Entrepreneur Bill Gross is already famous in technology circles for developing the search-related keyword advertising model that Google has since made billions by perfecting. Now, he is launching a content-focused social network called Chime.in that will compete not just with Google’s new social platform Google+ but with Twitter and Facebook too, and link-sharing sites like Reddit and Digg as well. Does the world need another social platform for sharing content? Gross says that it does, and that his connections with content companies will help Chime.in succeed — but the odds are stacked against him.
Gross may be well known to some as the guy who created the first version of Ad Words, which he did at a company called GoTo — later renamed Overture, and eventually acquired by Yahoo for $1.6 billion in 2003. More recently, however, he has become infamous for his somewhat tense relationship with Twitter. First, the real-time information network shut down Gross’s attempts to monetize tweets through advertising, then when his company started acquiring Twitter clients like Twidroyd and UberTwitter, it shut off several of his apps for bad behavior.
To add insult to injury, Gross reportedly tried to buy the Twitter app Tweetdeck, only to have Twitter buy the company instead. There were even reports that UberMedia planned to start a competitor to Twitter, although Gross denied these reports at the time.
Chime.in may not be a direct competitor to Twitter, but it is clearly a shot across the bow. According to the support pages for the service (which have since been taken offline), it will allow users to post to Twitter or Facebook or Google+ as well as to the Chime.in network, and is therefore not competitive but “additive to the ecosystem.” But it seems obvious that Gross wants to appeal to users of these other networks who feel overwhelmed by the amount of content and want to focus their interests more clearly — and he wants to appeal to content producers as well, and offer them a better home for their content than Twitter, and a share in the ad revenue.
Gross said that the service, which hasn’t launched yet (an iPhone app that made it into the U.S. store appears to have since been pulled) is meant to help users focus on following topics rather than people, as a way of filtering through the noise coming from social networks. Of course, each of Chime.in’s competitors also have a way of doing this — Twitter and Facebook have lists and Google has “Circles” — and it’s not clear why anyone would choose Chime’s approach instead. The service will also provide not just a stream but dedicated webpages devoted to content, which Gross said would appeal to publishers, and the company has invited entertainment companies such as Universal Pictures, Bravo TV and Disney to take part.
Content relationships may get Gross and Chime.in the attention of publishers, but with some users complaining that they lack the time for even one new network like Google+, how much chance does Chime.in stand of drawing a large user base? Content from mainstream publishers also wasn’t much help to Digg after an ill-fated relaunch last year, much of which was devoted to making it easy for publishers to post their content to the network. That may have appealed to content companies, but it didn’t appeal to very many users, and Digg wound up rolling back almost all of its redesign.
But the biggest hurdle for Chime.in is the simple fact that Facebook now has 800 million users and Twitter has 200 million or so, with Google+ in the 50 million range. Useful features aren’t always enough for a social network to flourish, especially when there is so much competition. In the end, even if you build it they might not come.