The Rev2 Cabinet is a weekly investigative series at Rev2 where we take an in-depth look into some of the leading companies, startups, and services. Along with a podcast interview with our associate editor Zach Sims (embedded below and in the RSS feed), leading executives and CEOs offer insights into their startups and services which we analyze with an in-depth writeup. If you’re interested in being profiled, please contact Zach.
Interview with Jia Shen, CTO of RockYou!
[audio:http://www.rev2.org/podcasts/RockYou.mp3] [Download MP3] [50:56]
Now, nearly every website you visit has a widget. Almost everything is embeddable, whether it’s the delegate count for the US presidential election from MSNBC, or something as mundane as a moving cat. It’s hard to argue that they have not been a large part of the explosive growth of viral videos, web games, and more. The pioneers in this field were Lance Tokuda and Jia Shen, the founders of RockYou! I spoke with Jia, currently the company’s CTO, in early June for our Facebook roundtable. We spoke again in December regarding RockYou’s latest growth announcement, in which they boasted that their company was finally the number one widget provider, as tracked by both Alexa and Facebook.
Pioneers Become Mainstays
“We are the leaders,” Jia confidently told me, and it seems as if that’s been the case since RockYou was founded. The slideshow application, easily one of the most used across the internet, was created first by RockYou. Since then, the company has blossomed out to create widgets in every conceivable category, from horoscopes and birthdays to voicemails and “audio accessories.” The growth in the number of widgets RockYou produces has led to an immense hike in the number of hits RockYou’s widgets receive. At last count, more than 130 million unique visitors interact with RockYou’s widgets per month. It’s those kind of numbers that have kept RockYou far ahead of its competition.
A RockYou Slideshow [Kanye West themed], One of the Company’s Original Offerings
Competition Heats Up
A market as lucrative as the one RockYou is in wasn’t likely to see no new entrants. So it was no surprise when Slide launched as direct competition to RockYou. Many of RockYou’s applications seem to be duplicated by Slide, but the numbers RockYou puts out are consistently better than Slide’s. However, that certainly doesn’t discount Slide, which has done its fair share of innovation and stuck out as RockYou’s lead partner. The competition between the two companies is so great that RockYou called particular attention to it in their press release, remarking that RockYou led all application developers “including Slide” in audience. Direct head-to-head competition, between apps like Super Wall and Fun Wall on Facebook, have usually gone RockYou’s way. Today, however, Facebook’s statistics tell a different story, with Slide’s Top Friends and Fun Wall coming in slightly higher than RockYou’s competing application.
RockYou’s Super Wall, the Company’s Most Popular Facebook Application
A Lucrative New Opportunity
RockYou made its name with embeds on popular social networking websites like MySpace, and throughout other websites. The launch of the much publicized Facebook Platform, however, was an incredible new opportunity for widget producers, and most hurried to launch new applications for users. The results have paid off for RockYou, as they now hold many of the top positions on Facebook. Jia highlighted a specific example for me. Their Super Wall application, which allows users to put graffiti on someone’s wall, is far more popular than the app named “graffiti.” I wrote about the “MySpace-ification” of Facebook earlier in 2007, and RockYou is largely to blame for trends like these. Yet, while I’m not such a fan of the clutter many of RockYou’s applications cause, they know their key demographic. Jia claims that RockYou’s widgets help users have “more self-expression” on Facebook and elsewhere. Teens have been fiendishly adding RockYou’s applications all over their profiles, and it’s difficult to browse Facebook without seeing at least one of RockYou’s applications. Partnerships with companies like SNOCAP have given RockYou users access to music and more in their widgets as well. Jia conceded that Facebook was the company’s number one priority at the moment, but that Google OpenSocial would also be something RockYou would use heavily.
Just a Few of the Actions One Can Perform with RockYou’s “Hug Me” Facebook Application
More Than Widgets
It’s easy to generalize and say that widgets are all RockYou’s known for. Besides their exploits in the field of web widgets and Facebook applications, the company is responsible for a wildly successful Facebook advertising platform as well. While the focus is on app installs at the present, the ad network is a fairly large side project. One developer, said Jia, was making over $5,000 per day using RockYou’s ad network.
Ads Like These, Inside the Facebook Apps of RockYou and Others, Have Propelled the Company to Advertising Dominance
The company is, by all accounts, tremendously successful in most of what they do. Jia claimed that the company’s “reach” was their greatest success. RockYou currently reaches over 100 million people per month, and their staff is miniscule. The company is not content to remain one of the top widget providers, however. Instead, their aim is to be the top provider on every major social network, and to obtain penetration greater than 60%. Their next exploits may come in the fields of e-mail, messaging, and more. And, as they’re primarily focused on the “younger, most viral” demographic, I’m sure there are many of us that will pan their applications as useless. But whatever critics say, it seems like RockYou knows best. Their tremendous success, and their bright future, is enough to convince me that the company is well on its way to achieving the goal Jia laid out for me.