The story of about.me‘s creation, acquisition and recent spin out tends to generate a lot of interest and conversation. “Why did we start about.me?” very quickly leads to “what are you going to do with it next?”
When I think about the “why” behind building about.me, I tend to reflect on my own history with other founders. Over the past decade and a half, I’ve been lucky to work with a number of entrepreneurs I consider to be “founders of movements”: Matt Mullenweg (WordPress), James Freeman (Blue Bottle Coffee), Bre Pettis (MakerBot), Kevin Rose (Milk, Digg), Philip Rosedale (High Fidelity, SecondLife), and Jeff Veen (Typekit) to name a few. These founders create more than great companies, they put things in motion, envisioning at their inception a way of life that doesn’t exist yet. They have an innate sense of how others will engage with the products they build and what impact that might have on the world.
The “Why” is easy. When we founded about.me in 2011, we weren’t simply looking to build a better widget. Instead, Ryan, Tim and I wanted to build something that reframed social media so that everyone on the planet could assert their own identity. We wanted to offer everyone more control over how they represent themselves online. At that time, everyone was talking about social media – whether it was Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. These services provide incredibly important functions in our lives (and for the record, are personally three of my favorite services), but one of the things that really frustrated us was the lack of unity as to how they treated and displayed identity.
Identity is a confusing topic (Evan wrote an excellent piece a few years ago that’s still fairly comprehensive – Mobile needs to be addressed as a separate variable and I’d add “wearables” to the list but for now I think he’s covered the essentials for the browser) and it definitely involves more than how you represent yourself online. But online has become the most effective environment for people to discover and interact with you at scale and we believe it’s incredibly important to have a starting point online for people to learn more about you.
The social media movement fragmented our identities in ways that don’t align with the 360 degree view we have of ourselves. This fragmentation is an unintended consequence of being active on services that represent different aspects of our personalities (i.e., you are a different person on Twitter than you are on LinkedIn or Facebook, etc.). Said another way, you are not the sum of your Tweets, you are not solely defined by your professional experiences/ accomplishments, and you’re most definitely not defined by your social graph. These are all important facets of our identity but none should be given the lead role of defining us. We believe that YOU should define YOU. YOU should navigate people interested in learning more about YOU to a page that introduces YOU on YOUR terms, not leaving it to focused services or a Google algorithm to define YOU.
I believe that representation with a minimum of additional work or other obligations required (friend requests, constant content creation, etc.) is the basic foundation of identity. These are requirements in order to be a clear identity platform and tackle the areas Evan discusses. The fundamental power of about.me is its simplicity – the ability to reach a broad audience hinged on it being nimble, flexible, easy to understand, easy to use, beautiful, meaningful. And we believe the person with no tech experience and the 21 year old uber coder can both have an equally profound, pertinent experience with about.me. That’s hopefully seeding a movement of people taking back control of the starting point of their identity.
Every day we see the value we create for people. By giving them a set of tools to curate a page that represents how they see themselves, how to get in touch with them and what they’d like you to do when you visit their page (e.g. pre-order my book, follow me on Twitter, hire me to cater your event, support charity: water, etc. – the list is endless), the power is visible.
As our platform has quickly grown to millions and millions of users, our vision for what role about.me plays in people’s lives has evolved from being your starting point to share how you view yourself to the world to being the best way to discover, learn more about and connect with people who are interested in you combined with an easy way to discover new people with whom you have things in common.
We’re seriously excited about this evolution in how we view about.me. It opens up a ton of opportunities for our new mobile app and dashboard (I can’t tell you too many more details but next week should be a fun week for our users and the about.me team who have been heads down since we bought back about.me!) to marry identity with ways to learn more about people interested in you and to discover and connect with people you have things in common with: interests (woodworkers, photographers, investors, kiteboarding, triathletes), location (home town, places you’ve lived, current city), education (high school, college) and work (first real job, places you’ve worked, current gig).