UrbanOrca’s Andrew Sider Focuses on Improving the Social Semantic Web

As the Internet is a place of discovery and is increasingly becoming so with the continued evolution of the social semantic web, I had a chance to sit down with the Co-Founder of UrbanOrca Andrew Sider. 

UrbanOrca, which launched recently in Toronto, is a social network that helps you connect with like-minded people in the form of group activities based on your likes and interests.

When I asked Sider about the potential for over-crowding of group experiences as the site continues to gain popularity he retorted: “The more users we have, the better we’ll be able to bring the right people together. We believe the right approach is to help you narrow down the options and not show you everyone who happens to be nearby. Through discovery of only the best suited events and people, it is easy for members to join the experiences that are right for them”.

Improving on the current efforts of the Social Semantic Web.

While The Globe and Mail and The Grid give a more non-technical description of the site, Sider and I talked about where the social semantic web is headed next. First, he believed that with so much third-party data out there, obviously not all of it is useful for what you are trying to achieve, so different ideas in the social semantic web will work for different purposes.

Second, he said that there will be an increased focus on active interests rather than passive interests.  On UrbanOrca if you state you like rock climbing, the semantic social network will find someone nearby who also wants to do that.

Sider says: “Passive interests (something you like vs. what you want to do) are more difficult to start a conversation around. This creates what we call the “circus problem”; using non-actionable data to start conversations.Today, it is not too difficult to leverage Facebook Connect to serve up people with matching Facebook interests and expect you to start a conversation and meet up. An unnamed competitor’s homepage in the social semantic space was: “You both like the circus. Start chatting now””. 

Sider believes there’s a fine line between liking something and wanting to do something and says: “Conversations do not start this way in the real-world and we should not expect them to start this way online either”.

Finally, he commented on the fact that although a user’s stated interests are a standard input for a discovery algorithm, users do not always know what they want and will confuse the matching system if you state that you like three sports but also live shows. As time goes on though, through a user’s site behaviour, UrbanOrca gets the opportunity to significantly improve the discovery process for those with complicated personalities.

UrbanOrca is speaking with angel and early-stage venture capital investors about a seed round of funding, so they are very much underway.  

The more socially semantic the web becomes, the less we’ll suffer from information overload, but only if it’s done properly. 

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