Interview with Chris Crabtree, Speaku

Last month, Orem, Utah-based SpeakU ( debuted at the Spring DEMO conference. We caught up with founder Chris Crabtree to hear more about what the firm is up to, plus what the firm learned from their experience at DEMO.

Describe what Speaku is all about?

Chris Crabtree: SpeakU does for blogs and forums what Twitter does for status updates. SpeakU is a topic driven, social network that allows users to publish full content topics to a global audience. We started using Twitter a couple of years ago, and we've seen a disconnect over time. Basically, people are posting status updates, but linking to more important information--things like links to blogs and news stories. What I wanted to do, was to use a real-time network and allow you to read content right there. We allow you to publish full content, as you would in a blog or a forum, but also give you the ability to find it on a real time network.

What spurred you to take that idea, and make it a company?

Chris Crabtree: A few years ago, I came up with the idea, because of those limitations with Twitter. I saw two things. One, is there was a great potential to reach a large audience. As you know, Twitter was originally going to be used as a social network for friends and family, but what it has become is a massive medium for publishing news. People are publishing headline news, pointing to news articles, and allowing you to find things worldwide. But, what frustrated me about using Twitter, is I really wanted to see more than 140 characters. So, we created this glo bal network, which allows you to publish rich content, reply to content, and make it simple to find and interact with other individuals.

Does that make you a competitor to Twitter?

Chris Crabtree: Online in the sense that it's a real-time, global network, which is published instantly, which anyone can find and interact with it. The difference is, we want to be able to publish high quality, full content and posts, which you can read immediately as it's published into the network. One of our limitations, is actually that instead of a 140 character limit, it's the minimum for a new topic in the SpeakU system, in order to drive quality. We believe that, in order to say something worth reading and imporatnt in the system, it should be at least 140 character long. It's rare that you get a post on a blog or forum, where the content is only one or two sentences long, which is why we put that limitation in place.

What's your background?

Chris Crabtree: I've worked for another company for the last several years, called Mozenda. It's a company that users use to go out and harvest information on the web. We found, in developing that product, that people are trying to mine valuable information from blogs and forums, in the deep web. Most of the customers we have are looking for what people are saying about their products, and where they can find that information, so they're going out and mining that information out of high quality bogs and forums. Part of what spurred the idea of the company, is bringing that high quality content into a real time network, to make it more available and discoverable.

Have you launched your product yet?

Chris Crabtree: We haven't launched yet, and are still in alpha. That's one of the reasons for our alpha pitch at DEMO. We've got enough developed to show potential investors and others who are interested, to see how it behaves. We've been prototype testing and developing this over the last several months, but it's not quite ready for the public yet. People can, however, signup on the website, and seee screen shots. They can sign up for a public beta in mid summer. Right now, we're trying to raise some further seed funding, and finish development.

Finally, what did you learn from your experience at DEMO?

Chris Crabtree: Going through DEMO, the biggest thing I learned, is you have to create a product that you can describe to people easily. It also have to be innovative, new, and different from what is out there. Of the companies we saw at DEMO, lots were me-too companies. We think we differentiate enough from others, because instead of moving towards content aggregation, like we were originally, aggregating social media from Facebook, Twitter, and all these different social networks, we instead see the value coming from original content, by creating a network where people can publish their original content.

Thanks, and good luck!