Taking on Facebook, Twitter and Google in the fiercely competitive world of social networking and community building is a tremendous challenge that can be practically impossible to overcome, even with superior technology leadership and adherence to federated open standards. Cliqset, the wildly innovative social networking aggregator that was among the first pioneers to adopt Pubsubhubbub for real-time updates, and Salmon for cross-network comment posting, faces a murky future with news today that the company's founders, Darren Bounds and Charlie Cauthen, are going to be leaving the company, following an unsuccessful round of funding.
Despite a number of smart moves to make the site increasingly useful, such as the launch of social search in September, and the addition of Groups and Activity Streams in January, the site struggled to grow a consistent and growing community of users, with a short-lived Turkish invasion drawing a traffic bump and some amusement.
Speaking with Darren today, he said that he and Charlie are not moving on to a new project, nor have they sold the company, saying as founders of the company, it didn't seem appropriate to seek out other opportunities while simultaneously growing the site. But there are no regrets about the adherence to cutting-edge open standards with the site, which were ahead of practically any other service on the Web.
"A federated social Web agenda at Cliqset is something we chose to promote," he said. "The open standards aspect is something I believe is still the future. The roadmap to getting there is going to be a little longer than we would have liked. But where these standards can be implemented and improve efficiencies, they deliver real value."
As I wrote a year ago in a post on the 3 social pillars needed for any successful network, one needs to find leading technology, community and relevancy to make a site a must-visit each day. For Cliqset, their technology was never in question, but scrapping for users was a challenge that didn't find a great deal of traction. Darren agreed.
"In order to build a community, you need massive differentiation today," he said. "It's fairly obvious in hindsight. Projects I would be working on in the future would be leveraging the existing social graph, and the need for success wouldn't be contingent on relationships and community within itself. In no means do I think Facebook is impenetrable and somebody can't build something to compete with it, but it's not an easy task."
There are no plans to shut down Cliqset.com immediately, as the company's investors have opted to keep it up and running, despite a lack of engineering and operational support. In the event the service were to be acquired, Charlie and Darren could theoretically be pulled back in, but that scenario is unlikely. As I have been saying for a year aggregation is great in theory, but sites like FriendFeed, Cliqset and Arktan haven't been able to find a unique voice that makes people go their way instead of the original sources of content - Twitter and Facebook. I am eager to learn about the team's next move - they're very sharp and were focused on pushing open standards forward. In an ideal world, their work will not have been in vain.