Marginize, a TechStars Firm, Raises $650K to Show What People Are Saying About Websites

Score one for the social Web. Cambridge, MA-based Marginize, an Internet startup led by entrepreneur Ziad Sultan, has closed its first round of venture funding, worth $650,000, to pursue a rather intriguing idea. The company wants to create a parallel, “augmented” version of the Web that lets you see what everyone is saying about any website you visit.

Marginize came out of the TechStars seed-stage investment and mentoring program in Boston this spring. (My colleague Wade even said he’d bet on the startup if he had to pick one, based on all their Demo Night presentations.) The complete list of investors in the new round for Marginize includes Atlas Venture, Longworth Venture Partners (where Sultan is currently an entrepreneur-in-residence), eonBusiness, and SOS Ventures, on the venture capital side; and David Cohen, Dharmesh Shah, Joe Caruso, Jean Hammond, Bill Warner, Will Herman, and Michael Mark on the angel side.

“The reason I started the company, what pushed me to do it, was that creating a parallel Web was a huge opportunity,” Sultan says. “The main motivation is freedom of speech.”

Here’s how it works. Marginize is currently available as a browser add-on for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox (with other plug-ins on the way). Once you have it, you can go to any Web news article or company website, say, and on the side of the page, Marginize shows you a stream of related comments from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. As more people use Marginize (it doesn’t require an account or separate login), the comment stream will include notes from members, who can also “check in” and engage in discussions with other members. So the idea, Sultan says, is for consumers to “look at a website and also have what the world is saying about it.”

Annotating the Web to make it more social and transparent is hardly a new idea. But Marginize benefits from its timing—after the explosion of social media, so there’s plenty of content out there to populate the “margins” to start with. The Marginize interface also has been designed to be particularly easy to use, with lots of consumer feedback.

But whether the startup can make money remains to be seen. It’s still “fairly early,” Sultan says, and the company’s product “may change a little bit.” He says he has “ideas for how to monetize” and is “pretty sure about them.” But first things first—the company has to get to a critical mass of people using the software. “We’ll be a little experimental in the next month or two,” Sultan says.

If it all works out, we might be able to look back and credit Marginize (and subsequent efforts) for helping make websites more like physical locations, where people can gather and talk about what’s there, for better or worse. That’s an augmentation worth pursuing.

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