Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A re-Virb in the mix? (UPDATE)

It's high time someone spread a little pixie dust around magictown, because Virb keeps threatening to release a Beta 2 sometime soon and nobody's seemed to notice.

For those that aren't in the habit of donning every new social network, Virb is like MySpace if it didn't suck, or if it were designed by Apple, or if it had any ethic for user interface or basic aesthetics. Beyond an eye for elegance, Virb gives users the keys to the site by enabling HTML/CSS customization and allowing users to turn off other users' annoying customizations. If you're tired of going blind looking at MySpace glitter wallpaper, this is a good thing. Actually, nobody's really on MySpace anymore, so maybe this isn't a concern. But hey, in 2005, it was crazy annoying. I guess the 2008 equivalent is app overload on Facebook.

One of these landing pages was designed.

I recently talked to Virb's CEO Brett Woitunski about the site, and was amazed to find that Virb has a membership of about half a million, managed by a staff of about five. To compare, Facebook has 67 million members, while MySpace alleges a network of 229,577,923 (at press time). Consequently, the Virb clientele has an air of online aristocracy, a small community of design-minded people who care enough to put a little code into their public profile.

Virb was built on the success of Brett's initial web venture, PureVolume. The distinction between the two is sort of yin and yang: Virb is a social networking site with a music component, while PureVolume is a music site with a social networking component. The latter, built with sweat equity, now turns enough profit to float Virb during its startup phase. Both operate on an advertising model of revenue, and PureVolume offers a limited subscription service for its music members. It's been praised as a great avenue for indie bands to build an audience, and like Virb, it's a pretty place to scout new music online.

Now a year after initial launch, Virb hints fleetingly on its blog about a relaunch:
Starting next week, we will be posting the sign up process for the first phase of the Virb 2 private beta. I'll forego all the details at this moment and will post them alongside everything next week. Simply wanted to send out an update to let you know the end beginning is near!
This was two weeks ago. Virb's enthusiastic niche is surely fermenting over the upcoming release, though we don't know for sure since comments are disabled on the post. Whenever they drop do the bomb, I foresee good things, because they have the best model for a social network out there. The young company has engaged some talks from record companies and big media, but at this point, they'd make an easy steal for whatever incumbent monolith is light on the Web 2.0 front. With MySpace the property of NewsCorp, Facebook in Microsoft's hip pocket and Bebo bought out by AOL, I can only see Virb and/or PureVolume being snatched up wholesale by old media. Gannett, for one, is on the prowl.

But if there's one thing I despise, it's bloggers making self-informed prophecies about corporate buyouts. Who cares who's watching? Let's just hope if any money does take notice, they'll have the nerve trust the young bucks who built it to scale it, too. In the meantime, enjoy the boutique community while it lasts. Because scale is the end game of social networking. And right now Virb is like the amazing local band that you're hoping no one discovers. But it's only a matter of time.

UPDATE (3/28/08): Virb announced a private beta sign-up last night. Avid Virbers can sign up to test the new beta. Invitations will be sent out over the next few weeks. See coverage on Mashable here.

No comments: