A Brief Company History
"The Infomediary. In February 1999, four of us sat around in the backyard of a house on the Stanford campus (we were either current or former Stanford students) and created a new concept – the online infomediary. We realized that individual users of the Internet, by their actions and the information they were providing (both willingly and not), were creating tremendous value. Yet none of this value was accruing back to the individual users.
We also realized that individuals held much more information about themselves which they might be willing to share if they would share in the profits from this information, and if other conditions - such as privacy and security - were satisfied. We knew that companies were willing to "pay" for increased information about users. But no system existed to bridge the gap between these two parties.
AllAdvantage.com. So, we launched AllAdvantage.com in the spring of 1999 in an attempt to bridge this gap. By downloading and using the AllAdvantage.com Viewbar, members were effectively "renting" some of their computer screen and their clickstream data for hourly cash payments.
This "get paid to the surf the web" concept proved wildly successful with consumers. Tens of millions of people are happy to share some non-personal information and share in the profits that are being made on the Web, even though this was being questioned in the business press. The concept also proved to be highly successful in generating revenues, as most people agree that AllAdvantage.com generated more revenue in its first 12 months of operations than any online consumer/advertising company in history.
Ultimately – and unfortunately rather quickly – AllAdvantage.com failed as a company because we relied too heavily on venture capital financing and our growth in members far outstripped our growth in revenues early on. Put simply, we signed up members in Internet time and sold ads (our primary form of revenue) in old-fashioned media time. The AllAdvantage.com model started paying members as soon as they downloaded and started using the Viewbar, but it took time to monetize these incremental hours.
As the online ad market and the Internet financing markets crashed in 2000-01, the revenues from the business could not keep up with the rapid growth in members (and their associated fixed hourly costs). We unfortunately had to close the business, even though new members were continuing to join the network.
While we had no choice but to shut down the business, AllAdvantage.com did deliver everything it promised to members: We mailed out over 0 million in checks to members, and advertisers delivered the most targeted, information-rich advertising opportunity on the Web.
The company maybe failed, but the ideas behind it never did…
Where are we today? Online advertising, after stalling in 2001-02, is bigger than ever (Google, of course, has changed everything). Targeted search and contextual text ads – almost non-existent in 1999 – are now everywhere. Companies – Google and Yahoo, for example – are trying to convince users to download "toolbars" (sound familiar?) to gather more information from their members. All this information – and the companies that gather it – is worth more than ever. Yet the individual users still do not have an effective way to get their share back.
YouTube was acquired for .65 billion by Google in October 2006. The story of how three guys made hundreds of millions of dollars in one year is a great tale of entrepreneurial success. But what happened to the first users who posted their videos on the site and told their friends to do the same? We don't hear about them, because they did not get anything (other than free video hosting). Wasn't it really these users that helped turn YouTube into a multi-billion dollar company? Sure the site is great and the founders deserve all the credit they get, but it is the users who ultimately made it valuable. There are plenty of video sites, and if it wasn't YouTube, another site could have filled the space, become a household name and been acquired for an amazing price.
We are not trying to pick on YouTube (which we happen to love using). How about the early users of Skype? What about those who first downloaded the software, made calls to their friends in different countries and told their parents to use it as well? They did not see a penny of the .6 billion that eBay paid for the company in September 2005. And MySpace? How about the millions of members there? How did they do when News Corp. bought the company for almost 0 million? After all, it was the members that Rupert Murdoch was after when he purchased the site.
The point we are trying to make here is that there are plenty of social networking sites out there, but it is the members that make these sites and services valuable. Yet, they get no monetary value from it.
We started AGLOCO at a coffee shop near the Stanford campus. We sat down with a group of Stanford graduate students to design the next generation of the Internet enterprise using the infomediary as one of the foundation blocks.
We decided we wanted to build the economic network that enables individuals on the Web to share in the profits that their data and their actions help create. AGLOCO is more than a Web site and it is more than a Viewbar company. It is a network that links people, their information and their friends together to form something bigger.
Like all networks that have come before (from the Internet itself to MySpace), this one gets stronger as it gets bigger. AGLOCO with 1,000 or 10,000 members is not much more than the sum of its parts. But AGLOCO with 1 million or 10 million members starts to become important. It's important because it changes the consumer-company relationship online and changes the way everyone thinks about their online experience."