Is there room for a new, locally oriented social network if it is more practical than Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, et al? That’s what Norwest Partners and Keynote Ventures are betting $6.5 million on with the launch this week of Center’d, formerly known as FatDoor.
The service is headed up by former Yahoo! Marketplaces head Jennifer Dulski and former Microsoft Virtual Earth exec Chandu Thota (hence a mapping orientation). Former Intuit President Bill Harris sits on the board.
Currently in soft launch, or “first draft,” the service is sort of women focused and bent on helping friends get together locally. “People, Places and Plans” is the tag. Historically speaking, its first iteration, FatDoor, is now considered a false start. It had most of the money, and some hot tech, but no plan.
As currently conceived, Center’d allows friends to get things done that they’d normally do via their e-mail lists and round robin calling. Friends can pick a place, pick a time, pick service providers, send invites, host and communicate.
For instance, Friends can form unique groups (i.e., “Theater Group”), plug in variable information (i.e., “Oh! Calcutta”), and even figure out who brings what to a pre-show tailgate party or share babysitters. Birthday parties, road trips and concerts are other types of possible events that might be aided by the site.
The site goes quite a bit beyond its initial concept of “Location Date,” and it goes beyond Evite too. Beyond events and plans, friends can also use the service to stake out future events, as listings of local events are crawled from the Web a la Zvents or Eventful. More importantly, users can tag and review “shared places” that they like.
Center’d also has very nice mapping integrated, so one may zoom in or out of specific areas with real ease, with various categories highlighted. Yelp reviews have also been brought in. The site may also integrate with sites like Fandango, ServiceMagic and Matchpoint. There is a lot going on with this site.
Eventually, the site is also planning to integrate payment processing, which would be at least one revenue generator in addition to Google AdSense. Payment processing would make it easier to plan events and, more importantly, not stick one person with the bill for 27 tickets, which Dulski says is the size of a typical social group.
“Getting people to the site isn’t enough,” says Dulski. That’s the ultimate shortcoming of all the local search sites, she feels.
While there may be Facebook fatigue among the digerati, social networks really haven’t hit their stride among ordinary folk, insists Dulski. “People aren’t using other tools very actively,” she says. In fact, the site is exhibiting this weekend at the National PTA meeting in San Diego. Similar non-digerati events will be targeted during the launch phase and beyond.
She also notes that while Center’d has been created as a unique platform onto itself, apps are also being created for Facebook and Open Social.
What to make of all this? The site is well executed, if overly busy. It appears to be an outstanding laboratory for social apps. But really, is it more than a Facebook app? I guess the idea is that events and plans will be the new driver, in much the same way that news and mail drove traffic in the Web’s first iterations. Ultimately, there are hopes that enough people can be aggregated to branch out more widely to other apps, and allow the site to be supported by ads and, more intriguingly, by transactions.
It would be fine with me if it all worked out. I hope it does. But every city guide that ever launched thought that plans and events would be core features for them. Ultimately, what you had was a bunch of overworked Yahoo! and Microsoft workers who knew that they worked around the clock, but imagined that a lot of people go out all the time.
Do I relate to it personally? My own primary friends group has 12 people in it. We get things started on e-mail. When things get serious, we hit the phones. Last Christmas, we finally hit on a Web-based tool that helps us with an important task: sharing our good times.
But you know what? It isn’t a social network. It is a photo sharing site called Shutterfly. It will be a wake-up call to me if an extended planning site is what ultimately gets people “center’d.”