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With all the focus on real-time information sharing, the next step in digital will be curating all of that content. And while companies from Google to Facebook are trying to get a handle on broadly organizing real-time information, one company is going niche and trying to corner the market on digital and real-time event sharing.

That company is Hot Potato, a service that connects people around live events in real time.

Hot Potato is betting that consumers will put a premium on having all of their event information in one place. The company is still in beta and has focused so far on its iPhone app and a soft digital launch, but Hot Potato raised $1.4 million in funding this fall and is set to launch a new suite of features in the next few weeks. The company has also earned praise from all the right places. (The New York Times calls Hot Potato a "promising solution," while The Business Insider when so far as to dub Hot Potato "the next Twitter").

Only time will tell if Hot Potato's approach to digital event coverage catches on, but there's certainly a lot of potential there. I caught up with the company's CEO, Justin Shaffer, to talk about event sharing, Twitter's failings for event organizers and where this all gets interesting for brands.

Why is Hot Potato preferable to a Twitter hashtag?
Hashtags on Twitter are decent for a small to medium sized group of people, but it breaks down pretty quickly at a larger scale. I think South by Southwest last year was a good example of this, with an overwhelming amount of tweets around the event. Any large sports event delivers the same challenge. At scale, conversation tends to break down, and while it can be a decent repository for links and commentary, they require quite a bit of human filtering to get the good parts out. We use your friends, your location, and how you've checked-in as indicators of the type of content you'll be interested in, and then filter for you to give you messages from your friends, and from other popular contributors in the audience, especially as events get larger. In addition, we're mixing in rich media so you can post photos (and video and audio, coming with out next iphone release) and notes while recording your perspective on the event.

How do you integrate Hot Potato into other social media?
We allow you to easily promote content you find on Hot Potato (or create) via your Facebook feed or Twitter. The idea being that you likely want to share some content from an event on Hot Potato, but as you're likely going to want to converse and create a lot more content within a Hot Potato event, you don't have to worry about every message going to all of your twitter followers or Facebook friends. As a result, you can use both Twitter and Facebook to promote your own events, or your participation in someone else's to bring more people into enjoy them together. The commitment from us is, we're delivering your messages to people who are interested in the same event, while its going on. For example, if you're a prolific graphic designer and entrepreneur, its likely you'll have a good number of followers on twitter (or facebook friends). If you like talking football however, you might really get into it on Monday night, and generate a lot of content that most of your followers aren't interested in. That's where Hot Potato comes in - you can select a few messages, or just broadcast that you're watching the game on Hot Potato, which is an open invitation to your friends to come and join you for a more in depth conversation.

Are you going to charge for a white label version of Hot Potato?
We're not big believers in white labeling explicitly. Part of the power of Hot Potato longer term is the inherent discoverability of events via network effects. What we absolutely will do is let content creators organize, promote and have a special set of tools to help events go viral and help a larger audience reach them and share the experience of attending or watching. As an organizer, you'll have privileged access to your events and the audience within, and we'll also let you embed (or use our API) to connect to your events from your site or another, or build your own apps on top of our platform.

Will there be a premium version of Hot Potato at all?
If we end up doing a good job with event organizers and helping them build their audiences, we can then introduce commercial opportunities for them as well. If a brand wanted to reach a larger portion of the audience than they might be able to organically around the event, we'll make that very easy. At the end of the day, the focus is on aggregating audience, and we believe a number of opportunities will emerge for us to help content owners continue to support their audiences as we grow. The audience is willing to hear from brands, if they're presented appropriately and opportunistically. We're just building a vehicle for smarter distribution and engagement, as well as transactions and brand advertising.

Right now people are going to all sorts of different venues online (and in mobile) to share their experiences. How does Hot Potato deal with the silo effect of social media?
Agreed. One of the downsides of having so many potential ways to share, with very cost-efficient distribution, is that the market is very fragmented right now. For a sports event, I might want to read a number of blogs, search for photos on flickr, find commentary on twitter and facebook, and ill likely be text messaging with a small group of friends as well. None of these services are realizing the value of the audience in a meaningful way as a result.

Conversely, in the scenario we're working on promoting, we'll be providing great tools for both documenting your own experience, and sharing with others, as well as finding other interesting content (and voices) around the event. We think this has a better chance of becoming a persistent means of communication - eventually even a new medium, than the existing hodge-podge of tools that people are using. The intersection of an audience empowered to share their experiences easily via text, photo, video and audio with their friends and family, and some real-time aggregation of interesting content from around the web is a great place to be, and thats where we're headed.

Why do brands need Hot Potato?
I think your point about fragmentation in social media says it all. People naturally congregate around events and enjoy communicating with their friends and other passionate fans. We'll be providing a better experience for the audience of an event than needing to go out to all of the different places people might be able to post (or doing some of the collection on the audiences behalf). As a brand, I'd likely be excited about Hot Potato as it will not only allow me to get real audiences together and participating in my events (or events I'm interested in supporting as they represent my desired audience), it will also allow my audience to help me grow interest on my behalf, by bringing in their friends, and sharing their individual perspectives and experiences. The brand wins, because we end up with a larger, more engaged audience, and the user wins, as it's a better model for how we actually enjoy events live today.

Meghan Keane

Published 11 January, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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