Social.im could dethrone legacy IM networks

social.im logoAlthough most of what we remember as America Online has gradually disappeared over the last decade, AIM, AOL’s instant messenger client, remains a dominant communication platform with tens of millions of active users. New Silicon Valley startup social.im hopes to take advantage of the current disruption happening on the social web due to newly open social networking application platforms by establishing a new IM network more deeply embedded into the social networking experience.

It’s for that reason that I think social.im is one of the bigger ideas to emerge on the Facebook Platform yet. I recently sat down with Yanda Erlich, Founder and CEO of social.im, to talk more about the company’s vision and the future of IM.

IF: So Yanda, how did you get motivated to create social.im?

YE: I’ve increasingly found that the first thing I want to do when I es-establish connections with old friends on Facebook is have a conversation. IM is really a synchronous communication extension to managing your friends. It’s a little weird that people still use AIM because up to date contact lists are in social networking platforms.

IF: What’s the history of the company?

YE: Social.im grew out of Mogad, which I co-founded with Lucas Ryan and Blake Commagere. Blake has since focused on his Monsters apps, and Lucas and I have focused on Social.im. Right now, it’s just Lucas and me, but we’re going to hire 3 more people soon. We originally raised an angel round for the Mogad idea (passive social discovery) from Aydin Senkut (of Google and now Felicis Ventures), Georges Harik (also of Google), and Peter Thiel. Social.im has largely been inspired by MySpace IM (which went from 0 to 17 million installs in a year) and Tencent (230 million active users in China, and interestingly uses IM as a gaming and avatar platform).

IF: How do you think IM will enhance the social networking experience?

lucas ryan social.im co-founderyanda erlich social.im co-founderYE: Many ways. IM can now be used as a clever conduit for notifications to the user… Apps that have been popular on social networks – self expression and communication – can be enhanced a lot more when they become synchronous. For example, most of the time I play Scrabulous, I’ve scheduled a time to play with my friends, and most of the time I want it to go faster. Having presence awareness helps a lot, and having higher quality graphics on the local machine (since it’s a download) helps a lot too. It’s also nice that there’s no configuration – we just plug right into your friend list, not just on Facebook but soon on other social networks as well.

IF: Why did you make social.im a download and not a plug-in?

YE: We found that plug-ins are still just too hard for many people to understand. It’s just as a hard as a download for many people, but with less benefits.

IF: How has growth been so far?

YE: We’re seeing several thousand new users per day, and engagement has been very high too – users who log in send on average 40-50 messages a day.

IF: Will social.im integrate with other IM networks?

YE: Yes, we will add multi-network functionality to help users migrate from legacy networks.

IF: Are you worried about Facebook competing with you?

YE: We think Facebook is primarily worried about acquiring users to expand their network and validating their monetization model. IM is at its core about engagement, not acquisition. If they’re working on it now, I’d be concerned, but we’ll roll with the punches – Facebook is not the only social network on the planet.