Waywire, the video-sharing network co-founded by Cory Booker and backed by Eric Schmidt, Oprah Winfrey, and Reid Hoffman, among others, is coming out of alpha today, and it is at great pains to communicate its vision loudly and clearly.
As I noted in an article about Waywire last month, the company at first had trouble articulating exactly what its product is, being variously described by the tech press as a platform for teens to share content, a news site for original and syndicated video, and “a more socially conscious YouTube.” Today, as it announces a new feature that allows users to categorize their curated playlists by subject, the startup is at zero risk of being misunderstood.
In a call ahead of the beta launch, CEO Nathan Richardson repeatedly invoked the words “discover,” “curate,” and “share,” the three terms that now define Waywire’s mission. In the subheader of the press release that went out this morning, the company said that the beta release helps you “Discover, Collect and Share What Matters to You.” The first sentence of the release noted that the social video network “allows members to discover, collect and share content that matters to them,” and Booker is later quoted as saying a new generation of consumers are pushing back against restrictions on “collecting and sharing meaningful content.” To ram the message home, Waywire co-founder and chief marketing officer Sarah Ross compares the network to Pinterest and Reddit.
At no point in the release, or the discussion with the founders, was “user-generated content” mentioned, marking a departure from the marketing messages about Waywire when it was announced in June last year. The idea that people might upload their own original content to the site appears to have been shelved completely. Instead, the company is focusing on professionally produced content. It is now programming 40 hours of (mostly curated) programming a day, and it is also forging partnerships with other media companies. Today it announced a bunch of new partnerships with companies that are maintaining a presence on the site, including CollegeHumor, HuffPost Live, New York Magazine, Slate, The Young Turks, and VoxMedia. All those providers specialize in news, opinion, entertainment, and lifestyle news that appeals to Millennials, Waywire’s key demographic.
As it launches in beta and edges closer to a fully realized product that facilitates categorized sharing built around a social graph, the company has created an environment that allows brands to reach viewers based on context. On stage at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York today, Waywire will be announcing more details about how that set-up can work for brands. It will likely involve an announcement about advertising opportunities within playlist streams organized around particular topics, such as “gun control” or “Syria.” Richardson says that such ads will be placed mid-stream in playlists, which are set to automatically play videos in succession. Other monetization options for Waywire include pre- and post-roll videos, entire branded “wires” (channels), and premium content, which will ultimately include paid and subscription options.
So far this is no sign of the redesign that was hinted at in a screenshot we obtained last month, but the founders say that is coming in a matter of weeks. The small glimpse we got of the new design show increased use of white space, more stylized tags, and user icons that are displayed in circles rather than boxes, making the site less “blocky” than its current incarnation.
The beta release of Waywire shows that the site is still a work in progress, but this time round, at least, the company has done a better job of explaining what it’s all about and pointing the way forward for its network. Now we watch the numbers. Waywire will be under pressure to prove that it can actually attract that big audience of Millennials it spends so much time talking about.