Montreal startup wants to be the Facebook of cultures

Roberto Rocha, The Gazette

Published: Monday, July 21

Online social networks have evolved beyond simple communication tools for friends. Hundreds of social websites exist to connect distinct communities, like professionals, artists, travelers, and alumni.

But one enterprising Montrealer felt a group was overlooked: lovers of national cultures. So she created CultureCafe.com, which went live last week.

This website works as a user-generated local directory of cultural events, groups, and businesses. Members choose their favourite cultures and languages and the site shows them who caters to those worlds.

Ariadne Decker founded the web site CultureCafe.com where cultural/ethnic interests can share businesses, events, groups, and advice. Decker, a German, shops a the German-owned Boucherie Atlantique  in Montreal.

Ariadne Decker founded the web site CultureCafe.com where cultural/ethnic interests can share businesses, events, groups, and advice. Decker, a German, shops a the German-owned Boucherie Atlantique in Montreal.

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So an enthusiast of all things Haitian will be shown compas concerts and creole restaurants.

The idea for the website came to Ariadne Decker, a Montrealer of German descent, when a search for German books, nannies and playgroups for her child came up empty.

"This kind of information was very difficult to find," she said. "Everything was scattered or based on word-of-mouth."

She called up cultural communities in different cities and found her frustrations shared by others. In the age of Google, scavenging information in ethnic publications, community centre bulletin boards, and rough volunteer websites seemed archaic.

The website is currently in beta testing - open to the public but not quite the final draft - and taking suggestions from the community.

But social networking experts contacted by The Gazette say Decker found an underserved niche and has the right idea.

"Anything that facilitates an already existent human action has potential," Chris Brogan a social media authority at Boston-based CrossTech Media, said.

"The potential for new social networks is to focus on a niche or a well-designed functionality that people haven't seen. Ideally, both," commented Mark Brooks, a consultant and editor of Socialnetworkingwatch.com

"What makes it stick is when it solves some kind of problem."

He mentioned websites like Dopplr.com, where travelling businesspeople can share their itineraries and arrange meetings at coinciding cities. A similar site, wayn.com, does the same for pleasure travellers.

This specialization of social networking suggests a maturing industry when the reigning giants MySpace and Facebook have become too vast and too broad for specific communities.

"Facebook is getting a little complicated now," Books said. In his view, every page on a social network needs to have one clear goal. "You look at a page on Facebook and it's hard to see what that goal is."

Another sign that social networks are maturing is the presence of serious revenue models. The early days of Web 2.0 saw investor-backed startups building large communities first, then figuring out a way to monetize them. Today, savvy investors are more discerning.

"Now you need to monetize first, rather than last," Brooks said. "When there's no plan to make money, it tells me there's another bubble coming."

Decker says CultureCafe.com, which has been entirely self-funded until now, will make money through sponsored listings - businesses have to pay to be featured prominently on the site.

"People from one culture are close-knit, but companies targeting these cultures don't know where to find them," she said. "If you create a hub where you know people are coming, it's attractive for businesses that want to target them."

And if the website is successful in highlighting the best of local cultures as decided by its community, it may just find the next great golden egg of the Web.

"People are no longer interested in ads. They want referrals," Brooks said. "Whoever figures out how to package and sell the friendly referral will be the next Google."

rrocha@thegazette.canwest.com



 
 

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