"Social software sucks," a developer told me this weekend, "because it makes people autistic." Society arises naturally from interaction, not a friends list — and forcing it into the latter makes users act autistic. Palopia — a pre-beta social network so new that even Michael Arrington hasn't called them yet — promises to fix that.
CEO Trent Bigelow told USC's Daily Trojan, "It's not about creating a better Facebook, it's about changing the way we network online." His plan: integrate e-mail, messaging, and calendars into a social network so it's actually social. When he pinged Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with some of these ideas, Mark snubbed him.
Now Trent has a team (mostly classmates from the University of Southern California), a welcome site (in the Web 2.0 national colors of blue, pink and white), and some time for a Valleywag IM interview. Here 'tis, with the boring bits edited out.
Valleywag: Righto. So you're young. About...I'm guessing 20?
Trent Bigelow: 21 next september (sound like a kid doesn't it)
Wag: No prob, I'm 22, half the CEOs here are closer to our age than Steve Jobs's.
Get any calls from a journalist doing his requisite "30 under 30" article?
Trent: nothing published yet...have a few that are interested...amazing that a college newspaper can do this much buzz
Wag: How's the reaction been? What types of people calling you?
Trent: great so far...everything from VCs, companies (potential partners), potential hires, and even students who just want to help...everybody seems to be telling us that if we deliver what we're talking about...then we're onto something big!
Wag: And what you're talking about is "social networking that's actually social and works." [The site tagline]
Love the phrasing, by the way. A lesser man would have put "And it works too" in a separate sentence.
Trent: yeah, sounds like us...we think we can go way beyond just profiles and comments
Wag: If someone said, "But I already have Flickr and MySpace and Upcoming," how would you respond?
Trent: i'd say, "sure, but sooner or later, if another service can converge all of those features in an all-encompassing environment, that the organizations you're involved in, with much more relevant features, wouldn't you take the simplier, better experience?"
Wouldn't you? The answer — and the other four-fifths of the interview — after the jump.
I'm just messing with you, that sounds great. You have calendars, an e-mail interface, profiles, groups, and photo sharing listed on your "The Idea" page. Any other major features?
Trent: the key is where the users are going — not where they are... we're working on ways to make an user exodus realistic and likely...starking with social circles...
Wag: So you're aware of MySpace's death grip on the average kid.
Trent: yeah, but...no one expects really deep tools and environments for communications, collaboration, and all other kinds of fun interactions...we're thinking of really out of the box ideas...that i don't think anyone is expecting from the other guys...
if students are willing to spend so much time on this current sites with such little to do, what will happen when we start really opening new doors? we know we'll need to partner with other content providers, ventures, and organizations to make this a reality sometime soon.
Wag: Hot stuff. Who's paying? Get any funding yet?
Trent: well, that's complicated...maybe in a few weeks we can expect a couple of "interesting" announcements... let's just say no one around here is sweating much anymore...
i'm sure everyone's heard of them...
Wag: Are we talking "This round will last for years" money, or "Okay, enough to get to round B" money?
Trent: it depends on how excited these guys get in the next few weeks...probably somewhere in between.
Wag: How'd you assemble your team? They're all still in school as well?
Trent: yeah, almost all of them are still undergraduates. Don't let their age fool you, though, they're some of the most talented and passionate people I've found yet. I networked among USC's professors, student organizations, as well as family and friends. A lot more tried out for the team, but only the best stayed. This is a good thing.
Wag: "Don't let their age fool you"? That's totally going to end up in your first New York Times profile.
Youngest team member?
Trent: youngest member, 18.
but a 16 y.o. from Boston really wants to join...he's been emailing us everyday since the DT article broke.
Wag: Brilliant! E-mailing him back?
Trent: we've made a real effort to email EVERY person back. I hope to get him and others (minors) involved in a new virtual internship program we're hoping to launch in the next year.
if you've guessed it—something that sets us a part is that we're user empowered, it's a collaborative movement that we're leading.
Wag: User-generated, Live Web, and all that jazz.
It's as if you're already in the Valley.
Trent: yeah, it's funny that many (older) analysts seem to be really impressed with the "big guys" user experience...like they've earned their users via best features...we all know that's not how they did...but that may play a big role on how they lose it...
Wag: So let's go over some things on your bio.
Trent: uh oh...
Wag: You say you talk to your furniture. What are some things you've told your furniture?
Trent: it's mostly asking them questions...why do i have to study?...why does cafeteria food suck so much...and what's going to change the global economy in an wireless-internet-everywhere environment
Wag: And this furniture, does it talk back?
Trent: no, they're all pretty lame...
Wag: So okay. Your bio says you like Coldplay. WTF, Trent?
Trent: yeah...that's about as mainstream as i get...what about Air, or Lemon Jelly? what do you like then?
Wag: You have just redeemed yourself.
Trent: whew...close one.
Wag: Let's get the bloggers to link to the interview. What are some of your favorite blogs?
Trent: steve rubel's (now), techcrunch, oriellyradar...
there are others
Wag: Has TechCrunch's Michael Arrington contacted you yet?
Trent: not....yet.... (call me, Michael....) j/k
Wag: He's totally going to call you.
Trent: we'll see... i feel special just being on valleywag...
Wag: Oh, don't — being on Valleywag halves your Q score. And probably your IQ score as well.
Wag: Tom from MySpace has a friend-only profile for collecting hot Asian girls he's met. Will you have anything like that?
Trent: i don't about tom...but i've got a fantastic, amazing (etc) girlfriend...so, if I have a special profile...it's just going to be for her....awww...
*(don't know about tom)
Wag: Awwwww. Just a moment, I'm throwing up a little into my desk drawer.
Trent: yeah, that's expected...
Wag: All right, when should we all keep an eye out for a Palopia launch?
Give us a ballpark range?
Trent: give us a (within) year, and we'll give you give something to talk about...
partnerships take time...we're betting a lot on them (beyond what we've already got)
Wag: Couple last things.
You have a college team, a community college team, and a high school team. What about adults?
Trent: although we want to eventually expand and help EVERYONE...we think we've got a better immediate connection to people closer to our age...(for the time being)...we'll see...i think we should focus on our core for the launch...
Wag: Groovy. So before you crush them beneath your friendly pastel-blue army boot, what do you want to tell MySpace, Facebook, and all the other social networks?
Trent: apologies in advance...for actually caring about the user experience and their safety.... also, reminder... it's about relevant partnerships, the power of the brand, and making a member movement...
Wag: Cool. Last question: Who on the team is single? Cause a couple of you drop the girlfriend bomb on your bios, and that's just a letdown to all the other tech kids.
Trent: i think maybe we could help form some new relationships for even the most tech savvy kids out there...
you never know how much palopia will help.
Wag: So could someone on this team hook up with a hottie on their own site?
Web 2.0 is the ultimate aphrodisiac.