“Big Data” could become much more personal in the near future, as Chatous – a startup founded by Stanford alumni and backed by Stanford-affiliated incubator StartX – aims to leverage big data algorithms in pairing people with similar interests in an online chat environment.
According to Chatous co-founder Parth Bhakta ’13 M.S. ’13, potential site uses include forging communities among large but diverse groups, such as incoming undergraduate classes at Stanford and other universities.
“We’re focusing on creating these close-knit communities, like a Stanford group [on Chatous],” Bhakta said.
“Once we have our product out, we are going to be in touch with a variety of different schools,” added co-founder Kevin Guo ’13 M.S. ’13. “We’re focused on in the college aspect for undergraduates, but anyone can go on and meet anyone else.”
“A new type of social network”
Bhakta and Guo started work on Chatous as a class project for CS 224W: Social and Information Network Analysis, and sought from the start to differentiate their work’s scope.
“The class was about mining social networks, and we had to come up with an idea that was in that space,” Bhakta said, noting that most of the other students in the class only sought to mining existing social network data. “We decided to create a new type of social network.”
While the proposal was initially rejected by course teaching assistants as “too ambitious,” Guo and Bhakta pushed on regardless.
“We decided to go for it anyways,” Bhakta said. “That night, we started building it, right after we received our grade, and decided we had to get it out as soon as possible. Within a day, we had our first version out, and within a week, we had already gotten about 15,000-20,000 [hits] and a pretty sizable dataset to organize.”
After the project won recognition as the course’s best, the founders became involved with StartX.
“That’s what changed us from a class project to a legitimate company with funding,” Bhakta said.
Bhakta framed the startup’s basic concept as applicable across a range of mediums.
“We are really cross-platform,” he said, noting the startup’s recent efforts to develop mobile applications. “We want to keep people on our platform, so that they don’t have to switch to other platforms for things like video chatting.”.
“There are a lot of sites for dating, but there are none for really just meeting new people – if you want a conversation with someone new,” Guo added. “We decided to take a data-driven approach to really try and connect you to other people who we can predict you will actually have a good conversation with.”
Bhakta emphasized the privacy of Chatous’ users, citing the anonymity of profile data and the ability to curtail interactions.
“Each party can block the other at any time, and we think our platform is a lot safer since we are not sharing your actual identity,” he said. “On Chatous, no profiles are searchable, so you can’t find [someone] and talk to them again.”
Having graduated from Stanford last month, Chatous’ founders intend to devote more time to the startup over the months to come.
“We have been around for a fair amount of time and we have been in school the whole time, [both] in senior year and doing a coterm [degree],” Bhakta said. ““Now we are able to work much faster.”
Since going live on October 29, the site has hosted about 1.7 million unique users, according to Guo.
“We are seeing pretty high levels of engagement for people on the platform already,” he said.
That level of interest will in turn allow better matching, according to Bhakta.
“Once we have a large enough user base, we can further refine our matching process,” he said.