If you’re self-employed and you want to network with others in your field who might be able to help you find opportunities, you can do that through email, Facebook and maybe even LinkedIn, but there’s no dedicated service to help you build a social graph around your specific area of expertise. Namesake, a startup based in Los Angeles and run by two of the founders of the social advertising platform Ad.ly, wants to be that service. The company made its public debut at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference on Monday, although the service itself is still in private beta.
Namesake is the third startup for the two co-founders: Dan Gould and Brian Norgard. They built a news aggregation service called Newroo that used algorithms to parse news content and find relationships. It was purchased by News Corp in 2006, at which point it became part of the Fox Audience Network. After leaving, the two then started Ad.ly, which began as a Twitter advertising platform but has become a service for advertisers to leverage a number of different social networks. The idea for Namesake came because both wanted to find a better way of helping entrepreneurs like themselves make contacts and build their social networks.
The Namesake site looks very much like Facebook or Twitter, with a stream of notifications and updates from a user’s network in the middle and related information in a column on the right. In addition to posting regular social-networking style updates with links or a comment, however, Namesake also lets users post “opportunities,” such as job openings or contracts or requests for information, and tag them with certain keywords and topic areas. Other users in their social network can then “route” those opportunities to someone they think would be able to help, in the same way someone might send a re-tweet or forward an email.
In an interview Tuesday, the two founders said that watching Facebook’s rise from within News Corp., which owned competitor MySpace, was a real education in how to make a social network successful.
“We watched that battle in real time,” says Norgard, “and the key observation was how important having a good product is. The bottom line is that Facebook had a superior product in all kinds of ways.” Gould says that for the Namesake founders, focusing on the product means paying close attention to users and watching what they do — and also talking to them. Norgard says he tries to talk to as many users as possible every day about the features they like and don’t like.
In order to help the community grow but still maintain a certain level of quality, the Namesake founders say they are keeping the number of users deliberately small, and then will allow those users to recommend others in their network — the same kind of slow-growth strategy that Quora, the question-and-answer site founded by former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo, took when it first started up. Namesake actually looks and feels a little like Quora in terms of the user interface, and also shares some similar features; for example, users of Namesake can recommend others as experts on a specific topic or subject area, just as they can on Quora.
And what about LinkedIn, the professional-oriented social network? Norgard says that Namesake isn’t trying to take on the larger service, but sees what it is providing as a network that connects to many different social graphs. Users can log in with their Facebook profiles, and can send updates and opportunities to both Twitter and Facebook as well as to their Namesake network. Support for LinkedIn is coming, the two co-founders say. “LinkedIn is a great site for hosting your networked resume,” says Norgard. “We’re the next evolution of that. We want to build out the expertise graph.” Embedded below is a short video interview I did with Norgard and Gould.
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):