Sunday 27 May 2007

So, how did the Vottle project begin and why ?

by Ronnie Apteker

A bunch of us at Internet Solutions have been exploring and investigating where the buzz online is happening for as long as we can remember. The Net certainly is going through a second wave of explosive activity in the area of social networking, mash-ups, online video, VOIP, etc. One area that really captured our imaginations was in the user-driven content arena, and Craigslist was our catalyst here. We were all amazed at how this phenomena has taken shape and we decided we were going to have some fun and try and break some ground here at the tip of Africa.

The Vottle project is exactly that, a project. There is no income generation and there is no business model. There is just a vision, a passion and a bunch of goals. For a start, we have a very long list of technical stuff we want to roll out over the next 6 months. Our mission is to try and establish an online brand here in South African and to grow some critical mass in the classifieds space. It is not an easy task as the competition is intense and our time and resources are limited. But we are having fun and we are meeting our deadlines, well, almost (we keep coming up with new features to add all the time).

Internet Solutions (IS) has always been an inspired and colourful place and we have tackled a bunch of unusual projects over the years. From the comedy fund raiser, Laugh Out Loud, to our involvement with the Heartlines project, the list goes on and on. But we got thinking last year: let’s go back to our roots and take on a technical challenge. And after much soul searching it was decided that the online classifieds space represented the greatest challenge and the had the most potential for us to weave some high-tech magic.

IS is an intense business. It is filled with eccentric and smart people and there is a constant energy in the air. The pressure never ends and the Vottle project gives us a chance to focus on something that is not part of the bottom line. It is a vehicle for expression and it is an opportunity to push the envelope. Yeah, we dig it. We love giving Vottle demos. People are amazed at the integration into eBucks, for example, or the ease at which it allows you to make a posting.

The name Vottle has raised a bunch of questions. Yes, it is a quirky name, but then so is Google and Yahoo, etc. We wanted something that had a unique sound to it, we wanted something in the .COM space, and we wanted something that sounded like a verb as well as a noun. So, the saying became “Just Vottle it”.

Another question we get asked is “Why is this free?”. Like I said, this is a project, an experiment of sorts, a vehicle for us to have fun. Perhaps in time, if we ever do gather some mass, we can look at income generation, but that is years off. For now, we want to keep adding new features and we want to keep the content growing, ie, we want to get people to post more and more stuff. The more adverts we have on Vottle, the more there is for people to explore. User-driven content is a fascinating domain and we are hoping that the Vottle project will provide us with some new insights over time.

We are very happy with what has been built so far. The technology we have in place is cool. It work well and it is fast. We have had very few bug reports. And, we hardly ever get support queries on how to make postings etc. In fact, the most common question we get asked is “Is this really free?”.

Our current work is focused on rolling out a feed from This is a big win/win scenario. We get to aggregate content and gets to extend their service offering. We aim to aggregate content in some of the other popular classifieds categories, namely, motor vehicles and jobs. Also, the category of electronics and computers is something else we will consider soon with respect to aggregation. After this, our next big milestone is to put an API in place to allow for the integration of Vottle adverts into corporate intranets. We envision rolling out a free corporate service whereby a company’s intranet can have a classifieds section with adverts that are powered by Vottle. This is all about establishing a brand and pushing the envelope.