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Weebiz: A Social Network for Companies Is Born

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These are glorious days for networking. The social Web is richer and wider than ever before, and it offers a myriad of services and platforms to help us connect with each other, share our likes and dislikes, etc. Some people even say that too many such services exist, that many of them will plunge in dot-com bubble-like style.

When we first came up with the idea for Weebiz, a network of companies and not people, we were surprised that no one had thought of it before. All of those many networks that are available had taken their own path in finding their niche. How come no one had thought about this incredibly vast segment: businesses? Sure, directories are plenty, but those aren’t really networks. Companies on them are isolated and can only be found through normal searches. Global trade centers help many companies sell their products, but they still keep companies compartmentalized.

We envisioned for Weebiz a real network of companies, in which relationships between different businesses were visible and working to their advantage. For example, if company A is a supplier of company B, and company B is a strategic partner of company C, then Weebiz could make it easy for company A to realize that it should do business with company C. This is obvious, and social networks for professionals, like LinkedIn and Xing, have proven this to be very useful for people.

So, how come no one thought it would be just as useful for organizations as well? We’d like to think we are a bunch of incredibly original thinkers, but the reason is probably that to make such a network make sense is hard. People use computers, surf the Web, register for accounts on social networks, and so on. Companies, on the other hand, don’t. The people who make up an organization do all of these things, and sometimes they do it in the name of the company they work for (take the many brands on Twitter, for instance), but the truth is, treating an organization like a user can get awkward.

We had a solid idea of what we wanted to do: create a social network and fill it with companies instead of people. You may wonder why, but for us it was obvious. No new product makes sense unless it satisfies someone else’s needs. So, what needs did we want Weebiz to satisfy? Plenty of them, actually.

First, there is the obvious advantage of connecting thousands of companies, in what experts call “network externalities.” Basically, this happens when the value of a good or service increases with each new consumer or user. Most communities benefit from this effect, as does the telephone system. Secondly, a network that behaves intelligently, by identifying what is and is not relevant (through tags, semantic technology, etc.), can be incredibly valuable in a time of information overload. The auto-suggest systems we have grown accustomed to with services such as Amazon and YouTube apply just as well to the needs of businesses. After all, spam becomes the least of your troubles when you have to navigate tons of information to get what you want. Instead, relevancy becomes critical. This is what we are chasing after: connecting companies through their business relations and establishing a smart network in which companies can promote themselves and their products and services, as well as find information relevant to them.

Promoting and discovering business opportunities was, then, the central purpose of Weebiz, and so we decided to kick-start our business center. To do so, it was clear that we should be the ones to offer the very first business opportunity. In deciding exactly what to do, we fell back on one of our core values: shared success. So, we created a challenge to discover the most influential of pioneers on Weebiz: the company with the most business relationships, profile followers, views, etc. Obviously, our business opportunity had to be attractive to companies; a free cell phone probably wouldn’t cut it. €1 million seemed like a fairly attractive incentive, so we went with it. The question then was, how in the world would we come up with that kind of money? Because our objective was to “share” some of our own success, we decided that only paid accounts could enter the challenge, and that the winner would be chosen only after we reached the milestone of 5000 paid accounts. This way, the challenge would pay for itself, and we would simply be giving back part of our revenue (most of it, really).

Many of the challenges we faced early on might seem simple, but they weren’t. For example, if a person is needed to manage the profile of a given company, who should have an account, the person or the company? And if a person can have an account, should they also have a profile? Giving both a company and its employees accounts seemed like the simplest solution at first, but that would turn Weebiz into a mixed network of people and companies, which would draw us away from our goal. We ended up deciding that accounts should be personal, but that no one person could have a profile, only a log-in name. We also decided that more than one person could manage a company’s profile (although only with paid accounts).

This dilemma led us to a much more consequential challenge: credibility and trust. When you connect with strangers on the other side of the world, making sure they are who they say they are is essential. It’s even more important if the people are connecting for business purposes, because money will probably get involved sooner or later. Weebiz is not meant to be an intermediary for business transactions of any sort. It is designed as a platform and service to help companies promote themselves and find what they need. Still, not having a trustworthy community would be the end of us.

With the help of a partner, Weebiz easily authenticates companies with paid accounts. The problem, though, is with free ones. The only feasible solution was to make the domain of the email address submitted during registration the name of the company’s profile, unless the company upgraded its account (and thus authenticated). With this solution, some companies may appear with slightly different profile names on Weebiz, but we can now at least guarantee that whoever uses an account owns (or is authorized to use) the domain in their company’s profile name (unless they use an email provider we don’t know about). This decision may put off some companies, but we are far more concerned with making Weebiz a community that businesses can trust.

Finally, we faced the question of which features exactly to include in the service. Some were obvious: business proposals, for example. Others, like CRM tools, were not. Many online services struggle with this question; ideas about what to include can come pouring in and create confusion and distract focus. Our conclusion was that Weebiz should be a platform. We decided that providing an API for others to work with not only would provide users with a variety of tools but would ensure we did not lose focus on our main mission, which is to be a network for companies. (Weebiz is still under development and currently in an open beta, so many features, like the API, are still unavailable).

Put your company on the social Web by visiting Weebiz today.

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