Startups reveal social experiments at Launch

From employee relationships to dating, new companies are trying new ways to engage users with each other.

15Five is a new way to get workers' feedback that just might work. 15Five

SAN FRANCISCO--Four companies at the Launch conference here today were pitching new social interaction models. It's a risky thing to do, trying to drive users to interact with each other in heavily scripted ways, but these companies are trying, mostly to good effect.

I'll start with 15Five, the strongest in this bunch. This service is a way for company employees to, once a week, quickly say what's working at their jobs, what isn't, and how they are feeling. These quick reports roll up to their manager, who can then reply to feedback items, and select some to use in his or her report up the chain to the next boss. It's new, but it feels mature, and I have the feeling it could really work inside many company cultures.

Happiily is also in the employee survey space, with a more traditional model: It lets workers quickly and anonymously answer questions about what they think about their company and their job. There's nothing wrong with surveys, but as Gina Bianchini, one of the judges during this presentation said, "I worry about the thinking that making a tool available means people will take advantage of it." Another panelist said the surveys could end up being a crutch for bad managers and that good managers already have the necessary dialog.

I bet HR departments buy Happiily. But managers and employees will feel better about 15Five.

In the world of real relationships, not work, there were two really interesting startups giving people new scripts for their personal lives.

Hunuku gives you a grid of family memories. Hunuku

Hunuku is a service for recording family memories. The online family quilt, in other words. It's yet another outfit that shows a Pinterest-like grid of items. As with other family memory systems I've seen, the real challenge here is getting people to contribute, other than the one person every family has who tends to keep all the memories.

Hunuku has hired experts to come up with questions or scripts that encourage users to contribute. For example, while men are unlikely to respond to questions about how some event made them feel, almost all will answer the question, "What was your first car?" And once they're in, they're more likely to see and react to other family members' memories.

Finally, there was the most audacious social company here, MeetCute. It's a dating service that sets people up on actual blind dates. Users do a hot-or-not exercise of rating people they think are cute (these people are not potential dates) and then MeetCute determines nearby people that it predicts you'll find attractive and vice versa.

The system the sets a time and place for you to meet and sends you there. With no picture or profile. So you have to figure out who's at the coffee shop you just walked in to who's looking for you.

How cute. Also cute: The business model is to work with the venues that MeetCute sends you to. That's where the company makes its money.

I liked the model and thought it could work, but then I asked three women here what they thought and none of them even remotely liked it. The CEO of the company said the model tests well with college-age women, though, so we'll see. But it is a very different take on dating services, and in a crowded space, that's not a bad thing.

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