Broadband has grown exponentially worldwide, one-third of the global population is online, and, yet, when it comes to social web apps, American startups are shockingly focused on designing and developing products for U.S. and English language communities.
But, Beyond the Bay?
Many of the world's largest web properties started out as small projects aimed at fulfilling the needs of a homogeneous group of elite, technically savvy, hyper-connected, and U.S.-based users. This is how Google, Facebook, and Twitter grew and it's been an incredibly successful trendsetting formula and perhaps overly embraced.
Building out products for tech-savvy friends or youth on college campuses may no longer be the best litmus test for what might be successful.
TrustedOpinion.com started out as US-centric site, and quickly learned that major growth opportunities were presenting themselves in the less crowded and fast-growing international market.
Today, the site supports 43 languages and has reached over 1 million members hailing from over 100 countries and contributing millions of reviews.
In fact, Trusted Opinion's core user group makes it clear that it's not necessary to try to copy FourSquare or Yelp. Developing on a different path, for a global audience in your product's "Phase 1," might help companies avoid redundancy, irrelevance, pivoting three or four times in less than a year, and the deadpool.
I recently got to speak with Trusted Opinion's CEO, Todd Greene. It was candid conversation that started off with me asking, "Do we need another peer-reviewed business listing product?"
The Ah-ha Moment: Tapping Into the International Market
Trusted Opinion, initially developed as an English-only site, took a deep look from within. The staff of 10 together represent seven countries among themselves. Together, they quickly pivoted to translate and expand the app's content capacity into 43 languages and added a global database of over 1.5 million restaurants, meeting the needs of a user-base that represents more than 100 countries.
By launching an international multi-lingual presence, Trusted Opinion's model changed as well with traffic evenly distributed 24 hours per day. Whether you're an developer, designer, CEO, entrepreneur, or even a consumer creating a product where the sun never sets on your digital empire increases adoption and provides new areas of quantitative learning.
It's a simple lesson -- building inside the Valley for a bigger world, pays off.
The Language of Social Gaming
Social gaming has undoubtedly revealed itself as culture neutral (in some instances language neutral). For web apps, social gaming is common ground, and designers and developers have a sweet spot of appealing to basic instincts, universal truths, and core desires that they themselves also experience -- ego, reward, interaction, friendship.
In fact, the US is well behind the curve with our adoption of social games, which are hugely popular and fully integrated into Asian culture. TrustedOpinion.com, social gaming encourages the user community to return to create more content and more quality content. As Todd shared, "People don't want to come to interact with content, they want to interact with each other through content."
Concept of Respect is a Cultural Sweet Spot
Among the things that the Trusted Opinion team has learned and been surprised by is how the term "Respect" for their "Respect Points" leaderboard gained overnight success and adoption across the international audience. In fact, within less than 5 days, more than 100,000 respect points had been delivered.
Respect translates remarkably well, and creates a fundamental and core ethos across the app that unites a community that might otherwise be separated in a broad eco-system by cultural boundaries.
What Does Local Mean in a Globally Distributed World?
Local is a charged word and concept in the high tech, social tech world. Everyone's trying to nail local, and it's a tricky problem to solve, largely because local is so distributed.
Social tech and web presence are still new concepts to the bulk of mom and pop businesses. Sites like TrustedOpinion.com, AOL CityGrid (formerly CityGuide), Yelp, FourSquare, and a bevy of others empower consumers to create web presences for individuals and for businesses without permission or partnership.
For many mom-and-pop businesses the efforts made by social tech companies are not always deemed helpful, and in fact they often are cause for concern and worry.
Online & Offline Community Advocacy
TrustedOpinion seems to understand this fundamental challenge, and to both experiment and help with adoption and participation and partnership has hired a community manager in Eastern Europe named Laura Lupascu.
Laura's role takes her offline and out to the storefronts of local businesses. She teaches partnership and participation, and also gathers feedback and represents the local corps of businesses as an advocate (you see this a lot with social gaming - players typically have a player's advocate).
The world is much bigger and full of room for innovation outside of SF and NYC, and for internet startups struggling to gain traction within their social networks, there's plenty of world to go around, and Silicon Valley success can be translated well-beyond English-speaking communities.
Chrissie Brodigan is accepting new clients through chrissiebrodigan.com