ESnips is a content-sharing community for people who “have a life.”Like an online version of Andy Warhol’s famous declaration, everyone is getting their MySpace fifteen minutes of fame. But if you’re not a tech-savvy, music-crazed, dating-obsessed teenager, the MySpace online community might not be the place for you. Israeli start-up eSnips has an alternative – a bright and colorful online space for the over-20s to share and discuss on any topic, display the fruits of their creativity and even sell it. 350,000 users have already moved in since the site launched last September.
Like MySpace, eSnips is part of the new wave known as Web 2.0, the latest Internet buzzword means user-created content: doing it yourself, your way.
“Web 2.0 is about putting out content, people inviting other people, finding each other and connecting,” says eSnips CEO Yael Elish. “What we do is provide one place to do all the content sharing.” Elish studied international relations and political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and “by accident,” she says, fell into the world of Internet start-ups 12 years ago.
After four years as vice president of strategic development at Israeli software company, Commtouch, she decided to go it alone and founded eSnips in 2004, bringing in Nahum Sharfman, the founder of Shopping.com and co-founder of Commtouch as chairman. The company raised $1.2 million in initial funding from Sharfman, as an angel investor, and Israeli venture fund Gemini ventures, and at the end of October closed a $2 million second round of funding from Gemini and VC fund Greylock partners.
Elish created this site for her and people like her. “Even though I am in technology I am a mainstream person,” she says, smiling, at her desk in the Netanya office eSnips currently shares with Commtouch. “I am not a fifteen-year-old, I’m married, I have a life. We thought about what we might need. The majority of sites are used by techies and early adopters. How do the mainstream benefit from Web 2.0?”
Listing online services such as picture-sharing site Flickr, video community YouTube and favorites-sharing site Del.Ici.Ous, she says that these are “not about you, they are about the community. We look at you, at how you want to work.” Instead of specializing in one particular service, such as pictures or videos, eSnips’ aim is to be the place where you collect everything together. “Our site is about content, it is for people who are beyond their obsession with themselves. They are really trying to find people who share their interests.”
Once you sign up to eSnips, you get your own “space” and you can immediately start uploading files – be they documents, pictures, video, music or anything else – up to the current 1 gigabyte limit. Files are uploaded into folders, each of which can either be public, available to a small group or private. “You can have as many folders as you like,” says Elish. “This is different from other such sites. It’s all in one account.”
The name ‘eSnips’ refers not just to the site but to proprietary technology that Elish developed for adding content to their space. Once you have downloaded the eSnips toolbar for your browser, “you highlight something you find on the web, links, pictures, text or video, and then snip it,” she explains. “You can edit the content, you can take a link and upload it, you can screen capture just a part of a picture.” So if you see an article you want to share and discuss, snip it and add it to your site. This is a useful resource for journalists and others doing research on the Internet, who can put all relevant material in one place.
The way like-minded eSnippers find each other is by adding tags to each item they upload which describes the item, and then searching for others with similarly-tagged content. For example, Elish has uploaded pictures of Zita, her new Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy. The tags for this folder are: dog, puppy, cavalierkingcharlesspaniel, breed, pet, pets, dogs and pictures. If you do a search on the site for the tags “dog” and “puppy,” your results are sorted into three categories: results in your own stuff, content put up by other people, and people who have similar content. So, for example, clicking on the link “Related People” brings up pictures of users who have content that is tagged with “dog” and “puppy,” such as “The Puppy Lady.” You can view any of her public folders and leave a comment on, say, how cute her Bichon puppies are. It’s a shorthand method of making new friends. “Once people upload content and tag it, they get a lot of traffic and they get very excited,” says Elish. “There is a lot of co-visiting. If people visit you, they expect you to visit them.”
If there is something you like, such as a piece of art, you can create what is called in webspeak a “widget.” This is a linked button which will have a picture of the painting and a message such as “View it on eSnips,” which you can add to your home page or blog by pasting the code into the HTML source of your page.
eSnips fosters a sense of community by highlighting various eSnipper sites on the home page and running competitions such as the recent Karaoke contest in July. However, is not simply a social space. Elish saw that many of the users were artists or musicians and had begun uploading items that they had created and trying to sell them. So she decided to help. “Now you can go to any folder and have the option of selling the content, you just enter your PayPal account details,” she says. “It’s different from eBay. They do individual items, disconnected from you. This is more like a crafts fair, you get to see who the person is. It’s a different concept.” Some of the items for sale that are featured on the home page include crystal hanging art for over $500, nature photographs for $10 and z_tron’s paintings which are priced at $150.
The success of eSnips’ format and services is evident in the site’s rapid growth. 350,000 users have registered since the site was launched, in beta, last September. 80 percent are over 20, with the twenties to thirties age group forming the largest section of the user population, and the forties to seventies not far behind. The population is growing at eight percent a week, and Elish and her team are constantly updating the site to add new features. A recently-added feature is the ability to upload photos and files to eSnips by email, with each user receiving a unique email address for their account.
A new version of the site is due in September, and one novel feature will be the ability to record yourself, voice or video, straight into your account. “We are adding more and more flexibility,” says Elish. “We are just making it more simple for people to express themselves.”