TECHCITYINSIDER100 : Users are in control of content as never before, with social media a truly dominant force. But this people power is facilitated by some very clever web brains indeed. Paulina Bozek, the creator of teen platform SuperFan, is one of them. She’s working on social gaming at the heart of Tech City. By Julian Blake
It feels a little obvious to note in these social media-dominated days, but user power has come one hell of a long way in the past 15 years. After the web’s early days, where content could be shovelled online with scant regard to what users wanted, to user-tested sites, which accepted it might be a nice idea to ask people what they think, to today’s socially dominant web, the content consumer has gradually, but inexorably, moved centre stage.
Social networking has changed the script altogether, putting user engagement and creation to the very fore, to the point that many online businesses – and even governments – have started to stand or fall by likes, feedback, recommendations and the wisdom of crowds.
Today’s consumer web is dominated by social media. If you aren’t letting your users decide on content, you may not even on the right page. The daddy of them all, of course, is Facebook, whose 850 million active users worldwide has just generated a valuation of $100 billion.
For Paulina Bozek, a rising social star with a sharp focus on gaming, “technology now is all about the user – user data, user preferences, user recommendation, discovery through users – that’s a big shift. Where you had a broadcast model with controlled distribution, the way to find out about things now is through the user.”
“What Facebook really is is a user platform,” she says. “Social media has transformed so many different industries and Facebook is the ultimate manifestation of that right now. That’s why its IPO is absolutely massive news.”
For many, though, Facebook has been way too crowded for too long, and is giving way to hundreds if not thousands of niche social networks, whose content is populated by confident consumers now unshy about sharing their views online. Sites like Pinterestallow consumers to pin and share the stuff they like through their own curated content.
“Lots of the things I’m discovering now are through user curation,” says Bozek. “I’m discovering less and less through the official channels and more and more through friends, acquaintances or people that inspire me. People are curating the things they like and that’s much more powerful than official programming and broadcasting.”
“There’s an enormous amount of user data that has transformed the way different consumer platforms work to make them more personalised and more user-centric. Tech is being transformed through data and knowing a lot more about users. Everything from retail to health, and so many other areas, where there is this enormous amount of data that can make the whole experience of selling or marketing so much more personalised.”
Bozek’s company, Inensu (aka “the international super entertainment company”) is a lean start-up based in the heart of London’s Tech City focusing on making social games ‘for the connected generation’.
“We’re in the social entertainment space, creating new experiences on web and mobile,” she explains. “We tend to work with mainstream pop culture themes, especially music and fashion. We launched two new platforms at the end of last year: Closet Swap and SuperFan. Right now we’re very focused on building that up.”
SuperFan is Inensu’s attempt to “redefine music apps” by combining social, games, location and fans. Its Facebook app is a social platform that brings 50,000 fans together each month to play games, watch videos, chat at events in real time and follow their favourite stars wherever they are in the world, virtually, and buy gig tickets, actually. (via SongKick, another Tech City startup). The first official SuperFan club launched late last year with teen idols One Direction, allowing fans to virtually travel around the globe with the band and be connected to everything they do in the real world every day. Which, for many 1D teen fans, is no doubt social pop heaven itself.
Closet Swap, Inensu’s fashion platform, allows its teen users to discover and share clothes online. An online version of the New York-inspired clothes swap parties run by the likes of London vintage fashionista Oonagh Mas, the CS app lets users upload pictures, build ‘online closets’, and share clothes with Facebook friends. Moving from virtual to real social networking, CS also helps users to plan face-to-face swap parties.
Closet Swap, commissioned by Channel 4, also champions a sustainability message of personal style over disposable fashion: its slogan is ‘don’t shop: swap’. “Our approach was to develop a platform that would engage the audience in a positive activity,” says Bozek, “swapping and influencing behaviour in a natural way with a new digital experience that was about fashion and social.”
“It’s going well,” she reflects. “We’re growing the market and striking partnerships around SuperFan. We work with Sony Music and we’ll build new partnerships and grow the user base. Because we’re also a startup we’re able to innovate and move fast to develop new features and get them out relatively quickly.
“Our user base is teens, so they’re early adopters, but who are not necessarily going to have the brand new iPhone. So we’re available on Android devices and Blackberry as well. We’re monitoring very closely to see how mobile use divides among this user base. We’re very aware of what’s happening on Facebook too, of course. There’s a kind of virology around the platform on there, but as we’re also on mobile we do a lot of debating between the two. We’re growing both and are watching pretty closely to see what happens.”
Born in Poland but raised in Canada, Bozek already had an outstanding reputation for pioneering social gaming before co-founding Inensu in 2010. She was exec producer and game director for the SingStar music game series for PlayStation. In six years to 2009, she led a development team and built a hugely successful global franchise that sold over 200 million units and generated $500 million in retail revenue for Sony. Her work on SingStar led to two BAFTA awards (and she got to play SingStar with Beyonce).
She feels sure that the main tech shift in the year ahead will be in internet TV – in terms of both consumption and production. “TV is going to be transformed by the internet,“ she says. “The main TV networks in the UK are very interested in connecting online platforms to television programmes. A lot of their commissioning is looking at this space. I expect we’ll have a much bigger social TV conversation by the end of the year once those new types of programme are being made. Google with YouTube is making all kinds of plays you wouldn’t expect, starting to fund content producers and niche programming channels. People are going to be watching TV on the iPad much more too, so it’s going to be really big.”
Mobile gaming is growing rapidly too, she notes. “If you look at phones and what people spend their time and money on, a lot of that is games, so that will play a big role over the next year too,” she says. All of which places Inensu and its social gaming proposition in a pretty strong position.
Bozek is clearly not about to lose sight of the importance of the people delivering this success – her users. “We think rapidly and are very responsive to our user base,” she says. “We’re always measuring and listening to see what’s proving successful, trying to road test features before we put it out there. We have a pretty clear idea of what we want to do, but we’re quite open to change if we need to move in a slightly different direction.”
Paulina Bozek – CV
BAFTA video games committee
CEO, Inensu – social and mobile gaming
Board of governors, LSE
Development director, Atari – opened new London studio
Executive producer, Sony Europe – Game director, SingStar for PlayStation
Project manager, Ubisoft – online chess