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Chris G. Williams Beware: I mix tech and personal interests here.

Recently I had the opportunity to check out Skewz.com and found it to be a pretty interesting concept. Vipul Vyas is the man responsible for bringing it to the internet, so these NINE Questions are all about him. Read on...

image 1. Where are you from?
I'm Indian-American, but I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina.  I was born in Cleveland, Ohio; but we left there before my first birthday.  So I'm "American by birth, Southern by the grace of god," as they would say.  These days I call San Francisco, California home...which would probably piss off both Midwesterners and Southerners.

2. What do you do? Who do you work for? What is your product? Give me the 10 second pitch
I'm one of the co-founders of the website skewz.com which devotes itself to getting all sides of the proverbial story while at the same time exposing media bias.  The process of rating articles as being left or right leaning politically creates a great vehicle by which to do a few things: 1. get a variety of perspectives on the same news event, 2. rate media sources on their political biases, and 3. get an understanding of how the broader polity views issues.

You can think of skewz.com as a political version of digg that lets you submit articles and at the same time rate them in terms of their political leanings...either liberal or conservative.  You can, of course, go to the site to just read or comment on articles and get a pulse for what either side of the political spectrum is thinking or has on the top of their agenda. 

3. How did you get to this point? What brought you to your current role/job?
Luck, good parenting, who knows.  I did a lot of safe things.  I'm definitely no maverick in any sense of the word.  I did well in high school, went to a good college, then went to grad school, got all the right jobs that people told you to get, etc.  I then bolted for a speech recognition start up in Silicon Valley.  That was my first venture into taking any kind of risk.  I started out as employee number 6 or so, and we went on 7 years later to sell the company.  I made a little coin and started skewz.com on the side because I think it's a very cool idea that our hyper divided political state just plain demands.  I felt people needed to get away from just affirming their existing thinking.  They need to expose themselves to everything.  I think Skewz makes that happen by letting you have space to see thoughts from a side of the political world that you are a kin to while at the same time taking a peak at the "other side." The site is a place where liberals can feel at home while seeing what conservatives think and vice versa.

4. Skewz is a very interesting concept for a site. How did you come up with it?
Well, myself and some co-workers at my day job would often find articles and then start emailing them around commenting on them.  These were most often articles that had to do with politics.  I noticed that some of these threads would end up being 300 responses long.  I said to myself, if we're wasting so much time on this, I'm sure other people would like to squander their productivity in the same way.  This was a few years ago.  From that work day past time we came up with the idea of skewz.com to sort of structure the same process of finding, sharing, and exchanging views on political thought...of course, the community is much larger now and the scale much bigger.

5. Most folks know you as the Skewz guy, so tell us something about your nontechnical interests?
I'm kind of fanatical about personal history stuff.  I'm like my own museum curator, and I know that drives my wife crazy.  I save everything.  I have book reports from third grade that I've kept.  I'm sure that stuff is going to get thrown away in some spring cleaning frenzy in the coming years.  There will be a lot of crying on that day.

6. What are your thoughts on the "social networking boom" we're currently seeing, with sites like Brightkite,
Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, Friendfeed, etc? Where does skewz fit into that scene?
It's definitely a mini boom.  I don't have any particularly insightful thoughts here except to say that these things inherently are limited in terms of the number players that can really take off.  The "network" part of boom is important.  Scale is what makes any of these sites valuable to a user.  People don't want to hop from one social network to another every 6 months...at least I don't.  As such, the site that can act as a platform to add ever expanding functionality is the one that's going to remain relevant.  Did I mention size and scale?  Right, the networks that get out front faster and can maintain a size advantage will win.  For example, I think LinkedIn has won for the moment among business networks simply because most professionals are now using it.  It's just not easy to maintain things in LinkedIn, Plaxo, Spoke, etc.  People will gravitate toward success.  There's probably not much segmentation of the market when it comes to this stuff since most of these sites let people carve themselves off into smaller groups.  The sites that get big early will likely stay big and consolidate their positions to the exclusion of others.  People fall into habits and it's pretty hard to devote enough time to visit twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, etc.  I don't think the long tail applies here.  This thinking applies to Skewz as well.  We have to get a large, established user base quickly.

7. Where do you see Skewz in a year? Any big plans on the horizon?
We're hoping to become a reference for the new way to experience politics – an Interactive social way to open one's mind to new sides of the story. We want people to take notice and discuss how stories are rated on Skewz, and give them an opportunity to read a perspective they never would have considered before. We're also looking to expand functionality of the site, such as new platforms that allow users to check out organizations they can donate to based on their political views. 

We're also evaluating whether to take the Skewz slider concept (between liberal and conservative) to other types of news such as financial news (bulls and bears versus liberal and conservative). 

...The rest will be some surprises after the presidential election.

8. Any advice for those folks with a new and unique "great idea"?
Get a good team of people around you and just do it...and persevere.  It's super easy to bail at a variety of points along the way.  Any new idea inherently lacks validation.  Without that validation it's easy to be talked out of your pursuit or to talk yourself out of your efforts.  However, you have to stick to it if you believe in it.  You've got to be realistic at some point and know when the idea is just not going to work so that you can make adjustments or refocus your efforts.  That being said, watch for the perils of giving up too early.  

9. Last of all, any tattoos?
No, none...just scars.

Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2008 6:39 PM General Interest , NINE Questions | Back to top


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