STIRR is a notable organization run by Dan Arkind and Sanford Barr that puts on gatherings for founders and entrepreneurs around the Bay Area. At last Wednesday’s event they had a few of us do 5-minute “Founder Hack” talks. It was really fun and the crowd lively. <see video>
All this talk in the blogosphere about who invented Facebook. Shouldn’t the credit go to the 3 guys who built InCircle for Stanford students and alumni back in 2002-3? Two of their names were Orkut Buyukkokten and Tyler Ziemann. I don’t know the name of the third guy,
InCircle was one of the first social networks, and the first to limit members by email address. A Stanford Alum showed InCircle to me in 2002 or early 2003 (I can’t remember) and told me that 80% of the people he knew from Stanford were on it in about 3 weeks after it launched. These three founders realized it was a good idea and wanted to start a company to pursue it. At the time, 2002 or 2003, no venture capitalist would fund a consumer Internet company, so they made it an enterprise software company and called it Affinity Engines. (Remember, this was way before Friendster and way way before Facebook)
The goal of Affinity Engines was to sell the software to colleges to run their own student and alumni networks. One of the three founders, whose first name is Orkut, left Affinity for Google to pursue the social network idea there, dropping the email exclusivity and college focus. The other two kept running Affinity Engines and then sued Google over Orkut.com, claiming Orkut stole code from Affinity Engines. Sound familiar?
If you search GoodTree for — Orkut “Affinity Engines” — it’s easy to find the whole story. Here’s an excerpt from the Wired article in June 30, 2004:
After graduating from Stanford in 2001, [Orkut] Buyukkokten and fellow graduate Tyler Ziemann built a social-networking service called Club Nexus, which they sold to Stanford for use by the university’s undergraduates, according to the lawsuit. Club Nexus was a success, and Buyukkokten and Ziemann subsequently decided to form Affinity Engines and design a product for the Stanford Alumni Association called inCircle. As a developer of social-networking software for university students and alumni, Affinity Engines was among the first players in what has become a very crowded field. Today, social-networking services like Friendster, Tribe, LinkedIn and orkut attract millions of users by giving them a way to easily connect to friends and friends’ networks of friends.
Seems that the “college-social-network” idea is a bit like King Tut’s tomb. Whoever opens it is cursed with lawsuits. Many have tried this idea, and it seems only one has succeeded. (By the way, I may have this story wrong in places. It was a long time ago, and I’m working off my own memory of it, so if I’m wrong, in places, please let me know)
We saw this near the end of the first Internet boom, and we’re starting to see it again — consumers are just getting tired of trying out all the new online services we all are cranking out. What that means is that even if you find a way to get a great, new, differentiated service in front of them in a cost effective manner, the consumer is significantly more likely to pass just because they’re too busy figuring out other services they found earlier.