Kibits Cuts Through the Chatter with New Micro-Social Network App

3/29/12Follow @gthuang

Please, Lord, not another social-networking app that helps you connect with 500 more people you don’t actually want to talk to. Or that adds yet more information overload to your life.

OK, since it’s Matt Cutler and Dave Greenstein, the former NetGenesis guys, let’s take a closer look. Their free mobile app is called Kibits, it’s available in the Apple app store (for iOS devices) as of this morning, and judging from the demo…well, it actually looks like it could be pretty useful. Even for those of you who are already maxed out on social networking.

The basic idea is you can create private groups on the fly—of friends, co-workers, people you have business meetings with, and so on—and share messages, comments, links, photos, videos, or documents from Dropbox or iCloud, with those people (and only those people).

So you can use it as a collaborative tool at work, or a social sharing tool among certain friends and family, or even to meet up with people at a common location. Cutler says the app’s goal is to be “more effective and visceral” than existing tools like e-mail, texting, group messaging, Google Docs, or Facebook—and to be optimized for mobile devices, as people move in and out of groups during the course of their day.

“At our very core, what we’ve been trying to do is build an app that you’ll use in the real world in real situations with real people, every day,” says Cutler, CEO of Kibits. “We didn’t set out to build a mobile apps company. But if you’re in the real world, the device of choice is your phone.”

Cutler and Greenstein have been heads-down on the project for over a year. They raised $1 million in seed funding last year from Google Ventures, Charles River Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, and other investors. The Kibits team is less than 10 people, Cutler says, and is currently hiring for iOS developers and visual designers in particular.

The Kibits app weaves together many familiar social-media threads—inviting Facebook friends to join, sharing comments and content with specific groups, incorporating calendar appointments and users’ location—but it does so in a fresh way. “There’s a lot of new here,” Cutler says. The app is “really geared towards encouraging dialogue and increasing the pace of the dialogue,” he says. To that end, he thinks it will also help drive people towards faster actions and decisions, since text-based phone interactions tend to be short and direct.

For now, though, the Kibits team is all about getting the app out in the hands of users—and learning what it takes for them to get comfortable using it—before worrying about making money. “It’s going to take time and a lot of experimentation to get that right,” Cutler says. “We’re not trying to swing for the fences our first time at bat.”

Cutler mentioned an early use case from a distant relative of his. The relative’s father was going through a series of difficult organ transplants, and he was getting bombarded with texts, e-mails, and Facebook messages. He decided to use Kibits as a unified, private place to share updates with his personal network. “It hit really close to home. I felt humbled that we could help incrementally in a tough situation like that,” Cutler says. “How big is that market? I don’t care.” The important thing, he says, is that his team’s technology helped solve a real problem.

Indeed, Kibits seems to be taking a fairly mature approach to issues like user privacy (not broadcasting locations to the world, or blasting messages out to Twitter, for instance). Part of that comes from the principals’ previous experience in building products and companies. Cutler previously co-founded NetGenesis, the Cambridge, MA-based Web analytics company that went public in 2000 and was acquired by SPSS/IBM. More recently, he served as chief marketing officer at Boston-based Visible Measures and as an advisor to several startups. To my mind, Kibits is part of a next wave of smarter social-consumer products being built by local companies like HeyWire, Springpad, LoseIt, and FitnessKeeper.

Cutler sums up Kibits’ grounded approach more succinctly: “We’re Boston, baby.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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