With the increasing socialization of the web there is an opportunity for publishers to improve the experience of their visitors by integrating functionality powered by third-party services. Facebook’s recent roll out of the Like Button is consistent with this evolution, and effectively positions Facebook to extend its reach across the web. Despite the already significant adoption of the Like Button, however, it is worth remembering that there are services beyond Facebook (Twitter and YouTube, for example) that can add value to the web user experience by having their functionality integrated with standard websites.
Tel Aviv-based Wibiya, which offers a free customizable tool bar to web publishers, is intent on bringing together all value-adding services to help publishers improve the user experience on offer. As Modular Patterns, the company initially focused on addressing a completely different problem. But during attendance at the TechCrunch 50 conference in San Francisco in 2008, the founders cottoned-on to the idea that publishers could benefit by adding a rich layer of social and other functionality to their sites. The team, headed by Dror Ceder, Daniel Tal and Avi Smila, worked to launch a private beta product in May 2009. They found quick traction which paved the way for a January 2010 release of the public beta.
The central goal of Wibiya is to be a distribution channel and to provide tools for developers to serve web publishers. But they want to remove the complexity of this process by enabling publishers without coding skills to add a rich layer of customizable functionality to their sites. The focus is on general content enrichment which includes, but is not limited to, social functionality.
It seems to be working. Precise usage figures were not made available, but publishers using the service include the likes of Jelly Belly, Visit London, Jerusalem Post and NDTV. Going forward, the plan is to offer more open functionality to allow third-party developers to build on top of Wibiya’s toolbar offering. But Wibiya emphasizes that the focus will be to make the tool accessible to as many publishers as possible by providing an easy-to-use plug-and-play solution.
The competitive landscape for these services is active, with Meebo being the most prominent example of a heavily-backed startup offering a similar solution to publishers. The genesis of Meebo, however, was completely different, in that the company initially provided toolbar functionality to support the continuation of chat sessions while users surf the web. On the surface the services appear to be similar, but a key distinction between Meebo and Wibiya, suggests Dror, is that Wibiya maintains an open platform focus. Through adopting an open approach, Wibiya has been able to team up with AddThis and Cooliris – among other developers – both of whom have built applications specifically for Wibiya’s platform.
Wibiya also provides publishers with analytics to display the metrics relating to user interaction with the toolbar. This is a useful addition because publishers obviously need to gauge precisely what does and does not resonate with their users, and customize accordingly. As Dror suggests, “if you can’t measure something, it does not exist.”
For publishers, adding new site functionality always runs the risk of slowing the user experience down. Dror insists that this is not the case with Wibiya’s toolbar, however, which sidesteps the issue by loading after the publisher’s site has already loading in full. Dror notes that, in any case, the size of the toolbar is negligible.
A key challenge for Wibiya is to demonstrate that there is value for publishers in using a customized toolbar when most of the major services can be integrated one-by-one using existing APIs. And Facebook’s recent rollout of the Like Button and its opening up of the social graph to web publishers suggest that Facebook could displace services offering this kind of functionality. But from Wibiya’s standpoint, given their focus on integration of various services, these moves by Facebook are welcome and more complementary to, rather than competitive with, Wibiya’s offering.
On the issue of Tel Aviv being a good place to launch a web-focused startup, Dror insists that it can be done, but that building and maintaining links with the vibrant Valley ecosystem is vital. The Wibiya management team generally visits the Valley every 2-3 months to ensure that these links remain strong and that they are abreast of the latest developments taking place at the global center of web innovation. Despite the perceived need for Valley ties, however, Wibiya seems determined to provide an example to other entrepreneurs that Tel Aviv is a great place to launch ambitious web ventures. The company closed a $2 million round of financing from Primera Capital in April 2010, adding to earlier investments made by well-known angel investor Yossi Vardi.