Yes, another social-media site is launching to the public this week. And, if you remember the lickety-split launches and flame-outs of Peach, Secret, or Color, you'd be forgiven for rolling your eyes.
But the founder of Imzy, Dan McComas, a serial startup- and community-builder, made his name creating Reddit Gifts, the massive independent community that was eventually bought by Reddit, which is known for hosting the world's largest Secret Santa gift swap (it has also been known as redditgifts and r/secretsanta). And he's not looking to create some instant phenomenon with Imzy.
"We don't want to be like Peach and have a couple million people sign up and then go nowhere," McComas told me this summer, while he was working on Imzy in beta with a small team out of Salt Lake City. At that point, he'd assembled a $3 million seed round of funding to experiment with building communities online.
Today, seven months into building Imzy, McComas and his team are opening it to the public. Meaning: anyone can sign up, using their real name, a pseudonym, or a completely anonymous online identity. And any user can create a community about, well, anything: say, restoring vintage pens, politics, or Harry Potter fan fiction. While in "lock-down invite-only mode," over much of the past year, the site amassed about 50,000 users, who have self-organized into nearly 6,000 communities.
With a fresh infusion of about $8 million in venture capital funding led by Danny Rimer of Index Ventures, the site's goal is now to "provide a place for communities to start and grow and thrive online, and remain healthy many years down the road," according to McComas.
Imzy's founding team was comprised of six ousted and other former Reddit employees, and one from Twitter. Today it employs 18 people and is based in Salt Lake City.
Echoes of Reddit, and other bulletin-board and networking sites abound. Imzy is organized by communities of individuals passionate about or interested in various subjects. On Reddit these are called "subreddits;" on Imzy they are known as communities. (Both can be subscribed to and viewed as part of a front-page experience--on Reddit that's unnecessary, and what's known as lurking is common; on Imzy it is necessary to join a given community to take part in its discussions. Consider them more like Facebook Groups, but with optional anonymity.)
Simpler comparisons can be drawn, too: like Reddit, Imzy has a cute mascot. He's a smiling dinosaur of sorts.
There are a few overt attempts at turning away from the Reddit standards, though. While over the past year, Reddit has updated its content and privacy policies to ban revenge porn and content intending to incite violence, it still leans on its free-speech enabling roots often. It's a pretty open place for NSFW and otherwise controversial content.
The first words under "Unwelcome Content" header in Reddit's policy statement are: "While Reddit generally provides a lot of leeway in what content is acceptable..." Imzy, in contrast, explicitly states "harassment will not be tolerated" and "we are against doxxing," or exposing the intimate details of an online user's real identity. It also bans pornography, terrorism, and "gore, mutilation, bestiality, or necrophilia."
In other words, don't be evil.
Another distinction that Imzy is aiming to draw from other social sites: It will not include advertising. What's in store for a business model? Imzy will open its communities up to developers to build in integrations with other sites--so, ostensibly, developers could build in payment platforms or some degree of commerce.
Already, crowdfunding is at work on Imzy. When a user posted that they needed help affording a guide dog to help cope with PTSD, the community stepped up. The individual has raised more than $6,000 on Indiegogo, with some of that support coming from the Imzy community. Another community, called "Let's Grab Coffee," which was created to mimic the feel of a casual coffee shop, where strangers bump into each other and share small talk, is starting a campaign, too. (It would fund one of the community leaders' travels and podcasting.)
Will all of the money potentially changing hands--even in the names of charity or patronage of arts or creativity--on Imzy hamper its growth as primarily a feel-good social site?
With its own millions in funding, it at least has another year to figure that out.