RocketOn CEO wants to turn the Web into a massive social forum. The newly released Blerp.com allows users to add to any website comments, YouTube videos, trivia questions and more. Is this next-generation Web surfing or just a 'blerp' on the radar?
I click on an ESPN.com article about the NHL playoffs. I want to comment but I'm not a fan of joining the ESPN site just to post one comment to an article I likely won't check out again. But luckily, I'm using Blerp.com to check out this article, and so I can comment on this URL easily. I'm not the first; five other Blerp users have shared their thoughts on Ovechkin vs. Crosby.
Blerp, launched today, has an ambitious goal: turn the Web into one big comment thread. It liberates content to let surfers interact with websites they visit through Blerp.com's frame. So you can visit Digg.com and offer your insight into the site's usability, simply by posting a comment on Blerp's panel on the left side. That's not all -- you can post a YouTube video, ask survey questions (Will Digg be sold?), upload photos and maps, and embed any line of code.
"Our mission is to give users control over the Web, and let them start discussions wherever and however they please," says Steve Hoffman, CEO of RocketOn, the company behind Blerp. In a revolutionary way, Blerp is taking control away from website owners and giving it to the site visitors.
(See a quick tour of Blerp at the video above)
The strategy makes sense. Look at music websites. You visit a fan site of your favourite band but get frustrated with the lack of interaction. but you sign up to Blerp.com, visit the band site through Blerp and then add a comment on the left side and wait for other Blerp users to participate in the discussion. It's taking the forum out of the band site and onto another layer of the Web.
The Blerp press release explains: "Not only can you join in discussions, but you can see what and where your friends are blerping. In this way, Blerp is the ultimate comment board, where you login once and start a dialog across an unlimited number of sites."
In an interview with DigitalJournal.com, Hoffman says rich media content is out there waiting to be used on various websites. From Flickr photos to YouTube videos, that content can supplement discussion on URLs of interest.
"If you go to a website like CNN, which has one perspective and doesn't allow comments," Hoffman notes, "then you can allow your Blerp account to let you comment and offer another point-of-view."
When I'm surfing with Blerp, I feel constricted in one way: my surfing has become social, and I can see what others like or dislike about a site. That colours my Web exploring. And while it may give me tips on what to avoid, I often like discovering that myself. And with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn ruling so much spare time, do we really need our Web surfing to be social as well?
"You won't use Blerp.com all the time," Hoffman says. He predicts people will use Blerp when "they want to be social." Checking out a NewYorker.com article might warrant turning on Blerp, but surfing for how-to videos on playing guitar might be best Blerp-free.
Courtesy Steve Hoffman
Steve Hoffman, CEO of RocketOn and Blerp
Hoffman says the website also allows users to add "friends", in a similar fashion to Facebook. You can track your friends' discussions and see what blerps they posted recently.
I also realized in order for Blerp to reach a high adoption rate, users need to see their friends online. It's like the appeal of Microsoft Zune -- it's great idea to swap MP3s between Zuners, but if your buddies don't have Zune, it's not cool. Same with Blerp -- if your friends aren't commenting on sites you check out too, will Blerp still be interesting?
Hoffman says part of the appeal is seeing what other people are saying, users that could soon become friends (well, website friends). It's like getting recommendations from an Amazon user who also enjoyed the book you're browsing.
Hoffman and his team knows a thing or two about cultivating communities. Last year, they created RocketOn, a social gaming website that travels across other websites. Avatars could chat on YouTube, for instance, and RocketOn introduced a virtual currency that can be traded for accessories, pets and gifts. RocketOn has more than 100,000 beta users, and a quarter are hardcore users.
The million-dollar question is monetizing Blerp. RocketOn accepts sponsorships from corporations but Blerp has a different angle to its business. One way to gain revenue, Hoffman says, is welcoming ads into its search results. Hoffman credits their search function as a powerful tool that can be monetized and look similar to Google's search results, with the advertising companies listed off to one side.
Another business strategy is creating a white-label version for companies to use internally. Imagine a 10,000-staff corporation buying a private version of Blerp so employees can comment on various websites and collaborate, their comments only visible to each other. It could be very beneficial to a Web start-up trying to work out the kinks on their site, because the blerps would act as online Post-It notes to Web pages.
In two weeks, Hoffman says they'll release a browser plug-in for Blerp users. Until then, visitors can check out Blerp.com and explore the Web to see the layers of comments added by Blerp members. Joining the site gives people the power to post thoughts and start discussions on any website imaginable. If nothing is being said about a site, anyone can start a conversation and cross their fingers the community notices. After all, it's still in alpha stage, and the biggest challenge is attracting membership.
As the Web becomes more social, Blerp has a great chance of becoming synonymous with hyperlayered surfing. It's not a fantasy anymore: Web lovers can now tell everyone what they think about this or that site, without creating a dedicated URL for everyone to visit. This could be the game-changer the Web needs.