Article 25

Technology as an Experience

In Uncategorized on 08/22/2011 at 2:25 pm

Journalism major speaks about his vision for tech startup, Flare Code

by Ariana Kateri

Niklos Salontay is the CEO and co-founder of Flare Code, a QR code based social app originally conceived to provide print publishers an alternative way to connect their content to material online. He is a journalism student at Ohio University and co founded Flare Code with a fellow journalism student, Ian Bowman-Henderson. A Flare Code can be printed off and stuck on any real world object, such as a newspaper, art supplies, or a band’s poster, then scanned with a mobile device. The code leads the user to whatever content the publisher has linked to it. Unlike a QR code however,  the Flare user interface also collects all of the updating online content (such as RSS feeds, Tweets, Facebook statuses etc) about that content similar to a search engine, except that the keyword is really the object being scanned).  In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the app is a social network with a comment section built around that real world object and all the online content about that object. The point is to provide real world context to the web’s information and social experiences. The podium at a press conference could have a code with the relevant documents tied to it, which could be scanned by reporters and discussed among both the reporters who are there and their respective viewers interacting with the code from the rest of the web. The reporters could all decide within the social network tied to the scanned code to zone in on an unchecked fact or misstatement, collaboratively holding that public official accountable on the spot. Depot stores could place these codes on their tools and supplies, leading to a social DIY community of users who have mastered the use of those supplies, and crowd source tips for new DIY nerds who arrive at  and scan the code. Street paper distributors could have Flare codes on their badges that lead to their personal stories and you, readers, could scan it, favorite it, and continue to interact with that distributor and their social community. Salontay talks about his hopes for and the potential of FlareCode for publishers.

A25: Now, you guys are planning not to moderate the social part of it?

Salontay: Trying (to moderate) as little as possible – I mean there has to be some way to remove offensive content.

A25: Are you going to have a flag so it’s “flagged as inappropriate”?

Salontay: Yeah I think so.  But then it’s going to be our judgement call, not the people who make the content. So if you are a restaurant you can say that “this person is putting up an inappropriate picture,” but you can’t say “this person said something bad about us.”

A25: So the people moderating it would be on your payroll?

Yeah.

A25: Has that changed recently?  I thought Ian said it was going to be a no moderation free for all…

Salontay: The idea hasn’t changed, it’s just that I do think there has to be something,  just so if someone puts child porn, you can just be like .. you know what I mean? Something illegal.  That’s something we’ll probably feel out. I think (moderation) will probably be there but I don’t think we’ll use it very much.

A25: Where do you guys most agree on direction; where are you guys in lock sync on the direction you want to take Flare or the features?

Salontay: If we are going forward with stuff it’s likely that we agree on it.  There (are) times where I may not agree on something, but I just let it go forward, because it’s not all my company, and I think Ian’s the same way sometimes.

A25: When you talk about your vision….you guys mostly give publishers as examples (putting Flare Codes in newspapers that lead to and facilitate discussion around extra content the publication was unable to fit in the tangible product),  is that the main (area) you want to bring this to? 

Salontay: I’m really excited about the implications in publishing.  I think that once we get out in the market we’re going to find out that that’s one place where people are willing to pay for premium features, or that’s going to drive adoption.  I think that’s going to be really important to our platform, and that’s one segment that we’re really going to revolutionize above anything.  That doesn’t mean you can forsake everything else; publishing is a good place to focus right now, because the utility of our application is so clear in publishing, where as it might not be a clear in other places. I think you need to build a base before you can start seeing creative uses.  I just read an article that somebody did a hack with the Foursquare (a location based social network that allows user to virtually “check in” to places they currently are such as restaurants, bookstores, cafes, theaters, municipal buildings etc) API and the Google Maps API to turn Manhattan into a giant game of RISK:  you chose what borough you were from and then checked in at places.  That’s the kind of thing that is really, really, really cool.  But it’s not the kind of (utilization) that you can market, yourself.

A25: When you have these discussions, what are some things that you guys fundamentally disagree on as a partnership?

Salontay: I think the way we think about the world even is very different; Ian’s a very take to streets sort of person, you know…. he really wants to undermine existing foundations and stuff like that. I’m more of a move within and then once you get to a level where can be almost a kingmaker, you do what you want. It’s good to have that balance; we can move within existing organizations and foundations while still being disruptive to everything we touch.

He would say “We’re not gonna moderate anything.” And I say, “Well wait a minute, there (are) problems there.” And I move back, too. Because sometimes I’m wrong; sometimes he’s wrong.

I can tell you one place that we definitely disagree on: I’m very much an Apple person, he’s very much a Google person.

A25: So you’re going to disrupt both of your heros, then.

Salontay: Yeah… And they have very different philosophies…..like….Apple, it controls the aesthetic process. Apple is…. it’s almost like a case of Facebook versus Myspace. You create these barriers on what people can do and sometimes (users) go “I don’t wanna be white and blue (the pervasive and uncustomizable colors of the Facebook interface); my favorite color’s green.” or “I want to be able to put a background (one of many customizable aesthetic features of Myspace profiles)” but then if you allow everyone to do that, you’re gonna have a situation where (a user) comes to a page and (they’re) like “Where do I comment? Where do I message?” So (Facebook and Apple) is mostly a design philosophy that I agree with. With Flare, people can do whatever they want within certain frameworks. But the experience is the same so the process of information doesn’t get in the way of getting that information.

I think technology is an experience more than anything; it should just be part of your life. We all have parents, so all we understand what can happen if technology isn’t user friendly. It becomes unusable and a distraction and a waste of time. It should just be really simple. That’s a cool thing about Flare – there aren’t really that many gimmicks. There’s no radio transmitter; you don’t have to hold your (phone) next to some transmitter beacon to get data, which is like near field communications which a lot of people are into. You just print something out, (scan) it with the phone, and something comes up. There’s no typing, no pinching, nothing getting in the way of you and whatever somebody’s trying to communicate. You have to draw that balance between simplicity and functionality.

A25: There’s a lot of cynicism about the way the tech industry works. Suppose you get into it and find out it’s all warranted. Would you then go toward Ian’s way of disrupting from the bottom, or would you still feel like you would want to (to) be successful within a broken system and then turn it around as a new generation of startup (founders)?

Salontay: You need to watch your back; there are a lot of predators in this field. It is a risk/reward equation; if you do it right you can get more than ten times what you put in. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (for investors) to try (to) make us more guaranteed profitable, but they may be trying to get in and then once they put their money in they may want to just completely say: “I’m an investor; that’s my job. My job isn’t to create social change and I don’t think your job should be either. Your job should be to make money, ‘cause you’re a businessman now, damn it.” That’s not what we want to be. There are way more profitable ways to do what we’re doing, but you have to do what’s right. I think if we do what’s right – longterm – we’ll be profitable. And  longterm, we’ll be happy.

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