AOL announced today that it has acquired Socialthing, a TechStars company from 2007, confirming the original rumors. I’m psyched for Matt, Brian, and Ben – they worked their butts off during the program last summer, raised under $500k to get to this point, and really stayed focused.
For those of you not familiar with Socialthing, it’s a digital life manager that helps you get the most out of the social sites and services you already use on the web. It’s often compared to FriendFeed, although there are subtle differences. Socialthing has also been known for great design – the product is super attractive and easy to use and people noticed from day one.
I first met Socialthing in the thrilling setting of the St. Louis airport Burger King in April of last year. I remember one of the guys being a few minutes late to the meeting because they were looking for a place to park their Geek Squad car. Socialthing was just an idea then – they had very little progress on the actual software but I could immediately sense that they had a strong vision for the product and really understood the space. It was clear that they lived their lives mostly on the net and that they had specific ideas about what sucked and what they could make better. That vision morphed and was focused somewhat during TechStars last summer, and it quickly evolved into a really interesting digital life manager.
My lasting memory about Socialthing will always be the (now?) famous “two vectors” whiteboard drawing in my office last summer. When Socialthing arrived at TechStars, they were excited about building a brand new destination social network that would enable you to create and consume content on the best in class services that were already out on the net. They felt that over time, they could also add in new capabilities of their own so that people could mix and match Socialthing native components with those from other popular services on the net. For example, you could use Flickr within Socialthing, or you could use Socialthings own photo manager (or both).
The two-vectors drawing made them see that their passion centered around two main things. In one vector, they wanted to make it easier to manage, use, consume, and create content on great sites that they loved like Flickr, MySpace, and Facebook in one centralized location. On the other vector, they wanted to create their own social destination site and ultimately replace those very services. This simple whiteboard drawing helped them understand that these were two fundamentally different problem sets that would be very difficult to achieve at the same time. Clearly, the second vector had far more roadblocks and was a much bigger challenge. I vividly recall the sudden realization that they didn’t have to really replace anything to be successful. They just had to work on un-sucking the fact that your friends were scattered across a bunch of sites and you had no simple way to see what they were all doing or to manage them. They immediately realized that they could build a product that leveraged the best-of-class services out on the web to create a fundamentally better experience for heavy social users like themselves. On the day of the extended two-vector whiteboard discussion, Matt, Ben, and Brian clarified and solidified their vision along the first vector and forever stopped thinking about creating yet another social network that was represented by the second vector.
This turned out to be a pretty good decision, and it’s fun to think back and wonder where the other path might have led them. Who knows.
Congratulations to Socialthing and to AOL, as well as to the other investors including EonBusiness. I’m sure the Socialthing guys will go on to do great things with AOL.