Occasionally, I get invited to review new products or companies in exchange for posting a write-up. Typically, I ignore such requests (most of them are spam). However, I was recently offered the opportunity to become an Expert Reviewer for one site that is actually worth reviewing... a new website called Chubbybrain.com.
Chubbybrain is a database of new business startups, where people can leave feedback as to what they think of companies' products, services, or even business models. For a point of reference, think of how Amazon.com not only lists thousands of books, but also allows users to write reviews about what they thought of each of those books. Chubbybrain does the same thing for startup companies.
The site has a lot of promise. The central idea behind Chubbybrain is relatively unique (at least I don't know of anyone else trying to do what they're doing). There also seems to be a niche market opportunity for providing such a service to the business community - which has been slower to adopt Web 2.0 services than has the mainstream public.
Chubbybrain's mission, then, is twofold: 1) Becoming the best database of private, innovative startups, and 2) delivering expert insights into emerging business models, technologies and companies.
The site is well-designed and it's utility quickly becomes apparent. From a usability standpoint, it only took me a few minutes to create a profile and start writing reviews. From there, it was fairly easy to navigate among different companies where I could get an honest sense of what people thought of them. Some of the reviews were insightful, others were more entertaining, but reading them was surely addictive. It doesn't require a stretch of the imagination to envision this thing succeeding.
Of course, there are still a few things Chubbybrain might look to improve upon. The feature that allows users to graduate up in "Levels of Expertise" is sure to be a great way of providing incentives for people to contribute user-generated content, but it would be helpful to know more details about the specific criteria required for graduating up from one level to the next. Also, they might want to consider integrating OpenID technology as a way for users to more easily create accounts and bring their existing online social-networks of friends along with them to Chubbybrain. Finally, wouldn't it be great, when someone posts a new review, to have it automatically appear on that person's blog or in their Facebook news feed? Developers need widgets :-)
Despite all of this, the most basic question remains, 'How does Chubbybrain plan on actually making money'? What's the business model? Because the content on the site is user-generated and freely visible to the public, the website plans on generating its revenue from 1) sponsorships and 2) offering advanced reporting and analytics on the data they have in their database to power-users. In other words, creating a premium, pay-for service. Apparently, some other large information services companies already do this in their field, but Chubbybrain would do so at a fraction of the price, and promise their reports to be more "transparent and flexible". Right now, as is the case with most Web 2.0 sites, the company is appropriately focused on growing its network.
As someone who has researched Web 2.0 startups in-depth, the question I am most curious about is that which is common to all sites based on user-generated content. What mechanisms are in place for filtering content? In other words, what are their policies towards removing user reviews? It's not hard to imagine a situation where paying sponsors request that unfavorable reviews be deleted, or where employees of a startup company flood Chubbybrain with positive reviews, or where they might do the same with negative reviews about their business rivals. How will Chubbybrain strike that delicate balance between encouraging users to contribute thoughtful and informative reviews and still manage not to filter content to the point where they become perceived as mere promotional or propagandist vehicles for various websites. What it always boils down to on such sites is whether credibility means being comprised mostly of intelligent, informative material, or if credibility, from the users' perspective, means not having their opinions filtered by the company.
Ultimately, for a site that only launched in beta a week ago, Chubbybrain is filled with a lot of promise and potential. Its impressive rollout warrants the attention that the site is sure to get. And, from the looks of things, it ought to get it pretty soon.