Kullect Reinvents Blogging for the Smartphone Era

4/13/12Follow @wroush

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still a story. Other stories can be much shorter: yesterday, for example, I attended a conference on technology and journalism at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, and while I was there I created this small collection of photos and quotes.

The story behind Kullect explains a lot about the choices Reddy and Mascia made. They met at UCLA when they were both part of Mani Srivastava and Deborah Estrin’s research group studying wireless sensor networks. (Coincidentally, that’s an area several of us here at Xconomy have been following for a long time. Xconomy Boston editor Greg Huang wrote, and I edited, a Technology Review feature about the UCLA research back in 2003.) Mascia left UCLA after finishing his master’s degree and started a mobile app development studio, while Reddy went on to complete his PhD. After Reddy finished in 2010, the pair moved to San Francisco to try building a company around the idea of participatory sensor networks.

“Everybody has an awesome sensing device in their pocket now—it’s their phone,” says Reddy. “We were thinking about the applications of that, things relating to crowdsourcing or civic engagement. Could you use these sensors to do things like find all the trash or graffiti in your neighborhood?”

In the first iteration of Kullect, there were collections, but they were all collaborative. Explains Reddy, “Someone could create a query, such as ‘I’d like to know where all the broken parking meters in San Francisco are,’ and ask for input. The problem we thought we were trying to solve was creating a structured way for people to collect information collaboratively.”

But it turned out that Kullect’s alpha testers weren’t using the tool that way. They liked making collections, but they didn’t necessarily want them to be collaborative. “It was emotionally upsetting—you’d do something cool and then it would get cluttered up with someone else’s stuff,” says Mascia. “The technology was fine, but it didn’t work with what people were doing, which was more about self-expression and putting out your view of the world.”

So in the spirit of attentive entrepreneurs, Mascia and Reddy pivoted to meet their users, rebuilding Kullect so that it felt less like a utility and more like a creative tool. They kept the collaboration feature (you can invite other people to contribute to a collection you’ve started) but they made sure users would feel a sense of authorship. They gave up on their first, Gigwalk-like business model—charging business customers for access to a human sensor network—-and started building an “interest graph,” a network of users defined by their passions. The idea, eventually, is to start selling advertisements or promotions that match up with users’ interests or location.

What I like about Kullect, aside from the collections concept, is that it’s a true creation tool. Most of the stuff people post to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Tumblr is recycled from somewhere else. “Curation” is the high-sounding buzzword for this, but in its lowest form it’s really just copying. Kullect, though, is about actual creation. You’re the one making the photos and videos and writing the thoughts, and you’re the one deciding how to organize them into stories. It’s a lot like the early days of blogging, except that Kullect lets the creation happen out in the world, on the device you have with you.

Kullect is available for the iPhone and Android phones. Try it and let me know what you think. Meanwhile, here are a couple of videos of Reddy talking about the app.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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