Sérgio which I’ve met in the University. One thing led to another, and in no time our conversation reached a whole new level. The small worlds phenomena, globalization, and of course, the Internet.
What is in fact the true Internet Power? How many people use it? Is it possible to know? In what period? So, here started the mapmyname project, after some investigation, we assumed certain principles and began to build the website.
2. Was there any kind of change in terms of features from the day it was launched until today?
Yes, at the beginning, the “friends brought concept” wasn’t navigable, this means that you could know how many people you’ve brought, but not who they were. We realized that would be very cool because our beta testers talked about it. Also, we’ve changed a lot of stuff concerning GUI to make it easier for the user. Like making “Join Now” bigger and red, like tool tips over some links, etc.
3. What are the benefits (for the users) to use MapMyName?
The benefit for the user is to make part of a global scale experiment and contribute to it. By doing so the user also gets to see some pretty faces, ehehe. The goal is to make something really different from all there is in the social networking world today. We want to produce and share knowledge. So you know how many Hi5 users there are? Do they give statistics? Of course not, they sell them probably. Mapmyname is a project, from the people to the people.
At this point the project gives you the ability to see a distribution of the people you brought with you in Geo-terms, that is pretty cool, to see people whose friends are spread all over the world.
We could have many more features, super cool and awesome for users, but we need time… and of course money (check our opening page on blog.mapmyname.com).
4. Can you give an idea about traffic statistics? Any relevant spikes?
Two essential spikes: A news release on the Netherlands at nu.nl, one of the most read online news website of that country. Also in Portugal, when we went on National TV News.
We have a mean of 10 000 visits a day, and many more page views.
5. You realize there are flaws within this project, any plans to make it more close to perfection?
Yes, there are flaws! For instance, using emails to spread the word has serious problems. Many emails don’t arrive, and we have many people that aren’t validated, this means they registered but didn’t activate their registry. This is really hard to fight, because Hotmail and email providers started to consider us as spam and to fight this we probably need some kind of accreditation, probably paid (even if in time).
There is also a very important fact: most people don’t bring 3 persons into the project. This means either one of two things: they don’t spread the word and/or the people who receive the email just don’t believe in the project. There is a problem with this kind of project, you have to believe it. Nobody is paying you to register, and it is so much easier to say: “Hey, I don’t care, what difference will this make? What difference will I make?”.
The thing is, each and everyone of us can and does make a difference. This is the same reason why so many people don’t recycle, or throw garbage onto he streets: “What’s the point of recycling, it’s not because of my trash that the world is going to be cleaner”. Also, this was one of the reasons we chose the Earth Day to launch the project. We believe.
6. Currently there aren’t any kind of ads on the site, any plans to change this? Do you have a revenue model in mind?
We don’t have any ads except for the sponsor of the hosting company. Our idea in what concerns ads is “I hate ads”. At least the way they are normally used and thrown in our eyes.
Everything you see is maintained by us, and as you can imagine, our server and our time doesn’t come cheap… also I’ll finish my graduation soon, and I’ll have to work to survive.
This put, we need to find a model to continue the project as a self sustained scientific project dedicated to the study of the small worlds phenomena.
We’re working on a revenue model, it’s a draft still but we believe in it. For this to work, we need venture capital or business Angels support, and that is what we are trying to find right now.
We have already received a proposal from a big (ads) American company to put advertisement in our website, but that’s not what we want.
I, as a user, would feel deceived and would lose user experience quality by seeing MapMyName filled with Jamba ring tones and flying crazy frogs. I hate that.
Our model for advertisement is completely different. I won’t reveal it now of course, you’ll have to trust me on this one.
7. The main function of the project is to count the number of internet users and this task has a life time of 1 month, what are the plans afterwards? To create a social web2.0ish website? How do you see MapMyName in 1 year from now?
The plan is to keep the project going if we can find support (that is, venture capital). Our idea for MapMyName is to develop new features that will encounter our users requests and even more. We see MapMyName in a year as the unique, first, Scientific Social Network of the whole wide world.
We see MapMyName as the future of social networking. A fun place to see people (who doesn’t search for cute girls nearby?), but at the same time much more than that. By having fun, the user will contribute to a study about the six degree of separation theory and small worlds phenomena.
We also want to implement knowledge/share experience in MapMyName versus the photo/video share thing. A serious scientific project, with regular results publication, self sustained through an advertisement revenue model (without flying frogs – trust me) without losing all the fun of a regular social network like orkut, etc.
And of course geo-refered with all the power that comes with it – how about MapMyName on your cellphone? Imagination is the limit and we have tons of that.
8. Are there companies that support MapMyName to help paying the hosting (and other) costs? Actually, are there any other costs besides the hosting?
We have a sponsorship by zone.net our hosting provider. Still, we pay about 500$ a month for our server, so it’s still expensive. We pay for this ourselves, both of us. All was built and is maintained by the both of us and of course there are costs besides the hosting service. Our time is valuable, we try to answer everyone and I think we’re achieving this. One thing we’ve talked about since the beginning was that we would respond to every last email someone would send us. You need to care, for people to care. Each and everyone of our users counts. I count, you count. We’re all important in this huge process called “The MapMyName project”.
So, as you can imagine, something like this has a lot of email answering work, development work, maintenance work, etc. All done by the two of us, earning nothing “except” our self realization by building something used on the four corners of the world, born in our minds, and built by the two of us alone.Believe me, if we were expecting support of official entities to start anything… we’d still be waiting.
9. There are plenty of suggestions on the recently presented wish list that is part of the new MapMyName blog, any plans to use some of them?
Yes, some of them we’ve thought about before, others are new to us.
We plan to use most of them, of course with our concept of those ideas. For instance, adding people as a friend, we plan to do that and a lot more (once again trust me).
We have the will, if we hadn’t we would never start something like this on our own initiative and we are learning everyday and have a solid engineering formation, so, all the conditions are reunited to start the next Web2.0 Global Reference on Social Networking… all that is missing is venture capital.
10. Last but not least – some people have the wrong idea about the project (e.g. collecting data for bad purposes), and since you have access to plenty of personal information… what do you have to say about this?
Why would we do that? What’s the point? We say in our service terms, we’ll treat data to present statistics in an anonymous way. I understand people being suspicious about these things, and there are even others who say “I won’t give my location to anyone, then I’ll be robbed, people will know where I live!”.If I need to find where someone lives or if I want to stalk that person, I won’t use MapMyName. How about the phone book? How about following that person? The big brother phenomenon is something we all think about sometimes, but lets be reasonable…
In what comes to the data… once again… why would we use people info for bad purposes? We did this voluntarily, we’re students, not a company, nobody is forcing us to do this. If we wanted, we could fill the website with advertisements and flying frogs and ring tones right now. Why don’t we? Of course we need to find a way to support the project, to generate income, also, because we don’t think that taxes and community money should pay for science projects like it happens in most cases. We believe if we want to do something that will produce knowledge, we also need to think how we will support that something. But this doesn’t mean we will sell our souls to the devil, selling personal data to door to door salesmen. We’re working hard to find a sustainable model, and we believe we’re getting to it… Hope we’ll get VC, so we can keep talking more and more about improving the project everyday, every email we receive is a lush of fresh air. Keep on suggesting, that’s what keeps us going, you caring.
Extra: Anything else you like to add?
“One simple step and you’re in the map!”