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How are fans changing the way they show their passion? Ask Watercooler
In this segment, Bambi Francisco interviews Kevin Chou, founder and CEO of Watercooler, a service that creates applications for fans to aggregate fans around their favorite teams as well as their favorite shows.
(Here's the interview, partly edited)
BF: Kevin you were just saying that fans are now more transparent which is a trend pretty much online across the board. So why don't you talk a little bit about how fans are being transparent and how they are changing the way they show their passion.
KC: I've been using the "Internet" before it was even called the Internet so I was kind of like the big nerd back in the mid 90s where you had to use message boards and bulletin boards services where you had to use a modem to dial out and so forth. Even back then in 1995 when I was still getting online, there were message boards and chat rooms about all sorts of different things. But one of the most popular things were always sports and television entertainment. And back then you would go into these chat rooms and you have no idea who anybody is. People come up with these screen names like "Steeler Sam" and they spell it all funky and you have no idea who they really are. They could say what they want to say. There's no identity associated with it. So we had these people that were just for sports and entertainment and a number of different things. But Facebook, being the role model here, people are using their real names and people start using their real photos. I think what that has done around the Web is really add a layer of transparency. So no longer are you this faceless person that can do whatever you want, say whatever you want. There's no way they could track it back to you. When you go on somebody's Facebook page and you take a look at their profile, you're able to see what that person is about and who that person really is and I think that level of transparency is really starting to flow out the broader Internet. But certainly for us applications developers that something we enjoy as well. And so in our applications, people who are Stealer fans who are using their real names, real photos, who are saying "Hey I'm a huge Steelers fan. They want their people who are Steeler fans in their Watercooler applications. And so that's a tremendous step especially in sports you can see how excitable they use all sorts of adult languages and so forth. So if you scroll down on this application, and you click on the top officers. It shows how Jason has been a member of our Steelers application.
BF: So you're riding on Facebook so you can look to see who this person is. But you also capture a lot of stats.
KC: We capture a lot of statistics and so there's different things Jason is trying to tell us about his favorite players; his favorite moments of sports; how much he knows about being a Steelers fan; how much he has added to this community; who his friends are; who he has befriended outside of our Steelers application and his recent discussion posts. So this guy, when he is on our discussion board, he is not an anonymous and cannot smack talk a Cardinals fan and get away with it as being this anonymous fan. He's letting the world know that he's a huge Steelers fan. So this type of transparency is what fans are starting to do online and it's mimicking real life and that's just amazing that we're able to bring this kind of experience to the fans, and to let yourself be known as a huge Steelers fan and meet all these other Steelers fans all around the world.
BF: What are some other activities fans can participate in, besides showing how smart they are and how much knowledge they have for a particular team? What other things can they do in a group to show their passion?
KC: I think around the Internet, there are a different ways that people are repackaging things and doing things in a new fashion. For us, the things that have driven fans to be online and communicate are kind of what we do. We just do it on steroids. Discussion boards, blogs and analysis. People spend huge hours interacting on discussion boards, writing post game re-caps, predicting what's going to happen in the Super Bowl. We also create new types of ways where that information gets packaged up and delivered and consumed by users so we have a Trivia game that's extremely popular. We have our quizzes that's extremely popular. People are able to say, "How much do you know about the Steelers?" And, the fans are contributing to the question. So fans are contributing to that body of knowledge, editing it, etc. We have this thing where we call our everlasting Trivia game where fans continue to put new Steeler trivia questions into it after every single game. Fans are able to come back to our applications, go play our Trivia game, show how mcuh they know as a fan, This person Sevante, is a fan and he has 14,500 points. You get 10 points for every question right.
BF: Of all the features within that app, which is the most viral? Which draws other users to this group around the Pittsburgh Steelers?
KC: It's a combination of two things. It's our quizzes and our waves which is an ability to send a virtual cheer. You know if you've ever been to a ball game, you'll see fans kind of in between plays, getting cheers going on.
BF: Whats the longest wave?
KC: We've seen 200,000 people participate in one wave. About 200,000 of these people have joined essentially this mini group. It's a way for people (casual fans) to pass along something that shows they're involved with the game. We give them a way to participate at low level. And we bring in a lot of these casual fans together because they want to show that they are a Steelers fan. We're giving both the casual fans as well as the hardcore fans a place to communicate and aggregate online.
BF: Give me one prediction about how fans will interact online in 2009
KC: IN 2009, I think you're going to see, especially from us -- I can't speak for other sports sites out there, but from us -- you're going to see a lot of fan participation out there for every single game. So our goal is to say every game that the Steelers are playing, every episode of Grey's Anatomy, there's going to be a ton of content around that specific event. I think it's going to be a new model that we're bringing to the Web.
BF: Well I'm going to create a fan base around my son's T-ball game. Thank you for your insight on how fans are changing their behavior on the Web.
(Note: Another company focusing on changing the way fans show their passion is Wetpaint. Watch for that interview coming soon.)
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