When you realize that people use the words “Real World” to refer to the actual world while differentiating from the “Virtual World” you know that we now live in two worlds and the virtual world too is a reality. More and more internet communities are trying to replicate the real world – in a way to keep the essence of our world intact even on the internet. The much criticized ‘last seen at’ feature of Whatsapp and other messengers is probably the best example – you know the other person saw your message because that’s what happens in the real world too!
So how does “helping others” evolve to meet the internet world? Meet Volley. The website describes itself in the simplest of words ‘A friendly place for helping others’. Today on OK, Intrnt, we speak to the cheerful and smiling Mike Murchison, cofounder of Volley and find out more.
What is Volley?
Volley is a friendly place for helping others and our goal is to make it very easy for you to get feedback and advice from real people around any challenge you’re facing – big or small. Our goal is to make the internet far more human than it is today. We think that the whole notion of asking for help online should feel a lot more like how asking for help in the physical world feels. There should be a relationship between the person who is asking for help and the people who help them – as opposed to what we’re used to now, which is not very personal.
It has been almost a year and a half since you started out. Did you have this idea in mind or did it start out of something else?
We’ve had the same idea from day 1 – the idea of making technology more human. We started with a very very different product. We started only with email and our hypothesis was that we could compel people in our extended networks to help each other around specific problems they were facing. We started by sending a survey to 50 random people in our extended network. We asked them questions about where they’re from, where they’re based and what they’d like to help others. The output was this project called project connect. We allowed people to browse the results of these surveys and connect with other people over email and watch what happens.
What we found is that people started emailing each other and began to connect over different things. Some started their company together, others ended up meeting for real. We sensed that there was something here and when we asked everyone who was successful in project connect, what we found was that they were getting help disproportionately based on their answer to one of the questions of the survey, which was “what are you looking for”. That led us to this exploration that maybe it is the notion of asking for help that unlocks something on the internet. If you compel people to ask for help around something, it appears as though if things are properly designed, other people on the internet are motivated to solve the problem that person is facing.
It comes as a ‘crowdsourced help’ experience. From there we built an entire experience around “What are you looking for?” It was a card based app and we did that for about 12 months in private beta. We learned a lot about the criteria, the environment, messaging and we learned a ton about asking for help online and facilitating real world connections. Essentially increasing the likelihood of you getting the help you’re looking for from a relevant person. And last week, we used our learnings to launch a public version of the app – which is what you now see. Our challenge is now to maintain that quality as we grow.
There were about 2000 people in the beta version. Within a week you have added a thousand more. Most of the interactions are currently centered around technology, right?
It’s primarily design, development and startup related questions right now and our view is that it makes sense for us to focus on that vertical to start with but certainly our vision is not at all limited to technology. There’s a lot of really amazing results that happened – this week we featured someone by the name of Patrick who was looking for help finding a building in Toronto for a large art mural for the non-profit that he runs. Volley found him a building in three days! All these people from all across the US and Canada started rallying behind Patrick and we found him a building! I think this is a really good example of the power of making search more human.
You just raised some funding very recently. How does that change things for you?
We’re really fortunate to be working with Version One Ventures – the same VCs behind indiegogo, wattpad and Figure1. We’ve had the privilege of learning from a bunch of exciting companies. What we’re going to be doing with this money is growing our team and building Volley across different platforms. We have an iOS app coming and we’ll have android a couple of months later. Our number one priority is that we’ve validated volley on a small scale and our challenge is to grow. Hopefully within the next couple of months, we should have the iOS app ready.
Finally, how do you plan to make this sustainable in terms of maintaining the sanctity of the website and maintaining the quality of content?
That is a huge priority of ours. By the time we got out of private beta, we knew enough about the community to grow it in a manner that preserves this quality. Essentially what we’ve learned is that much like in the real world, if you have a room full of really nice people, who are really well intentioned, when they invite others and they walk into the room, they notice. They tend to act similarly. In other words, they assume the culture of the room. We’ve grown 30% in the last 4 days and we’ve noticed that people are respectful, they understand that this is a place to ask for help and helping others. They’re not spray-painting the walls. That being said, we’ve built a suite of community management tools that ensure that the quality of content on Volley remains really high. In the coming months, we will begin to roll out those tools.
For the most active and participative members, we will give them more and more control in the community management side of things and give them the keys of the house. We’ll allow them to determine more and more the kind of content that is appropriate and the kind that is not.
As part of OK, Intrnt’s efforts to connect people, we asked Mike if he would like to speak to some of our readers directly and he happily agreed! Write to us and we will get back to you and tell you how you can reach him!
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