May 06, 2006

the mother of all social networks

For the past several months, I’ve been helping a great company called ClubMom with their goal of refocusing their strategy around user generated content, social networking, and blogging. As of this week, some of the results are showing up online: ClubMom’s website now includes a public beta of The MomNetwork, which applies social networking features to helping moms connect, based on shared challenges and interests, in a safe environment (registration required; you can also see some screenshots in this Flickr photoset).

MomNetwork Login Page

The idea’s nice and simple in this first phase — any existing ClubMom member (membership is free, with over 2 million to date) can log in and create a profile, including a personal statement, photo, and as many interests, hobbies, and challenges they’d like to list for themselves or their kids. Over 6,000 have done that so far, which has definitely exceeded our expectations. Once you’ve created a profile, it’s fairly simple to start exploring the network to find other moms who share your interests, or narrow by additional criteria (like kids’ ages or location), and from there, bookmark or private message the moms you find. We’ve also integrated privacy controls throughout to give moms control over how much they share with their personal network and the public as a whole.

The key feature is the way that we’ve integrated with the site’s member-created content. Over 20,000 of the articles on ClubMom have been submitted and rated by members, and when you read an article by a mom you like, if she has a profile on the MomNetwork, you can click through to view it, and add her to your own personal network if you’d like to follow what she’s contributing to ClubMom. From then on, her new articles will be indexed on your personal page (like a simplified RSS aggregator) and the articles she’s rating and commenting on will appear in a sidebar. As the network grows, we’ll have to rework this interface a bit in order to effectively keep track of all the moms members add to their networks, but for now it does the trick.

In a related effort, we recently reviewed applications from over 300 moms to become paid bloggers on the site. We’ve chosen a really great founding group to blog on a whole range of topics, of which the first few are already launching, and we seem to already have at least one hit on our hands (Go Amalah! DC bloggers in the house). We’ll be looking to integrate the blogs more and more with the Network in coming months, to make it easy for members keep up with the bloggers they like on ClubMom.

We’re building the network in an iterative phase, and letting members’ feedback guide what we do next. The very next phase of development, however, will most likely include the ability for moms to easily join and launch groups around shared interests, and I don’t want to say much more than that, in that we have some pretty good ideas as to how we’re going to take that hoary old standard feature of social networks and implement it in a way that’s really useful and practical for moms.

ClubMom’s a fun company to work with, full of genuinely nice, smart, creative people, from the newest recruits to the founders, who include CEO Michael Sanchez and actor and activist Andrew Shue (both of whom also co-founded the community service group Do Something), and an actual mom — someone named Meredith Vieira.

It’s a rewarding thing to be able to design for an audience you care about and understand – after all, we all know a few moms – and to try to apply some of the innovations of the last few years to making their lives, hopefully, a little bit better. This is not your mother’s MySpace… it’s something else entirely.

And to my own inimitable mom, Happy Mother’s Day – hope you enjoy the MomNetwork!