2009 fbFund Winner Navify Helping Users Illustrate Wikipedia

As we continue our discussions with this year’s 2009 fbFund REV winners, we now turn to Navify, an online collaborative encyclopedia that complements Wikipedia articles with images, videos, and comments. We recently spoke with Alan Rutledge, Founder of Navify, on his vision of creating an online encyclopedia that the world can illustrate together.

Inside Facebook: Alan, what’s the problem that Navify addresses?

Alan Rutledge: Wikipedia is a vibrant community. What would Wikipedia look like with complementary media forms? I was fed up with going to a movie article on Wikipedia and not being able to watch the trailer. I’m a very visual person, and so whenever I went on Wikipedia to read up on a topic, there would be no pictures; and I had no idea how to visualize the concept. Basically, we’re adding a rich multimedia layer on top of Wikipedia so you don’t have to go to YouTube, for example, in addition to Wikipedia to get related videos.

You seem to have a lot of entrepreneurial experiences under your belt already. What were you doing before Navify?

I was raised in an entrepreneurial environment. My dad used to run the engineering school at Caltech. I began working at startups in high school. At Idealab, I worked on projects related to alternative energy, sterling engines, getting rid of Internet cables, robots, etc. Before doing consulting at BCG, I worked at Microsoft and a mobile photo sharing startup that was bought out by iLike.

Who’s on the Navify team?

I work with two other buddies. We’re a very tiny overworked team right now.

So, what’s your relationship with Wikipedia?

You can use Wikipedia with attribution. Answers.com is a $30 million company that builds content around specific questions. For each answer, it pulls content from Wikipedia. Similarly, with Navify, our platform is possible with YouTube and Flickr’s APIs. At the same time, we’re not trying to substitute Wikipedia; in fact, we drive traffic back to Wikipedia.

How do users interact with Navify right now?

Navify is currently divided into two partitions. The first partition is human edited and is pretty empty right now because we launched only several days ago. The second partition is algorithmic and will always be populated with content. Users can move content, videos for example, back and forth between the human-edited and algorithmic partitions. There’s more noise with the algorithmic one, but with the human-edited one, users are picking and organizing content in meaningful ways.

Notice the Images and Videos tabs next to the Wikipedia article, as well as Comments to the right.

Richer media forms are a must in today’s Internet culture. Why hasn’t Wikipedia integrated them into its platform yet?

Wikipedia has a strict stance of neutrality. It’s hesitant to integrate with other sites because its community wants to remain neutral. But, in the last two years, most sites have opened their APIs, and the concept of the web as a platform has only begun to capture the public’s mind. Unlike Wikipedia, we plan to operate as a for-profit business. The key will be to find forms of monetization that are useful for end users – like how Google’s sponsored links are providing actual utility to users.

And, how are you leveraging the Facebook Platform on your own platform?

We already have Facebook Connect. In addition to images and videos, we’re building a vibrant reader community around topics of discussion by allowing Navify users to leave comments on articles (via Disqus), which Wikipedia doesn’t do. A Facebook integration comes in handy because your real identity is tied to your comments, which gives you incentive to leave higher quality comments; there are higher social costs to leaving meaningless comments. Contrast this to YouTube: its comment trail is like a bathroom wall. We also support OpenID and Twitter.