alivenotdead.com (AnD) is a self-funded Hong Kong based social network for artists across the Asia. You probably never heard of it and they never proclaimed its web 2.0 loudly, but having 800 artists including Jet Li and Kelly Hu as its official artists, AnD is indeed very special!
We have the great pleasure to have an interview with Stephen Wang, CTO of AnD who shared with us some very interesting stories behind AnD. Enjoy!
1. Would you please tell our readers the brief history of AnD and also introduce your team?
AnD is a social network supporting artists (filmmakers, musicians, visual and performing artists, and more). Artists come on-board and establish their own profiles (blogs, photo albums, events listings, forums and more) from which they can communicate and interact with other artists as well as safely communicate with fans. Regular users can become fans of the artists as well as establish their own profiles to help promote the artists that they like. The site is currently based in Hong Kong and a majority of the artists on the site are based in mainland and Greater China, but our network of artists and fans is global reaching across to other parts of Asia as well as overseas.
AnD is the combination of Patrick Lee, myself (Stephen Wang) who formerly co-founded RottenTomatoes.com, and Alive, the band comprised of Conroy Chan (陈子聪), Andrew Lin (连凯), Daniel Wu (吴彦祖) and Terence Yin (尹子维). Terence, Patrick, and I all graduated from the University of California, Berkeley around the same time so we form a close core as founders. Terence Yin serves as a principal in the company while the three other Alive members are active partners. Patrick and myself bring proven experience on the web-front with our experiencing building Rotten Tomatoes into one of the most respected and popular web sites for entertainment.
The original AliveNotDead.com webs site is to support and promote the movie, “The Heavenly Kings”. A mockmentary following the rise and fall of the fictitious Hong Kong boyband Alive, the film provided a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges facing artists in Hong Kong. It also provided Hong Kong musicians with a platform to speak their minds about the state of the Hong Kong music scene, many issues of which apply to artists everywhere. While making and promoting “The Heavenly Kings,” Alive came to realize that it was not enough to make a statement regarding the industry if you did not work to address the issues raised. Patrick Lee served as the film’s executive producer and, with Alive, developed the idea to create an online community that would be able to help artists in Hong Kong. The team (which included a number of former Rotten Tomatoes team members) was formed in Hong Kong in January 2007 and the new web site was launched in April 2007.
AnD now has grown to around 800 artists, 200,000 registered members, and is growing at about 2,000 new registered members a day.
2. How can we exactly describe AnD? What’s the challenges operating a artists-centric community?
The closest I can describe it feature-wise is the U.S.-based music service Imeem.com with a stronger sense of community between artists and fans and covering a broader diversity of art forms (music, film, visual arts, and more). This means that we provide the typical features for artists and fans such as blogging, photo albums, events, audio/video media, and forums tied together via a social newsfeed. Users register for free on the site and “become fans” of several of the artists on the site and invite their friends. They then receive updates for these artists, gain access to their latest songs or videos, and discover a plethora of other artists through recommendations or exploration.
I believe that there are a few challenges unique to building a community centered around artists that makes it more challenging but ultimately more rewarding than a traditional SNS. First, artists have greater demands on aesthetics like UI, page design, and customization which is reflected in the unique designs for many of the artist profiles. Second, many of the artists have a much more stringent need for privacy and security; they want to be able to communicate with fans, but a clear line needs to be drawn so as to protect themselves from malicious or unsafe users. Most importantly, however, is the fact artists of all levels have a very strong sense of authenticity — they are constantly aware of when their celebrity is being taken advantage of for harmful or selfish effect and we need to be constantly on-guard to make sure that we follow our commitment to support artists of all levels (and not just the most famous ones) in everything that we do.
3. We saw Jet Li and many other super stars featured on AnD. Does AnD have direct connection with them?
Every artist listed as an official artist has personally consented and maintains their profile online. The official artist designation gives our members assurance that they are reading and responding to the artists themselves.
Besides the Alive boys and Jet Li, AnD now has over 800 official artists of varying levels active on the web site. We initially launched with the four Alive boys, Jet Li, and Kelly Hu (X2: X-Men United, The Scorpion King) and quickly expanded by having artists refer other artists to the site. The first six artists were the founding base because Patrick and I founded the site with the Alive boys and we had already been responsible for the creation and operation of the official web sites for both Jet Li and Kelly Hu for many years. We also decided to launch with these six artists because they each represented a different background: Jet Li has been successful worldwide but is particularly popular in mainland China, the Alive boys including Daniel Wu have become successful in Hong Kong, and Kelly Hu is at the top amongst Asian-American actresses. We wanted the site to reflect an international audience from the start.
Since the founding of the site, we’ve been steadily expanding our reach and now include a diversity of artists including Nicholas Tse (谢霆锋), Vanness Wu (吴建豪), and more. For each of the artists mentioned above, AnD is their primary web site/blog for communicating with their fans.
4. We blogged about NeoCha.com which is based in Shanghai, it is a social networks for artists too. How do you see the competition among the Artists-centric SNSs. Why AnD is unique in Asia market.
A couple of things distinguish us from other competitors:
The community is offered and targeted to a global audience and is available in Simplified and Traditional Chinese as well as English. Many of the artist’s entries are now cross-translated into all three languages as well as Japanese through the help of our awesome volunteer members so that the artists can reach a broader audience than what they might be able to on other sites. This also reflects the fact that Asian filmmakers, musicians, and visual artists are gaining prominence on the world stage and need to access a broader audience in order to continue growing.
Secondly, the site from it’s start was created with the partnership and help of some very prominent Asian artists like Jet Li, Daniel Wu, and others who have provided both invaluable advice as well as artistic credibility. We’ve worked carefully with the artists to make sure that we create a SAFE environment for them to interact with their fans but also cultivate their fan base without brazenly taking advantage of their celebrity status. At the same time, we have endeavoured to make sure that the site is also a platform for emerging artists to connect with each other and with new fans as well.
Finally, we believe that the community in it’s brief one-year life has already played a fundamental positive role in helping our artists:
- Within Hong Kong, we’ve already seen three theatrical films use the site as platform for casting roles in their productions.
- We’ve created the official web sites and online communities for two films, Barbara Wong‘s (黄真真) Sixth Floor Rear Flat 2 (六楼后座2) and Justin Lin‘s (Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift) Finishing the Game.
- We’ve partnered with the Hong Kong Performing Artistes Guild (HKPAG), the largest association of actors and filmmakers with over 800 members and are handling their online web site and communications.
- We’ve sponsored dozens of events around Asia including concerts, art shows, and more and helped artists find a new audience.
It’s these concrete contributions to improving arts culture here in Hong Kong and abroad that makes us postive that we’re on the right path to success.
5. Does AnD organize offline activities too?
We’ve organized a couple of offline activities in the past each which has been done in partnership with a sponsor and in cooperation with some of the artists on our site. This includes our Anniversary Party and a series of art shows/concerts with Diesel here in Hong Kong. This year, we will be bringing more AnD events including CD release parties, concerts, etc… where we bring together additional sponsors with AnD artists. In the meanwhile, we also act as a media sponsor for a large diversity of events (concerts, art showings, artist meetups) every 3 or 4 a week mostly here in Hong Kong.
6. Any future plan you can share with our readers?
We spent the first year of development concentrating on creating a basic platform and testing it with our close artist friends and their fans. Since our first anniversary in May, we’ve been working actively to take this platform and expand the user base and artist-base rapidly so that we can reach a critical mass. Since the anniversary two months ago, our efforts have already paid off with a 250% growth in our registered user and traffic statistics and increasing interest from artists around Asia to participate in the community.
The rest of the year will be spent on managing this rapid growth as well as finding new ways such as virtual gifting, profile customizations, and shared media playlists for fans to more directly help promote the artists in the community. Additionally, while the first year was spent “inside the tornado” meaning that we focused primarily on getting the site built, refined, and ready for broad usage. This year we look forward to working with more partners online and off to help improve the community so I really look forward to meeting other online partners at the OpenWebAsia conference in October.
Finding a ‘large’ social network in China is not a big deal, but finding a special one we have to admit it is very hard. Facebook’s success opens our eyes, but it seems that it also ‘close’ the mind of many of us. Looking like a Facebook and functioning as an open platform, is it really the only path to the success of a social network? Do we have the answer?