Make new friends without leaving your dorm room

Courtesy of Shaker

Since the founding of the Internet, people have recognized the Web as a potentially limitless tool to connect people from across the world, regardless of whether they knew each other beforehand or not. The astronomical success of Facebook and the uncountable number of social networks that sprang up following it have confirmed this area of the Internet as an entire industry altogether, worth billions of dollars.

Potentially the most exciting aspect of this revolution is that much of it has taken place in Stanford’s own backyard.

Shaker, an application for Facebook, allows for virtual interaction through Facebook. Anyone on Stanford with a Facebook account can enter into a virtual campus and interact with their friends in the Quad or at a campus café – much as they would in real life. If this sounds a little like Facebook chat, there are a few key differences: firstly, there is an important virtual component that adds another dimension to interactions. Second, students can chat with other students that aren’t their Facebook friends. Third, group chats are not only feasible but perhaps the entire point of this application.

Chats on Shaker are proximity-based – to talk to anyone, simply “walk” up to them, and you’ll automatically enter in the conversation. But why trust what we tell you? Check it out for yourself: Shaker has been holding small beta runs around campus; the major launch happened today.

Everyone knows that the success of a start-up is as much determined by implementation as by the vision. While the founders of Shaker are not Stanford students – in fact, they are a trio from Tel Aviv (Yonatan Maor, Adam Rakib and Andy Fruchter) – Shaker’s promotion on campus is, however, mostly a student-driven phenomenon. If Shaker becomes a hit, you might soon find yourself not going to the Coho, but signing into the Coho on your Facebook Shaker application from the comfort of your own dorm…

Intermission sat down with the Shaker co-founder Yonatan Maor to discuss the social revolution and Shaker’s place in it:

What gave you the idea to start Shaker?

YM: The idea behind Shaker came to us after a night out at a local bar.

My father and I went out that night, had some wine, good food, good music. We had a good time. By coincidence, colleagues of my father came in with a couple of his friends, and so they joined us. A while later, I realized that I actually already knew the guy sitting on the other side of the bar. I saw him many times on university campus. We started talking and found out that we were both researching related topics. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and of course, a Facebook one as well. Now that night, pleasant as it was, wasn’t spectacular by any means. Coincidences occur all the time; it’s part of the magic of going out.

Heading back to the car, it struck me that despite the magnitude of the social network phenomenon today, there’s still nothing that comes close to the natural experience of an evening at a local bar. And so, Shaker was conceived.

If Shaker becomes a hit on Stanford, where do you see it going in the future? There is always a trade-off between focusing on horizontal versus lateral penetration. Do you plan to spread it to other college campuses or focus on expanding it at Stanford?

YM: The reason we are launching at Stanford is because we believe that, given the high quality of the audience and the early adopter nature of the people here, Shaker will have the opportunity to be of great impact on the community. Our plan is to learn the way people at Stanford opt to use Shaker resulting in making sure we add and amend things on Shaker based on the kind of experience the Stanford students will indicate is the right one.

In the future, when we will consider opening up to other campuses, Stanford will remain our “backyard.” We plan on introducing exclusive new features to the Stanford crowd before anyone else, since we value the feedback we get here and believe it should set the tone for the next stages and forms Shaker will take.

What is your long-term vision for this start-up?

YM: Thanks to the social networks revolution and more specifically Facebook, today the Internet no longer connects users, it connects people. I’m myself, you are you, we’re not just numeric digits, we have our online identities and we care about them. However, on Facebook, what we do is share our past experiences with our friends. We don’t create new ones – people are there, but social experiences are reserved for the physical world, and that’s a fact Shaker is about to change. Think about this: have you ever said a sentence like “I had so much fun on Facebook last night!”

Never, because it doesn’t offer an experience. Can we really imagine ourselves five years from today doing the same stuff on Facebook and not creating new experiences? So the revolution we’re talking about is the revolution of experience. It’s inevitable. It will happen.

Our vision is to allow for all sorts of social experiences to happen on Shaker. These include campus life, bars and all types of hangouts. The main idea is to allow for experiences to happen online, where they fail to happen today.

How do you think you are different from the other 3D virtual software out there – IMVU, for example, or Second Life, or even the other simulation applications on Facebook? In other words, what is your competitive advantage?

YM: Virtual worlds such as Second Life and IMVU don’t provide a real-life experience simply because they are not based on real people but instead based on imaginary identities. In fact, these environments come to serve different needs and as the name suggests a “second life,” while Shaker is all about your “first life” – your real life and real experiences brought online. Shaker’s deep integration within social networks makes it an extension of real life, rather than a separate and independent virtual realm.

The connections you create on Shaker are meaningful as they become real life connections, as opposed to the connections you can make in virtual worlds, which are limited to the realm of that world. It’s not surprising<\p>–<\p>how can you make a real and meaningful connection with someone without knowing anything real about them?

Please share with us some of the lessons you’ve learned while working on this social network start-up.

YM: So far, we have learned that the need for social experience online is very strong. When people hear what we are doing, they tend to react extremely positively. We’ve also learned that what the Internet has to offer in this capacity is very far from providing the solution for this need. However, we feel that the majority of the learning process is still ahead of us, and we are very excited to launch here at Stanford and see how we can work together with the Stanford crowd to bring the revolution of experience to the world.

About Joanna Xu