Launched just this year, Engagio enables users to organize and manage their online interactions through a simple platform inspired by the familiar Gmail interface. It's like a Gmail for online conversations, or a personalized Digg, with real-time updates and integration with your social networks- altogether, it's a bit like the forum of the 1990s completely reinvented.
At first glance, I thought the platform seems useful for those who are overwhelmed by the noise of irrelevant content and want a more organized way to converse online. It depends on your personality; it could feel just a little intrusive to allow another service access to your history of conversation online.
In a chat over email, founder William Mougayar, a Lebanese-Canadian entrepreneur who has worked in the tech sector for over 30 years, addresses the privacy issue, explaining how he came up with the idea, how they collect their data, and how they hope to redefine the way people connect and experience their online conversations.
What is Engagio?
Engagio is a consumer app that lets you manage, follow, search and discover social conversations from the web. In essence, we are a unified Inbox of “Conversation Mail”. Our user interface looks a bit like Gmail. In addition, there is a dashboard that displays a real-time stream of conversations from people you follow, and we have a public search/discovery page highlighting popular and active discussions from the web.
How did you get started?
We started as a result of my heavy participation in the commenting space of AVC, the popular blog of Fred Wilson, a top technology venture capitalist in New York. As a frequent participant on blogs and in social network conversations, I realized it was becoming un-manageable to keep track of these disparate discussions due to the fragmentation of the social web. I had to jump from one location to another, and even if I relied on email notifications, it was overwhelming because you end up missing a lot of replies directed to you. So, I asked Fred Wilson what he thought of the idea. He liked it, and advised me to make it look like Gmail. We went ahead and developed a minimum viable product (MVP) within 8 weeks and launched it on Fred’s blog. A month later, Fred and his wife Joanne Wilson invested in Engagio, and the rest is history.
How does it work? How do people sign up?
Users signup in 30 seconds simply by authenticating their various existing networks, allowing us to start pulling their conversations and organizing them in an Inbox. Then we extract the people they interact with and list them in a Contacts folder. Thirdly, we start following the conversations of those people you follow and we display their discussions in your Dashboard as a stream. So, you start to discover interesting content based on your friends’ conversations.
Does Engagio collect a user’s data and interaction history?
We start when the user authenticates their existing social networks, web communities and online commenting systems accounts. We work with the various APIs offered by these services to track and aggregate a user’s engagement with other people. We currently work with the key players, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Disqus, YouTube, Wordpress, StackExchange, Foursquare, Angel List and StockTwits.
What sort of analysis does Engagio provide of social media interactions?
Engagio builds an implicit “interaction graph” for every registered user that helps visualize your social conversations, showing you where you interact, with whom, and the frequency of these interactions. We show the top people that you interact with, as well as the popular sites and communities that you typically engage in. We also track one-to-one interactions with other users across the spectrum of networks, so you can see the continuum of a given relationship across the fragmentation of the social networks; the sites becomes a personal relationship manager for social interactions.
Can other people see your records on Engagio?
What is public stays public, and what is private to you remains private. Engagio inherits the privacy settings of the original accounts you’ve already connected. No one will see what you see in your Inbox, and those private messages do not appear in the public search results.
How many users do you have today?
We currently track discussions from about 7 million users based on interactions they have had with other Engagio users. From a retention point of view, our active users are very addicted: 85% return weekly, and 45% return daily. These are very high numbers when compared to standards in consumer applications.
What countries are you targeting and where are you seeing the most users?
Engagio is in use in 125 countries. About 50% of usage comes from North America, and 25% from Western Europe. Actually, to illustrate Engagio’s global language reach, here’s a screen shot from a Conversations search that displays results in Arabic.
Is there any competition in the space, is anyone else doing this around the world?
There are companies that help users monitor social firehoses, provide social media analytics or focus on the CRM component. But the uniqueness of Engagio’s offering lies in: 1) tackling both online commenting and social networks conversations within a unified realm, 2) focusing solely on the “conversations” aspect, i.e. replies to you, 3) offering an open global search of conversations with email alerting, like Google does for web content.
Do you have a mobile app?
We decided to create a mobile website first, so we developed an HTML5-based web mobile app, optimized for Androids and iPhones, that includes responsive design. The advantage of this approach is faster market availability and being able to continuously iterate and make changes to the app without the longer development cycles of native apps. This is working well for us now, and it will help inform our decisions to potentially develop a native app later.
What are your next plans for growth?
Engagio’s growth will come from increased usage of our Discovery and Search components. With Search, we are surfacing a part of the social web that hasn’t been well exposed: online comments. But what’s even more interesting is that we have innovated with search results by displaying the people who are behind these conservations as well as the communities focused on these conversations. This allows users to meet one another over search. Going forward, we will be further enriching our Discovery capability with a wider and deeper variety of content. From a user consumption perspective, we are turning discussions into headlines and exposing the conversation as the atomic unit of value.