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Collecting for an online era

Posted By David Shamah On April 11, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

Whether it’s stamps, coins or phone cards, collecting just got easier with a new award-winning Israeli website that enables collectors to post their catalogs on line.

 

Stamps, coins, even tea bags – the website Colnect allows collectors to catalog their collections online.

Just how much impact can a single person have on the web in two and a half years? How about creating a web service that reaches hundreds of thousands of people in 116 countries and has been translated into 48 languages?

That’s exactly the impact Amir Wald has made with his unique collector’s site called Colnect, that beat out 160 other companies when it was voted top web startup of 2009 in May by the European Web2.0 Startup Competition, also known as Startup 2.0. And another win for Colnect occurred in December, when it took second place at the prestigious TechAviv Peer Awards contest, losing by a single vote as the people’s choice for most promising Israeli web site of the year.

“Colnect connects collectors around the world – hence the name,” Wald tells ISRAEL21c. “Colnect is essentially a wiki built by users who post their collections online, contributing to a huge catalog that anyone can tap into when they need information on locating or acquiring new items for their collection, and allowing them to buy, sell and trade their items.”

Social networking as collectors’ paradise

In a sense, social networking was tailor-made for collectors, whether it be collectors of coins, stamps, phone cards, bottle caps, banknotes, postcards, train tickets, hotel key cards, or even tea bags… To build your collection, you have to interact with other people, and the more people on your contact list, the more opportunities you have to acquire that missing coin or stamp, or to get rid of your duplicates.

Colnect brings together the techniques and methods of social networking – providing a platform that lets users see each other’s items and connect with each other – and uses it to create a system that makes collecting much easier than ever before.

While Wald is modest in his goals for Colnect – except for the fact that he would like it to become “the eBay of collectibles” – the site can also be a great vehicle for crossing cultural borders. “We have users in many Arab countries, and I make no secret of the fact that I am Israeli. But this hasn’t stopped the site from growing in the two and a half years it’s been in existence – we have volunteers from all the countries helping out, including Arab countries.

Collectors speak sort of an international language – there’s no politics involved,” he adds, and relationships and friendships burst through barriers that politicians dare not breach. “One thing I do hope Colnect can do is to encourage more people to get into collecting. It’s a lot of fun,” says Wald, who has quite a wish-list for banknotes on the site.

A revolution in building collections, for free

“Until now, if you wanted to fill out a collection, you had to pore through collector’s catalogs, many of which might have been out of date, or search for other collectors on an individual, hit or miss basis. It was time-consuming and often frustrating,” says Wald. But Colnect’s tools eliminate these problems, bringing collectors together using the latest social networking technology.

Use of the site is free, and any registered member can upload photos and information about the items they have, and the items they want. The more information you tag your items with, the better: Year of manufacture or issue, country of origin, catalog number, etc.

Once you’ve entered your information, it becomes part of the online Colnect catalog, available for anyone to peruse. And if the system finds a match, it automatically connects between the two parties, so that e-mails may be exchanged and offers and information can be traded. “The site does all the legwork for you,” Wald enthuses. “Anything I have to offer is automatically available to those searching for it, and I can search just as easily for anything I’m missing from my own collection.”

The site does not take a commission for the transactions, either. “We offer some premium services, but they are not necessary for collectors looking to buy, sell, or trade their items,” Wald tells ISRAEL21c. The premium services provide access to features that the company says “enhance the Colnect experience.”

A one-man show with a ‘cast’ of millions

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Colnect is that the 30-something Wald is essentially the only employee of a company that boasts millions of ‘assets,’ in the form of the items on display.

Colnect is his main job, and perhaps his passion for collecting is a result of growing up with a father who was an avid collector of coins. “I came up with the idea together with my brother a few years ago when we were trying to help our father with his collections, and after a stint backpacking after the army, I decided I didn’t want an office job – so everything sort of coalesced on my starting Colnect,” the resident of the city of Petah Tikva in central Israel recounts.

And while he may be the sole worker who draws a salary, making do with whatever he collects from premium fees and startup investment funds, Wald says he’s far from alone in running the site: “I have dozens of volunteers in countries around the world who help out with the translations and coordinating the catalogs.” That makes Colnect a true example of social networking in action.

Meanwhile, all users benefit, even if they aren’t actively trading, by contributing to an online catalog of collectibles available to all, wiki-style. If any items are not covered by the site, users are invited to create a new catalogue.

“Each user who contributes to the database is helping him or herself, as well as all other users, by helping develop an accurate, up-to-date online catalog,” Wald declares, concluding that “eventually, we expect the Colnect catalogs to replace printed catalogs, which are often expensive and out-of-date before they are even printed.”

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