I'm very pleased to present this interview with David Chapman - Friend, TAZ Staff Member, Big Board Admin, Founder of Zoints.
Can you give us a brief bio?
On December 14th, 1977, a happy Southern California woman delivered a baby boy who grew up to be an incredibly attractive, brilliant, and charismatic man. The next day, I was born, and named David Nathaniel Chapman. At age three I told a doctor I had a brain tumor, and life has been quite interesting ever since! I have had quite the eclectic job history, including experience as a professional baseball player, equity trader, technical analyst, maximum security jail guard, and founder of 5 different companies. I have a hard time sitting still.
What is your educational background?
School and I have NEVER gotten along. I literally ran away from pre-school when I was 4. My parents had to drag me in screaming and crying to elementary school almost every day. In high school, I had over a 60% absence rate. College? Hahah. It is physically uncomfortable for me to sit in a classroom. Anything I've ever been interested in I've had to teach myself.
My father had his PhD in physiology so there were interesting books around the house growing up, but there were limitations (I'm 28, so I lived in the era before everything was on the net). I've always been a voracious reader when a subject interests me. By age eleven I had pored over my Dad’s PDR (I was a hypochondriac by age 3), as I thought I wanted to become a doctor. At age 19, I taught myself to trade equities and perform fundamental and technical analysis. Once I realized that business was of interest to me, I put myself through MIT's Sloan School of Management via their OpenCourseWare project. The Internet has been truly liberating for me in that capacity. It has given me access to information and opportunities that I would not have been afforded otherwise.
I'll never be the smartest or most educated guy in the world, but I'm content because I know how to surround myself with, and listen to, those who are. My goal is to go into any room with Zoints employees in it and be the stupidest person in there. That way I have to ask a lot of questions, which causes those with incredible intellectual capacities to utilize their gifts.
What do you consider as your accomplishments up to this point?
I don't like to talk about past accomplishments. Past accomplishments are just that, in the past. I'm not interested in legacy, I'm interested in present and future results.
Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
I love failures! One of the first things I ask potential employees is, "What have you failed at?" If they can't come up with anything, they don't get hired. As Albert Einstein said,
You CAN'T be afraid of failure, nor should you be as long as you learn from your mistakes. The first business I ever co-founded (A company which bridged the gap between neuroscience and sound design) was a huge flop. Our technology sounded neat (Neuro-sensory algorithms) and we were getting good results, but, well, it's a long story. The first online forum I ever founded crashed and burned. These experiences and my other failures have allowed me to come back stronger. I thank god for my failures. When Zoints fails at something, we'll have failure parties to celebrate it (and of course to discuss and learn from our mistakes). In today's business environment you MUST continually innovate. If you fear or punish failure, you will NOT remain at the forefront of innovation.
What are your favorite books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Food?s Beverages?
My personal bible is, "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. The man is a genius. The book deals with social epidemics, and Gladwell managed to create a page-turner that is easy to comprehend. I would give your right pinky toe for the opportunity to spend the day picking his brain.
What do you do for fun and relaxation?
Yoga! Less than a year ago I practiced yoga for the first time, after being invited by a friend of mine. As a former professional athlete who takes pride in staying in pretty good shape, I thought I was going to go in and show people a thing or two. Boy, was I wrong! By the time I was done with that first session, I was drenched in sweat and my ego was completely destroyed.
Since then, I have become a rather devout Yogi. Yoga was the balance that I sought for so very long in life. It is empowering not only physically, but on a mental and spiritual level as well. Yoga is allowing me to find my Self. It has made such a profound difference in my life that I invited my yoga instructor to create a profile on Zoints and share her insight.
I know many men out there are laughing at the idea of practicing yoga. To you, I say, Lose the ego and give it a shot. Or keep the ego and let yoga lose it for you. You'll be glad you did!
What is your full-time job?
If doing what you love counts as a job, then my full-time job is working for Zoints.
How did Zoints come about?
I joined my first online community back in the summer of 2001. That community is now one of the largest and most successful in the world. I had recently moved to an area of California where I didn't have any friends, and I was bored. I started making friends on the community and before long, found myself en route to an in-person meeting in Central California. I was meeting people from the internet in real life. Scary thought!
Eight of us met in a pool hall that fateful evening. Seven guys and one very brave woman. There was the gentleman with green hair who was into cosplay, a huge guy who worked at Apple, a male model trying to make the big time, a skinny guy who called himself "Dork," a Microsoft employee...you get the idea. For the first five minutes or so, we all stood around uncomfortably. But after that, we began to loosen up and have a good time - thanks in small part to alcohol, but mostly due to our common bond and interest (the online community).
By the end of the night it was as if we had been friends all of our lives. I can't articulate what a good time I had and the bond I shared with these seven fine folks. As we were parting ways, the big guy from Apple said something to me that would change my entire life and ignite an unquantifiable passion within me. He said, "I'm not a social person, I don't have any friends. I almost didn't come tonight. The first five minutes I was uncomfortable and I almost left; I thought you guys were way too cool for me. But now, now I have seven new friends. Seven more friends than when I started today. This has been the best day of my life."
At that moment, I realized the importance of online communities. If they could make such a profound difference in one man's life, what could they do for society as a whole? And so began a four year process.
Who else is on the Zoints Team?
We currently have more than 30 employees on the Zoints Team and we're hiring! If you are an engineer and think you are the best of the best, prove it to us: Team@Zoints.com
Please tell us about the Zoints Profile System:
We call Zoints the "Internet's first community-based social network". It is a social network designed by community owners to benefit the forums we operate and allow us to adapt to the changing social and technological landscape.
I think Quentin Gouedard, the owner of Big-Boards.com, articulated Zoints best:
“I truly believe that Zoints will ignite a new era in the world of online communities. Not only will it provide an unprecedented user experience and introduce mind-blowing new interaction mechanisms, but Zoints will also break down the barriers that today separate the worlds of forums, blogs, picture sharing and other community services.”
--What is your design philosophy for the Zoints Profile System?
Keep it simple.
Have you ever tried to pack a ton of features into a simple, easy-to-use interface? It's HARD! About a month ago someone said, "Zoints is 50% user-friendly". And he was right. We kept a lot of things simple, but others were downright confusing to anyone who wasn't a geek like us. We have since gone back and reworked a lot of features to make them more intuitive. And going forward, we will continue to improve every facet of Zoints.
--How long has it been in development?
Our team of engineers have been working for more than 15 months on this project. Zoints has been quite a monumental undertaking and an exercise in logistics. We've developed scores of proprietary scripts to allow us to maximize development efficiency, considering that our team is spread across many timezones.
--How are privacy issues handled?
I'm a HUGE privacy advocate. I'm very concerned about the dwindling emphasis on privacy in today's society, and love organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (http://eff.org - check them out!). With that said, it was a bit of a shock when a few forum owners raised privacy concerns. It was shocking because they were right! We had NOT properly addressed privacy. We have since worked hard and will continue to champion the fact that Zoints cares about the rights of its members and will NOT share their personal information with anyone.
--Is member safety a concern?
Absolutely! We're taking a proactive approach to member safety. We do not want to react after issues arise; we want to mitigate problems before they happen. We are of the opinion that maintaining member safety is a community effort. It is not the sole job of Zoints to protect members. It is not the sole job of parents to protect their children. We must all work together to maintain a safe network.
Zoints has opened a "member safety" forum where members of Zoints can come together to share their concerns, ideas, and other commentary. I'm already quite pleased with the discussions going on. We have dozens of people who can quickly react to any "reported profiles," and we have (and will continue to develop) proprietary technologies to help maintain a safe social network. Despite our best efforts, isolated occurences will happen, but Zoints is prepared to respond quickly to any issues that may arise.
--How does it compare to the other profile systems currently available?
Though we have many ideas yet to be implemented, Zoints is already the most powerful social networking solution on the Internet. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.
What are the benefits of a centralized profile system over the typical forum based profile system?
Let's say you have 1,000 registered members on your forum about aquariums. Based upon standard industry activity rates, you're lucky if 200 of those members are active. You can install an advanced profile system that lets your members interact more, and some of your members will use and enjoy it. However, people join forums to share discourse. If one of your members invites a friend to your forum who is NOT interested in aquariums, that person is not going to stick around and use your profile system to interact with 200 people who DO like aquariums.
1. Your aquarium forum isn't going gain many new members because of the profile system. Only your current members are going to use it.
2. You are not going to increase revenue much, if at all, because it is still those 200 members browsing around profiles.
On the other hand, you can utilize a social networking system like Zoints.
1. Zoints is growing fast. And we actively work to drive members to your community based upon interest.
2. As stated above, some forum owners are already receiving substantial ad impressions because so many people are joining and using Zoints.
3. Your forum member can invite his friend who doesn't like aquariums. That friend might join a baseball forum that uses Zoints. But then someone from the baseball forum might invite friends who don't like baseball, but end up at your aquarium forum because that's what THEY are interested in.
I'm not saying that non-centralized profile systems are bad. In fact, you can have both. There is no reason that a forum owner can't have a forum side profile system and use Zoints for its benefits. You CAN have your cake and eat it too.
There is some concern that the system will cause some forums to lose members to competing sites. Is this an issue and if so how would you suggest forum owners deal with it?
I recently asked forum owners in the beta on the private Zoints forum if they saw this happening. Of all the people who responded, and grand total of one forum owner knew of a member going elsewhere.
If you run a forum where you are rude to your members, discussion is stagnant, pages take 6 seconds to load, and people aren't happy, then yes, you're probably going to lose some members to other communities. In that case, Zoints is the least of your problems. But if you maintain a good online presence, then you have nothing to worry about. Zoints will drive members to your community and help them form the habit that keeps them coming back day in and day out.
What's next in the development of the Zoints Profile System?
What level of control do forum owners have over the Zoints experience of their members?
We want to empower forum owners, as Zoints is the Internet's first "community-based social network". I believe that actions speak louder than words. So instead of telling you what we allow forum owners to do with their members’ default profiles, I'll show you:
Zoints Profile: http://phrost.zoints.com
Zoints Profile: http://dawn.zoints.com
Zoints Profile: http://my3shadows.zoints.com/
If Zoints is successful in making money from advertising within the network, will this come out of the forum owners' pockets?
Zoints is a revenue sharing system. Forum owners receive AdSense impressions on the profiles of their members and anyone their members subsequently refer. If Zoints does well, forum owners do well. As of July 24th, 2006, we already have a couple of forum owners who have received xxx,xxx impressions via Zoints member profiles. As the network continues to grow, so will these numbers.
Online forums can be difficult to monetize, and many rely on one site (Google) to drive the majority of their traffic to them. How many horror stories have you heard where someone drops in the SERPs and the income they receive from their forum drops too? Zoints offers another means to diversify revenue streams. And we will naturally be coming out with additional solutions in the future.
Is your primary goal to serve forum owners or forum members?
If you provide a good leader with solutions they can contour in a manner that will benefit their people, then both the leader and people benefit. I liken forum owners to mayors. Empower a good mayor and the people of the city will benefit.
What other projects and/or ventures is Zoints involved in?
We are focused on providing the best solutions for community owners. My personal view is that online forums are still in their infancy, and are going to become more important and more popular with time. Zoints will adapt and innovate as necessary in order to continue to empower forum owners and ensure that online communities continue to flourish.
What is your ultimate professional goal?
My ultimate professional goal is to make a difference in people's lives. I've seen firsthand how communities can change lives, and by helping foster and support the online communities that are growing everyday, I can help make the world a little bit better place.
Describe your typical workday schedule.
I don't have a schedule. I work. I practice yoga. I sometimes remember to eat. And when my body finally demands it, I sleep.
What future changes do you expect in forum software development?
I expect forum software development to become much more scientific in nature. Rather than a group of engineers developing the software, I think you'll see a team of engineers, psychologists, sociologists, linguists and people who understand humanity in general working together to create incredibly innovative applications that end up changing the world.
How many forums do you administrate?
While I have administrative status on quite a few forums, I am not involved in the decision making process on any. I needed to free my time up for Zoints.
What do you know now that you wish you'd known 10 years ago?
I wouldn't change a thing. I am thankful for all of my experiences.
Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
I REALLY like hippos. I want a pet hippo one day!
What does the future hold for David Chapman?
I foresee myself being involved in the forum industry for a long time to come.