A Fresh Take on Websites and Wiki-Based Discovery, from Ray King of AboutUs

I dropped in on AboutUs for a mid-year checkup while I was in Portland, OR, last week. The company announced a $2.5 million Series A funding round from Voyager Capital in January, and has been transitioning from startup mode to strategic execution of its plans to reinvent how people discover and share information on the Web.

Company headquarters is over the Morrison Bridge from downtown Portland, in a bright yellow building visible from across the river. AboutUs founder and CEO Ray King gave me a tour of the digs, which are spacious and open. Almost all of the chairs and furniture are on wheels, and computer monitors are mounted on long, flexible arms—all to encourage collaboration between staff.

Which, on a higher level, is central to the mission of AboutUs. King summarizes the company, saying, “It’s about building human content that describes all content and sites” on the Web. “It’s a discovery tool,” he adds. The basic idea is a collaborative, wiki-style site that has a page for every company and organization out there, with information about that entity (history, management, contacts, customer reviews, and so forth). AboutUs also creates useful lists for communities. So if you’re looking for the hottest tech startups in Portland, say, you can go to an AboutUs page that has editable descriptions of Portland companies, with links to more information.

The whole concept is different from Google, Bing, or any of the search engines currently getting lots of attention. Those other sites give you an impressive list of references when you do a search, but not much direct information about what you’re looking for. “We don’t think of ourselves as search,” King says. Instead, AboutUs is complementary to search engines in that it hosts content about people, companies, and other topics.

It all stems from King’s deeper view of what a website represents—“people acting with intentionality,” he says. That means people set up websites because they want to do something, whether it’s selling a product, blogging their views, or sharing information or media. His company hopes to tap that intentionality in a deep way, by getting people to contribute to descriptions of websites they’re involved with, and eventually helping to create a new mapping of content on the Web.

King says AboutUs envisions three main target users: a “topic researcher” looking for a site she’s never been to before; a “shy maven” who likes using new tools and wants recognition for his expertise; and a “website operator” who wants to improve the visibility of his company or organization. AboutUs seems to have the first and third users pretty well figured out. It’s the middle user that King says he is currently most focused on.

AboutUs was profitable in 2008 and hopes to be profitable again by the end of 2009, King says. The site is getting between 8 and 9 million unique visitors per month. Its revenues come from a combination of advertising and service fees.

As for his outlook for the rest of the year, King says AboutUs is “on plan right now.” He adds that his team is getting more focused on improving technical aspects like the site’s ranking algorithm and its ease of use. Finally, King says he’s looking to “open a few pockets of deep penetration.” Those might come in the medical arena or the technology space, he says. “When you want to see what’s happening in a given area, that’s AboutUs.”

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