Cloud Vets Start PaperShare, Giving IT Pros a Better Place to Geek Out

11/22/11Follow @curtwoodward

What do you do with stuff that’s just too nerdy to discuss on Facebook? For some technical professionals, the answer still lies in sites that are very Web 1.0—long lists of links, few sharing functions, very basic design.

Doug Brown knows this well. Since 1999 he’s been running the site DABCC, which focuses on a niche audience of professionals interested in nitty-gritty developments in cloud computing and virtualization. Brown, a jack of several trades who previously worked at Citrix, has run DABCC as a business since 2004. It’s grown in popularity, now registering about 5 million unique visitors a year. But something was still lacking.

So Brown started PaperShare, which just opened up its site to the broader public. The idea is relatively simple: Give the existing audience that is consuming white papers and other insider content a much more modern site, with up-front social features that breed a lot of interactivity.

So yes, it’s basically a “Facebook for business,” as CEO David Greschler says. But Greschler, a former director of virtualization for Microsoft and co-founder of Softricity, says he wouldn’t have leapt at the chance to join Brown if this was just another attempt to build a social networking knockoff.

“When you lead with the content, that’s what people come for,” Brown says. “If you want to talk about your dog and what you ate for dinner, go to Facebook.”

Kirkland, WA-based PaperShare’s opportunity is tied to two major trends: The consumerization of business IT and the socialization of content. Brown and Greschler say there’s a big gap there for their targeted niche audiences of professionals.

Business software tools that focus on productivity, storage, or sharing, like Box or Yammer, are mostly private and used within one company, they say. Meanwhile, nobody turns to regular social networks to geek out over the latest developments in hardcore IT.

“Posting stuff about hypervisor on Facebook? It just doesn’t work. It’s like apples and oranges,” Greschler says. “It’s the wrong place to try to engage with people.”

The financial model depends on growing an audience, which is why readers can use the site for free. PaperShare then charges companies annual subscriptions to publish their content and engage with the audience.

The test phase signed up more than 5,000 users and 25 business customers, including Microsoft, Citrix, and Cisco. If it’s successful, PaperShare sees expansion beyond the cloud and virtualization realms—medicine and finance are two examples of industries where professionals are hungry for specialized information, Brown says.

Greschler says the potential is big. That’s why, after seeing Brown’s early version this spring, he decided to leave Microsoft after about five years and jump back into the startup world. “I felt like what he had really done was crack the nut,” Greschler says. “I was looking at a lot of ways to engage Microsoft with social media, and it looked like, wow—this is the way to do it.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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