New social network site keeps things among friends

Note: This column was published in the March 19 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

With more than 800 million users worldwide, it’s easy to forget that Facebook once had a very humble beginning in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room.

So it’s easy for the big players in social networking to overlook what Doug Freitag and a few colleagues are putting together in Orland Park. And, for now, he’s OK with that.

Freitag is president of Friendio, a social network site that holds true to the ideas of “friends and family” connectivity. Friendio has a similar look and feel to other social networking sites, but its draw is that it gives users more control over what information is public and what is only shared among a network of family and friends.

“It’s social networking in true form,” Freitag said. “It has the same features (as the big social network sites), but we keep it locked down.

“When you sign up for the site, your profile is private. Not even partial information is made public, just your name,” he added.

In fact, Freitag said Friendio got its seed after several high-profile privacy policy changes at sites like Facebook led to growing dissatisfaction among users. In addition to the comprising of privacy issues, Freitag said the changes were moving the big sites away from their original purpose of sharing information among a user’s defined group.

“Friendio was started because of the changes at the other social networking site,” he said. “Our site is meant to be just your own circle of family and friends. It’s not meant to be a Twitter, where everything is public.”

Once a profile is established, Friendio users invite others to join their circle. The user’s status, information and media such as photos and videos is shared only among that circle, unless the user chooses to share it publicly. Friendio’s profile page even resembles the traditional Facebook page, and Freitag believes that will be a benefit as Facebook switches all of its users to the new “Timeline” profile page later this month.

“The majority of people dislike Timeline,” he said. “When I saw it, it reminded me of my grandmother’s scrapbook. It just doesn’t seem like social networking anymore.

“Why are they making people use it if they don’t want it?” he asks.”You should be able to use it the way you want it.”

That thought ties into Friendio’s slogan, “It’s all about you.” Freitag said the site is highly customizable, allowing users to add music, geotagging, company pages and other add-ons that interests the user’s circle of friends.

Freitag and his small staff began Friendio in beta about a year ago and did a full launch last December. With very little fanfare and marketing, the site has built up 707,000 users worldwide, mostly from U.S., Australia and Europe. Two events, he said, helped build the site’s following: A news report by a Fox television affiliate in Sacramento, Calif., and a write-up on the tech social networking site Mashable.

“(Mashable) has 7 million followers,” he said. “That brought a lot more into our site and those people invited more people. That’s how it’s growing ever since.”

Freitag noted the site’s API is open to outside developers as well to create new apps to expand the experience for Friendio users. Websites and bloggers can also get a “like button” widget to bring new people to Friendio as well. The site is free to users, and revenue is coming mostly through advertisers and through Google ads.Freitag said they have recently signed up online movie ticket site Fandango as an advertiser.

The site has drawn interest from potential investors, but Freitag said he’s hesitant to jump on investor offers for concern of losing the focus of the site.

“That’s what happened to Facebook,” he said. “Mark Zuckerberg wanted to make the world more connected — and he still does — but he owns only a portion of Facebook now and I think the decisions there now are more from corporate than from him. It’s more about money and profits today than making the world more connected.”

While he continues to build and grow the site, Freitag doesn’t see himself competing at the level of Facebook or Google+ — for now, at least.

“We have a long way to go for that,” he said. “We don’t even have one percent of what they are today.

“We have some people who laugh at us because of Facebook and say we could never be Facebook, but I’m sure Facebook was told the same thing when they started, too, ” he added. “It can happen, and all feedback we have is that people love what we are doing and they can’t wait to delete their Facebook page.”

You can check out Friendio at www.friend.io.

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