December 11th, 2009

Blackbox Republic slides into the online relationship market


Blackbox Republic slides into the online relationship market

One of the most lucrative markets on the Web these days has to be dating sites. You can’t turn around without running into another site that claims to use some carefully calculated algorithm that is sure to match you with your perfect mate in less than two hours so that you can spend the rest of your lives together in mutually enamored bliss.

But for all the technology, there’s one pervading problem: people aren’t the same from day-to-day. And that—the idea that your opinions fluctuate—is one of the underlying principles for Portland-based Blackbox Republic, a new startup from former Jive CMO Sam Lawrence that looks to bring the whole online relationship scene a bit closer to the real world. And all of it is wrapped in a pretty slick social network to boot.

The world has changed and so have relationships. In the Republic, there are no chemistry tests or algorithms, just the highest concentration of great people talking with each other. We lose the drop-down menu and the checkbox, and let you characterize yourself and your relationships as you want, in your words, in a way that makes sense for you.

You may remember a bit of hoopla about Blackbox when they came out of stealth mode to release a private beta last summer. Since then, they’ve but a group of Portland Web types to work, tweaking the site, incorporating feedback, and adding some functionality that makes the site an incredibly impressive social media experience—whether you use it to find people or not.

Mike Rogoway at The Oregonian calls it “Portland’s boldest startup.”

Blackbox raised $1 million in angel funding, mostly from outside the Portland area, to get itself going. It’s a brash experiment, and given the aggressive launch we should get an idea pretty quickly of how it’s working out.

One thing is for sure, Blackbox Republic has come a long way since we saw it this summer.

Among the most interesting features they’ve added is a series of sliders that allow users to get other members up-to-date on their current moods and interests. Users set these at sign up and then can continue you tweak them as often, or as little, as they like. Any change to the sliders ripples throughout the system providing every other users with a view of how that person is feeling currently.

Why is that important? Context.

Another thing that sets the site apart from others is the idea of “vouching.” Members are held responsible for inviting other members who will be productive members of the site. And as such, they have to “vouch” for them. The more vouches a person receives, the more trusted they are. An important means of avoiding the “creepy” factor that permeates other sites.

Yet another gating factor? The service isn’t free.

Even if you have no interest in participating in the Blackbox community, the site is worth noting for what they’ve done from a technical perspective. In addition to the features I’ve mentioned above, there are some really thoughtful ways of dealing with different activity streams—both public and private. Ways of allowing people to express themselves visually and verbally. And some compelling ways of allowing groups of people to democratically manage their interactions.

That’s a lot of moving parts. And Blackbox seems to handle them all very well.

Long story short, this is a very technically impressive site.

And for all the intentions of where the site is designed to go, what I will be most interested in tracking is where the Blackbox community takes it. Because you never know. Until you put the site in the hands of real users. I mean, remember. Flickr started as a very small part of giant game site. PayPal was going to be used for mobile phone payments. And YouTube is rumored to have started as—you guessed it—a dating site.

For more information, visit Blackbox Republic.

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One Response to “Blackbox Republic slides into the online relationship market”

  1. Jmartens says:

    I have so much disrespect for Sam considering the circumstances of his marriage and this startup, per my comments on your original post, I could care less if he succeeds or not.

    Only interesting piece here is the fact that they are a pay model. Will be telling as far as the viability for other sites going forward.


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