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The speedle of light
an Porter '88's dot-com that's better than a grapevine

By Rob MacKay '89

Word of mouth has given way to cyberwords of e-mail, and nobody is better versed in the subject than Daniel J. Porter '88, the president of www.speedle.com, a startup that offers an easy, more direct way to find out what's hot and what's not on the Internet.

"It's like the Billboard charts, but based on what people e-mail around to each other," says Porter, a history major whose thesis was on the Avant Garde movement in jazz. "Speedle puts your finger on the on-line pulse with no middle-men."

The first product to be built around Microsoft's Passport (a service that allows Web users to access sites on the web with one name and one password), Speedle runs a people-focussed site with a technology platform that enables and measures what people share with each other. All the e-mails and instant messages that travel through the Speedle system, including anonymous ones, are tallied and ranked. Then the site provides activity charts so members can find out the day's most discussed topics, the funniest jokes, the newest trends, and other forms of buzz.

And for businesses, the San Francisco-based company also provides members with a set of lightweight customer engagement applications that allow corporate entities to get closer to customers by simply tapping into the subjects of their e-mails. Call it market research without the market researchers.

It's also worth noting that the company has added a new word to popular jargon. "Speedles" are in fact shareable e-mails which could contain links, news, jokes or anything else people want to pass on to friends and foes. And though it's not a dating service, Speedle members often share photos, likes, dislikes, and more intimate personal information in an effort to meet others with similar interests.

Porter notes that e-interests are as vast and varied as the world's population. Says he: "It's almost impossible to predict what ends up being popular, a God-related link can follow a joke, which can follow a picture of space." On June 1, for example, Speedle reports that 3,000 e-mails were circulated about a thumb wrestling championship in Arizona. Two of the most popular speedles ever - "If men raised the kids" and "Could this be true" - were invented and generated by a Florida grandmother who was poking fun at members of the opposite sex and politicians.

Barely a year old, Speedle's official launch and redesign are scheduled for July 2001. Nevertheless, it has already gained critical acclaim. In early June, the tech news agency Red Herring had it as the "Catch of the Day," writing that the company and its tools "might ultimately lead to a new way to navigate the edge of the network." In a similar vein, WNBC reported on April 11 that "Speedle may potentially be the first major upgrade to e-mail in more than two decades."

Of course, Porter is a proud Speedle member. What kind of information does he circulate? "I sent a lot of articles on women's health to my wife, Melanie, when she was pregnant," he says. "I also posted the articles on my member page. I received several e-mails from total strangers who said they check out my page and assume I'm an expert on the subject. That's a lot of attention for a guy who passes out in the doctor's office when they bring out the needles."

Rob MacKay, is an editor at Timesnewsweekly, a weekly newspaper in Queens,New York. He can be reached at robertazo@hotmail.com.