Fandrop, a new content sharing site started by a group of growth hackers, is debuting today to help you find out what’s trending across the web. The site surfaces things like tweets and Facebook posts, YouTube videos, images from sites like imgur, articles, web pages, and more. In some ways, it’s similar to other social networks and social sharing sites, in that you can friend and follow other users, create profiles, build collections of content, and post things you find to the Fandrop platform. But according to co-founder and CEO Ken Zi Wang, the big differentiating factor here is Fandrop’s technology and focus on finding the content that’s trending around the web.
Wang says his interest in social content began with his second startup, a social news network called Buzzreport, but he’s always been curious about how virality works on the web. He’s known in the San Francisco Bay area as one of the organizers of December’s Growthathon conference, which taught the art of growth hacking to various startup founders, developers and marketers. For those unfamiliar with this latest buzzword, “growth hacking” is about increasing a service’s reach through so-called hacks – which are really just learnable skills that can speed things up at rates that are faster than traditional marketing techniques. (For more on this, go here).
With Fandrop’s launch, the company is joining a new breed of startups that’s hoping virality can be created on demand, measured or sold to advertisers. Incidentally, YC-backed Virool, an ad network that helps videos go viral, today announced an enormous funding round of $ 6.62 million for a similar concept. Reverse engineering virality is clearly the new hotness. But while Virool is taking the ad network approach, Fandrop is going after the same market as a consumer play. All the content on Fandrop’s site is user-submitted, either through an online form, bookmarklet, or through the import of feeds from Facebook, Twitter, for example.
When you go to the homepage today, it’s a mix of clickable distractions – funny videos, gifs, photos, posts, music videos and more. You can explore different categories such as “celebs,” “tech,” “sports,” or “aww,” the latter which features a lot of cute animal photos and videos. You can also create an account in order to build and share your own collections. When you find something on the site you like, you can vote it up Digg-style, or share it to social networks.
“People are just realizing the power of virality, how far it can go,” says Wang. “Business model-wise, there could be partnerships through customized marketing campaigns on our platform. We could also detect viral signals and leverage these signals to marketing firms.” (By “leverage,” he means “sell.”) Other possibilities include usage tiers or promoted content – an idea which Fandrop building mate Twitter is doing well with, by the way.
Fandrop’s core IP has to do with algorithms that can predict when a piece of content is about to go viral. “Once we detect such viral signals, we can them promote virality of certain content to increase the reach to target audiences,” Wang explains. These algorithms look at things like user engagement, relevancy to users, traffic and velocity, both on the website and across the wider web. The company has also applied for a patent on its clip-and-share technology, which lets you cut out and highlight content from across the web. (It sounds a lot like what Clipboard offers, actually).
The site soft-launched October 2012 and attracted its initial group of users via – you guessed it – growth hacking techniques. To do so, Fandrop put out a lot of landing pages which prompted users to vote for their favorite artist or band, among other things. The methods worked, in terms of hard metrics. “The first month we launched, we got a million pageviews, which is sort of surprising,” says Wang. “We knew there was something going on here.” But the company wanted to do a better job with user engagement, so it did a redesign, and soft-launched a second time at year-end. ”We then noticed the engagement went up because we implemented social features, like importing from Facebook and Twitter,” he says.
Fandrop has now topped 10,000 sign-up requests, and today has even more registered users, despite still being in a semi-closed beta. (Wang asked to keep the user numbers off the record). Fandrop sees around 1.5 million pageviews monthly, he says, 80% from North America and 55% user growth month to month. There are currently half a million items of content shared on the site, and the typical user is 20 to 33 years old. 60% of the user base is male. Fandrop is also starting to attract a few celebs and other notable figures, including Chuck D, Taylor Madonna, YouTube star JustKiddingFilms, and Carrotmob. Public Enemy and Chuck D will also be launching a viral marketing campaign on Fandrop’s platform alongside their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2013.
Fandrop is not open to the public yet, but 1,000 TechCrunch readers can get in by using this link: fandrop.com/techcrunch.
The company has a small (under $ 1M) amount of angel funding, and is currently in the process of raising its seed round.
At the end of the day, Fandrop seems like a grand experiment in whether or not growth hacking can actually get a social sharing site off the ground. The real passion here is around the techniques the company is using to grow. It’s hard to say if that same enthusiasm is there for the type of community it wants to build, though…
That being said, I did just waste half an hour while writing this post watching stupid videos, so who knows?