Tag Archives: Darian Shirazi

Where 2.0: Facebook Places Focuses on ‘Pushing Up the Stack’

Facebook Head of Groups Justin Shaffer told attendees at Where 2.0 that one of Facebook’s goal is to develop the largest database of “interesting” places. The collection of places has “really been the focus” of his division for the past four-to-six months he said. At the same time, the database of places is probably something of a commodity for Facebook, and other services. “The coordinates are approaching a commodity. But (we’re) pushing up the stack with services etc.”

Shaffer, former CEO of Hot Potato, a group software site acquired last year by Facebook, said that a “social network” involves storytelling, memories and serendipity. The latter is “where friends check in and find you.” He added that a social network itself can be broken down into three basic elements: “Open,” “Geo” and “Temporal.”

Open would mean your social network acquaintances; Geo would be a friend’s photo of the Eiffel Tower; and Temporal would show the four people that are “here” right now. The importance of Check-ins is “not really where you are, (it is about) who you are with,” he said.

Content-wise, it all splits into the “Open Graph,” “Data” and “businesses.” Data would include places and events, and businesses would include check-in deals and pages. While it would be ultimately helpful to develop standards, Shaffer warned that “everyone isn’t going to agree on meta data or categories.”

Speaking on a panel with Shaffer at Where, Fwix CEO Darian Shirazi, who has just raised a new $4.2 million round from Comcast Interactive Capital, agreed that the basic information is probably approaching commodity status. The challenge is to build a package that it unbeatable, said Shirazi. A listing of “The Top 10 Bars in San Francisco” would be an example.

Content, and geo-tagging of content, “is where this will realistically go,” added Shirazi. Fwix, a 22 person company that started two years ago as a news aggregator, is now expanding into vertical content areas such as real estate and video transcriptions. If Fwix could use places data to win even one percent of Google search results, it would be “huge,” he said.

Fwix Drives Local News Aggregation Via Custom Algorithms


The local and community news “aggregator” space is poised to become increasingly important. Local news staffs, obviously, are being whittled away with the declining economics of local news. But there is more local content than ever, via blogs, pro/amateur content, reviews and other sources.

Already, the aggregator space is well populated by sites such as Topix.net, Outside.in and Everyblock. Other companies challenge from the periphery, including the so-called “content creator” companies (Examiner.com, Demand Media, Associated Content, AOL’s Seed.com). The portals and news services have also been traditional aggregators of content.

San Francisco-based Fwix is another up-and-comer. The 16 month old company hopes to differentiate itself by a highly refined set of algorithms based on “user behavior” and “linguistic quality.”

We met last week in San Francisco with Darian Shirazi, Fwix’s 23 year old founder. Shirazi, who previously was a software engineer at Facebook, notes the company has raised $2.7 million from BlueRun Ventures, and now consists of 12 people – 11 engineers, including two mobile specialists; plus Steve Comfort, a business development vet .

The site attracts 14 million unique users in the U.S., as well as Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It is looking closely at Brazil as a possibility. The site is centered around 200 cities, which will increase to 300 markets by September 2010.

Revenues for the site come largely from paid search, and customized news packages. Fwix is also testing different types of proximity advertising. Eventually, it expects to see a revenue split that consists of 30 percent from ad networks; 20 percent from partners; and half coming from its own sources.

But Shirazi says Fwix is less focused on short-term, nascent forms of monetization. Instead, it focuses on building up its traffic and on its local news search engine, which Shirazi believes is the most advanced local engine to look exclusively at “user behavior” and “linguistic quality.”

Mostly, Fwix is determined to avoid over-emphasizing search engine optimization rankings. It believes an SEO-focus ultimately waters down the quality of local search results. “We are about quality journalism,” says Shirazi, noting that the site’s content comes from a wide range of local media sources. (I found Carlsbadistan.com on Fwix; a site dedicated to my little beach community that I hadn’t seen before). While longterm goals are for the site to get most of its traffic from its own URL, the vast majority of site traffic today comes from partnerships, including, most notably, The New York Times Co. and Weather Underground.

The Times Co. is already using Fwix content to supplement its local news coverage for The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, which is part of its NY Times Regional Group. The Times Co. will also be using it to supplement coverage for The Local, The New York Times’ hyperlocal sites in the New York area. Shirazi doesn’t confirm that the NYT Co. relationship will go deeper — it could — but says many more partnerships are in the works.

Mobile also plays a significant role in the company’s development. As mentioned above, two of its engineers are specifically focused on mobile features and products, and the company was among the first to launch a dedicated iPad app. It eventually expects mobile to account for both content contributions, and up to half of its site usage. But Shirazi says that mobile currently only accounts for five percent of its overall traffic.

While Shirazi expresses confidence that Fwix can carve out a large chunk of the local aggregation market – and even expand it – he acknowledges there is an 800 lb. guerilla that he is watching carefully. “The one company we are afraid of is Google,” he says. “Their engineering is intent to do what we do.”