We huddle up with Dan Gill and his team to learn more about how the act of Huddling can make the world a better place.
It rhymes with cuddle and it’s not all that far removed (in a virtual sense), save for the sweating and awkward placement of one arm. Huddler is a broad, wiki-based platform that enables users like you and me to interact i.e. Huddle about pretty much anything. One of the company’s first communities is Green Home, which is heavily focused on reviews and ratings of eco-friendly products. Thanks to some great partnerships, SEO, social media marketing, and a compelling product, the community has grown rapidly over the past few months.
We sat down with CEO Dan Gill to learn more about his vision for Huddler and hopefully shake loose a few of his secrets.
1. How did the idea for Huddler come about?
My oldest brother (Ted) and I founded Huddler together in March of 2007. We were/are both heavy discussion forum users, particularly forums about products. If you want to learn what to buy or how to better use what you already own, there is literally no better source than a discussion forum devoted to that market. Take a look at Macrumors or AVSForum and you’ll immediately understand.
That said, we couldn’t believe how much valuable content gets buried deep in forums, or how two threads start about the same thing and are never united, or how users try to show what products they own and find others like them, but that data is not and can not be normalized…the list goes on. We wanted to create a better set of tools for the enthusiasts who frequent niche discussion forums, but also make that great content accessible to everyone. Those are the basics, and we’ve been working toward that goal ever since.
As for starting in Green/Sustainability, it was the intersection of passion and opportunity. We loved the idea of working in green and when we were searching for sustainable options for everyday products, we found a lot of our original data in PDFs and Excel Spreadsheets (in other words, not very accessible or aesthetically pleasing). We knew we could provide a very important service to a hungry market.
2. What is a Huddle and what does one do in a Huddle?
The reason they’re called “Huddles” is because each one is specific to a relatively narrow set of interests. Each Huddle acts as a place for like-minded people to “put their heads together.” It’s cheesy, but finding good ‘.com’ URLs is no walk in the park.
Each Huddle is made up of integrated discussion forums, wikis, product reviews, image/video hosting, and something that is unique to us, Product Profiling. Our Product Profiles allow users to keep track of what green products they own, had, and want for two reasons:
- This week on our product pages, we are launching “People who own this, own these” to display product recommendations for our users. Basically, if you started your move toward sustainability with Dr. Bronner’s, what next steps have others like you taken? We’ll be able to tell you by combing the Product Profiles of our users.
- Soon users will be pointed to other users who have the most in common with them. For example, you might get something like: “Max, user deej has 5 green products in common with you and 6 more you haven’t seen – check him out!” The hope is to foster interactivity and moreover, helpful recommendations.
3. Do you produce any original content or is it all user-generated?
Our Green Community lead Cristina does a fantastic job of seeding wiki articles and posting relevant news in the forums to keep activity moving, but our users are really incredible and passionate about sustainability. Dana1981, Nitedreamer, OrganicGal007, KayMMIV, SoCalSolar and a number of others do a phenomenal job of keeping things going and we’re adding new users every day. We’re making a huge push right now to activate new users and point them to the most relevant, compelling content to encourage participation.
4. You launched a Facebook application called Green My Ride that we wrote about. Explain how that has been valuable and effective. Did you get a good ROI? Were there any unexpected benefits or pitfalls to doing a Facebook app?
I love Green My Ride. I think it’s a really clever, fun application and regret that we weren’t able to devote more resources to it. Our developers did an incredible job putting it together, but the deeper we got, the more we realized that for it to be successful, we’d essentially need to replicate 95% of our Huddler functionality within Facebook, and ultimately, that doesn’t map to our goals. It’s still running, but with the whole Facebook redesign, we haven’t been very focused on it. When Facebook stabilizes a bit more, we’ll definitely look forward to working with them again.
5. Your traffic has seen a dramatic increase since we first started covering you. We know it wasn’t all us, so can you share some of your secrets to building traffic so quickly?
We’re coming along…thanks. We’ve focused very hard in three areas, search engine optimization (SEO), content distribution, and also in social media.
I’m most proud of our relatively rapid SEO success. We designed our product pages almost entirely with SEO in mind (sample product page) – by displaying the product description/specs, product reviews, pulling out the most relevant forum and wiki content for each product, and making the bottom of the page collaboratively editable, it provides a superior user experience for researching products, but also a great landing page for search engines. Our hard work has definitely been validated by our search metrics so far.
Secondly, with distribution, it helps getting our brand out there a bit, but also creates in-bound links that are great for our SEO efforts. Our biggest distribution partner thus far is Yahoo! Green – they have been great. Thirdly, we have made some positive strides within social media. Sites like Digg and StumbleUpon are all great sources of traffic, but it’s very spiky. That said, they have been great outlets for getting our name out there and, again, creating links in to our pages.
6. Of your three value propositions, Learn, Contribute, and Have Fun, which is gaining the most traction and why do you think that is?
Well, in any user-generated content (UGC) site, the number of readers will always be far greater than the number of active contributors, and we’re no different. So I guess “Learn” is in the lead, but that’s very consistent with our vision anyway. We want to bring enthusiasts of all kinds together, and then help share their knowledge with the masses.
I think we still have a lot we can do in the “Have Fun” department – we’re a small team, but we have a lot of great ideas and will only improve the user experience in the coming months. Just recently we launched our User Action Shots that I think are pretty cool; I’d love to see them take off.
7. What is your revenue model and what are your next steps, short- and long-term?
We rely on both impression based advertising (CPM) and lead-generation advertising (CPC) thus far, but have a number of options in the pipeline that will have to stay there for now.
In the short term, we will continue to focus on these revenue streams with our Ad Network NaturalPathMedia, but we are primarily focused on reaching as large an audience as possible. Green is still a nascent market (believe it or not) and we’re such a young company – there’s a lot of unrealized potential that we need to work on. To that end, we’re in the midst of greatly expanding our product taxonomy to include a much broader range of products.
Longer term, we’d love to have a portfolio of 25 or 30 Huddles on a variety of topics from Skiing to Snowboarding to Parenting to Photography and everything in between. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m very proud of what our team has accomplished already. Keep an eye out for us.