Wednesday, March 12, 2008

YouFig fuses online social networks

Israel's YouFig fuses online social networks (by Karin Kloosterman): Internet applications like Myspace and Facebook have revolutionized the way we socialize. We can reconnect with old flames, share our holiday pictures with the world, play poker with strangers, and share our lives with fans, friends, admirers and co-workers.

With satellite offices sprouting up around the world, and people continually on the go, a new social networking platform built in Israel, and known as YouFig, lets people build ideas and dreams together online. Now in schools in Florida and being tested by a handful of Fortune 500 companies, YouFig creates a virtual community center where people can interact and create online content in a way never before possible.

The company, founded in 2007, says that it is pioneering the evolution of real-time online collaboration. It allows people to mimic classic face-to-face meetings, while taking advantage of networking and group thought."The unique thing about YouFig is that it enables any organization- whether it's a family of a few people or an academic institution - to collaborate any time in real-time on any continent," says YouFig's co-founder Allon Mason.

Now in beta testing mode and set to be released publicly by the end of the year, YouFig provides its members with a virtual workspace. Equipped with tools such as wikis, video conferencing, and instant messaging, YouFig encourages people to work together on any topic and with any type of media such as games, videos, documents, and spreadsheets. YouFig allows people to use and create "widgets," which are small applications that can be easily shared among peers and in other networks.

Funded by ICQ founder Yossi Vardi, an Israeli entrepreneur, and based in Herzliya Pituach, YouFig launched its alpha site last August and its beta site this past January.

"It allows families to create to-do lists together for a camping trip. But it is a great tool for distributed work forces as well," Mason says. "We are talking with news agencies around the world. Our platform could let journalists and editors collaborate and share information in real-time. It's a great way to centralize information on one platform in one organization."

Still in its beta mode, YouFig already has about 60 networking communities, one of which is the London Business School. Its primary target market will be schools in the US however: "The early adopters of technology," says Mason.

The company's business model will be based on an advertising revenue model. In the future, companies and schools will pay to subscribe to private communities that they create, but the cost will be much less than enterprise software, today affordable only to large organizations.

A special edition YouFig for private companies and schools will be called the "White Label." In the meantime, it can be used free of charge.

The nuts and bolts of YouFig is to let people have a space to argue, discuss, collaborate and talk. A user can begin by creating a topic and the application can locate other experts in the field.

Limited to only eight people per discussion group, interaction is intimate and this way the accountability of each member in increased. Users can talk politics, build new video games together, or co-write a script or music video. The sky's the limit, says Mason.

Users may know each other already or seek each other out through YouFig. Collaboration today is limited to wikis and blogs, says Mason. "We think that when people want to collaborate, it can be on any material and medium. Any document, spreadsheet or games... and not limit them.

"YouFig is centralized and fast, and works for organizations of any size," he adds.