iLike’s CEO on the Wonders of Facebook Integration

iLike’s Facebook application continues to add hundreds of thousands of listeners every day. As I write it’s got just under 2.2 MILLION users just 2 weeks after its launch. In contrast,’s official application has 62,000 and MOG’s even fewer. The other day I speculated on whether this had led to a decline in visits to Ali Partovi, iLike CEO, explained in the comments that:

a) given the explosive growth on Facebook, we intentionally disabled various aspects of — including all email notifications, newsletters, etc — deliberately hoping to temporarily reduce our traffic to conserve server capacity for our Facebook app.

b) despite these efforts, the massive Facebook traffic caused daily outages all last week, not only on Facebook’s own servers but also on ours, taking out both the iLike FB app and

While I won’t be surprised to see a time when users are “switching” in significant numbers to use iLike on Facebook, I don’t think that’s happening yet.

As of now, the users of still greatly outnumber the users of iLike on Facebook (perhaps not for long!). Also, we have not yet announced our Facebook app to the iLike mailing list, nor have we interlinked the two databases — so users on can’t (yet) easily switch their accounts over to Facebook. As these things change over the coming weeks, it will be interesting to watch — indeed a lot of users might switch permanently to using iLike on Facebook instead!

My curiosity was piqued by this last sentence, and especially it’s enthusaistic tone, as though people leaving for iLike-the-Facebook-application might be a GOOD thing. So I followed up on that, and here’s our conversation:

Nancy: It sounds from your comment like iLike would be quite content to have its users using the site from within Facebook vs going to Is that right? And what are the implications of that for how sites like iLike operate in the future?

Ali: Well, we know that iLike’s functionality, no matter how good on its own, can be even better when deeply integrated in to the Facebook platform. Although we’ve barely started the migration of functions from to Facebook, already we can tell that iLike on FB will be *better* for the consumer than on its own.

Having accepted that, the rest writes itself. There’s no way we’d try to fight an uphill battle against what’s best for the consumer. And fortunately, in contrast to the precariously-balanced “Myspace widget ecosystem,” making $ on the FB platform is no harder than making $ on our own site. In fact, the business model doesn’t change at all — the only difference is that it will take more effort to build and maintain multiple versions of our site (especially if we need to support more than one such platform, if FB’s competitors create equivalent platforms of their own).

N: In what ways do you think iLike on FB is “better for the consumer?” How is its functionality improved through FB integration?

A: The #1 way people discover music is through friends, and iLike’s mission is to facilitate that. Facebook enhances this in two key ways: 1) instant personalization. On our dot-com site, each new user needs to tell us their music tastes, invite their friends, and get those friends to tell us their tastes. Whereas on our Facebook site, we already know your tastes, your friends, and their tastes, so we can offer you a personalized experience automatically. 2) Not another social network. People don’t wanna go somewhere separate just for music — they want music to enhance their existing online social life. For example: where would you rather see a notification that your buddies are going to see Snow Patrol: on a separate music website, or in the Facebook news feed that you’re already checking five times a day?

N: As I understand it, right now iLike Facebook users are not linked to users, so people might be running 2 accounts with you. Is that right? And if it is, will the accounts eventually be linked?

A: That’s correct — people’s existing accounts on are not (yet) linked to their accounts on Facebook. This is an interim situation that we’ll hopefully resolve in a few weeks. We had only a few weeks to build iLike on Facebook so we postponed some of the bigger tasks… what you see today is just the beginning!

N: I’ve heard that the main source of iLike revenue is through Ticketmaster. Is that accurate (and hence why it doesn’t matter where on the web iLike users are using iLike)?

A: As an ad-supported site, we can make as much money on our Facebook app as on our own dot-com site — perhaps even more! Regardless of which site you visit, we can learn your tastes, recommend new music or concerts to you, provide links for you to buy, collect affiliate fees, and show you ads along the way. In fact, on our Facebook app, we know more about you, so we should be able to make more money by showing you more relevant ads.

N: You’re suggesting you see iLike eventually operating through multiple sites, not just Facebook. Are there any plans in the works to launch applications for other platforms?

A: There’s no other platform out there (yet) that remotely approaches what Facebook offers today. Will Facebook’s competitors successfully launch something competitive? That’s the Web2.0 question of the year. Strategically, I don’t love being dependent on a single platform; but I’m also not sure the market has room for another. There’s an enormous network effect that favors everything on the same platform.

N: It seems that particularly in the last few months we’re seeing increasing trending toward the fusion of what used to be multiple sites — startpages, widgets, Facebook applications. Do you have any general thoughts or insights on the opportunities and challenges of this trend?

A: I see it as not just a trend, but an epic Darwinian clash between platforms. Over ten years we’ve seen the gradual evolution of a “widget syndication” model, where companies push features out into embeddable snippets. Against that gradual trend, the Facebook platform is a massive evolutionary leap: rather than extending my website through widgets, I can now build an entirely new, more powerful site from scratch with the awesome building blocks that Facebook offers. Which approach is better? Only time will tell, but my prediction is that those who embrace Facebook’s platform will beat those who don’t. I don’t see Facebook’s Platform as part of a trend in the evolution of widgets, except in the sense that the emergence of mammals was part of a trend in the evolution of giant reptiles.

N: Finally, are there any other things you think I (and Online Fandom readers) ought to know about iLike that I haven’t asked about?

N: It’s amazing that our Facebook app has gone from zero to 2 million users in less than two weeks… I don’t know of any new technology in history growing that fast. And we’ve only just begun :)

More social networking for wine fans

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Vinorati, a bi-lingual social networking site based in France for wine enthusiasts. Since then, people searching for “wine social network” have been landing on my site consistently, including, it seems Sagi Solomon, who runs another social networking site built around wine called Open Bottles, launched way back in late 2005. As I wrote before, wine seems ideal for social networking — there are zillions of choices no one can taste all of — which makes social knowledge pooling essential — and there are already a lot of social occasions built around wine (wine tasting parties, for instance, or the country of France). Like music, there’s also a professional criticism industry which your average wine drinker may or may not identify with. As Solomon says about his inspiration for starting the site:

When I first got into wine I realized two things – that my primary source of recommendations came from friends, and that the wines my friends recommended were better than the wines recommended by other sources (e.g., Parker or Enthusiast). My friends felt the same way. I created OpenBottles so that my friends and I could share wine recommendations.

From a fandom perspective, wine is also interesting in that it is clearly “high culture” in contrast to all that “low culture” stuff fans do, yet when you look at what wine lovers are doing together on these sites, it doesn’t look all that different from what people into things like low-class rock music do when they get together on the net.

I posted an interview with Vinorati’s co-founder here and here, so when Sagi wrote, I grabbed the chance to ask him about OpenBottles. I started by asking him about user activity on the site:

The community is growing rapidly. Traffic to the site is growing exponentially as thousands of visitors and members visit each month. I have about 50 winery members participating. The database contains information about more than 19,000 wines and 2,100 wineries, which is one of the largest wine databases from what I can tell.

The main thing that members are doing is sharing wine and winery recommendations and managing their wine collections using our cellar feature. Visitors to the site primarily research wine information and reviews.

Here’s the rest of our interview:

One of the things I thought was interesting about OpenBottles is that you are encouraging wineries to create profiles for themselves and their products. What motivated you to invite the wineries into the site? What contribution do you think sites like OpenBottles can offer the relationships between winebuffs and wineries?

My initial motivator was to get wineries to help me build the database. That focus has changed as the site grew. Early on I developed good relationships with small, emerging wineries. These wineries were producing great wines, but most people never heard of them. I realized that OpenBottles was the perfect place to make the introduction. Wineries get their brands in front of the community, and the community gets to find out about the up-and-coming wineries. Everyone wins! My current focus is on helping wineries convert online traffic into foot traffic to their tasting rooms.

In addition, OpenBottles opens another channel of communication between the wineries and the community. Through this channel, the wineries can communicate information about their new releases, offer discounts, special offers and other benefits that are specifically tailored for the community.

Finally, wineries and wine consumers benefit from the free exchange of information. Wineries learn about the tastes and preferences of their customers through the reviews they leave on OpenBottles. Based on those reviews, wineries can adapt and deliver a better product (and experience) to their customers.

Are there tensions that have arisen around having the wineries and their customer-critics discussing the wines in the same site?

Good question. I have not had any problems in this area. Our community values honest communication and we do not tolerate jerks. Honest, but negative reviews, are welcome and encouraged. Personal opinions rule in our community, and for the most part everyone gets it. I had one incident of a winemaker requesting that I remove a negative comment about his tasting room. I refused, and explained how this feedback is actually useful to him. He got it.

I see a number of parallels between online social groups for wine, and those for music, film, tv shows, and so on. Bringing the wineries and buffs together on OpenBottles, seems to parallel MySpace, but with vintners instead of bands. What are your thoughts about this?

That’s a great observation. I’m a believer in applying lessons learned by other people to save time and money. I try to mimic MySpace where I think it is appropriate. MySpace did a lot of things right, and it also did a lot of things wrong. For one thing, MySpace made the community personal. I think that’s key. One thing MySpace isn’t doing right is that it is losing focus. It started with a music focus, but it is straying from that. I think that’s a mistake. OpenBottles is a wine community, and that is where our focus will remain. I want to make sure that we are always providing our members with relevant, useful and actionable information. I will continue to incorporate features that worked well in other communities to the extent that they add value to our community. I’m always looking for ways to build a stronger, more active community.

Are there any ways in which users have surprised you with the uses they’ve made of the site?

I strongly believe in asking the community for feedback and building features that address the community’s needs. In that regard, the uses the community makes of the site are the uses they requested. For example, the community uses the winery reviews to plan wine tasting trips. That is not something I contemplated originally, but it is such a good use of the data that I plan on introducing some features to make it easier to do this kind of planning. Another example is the community using the information from the site in other settings, such as professional networking events. There has also been talk about using the wine community to build a professional network. I’m looking into how this can be accommodated as well.

What have you found to be the biggest challenges of building a social networking site?

The biggest challenge of building the wine community is getting people to contribute. I’ve found that most wine drinkers expect wine reviews to read a certain way (like Parker’s reviews). They are therefore afraid of sounding inexperienced or of being wrong. This is a huge challenge, and one that will take time to resolve. One of the ways I try to help people get over this fear is to focus the rating and reviewing process on the personal experience rather than the “technical” aspects of wine. No one can argue with my opinion about whether or not I liked the wine or not. Simplifying the rating system has been useful at all. The 100-point scales are difficult to apply practically (what’s the difference between an 88 and a 91?), and they are easy to skew. If you allow people to respond in a non-committed answer (“neutral” or “3 out of 5”), they will, and the data is useless. Our rating system is easy to understand, is based on personal experiences and is easy to standardize. All of these elements encourage members to share.

What advice would you offer others who are interested in creating online social spaces for people to discuss their favorite hobbies?

First and foremost, I would recommend that they have a focus. Lack of focus is death in this space. Second, I would encourage them to always communicate with the community to find out what it’s doing, what it wants, what’s working and what’s not. I interact with my members regularly and I give them many ways to reach me. Finally, I would focus on introducing tools to help people share information quickly and easily. The key is to get useful information disseminated as quickly as possible, and to standardize it for quick consumption. With wine, I created the “Liked By” rating as shorthand for what the community thought about the wine. More detail is easily accessible, if that is what the visitor wants. Finally, I would recommend that anyone starting a community should have passion for the subject. That passion should infect every aspect of the community from features to its members. Passion is what holds the community together.

Starting A Social Networking Site, Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first half of an interview with Vinorati co-founder Lisa Roskam in which she discussed how what was first envisioned as a way to work the phenomenon of tagging systems to the benefit of people who keep wine journals quickly expanded to encompass social relationships amongst tasters. Today, we talk about the site’s relation to industry, the challenges of running a bilingual site, and more.

How do you think the site positions ordinary wine users vis-á-vis the professional critics on the one hand and the industry on the other?

For me, the strength of Vinorati will lie in numbers – of reviews for each wine, of reviews by each user. One wine review by one member might not mean very much, but put in the context of other reviews by other members and/or other reviews of other wines by the same members we are able to get a much more complete picture of said wine.

For obvious reasons the wine industry cannot be a source of critical information for wines. Glowing winery tasting notes can have limited utility in the decision-making process of wine buyers.

On the other hand wine critic tasting notes can be excellent source of information for wine consumers. Wine critics taste a lot of different wines and spend significant time educating themselves – they are experts. They can detect (and hopefully articulate) subtle nuances of aroma, flavour and texture that most of us would not be able to pick up. The downside of this heightened sensitivity and depth of background is that wine experts’ palates really do not respresent those of most consumers. Also experts are often drawn to novelty or a wine that stands out from the crowd, which is natural when you’re tasting hundreds of wine a day or thousands of wines a month(!). The average consumer looking for information on a wine does not fit this profile. Despite these shortcomings, consumers may find a critic whose tastes coincide with their own and follow this critic’s advice. When you find this match it becomes a valuable resource! Just to make it more of a challenge though, many of the expert tasting notes published are non-attributed or written by a rotating panel of tasters thereby making it is impossible for a consumer to find the series of evaluations that would align most closely with their own.

The difficulties of following one individual wine “critic” and finding someone with tastes that correspond your own is addressed by community tasting notes sites such as Vinorati. Average wine drinkers with varying backgrounds enter their tasting notes and average wine drinkers also search for information for wines. In one place users can see an aggregate view of a wine (via a tag cloud) plus specific detailed individual tasting notes, which are in turn linked to a members’ tasting journal where one can get an idea of the member’s tasting history and preferences. Instead of choosing among a dozen published professional wine critics you can suddenly choose to follow the tasting notes of hundreds (or thousands) of actual wine drinkers all in one place.

Have the professional critics or the wine industry taken any notice of the site?

At this point it is the wine blogosphere that seems to be paying the most attention to Vinorati and other community tasting notes sites. That is, wine professionals who also have a foot in the high tech world have found us . For the moment we are the only community tasting notes site available in French, so we may have received slightly more attention in the French wine web world.

We are in trial partnership relationships with a couple of creative online wine retailers who contacted us from the U.S. and France. We have also heard how our site is useful and interesting from a small number of producers (with whom we cannot pursue professional relationships because of problems of conflicts of interest). Other than bloggers, I am not aware of no mention by or attention from professional wine critics.

The site is set up to be bilingual, and I was interested to see your blog post on there about the different meanings that the same tag can have in the two languages. What challenges have you faced in making the site work in both French and English?

We are aiming to make Vinorati a truly international site. Trying to make the site available in both French and English definitely makes implementing each feature of our project more challenging. It’s not the issue of translating text, but more deciding how much to separate or integrate the two parts. This occurs at many areas of the site – e.g. most active members, groups, wine pages. We make a decision on a case by case basis so for some parts of the site the two sides are more integrated and for others they are more separated. In all cases we do try to show where there is information available in the other language, and make it easy to switch back and forth.

Groups are fairly integrated between the two languages. If you do a search on the main Groups page the results will show up in both English and French.

On the other hand, the wine reviews/tags in the different languages are more separated. Initially we talked about showing tags in both languages in the tag cloud,or even trying to automate translating tags (as mentioned in our blog). Often tasting terms are similar in the two languages ( e.g. tannins vs tanins, round vs rond, astringent) and some French terms have been adopted by English-speakers (e.g. brioche, pain grillé, sous-bois) which would mean that we could double the possibility of having information for each wine. Unfortunately the down-side seemed significant for our French members – their voices could be lost. The tag clouds for many wines would end up being dominated by English terms.

picture-1.png picture-2.png

What have you and your husband found most rewarding about the site since its launch?

-Email from members saying that recording their notes in this way has improved their tasting experience.
-The many positive blog posts about Vinorati.
-The first reviews entered by total strangers… very exciting!Honestly… the positive feedback from members has been most rewarding. Frederic and I are often very critical of the site… we see all the lumps and bumps. Someone on the outside has a different, impartial and probably less harsh perspective. It’s very gratifying to hear from people who actually use the site and are impressed (!).

What advice do you have for others who are interested in creating a new social networking site?

Early activity is very important. Try to inform as many people as possible about the site and get them curious before you launch publicly.

Develop a site based on an activity you are actually passionate about, where you are already part of a community. There are an overwhelming number of useful and interesting websites out there, visitors are very perceptive and quickly get an idea of the motivation behind the site. They reach a conclusion based on both the appearance and seriousness of the content. They are very perceptive.

Be omnipresent and responsive. If you are not excited and interested in using your site, why would anyone else be?

Building a Social Network

Last month, I wrote about Vinorati, a new social network site built around wine tasting. One of their founders, Lisa Roskam, popped up in the comments to affirm my spin that Vinorati is basically a bastion of wine fandom or, as she put it, “the world’s largest wine party.” Lisa and I continued our conversation off-site, and I’m happy to present it here over the next two days.

Vinorati was founded by Lisa and Frédéric Roskam, a married couple who live in France. Lisa is an English-speaking “Canadienne” with an advanced degree in Viticulture & Enology who works in the wine industry. Frédéric is an electronics engineer who comes from a family of French vintners.

Lisa and Fred Roskam

In today’s installment, Lisa talks about how the site has evolved from its genesis as a wine tasting journal that could incorporate the wisdom of tag-based music categorization (think into an unexpectedly social environment. Tomorrow I’ll post her thoughts on the challenges of running a bilingual site and the intersection between Vinorati and the professional wine critics and wine industry.

Can you give me a brief background on — what motivated you to start it, how long it’s been up, how many active users?

The basic idea for Vinorati came from two very different sources: 1) My frustration with my anarchic tasting notes and resulting search for a good electronic tasting journal, and 2) Frederic’s work (at Sony Research Labs) using tags to describe/categorize music. Hence an online tasting journal using tags. We were very excited about the interesting data-mining that we would be able to do within the sets of wines, wineries, appellations, varietals, etc.

We launched Vinorati on December 17th 2006, after starting work on the idea in May/June 2006. We currently have 321 registered users, 894 reviews and 7008 tags.

What are the main activities people are doing on

#1 Searching for a specific wine.
#2 Checking out other members’ profiles and tasting notes.
#3 Browsing wines geographically.
#4 Recording their own tasting notes.

Do you have a sense of who your users are? Age? Professions? Locations?

Not specifically, but they tend to be at the intersection of wine lover / tech geek. We haven’t yet filtered down to the main-stream wine fan but are rather still at the level of wine lovers who regularly read a variety of wine blogs plus reddit/tech-crunch.

Our users are geographically dispersed but mostly American, French and Canadian. I know we have a quite a few bloggers because they put a link to their blog in their profile, and I know we have a number of wine professionals because of information from my friends, colleagues and indirect acquaintances. Beyond that, our members are just wine lovers with widely varying amounts of knowledge and experience.

One of my immediate reactions to the site was that wine appreciation seemed to lend itself to social networking in a way that a lot of other activities don’t. What is your take on what motivates your users to use the site?

This is a big question. Wine tasting/consumption is definitely a social activity. Here in France we often have large convivial dinners with friends and family, where everyone is taking pleasure in tasting wines, sharing their opinion and listening to others… that’s exactly the sort of atmosphere that we would like to replicate at Vinorati – convivial, welcoming, open and lively.

From a more pragmatic perspective wine tastings are not just social because of the convivial aspect, but also because wine consumers very often want guidance and reassurance in their choices. The selection of products is too overwhelming to directly sample all of the options. Even when people do have a direct experience of a wine they are nonetheless interested in others’ impressions. Unlike with other products, such as music or movies, inexperienced wine consumers put more confidence in others’ sensations or opinions than in their own. They want need advice and direction. In my experience, even sophisticated wine consumers and professionals are curious about others’ impressions of a wine. Vinorati is meant to be a place where wine lovers/fans can find these kind of reflections from wine drinkers of varying backgrounds.

Since our launch members could have “friends” to make it easier to keep track of other members, then in early February we introduced a tasting group feature to Vinorati. Finally, we recently added forums to these tasting groups. The social part of Vinorati is becoming more and more important as we move forward.

Do you have a sense of whether people are mostly using it as a means of keeping track of their own tasting records or of engaging one another?

People are mostly using the site to keep track of others! As I mentioned above, I expected people to predominantly use their own tasting journal and occasionally check out other people’s impressions, but our users are very interested in what other members have to say about the wines in our database.

Do you see any uses of the site emerging that you didn’t expect when you created it?

Hmmm… this gets back to the previous two questions…when we were first making plans for the site we didn’t anticipate emphasizing the social aspect of wine tasting so much, Initially the ubiquity of internet access seemed to be the most important advantage of an online tasting journal. We neglected to think of the advantages that users could have in interacting with other wine lovers and sharing their opinions. Fortunately about half-way through development we started talking about these ideas, wine tasting clubs and how cool it might be for members to interact to share their notes about wines, etc.

We are now hoping that real-life and virtual tasting groups will be able to use the Vinorati groups and forums to share ideas and get an image of their aggregate opinions of wines that they taste via the group tasting journal and their corresponding tag clouds.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Sneakers)

Last week I got an email from AC (Al Cabino), former writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine and hardcore sneaker fan. He’s spearheading a move to get Nike to make the McFly sneakers worn by Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future 2. He’s put up an online petition, which has garnered over 25,000 signatures, and Robert Ryang, award-winning New York film editor who reedited the Shining into a trailer for a romantic comedy, has made a commercial for the McFly (and the petition) that you can see on YouTube . AC is on a quest to get a million views. With almost 120,000 so far, it might happen.

It’s a great confluence of all the things I write about on here — fan creativity, fan power, fans and brands, wacky combinations of the unexpected. So I grabbed the chance to ask some more about the project:


How did this come about? When did you put up the petition?

I’m an ex-writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine, I visited the Adidas worldwide headquarters in Germany, I contributed to the Adidas Superstar 35 book. I love Nike, Puma, Adidas, classic Reebok, Vans, Converse, New Balance Japanese editions. Since late 2005, I started a quest to get the Nike corporation to manufacture the futuristic sneakers Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future Part II.

Is this coming from Back to the Future fandom? Nike fandom? Both? Neither?

Back to the Future fandom, Nike fandom, Michael J. Fox fandom, sneakers fandom.

Why this particular pair of shoes? What’s their special appeal?

Because they are the ‘Holy Grail of movie sneakers’. You’ve got Eddie Murphy’s Adidas in Beverly Hills Cop. You can buy them. You can buy the Nike Cortez that Forrest Gump wore. You can get the Kill Bill Tigers that Uma Thurman wore. You can get Rocky‘s Chuck Taylors when he runs up the stairs. If you look at movie sneakers, the McFlys are the only ones that were created for the film and never worn beyond the silver screen.

There’s a sneaker legend that says in 2015 Nike will come out with them. This I cannot confirm to you, but someone supposedly back in 1989 wrote a letter to Nike, and the answer came from [Nike founder] Phil Knight: “You have to be patient.”

Why Nike?

The futuristic shoes are Nikes. If you watch Back to the Future 2, the scene with the futuristic sneakers is at the beginning of the film, if you watch the scene, you’ll want those sneakers too. Back in 1989, I remember going to many sports stores asking about the futuristic sneakers because I wanted them back then. But the answer I got from everyone was, wait till the year 2015 (the futuristic sneakers are in the scene that takes place in the year 2015). So when it was 2005, which is 10 years before 2015, I decided to start this project to get Nike to make the futuristic sneakers.

Do you have any sense of where your support is coming from?

Friends, sneaker geeks, fashion designers, stylists, magazine editors, writers, artists, futurists, sci-fi aficionados, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, musicians, DJs, store owners, Nike employees, a Wired Magazine writer, etc.

Any feedback from Nike?

Not yet because we have not gone to their headquarters. The project is gonna get a new look, its own mini website, we’ll spread the word more, then we’ll go to the Nike headquarters. Hopefully, we’ll get a meeting with Phil Knight.

My thanks to AC for bringing this to my attention. And remember, if you’re up to something you think I ought to write about (or just watching from the sidelines), don’t be shy about sending it my way!