PayPal guys are at it again with Slide

PayPal guys are at it again with Slide

CEO Max Levchin, 32, in the San Francisco offices of Slide. The website also has "widgets" that appear all over the Web.
By Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY
CEO Max Levchin, 32, in the San Francisco offices of Slide. The website also has "widgets" that appear all over the Web.



Max Levchin has a problem many Internet entrepreneurs would love.

His young San Francisco photo website, Slide,
grew popular so quickly, it now has more than 125 million monthly users
— and shows no signs of abating.

But Slide isn’t profitable, a problem Levchin
says he plans to address by summer’s end. He wants to marry his
slide-show "widget" — a piece of software that shows pictures on
websites and blogs — with messages from sponsors.

"It’s a challenge," he says. "If you sell (advertisements) to the users, does it compromise the experience?"

Levchin knows he must make the leap. If Slide
can’t figure out how to make money with more than 125 million users, he
says, "That would be really strange."

Levchin, 32, is a Ukraine-born technologist who
immigrated to the USA in 1991 and co-founded online bill-payment
service PayPal in 1998 with investor Peter Thiel. They sold PayPal to
eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion and went looking for their next adventure.

Levchin produced a movie, Thank You For Smoking,
helped launch and finance online reviews site Yelp, then came up with
the idea for Slide while watching his girlfriend shop online.

She was clicking away from shopping sites very
quickly. What would have kept her there, Levchin says, was a bigger
choice of pictures to look at — more than just shoes and dresses. He
developed an application that could send pictures directly to the user,
but he quickly realized today’s Internet audience doesn’t want to
download an application or see pre-determined pictures.

When Levchin pitched Slide to Thiel as
"push-button consumer expression," his ex-partner was underwhelmed,
thinking the last thing the world needed was another photo-sharing
site.

But Levchin says he convinced Thiel. What he
really was doing was helping "people express themselves better," says
Thiel, who runs investment firm Clarium Capital. "The reality is, this
is one of those things that was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.
Max just got a lot of the details right."

How Slide works

Visitors come to the Slide homepage, choose one
of the many "skins" — a drive-in movie theater, a heart-shaped window —
and decide where to share their creation. They often choose social
networks such as Facebook and Bebo, but also blogs from Google’s online
Blogger software and other companies.

Rivals, including Shutterfly and Kodak Gallery,
began as photo-sharing and e-commerce sites. Soon the e-commerce took
over. They average monthly visitors in the range of 5 million to 10
million. Photobucket, a pure photo-sharing site, popped out of nowhere,
like Slide, and quickly grew to dominate the field. Some 22 million
visitors used Photobucket in May, according to measurement firm
ComScore Media Metrix.

But figures for Photobucket and Slide jump in
the widget category. This measures application use across multiple
websites, and shows Photobucket with 61 million users in May, compared
with Slide’s 128 million.

Levchin chose an "an overlooked category," says
Phil Leigh, an analyst at Inside Digital Media. "People are shooting
lots of digital photographs, but they don’t want to be directed to some
website to see them; they want to show them on their blogs and own
websites. That’s the difference between an audience of 2 million or 100
million."

Widgets the new buzz

Widgets are becoming a new buzzword across the
Internet, a way of expanding into territory once dominated by computer
giants Microsoft and Apple.

"Three to five years ago, you thought of the
desktop as your primary computing platform, but the Web has changed
that," Levchin says.

The desktop is still the first thing you see
when the computer is turned on. But you spend most of your time on the
Web, and widgets are the tools that help you mix the desktop with the
Web.

"If you’re a student," Levchin says, "you read
your e-mail on Facebook, play games on Yahoo, look at pictures on
MySpace. It’s a much more fragmented market than Microsoft and Apple of
years ago. That’s why Apple and Microsoft now have widgets."

ComScore Executive Vice President Linda Abraham
began tracking widgets a few months ago, and says she was "shocked"
over how large they’ve become.

"They are really huge, way beyond what I ever
thought possible," she says. "Young Internet users love having control
over their content, and this is a way they can do that."

Leigh thinks Slide will soon be snapped up,
though it won’t fetch the kind of price tag Google paid for YouTube
last year. "Slideshows don’t have the same mass appeal as video. But it
clearly was an overlooked category that is much bigger than anyone
expected."

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