SocialSafe goes beyond standard social backup services by enabling users to create ‘personal digital libraries’ of their interactions online

By Editor January 9, 2013
SocialSafe logo

SocialSafe logoA Q&A with SocialSafe co-founder and chairman Julian Ranger. The Farnham, United Kingdom–based company was founded in 2009 and closed its Series A funding round in late December.

SUB: Please describe SocialSafe and your value proposition.

Ranger: SocialSafe enables users to create their own private and personal digital library of all their social media interactions, and then allows them to take advantage of that library by doing more with it. We enable users to take control of their social media interactions, keeping a complete record of everything, aggregating it together and providing tools to access the library displaying the information, providing a full calendar and journal, allowing search across all data, and additional functions too.

We support Facebook, Facebook Pages, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Viadeo, and in mid-January will release support for RSS and Pinterest. We will continue to add further networks such as Flickr, Spotify, etc. in time.

We are also continuing to add new features to allow users to exploit their personal library. For example two major updates coming in February or March are ‘Insights’ and ‘Collections’. Collections will allow you to create groups of any social data items—photos, posts, people, etc.—across all your network data and then save, view, print, export them. ‘Insights’ will allow users to gain all sorts of insights and statistics about their social media use, from most popular posts, to follower growth and much, much more.

SUB: Who are your target markets and users?

Ranger: Really it is for anyone who has a social network account. For consumers, there are almost as many uses as there are users—just as the way you keep email, photos, documents and interact with this retained information is personal to you, then SocialSafe’s personal library of data and your use of it is personal to you. We have been told of many uses by our users such as: using the library as a journal to see what you did on any day; to look back over old memories and special occasions—e.g. weddings—especially as we keep all the data associated with photos and posts such as tags, comments, etc.; to find some piece of information; to see who has unfriended you; to be a mother’s baby book; for child safety monitoring; social contact list; and many more.

For businesses, the logic for SocialSafe is very clear cut. All businesses have to keep records of all public communications and any social media use by anyone in a business falls into that category—SocialSafe fills this recording need, and can be deployed very cost effectively to anyone in the organization using social media officially or semi-officially with regard to the business. Secondly, as businesses encourage more-and-more staff to use social media in their jobs they need to provide tools to support that use and those tools need to be simple to use and cost effective—again SocialSafe fills that need.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Ranger: There are two types of competition: those that offer social media backup, of which Backupify is the main competitor, and those that offer a level of user interface to interact with some of your social data in an aggregated manner, for example, Jolicloud.

SUB: What differentiates SocialSafe from the competition?

Ranger: Three things: privacy, depth and accuracy of data, and tools to use your library. SocialSafe is the only product which stores your data in your own local personal data store, currently on your PC or Mac and soon with an option to store in your own private cloud account—e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. This is very important for two reasons. Firstly, your data is 100 percent private to you; we at SocialSafe can never ever see any of your data whatsoever—if people are worried about the level of visibility into their lives with just Facebook, then those worries are magnified when aggregating all their social channels; with 100 percent privacy those worries do not exist with SocialSafe.  Secondly, all the social networks have terms of service which prohibit other businesses storing their user data long term on other servers; therefore all other competitors break these TOS and are liable to be shut down and/or have access restricted. It is interesting to note that Backupify have recently stopped supporting LinkedIn, for example. SocialSafe is the only service which complies strictly with all the networks’ TOS in this regard—you download your own data to your own store, which is allowed for under all the TOS.

If you are going to create a personal library of your social interactions, whether just for backup or for more uses as SocialSafe supports, then it is important that your complete scope of activities and interactions are recorded and that this is done well and accurately. SocialSafe supports more social networks and a greater depth and range of data then any of our competitors. For example: we not only bring down your photos and tagged photos from Facebook, but also capture any tags, comments and likes on those photos; for Twitter we not only capture your Tweets, but your DM interactions, @ mentions, favorites, Followers and Following data and Profile. Accuracy is also key—if you have 426 photos you want 426 photos, not 410, and if someone comments on a photo or post days or weeks after that post or photo is made, you still want that comment. It is not straightforward to ensure accuracy as all the social network APIs have their quirks and limitations—because we provide a comprehensive user interface for our users to look at and use their data, over the years we have, in addition to our own work, been told of many cases where data has not been correctly reported by the APIs and have been able to implement special code to ensure our accuracy of data retrieval is 100 percent. We know that other competitors do not look back for new information on old data, nor provide levels of redundancy to ensure 100 percent accuracy of data retrieval.

Finally, and what makes the major difference with regard to SocialSafe, is that we are so much more than just a backup or simple journal, or just a photo library. With all that range of data we retrieve we give our users many facilities to do more with that data, whether that is the various viewing options, the comprehensive search capabilities, export, and more. We are, as noted before, also adding features such as Collections and Insights to provide ever more capability, and will continue to do so. For example, being able to fuse photos and people so you can see comments made on the same photo on different networks—e.g. Facebook and Instagram, and so you can see all your interactions with an individual whether on Facebook, Twitter, G+, etc.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Ranger: The company was conceived in March 2009, to provide Facebook backup with a simple user interface to look at the data. Since the initial version we have added more data types being retrieved, more networks and two major revisions to the interface since based on user feedback, leading to our personal library concept.

Initially conceived as a backup tool, we worked on the product for three months with a single developer and soft launched in July, 2009. We then supported the product with some minor evolutions through 2009 and into 2010 when we added Twitter due to demand from our users. It was then that we realized that SocialSafe could be so much more than just a backup tool and could be developed into your full personal and private library of all your social media interactions, from which you could do so much more with the data. We therefore expanded the team in mid-2010, started developing the user interface further and adding additional networks.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for SocialSafe? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Ranger: The initial ‘aha’ was people we knew losing their data on Facebook, either through hacking, accounts just being lost, which did occur in the early Facebook days, or being closed down. The secondary and more significant ‘aha’ was realizing a year later what one can do with a personal library when you have the data yourself across time and aggregated across all your networks.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?

Ranger: Credit for the name must go to our Creative Director, Pascal, who seemed to think of the name instantly on the first day that we discussed the idea and decided to try building a product. He thought our product was a great way to make your social data safe from loss and hence SocialSafe. Over time, with our library concept we think of SocialSafe as being the safe where your digital library is held and from where you have control of your own data to use in as many ways as you desire.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Ranger: The most significant obstacle was being early to market. We had a good product in 2010 and a great product in 2011, but yet until about mid 2012 the public perception of social networks was exclusively about the now, this minute or hour and the value of a library of your entire social interactions was not readily recognized, except by a few early adopters who initially were mainly interested in backup. The introduction of Facebook’s Timeline feature, an edited highlight of your past, has helped, as has the fact that many users now have years’ worth of social data and are beginning to ask who owns that data, how can they access it and do more with it.

Because we were early to market we have had to have faith—and money—to continue development whilst preparing for the time when we felt that the market was ready to look for a tool such as SocialSafe. It is clear from the strong increase in interest in SocialSafe in the last six months that the time is now—and the good news is that through our three years of work we have a strong, robust, well developed product ready for market—a nice position to be in. We are a startup with history.

Over three years there have, of course, been many other obstacles: from the very first week we released when we got a cease and desist order from Facebook—they quickly withdrew when they saw our privacy policy and that the user downloads their own data; to understanding how to sweat the social network APIs to their limits to ensure accuracy of data retrieval; to optimizing our user interface to make the product easy to use and responsive; to finally knowing how to describe what SocialSafe is.

SUB: You recently raised the equivalent of $440K in Series A funding. What are your plans for the funds?  

Ranger: Primarily two-fold—to increase the development team to add more networks and data types and more features to allow users to exploit their SocialSafe library, and to significantly increase our marketing and sales activities to raise awareness of SocialSafe.

SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?

Ranger: SocialSafe has been funded since inception by me and this was a sensible option whilst initial development and market positioning occurred, and whilst being early to market. As we have seen the market become ready for what SocialSafe has to offer, the ability to increase our pace of activity is important and the fund raise allows us to do that, in addition to bringing on board a wide range of Angel investors with helpful experience that is available to the business.

SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Ranger: If you are going to provide 100 percent privacy of your users data, than clearly having a non-advertising revenue based plan is a necessity—we cannot and do not sell our users data. Therefore we have a simple yearly subscription model for our software—after a two month free trial period where you can use the full features of SocialSafe unrestricted.

Our price points are designed to be highly affordable to make the question not “Why would I pay for this service?,” but rather “Why wouldn’t I?” and we have built the business to this pricing model. To use SocialSafe with up to four social network accounts, it is only $6.99 a year—less than 15 cents per network per month, for up to 10 accounts it is $16.99 per year, and for up to 20 accounts it is $27.99 per year.

SUB: What are your goals for SocialSafe over the next year or so?

Ranger: To maintain and increase our lead in providing the widest personal digital library of your social interactions with the most compelling features for you to use that library; to provide access to that library from any device—implementing mobile versions and allowing your library to be stored in your personal cloud; and to accelerate user adoption through greater visibility of SocialSafe and its benefits.

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