This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Point and Click Radar lets amateur shutterbugs share a slice of life.
PHONE PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN MUGGENBORG/MUGGPHOTO
A San Francisco start-up uses cellphone cameras to inspire a new kind of conversation. BY J E S S E H I CK S
G R AY S O N C A R T E R , a fifth-year economics major at UCLA, started using radar.net a year ago, mostly among his fraternity brothers. “It got to be kind of a competition,” he says. “We’d take a picture of the crowd at a great party, then send it to each other. Because it’s instantaneous, it invites you to show off a little bit.” Later, Carter set his mother up with an account; though she rarely posted pictures of her own. “When I came home for Christmas,” he says, “I was telling stories about the year, and she had seen everyday
events from my life, the stuff I wouldn’t necessarily call home to talk about.” When Carter started talking about a recent Bayside concert, she’d already seen the pictures. “It was nice to have my parents see what I was up to, without trying to synchronize our schedules to talk about everything.” Fostering that kind of extended intimacy— what founder and CEO John Poisson calls “Radar moments”— is the company’s driving ambition. Poisson, 35, with close-cropped hair Spirit | 53
and a pair of slate-grey titanium eyeglasses, has an ambitious goal. He wants to revolutionize the way people communicate. “Something special happens when you can immediately share a picture with people close to you,” he says. “You start being able to show people where you are, to convey information and even your state of mind. You can keep in touch just by instantly sharing these pictures.” Clearly, Poisson is not the only one who feels this way. Radar opened to the public in mid-2006 and has since grown to include more than a million users. It serves up about 50 million pictures a month, with the majority of those views coming from mobile devices. The service generates 60 percent of those hits outside the United States in countries with limited access to computers. That impressive growth stems from Radar’s focus on a new kind of conversation, one based around pictures rather than words. Thanks to the ubiquity of camera phones, nearly everyone can
capture and share important moments— or ordinary moments. Travelers can have a picture-conversation with friends back home; college students can show Mom and Dad that they’re actually going to class. And while text messages often carry as much emotional content as early telegraph messages, a picture can say more than a thousand words. Those moments, Poisson believes, can only occur among people who already have close ties. Grayson Carter’s life interests only those people sharing it with him. So instead of broadcasting photos to the world using social networking services like MySpace or Facebook, Radar encourages users to develop a network of real-life friends—the kind who will want to instantly share a sunset with you or see the dinner you’re about to eat. Keeping you connected to other people, all the time, defines Radar’s mission.
R A DA R J O I N S a much-publicized boom in social-networking services. But while
online social networking remains dominated by two main players, Facebook and MySpace, Radar focuses on a different market: mobile social networking, aimed at cellphone users with limited time and attention. The thinking works like this: Social networking services that allow users to make new connections on-the-go could become even more valuable among professionals who put a premium on free time. Instead of logging in to a webpage from a desktop computer, users of the mobile network can receive updates, e-mails, and now photos with the push of a button. That immediacy, coupled with a growing movement toward lifestreaming (keeping friends and occasionally total strangers plugged in to your every action), could put services like Radar at the forefront of the next major evolution in social networking. Facebook and MySpace offer mobile versions of their services, but neither has managed to repeat their dominance, suggesting that mobile social networking
Our long-life reserves and
For more information call 281.840.4090 www.linnenergy.com
you’ve come to expect.
the consistent distributions
requires a completely different kind of thinking. A number of players still hope to have a seat at the table. Boston-based MocoSpace offers photo and video sharing, chat, and microblogging—short status messages typically sent via text message. The company claims more than 2 million users and has raised $7 million in venture capital. Zannel, a San Francisco company, has raised $16 million in venture funding and has signed content deals with Warner Music Group, Nettwerk Music Group, Eleven Seven Records, and RDE. Always-canny Google acquired another start-up, Jaiku, soon after it announced a mobile phone component for its social network. Meanwhile, the success of consumer smart phones such as the iPhone and Sidekick suggests an audience ready to do more with their cellphones. What they might want to do, and how much that might be worth, remain tantalizingly open questions. Market analysts at Juniper Research estimate that revenue from mobile social networking applications might reach $5.74 billion in 2012, compared to $576 million in 2007. Shawn Conahan, CEO of Intercasting Corporation, a company that provides mobile social networking technology to wireless manufacturers, says this potential has caught Intercasting’s attention. Says Conahan, “This is going to be the year of mobile social networking.”
J O H N P O I S S O N ’ S “aha” moment came
More Cash. More Luxury Cars. More Chances to Win.
California’s premier gaming destination is a lot closer than you may have thought. Less than 2 hours north in the Santa Barbara wine country. So don’t just win, win bigger at the Chumash Casino Resort.
in 2004 while he was in Japan, leading mobile media research and design for Sony. Late at night in a Tokyo bar, he was mulling over the problem with a Nokia designer and a prominent blogger. Blogging, Poisson argued, appealed only to a very small number of people: those who want to broadcast themselves to the world. Mobile phones, in contrast, encourage more intimate interaction. Poisson realized that an untapped audience existed for small-group, real-time mobile networks, the kind you’d want to take anywhere. Rather than try to translate online social networks for cell
chumashcasino.com 1.800.chumash 3400 east highway 246 santa ynez, ca 93460
18 YEARS OR OLDER.
phones, he would build a new kind of social network, one based on how people actually use their cell phones. Radar’s birth, he says, “happened on April 4, 2004, at 4 in the morning. Four fours. And four is a really unlucky number in Japanese culture but it certainly proved fortunate for us.” Unlucky or not, Poisson had his business plan. Then came the challenge of making it real. Poisson had reached the end of his contract with Sony, so he decided to pursue the Radar concept on his own. A number of angel investors helped the company hone its business plan and provided enough capital to get things started. When Poisson arrived in San Francisco, he started recruiting “friends and friends of friends.” Francis Li, a designer and mobile developer, came onboard as vice president of product design and development. Believing design would prove crucial, Poisson focused on simplicity, making the service usable for everyone on every phone. Simplicity and elegance would also make it an easier sell for Ian Jeffrey, who came from Montreal to coordinate the start-up’s marketing. By 2005, the Radar team had started developing prototypes. Poisson met with more investors, who responded favorably. Mohr Davidow Ventures, as well as individual venture capitalists like Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito, gave the company $4 million. This took Radar out of Poisson’s living room and into “serious company” mode. Investors see a bright future in Radar: It just raised another $7.2 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a venture capital firm. Radar’s business model also appeals to advertisers, who can sponsor “channels” on the site. Users subscribe to these picture channels that appear in-line with photos from friends. CBS, for example, sponsored a public channel for its reality series Big Brother, offering video clips and behind-the-scenes photos. Fox promoted its action film Hitman via Radar, and Warner Bros. created an I Am Legend channel.
Because users choose their channel subscriptions, the thinking goes, the ads don’t feel as intrusive. Poisson draws an analogy to magazine advertising: If the ads are well-targeted and convey valuable content, they will become an accepted part of the reading experience. Advertisers, of course, happily target viewers who have already shown an interest in their product. Finding a way to court advertisers represents just one of the many challenges facing the myriad mobile social-networking start-ups. Vidya Drego, a Forrester analyst, says, “At this point, there are so many different start-ups in this space. The competition is fierce; there are a lot of great ideas out there.” Still, no single service has managed to crack the puzzle: Mobile social networking remains a phenomenon well outside of the mainstream. Until the users reach a critical mass, whether in small, intimate groups or in a large, Facebook-style horde, the “social” aspect remains an ideal. When that mass arrives, the next challenge for services like Radar becomes monetizing users’ attention. Just as Facebook and MySpace have had difficulty turning their massive user-bases into real revenue, Radar and other start-ups still need to figure out how to make money from mobile social networking. As Drego points out, most consumers remain undecided on—or simply unaware of—the value of a Radar moment. That means nobody knows how much they might pay for it, or whether the advertising-driven model of Web 2.0 can support mobile content companies. “The revenue model is very difficult,” Drego says, “and I don’t know if anyone has quite figured it out yet.” Poisson acknowledges the challenges, saying, “It’s hard to get them right. It’s really difficult.” But he thinks he can create a new kind of conversation and a new kind of connection among people. He believes in the Radar moment, the one that’s happening right now.
Jesse Hicks is a freelance writer based in State College, Pennsylvania.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?