1000memories, With $2.5M from Greylock and Big-Name Angels, Explores New Ways to Capture Online Memories of the Deceased

2/16/11Follow @wroush

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someone’s entire story is there—you see their baby photos, and you see them growing up and having kids, and then photos of them when they were old,” says Adler. “It’s really fascinating to see all that mixed together.”

There’s one thing the site still doesn’t have: advertisements or any other form of sales pitch. It’s free to join 1000memories, free to create memory pages for loved ones, free to share photos and videos.

That’s how it was last summer too—none of the founders was in a rush to find ways to monetize the service. Perhaps, I suggested to Adler, the folks at Greylock asked about the startup’s business model before handing over a couple million dollars? Not really, he says. “We do talk about monetization every once in a while, and we have some theories about how it might go, but 98 percent of what we talk about is making the platform work,” Adler says. “Our goal is to become the place where everyone is remembered, so part of that is just making sure we get as many users as possible.”

Certain things have been decided: the base service will always be free, and the company will never put ads on memory pages, Adler says. “We think that’s just not the right way to treat the stories of people’s lives,” he says. “We have talked about premium services that we can add, and obviously in the end they [Greylock] want us to monetize the site, but we are really just focused on creating the best experience.” He calls this “the Facebook model,” a reference to the social network giant’s decision to spend years building up a base of users before it started worrying about revenue.

This month, 1000memories tried an experiment that represents a major addition to, if not quite a departure from, its original mission of helping users remember individuals. After receiving a request from Mahmoud Hashim, an Egyptian living in Toronto, the team created a single large Web page commemorating more than 150 demonstrators killed during the recent anti-government protests in Egypt. For each victim, the page includes details such as a photo, a name, an age, a hometown, an occupation, and a date and cause of death. (Some of the victims were shockingly young—8-year-old Muhammed Ehab El-Naggar, for example, was shot by security forces on January 28.)

The move sparked stories in press outlets around the world. But Adler says 1000memories has no desire to become a virtual Ground Zero for every deadly upheaval—the online equivalent of the seas of bouquets that appear on sidewalks after school shootings, celebrity deaths, and other public traumas. “I really don’t like the idea of being tragedy-focused,” he says.

On the other hand, he says, 1000memories’ basic mission is help people remember the dead. “In some ways we are user-driven and user-focused,” he says. “We didn’t sit around and say ‘How can we jump on the Egypt story?’ Someone asked us to do it and we did it. If we can provide people with the tools, and they can use them for what they want, that would be the ideal circumstance.”

Over the next few months, Adler says, 1000memories hopes to use part of its venture money to hire a couple more engineers and a designer who can help the founding team chip away at their long list of planned features. But don’t look for any drastic changes. “We grew up in this Y Combinator world where it’s a conversation between us and our users,” Adler says. “So we take things slow. We are very conscious of getting it right and building things that people want. People are entrusting us with their stories, and we feel this responsibility to make sure we are telling their stories in the right way.”

To finish: here’s a great little video 1000memories produced about its service. Says Adler, “We wrote the script in house, hired a friend of mine who is an illustrator in Portland, and his animators, and then my brother did the music. And my former boss did the voice over. A nice collaboration!”

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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