Monday, May 20, 2013
Call Fipeo.com a cross between Facebook and Skype and Tom Houge bristles.
Tom Houge, a Cape Elizabeth native, is co-developing Fipeo, a social networking website that will help users find people with similar interests and talk to them via video.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Houge, the site's founder, said he sees Fipeo as the opposite of Facebook, and the only similarity to Skype is video technology.
But even as he dismisses the comparison, Houge, 21, hopes Fipeo takes off like those sites because that would turn him into the latest social media mogul.
Houge, a 2008 graduate of Cape Elizabeth High School, said the site will be a place for people to talk, face-to-face, to others with similar interests.
While Facebook offers a way for people to stay up to date on what's happening within a circle of friends, largely via text, Houge said Fipeo provides an opportunity for users to get outside their own circle, meet new people with shared interests and do so by actually talking to each other via video links.
The site is in beta testing now, Houge said, but visitors to Fipeo.com -- the name stands for "find people" and the "eo" evokes "video," he said -- will find an animation offering an explanation of how it will work.
People can also sign up for the waiting list to join the site once it's fully launched, he said, adding that thousands are already on the list. Those who get others to sign up for the waiting list can gain immediate access as beta users.
Houge noted that Fipeo doesn't break new ground technologically, but said it uses that technology in a revolutionary way, pointing it toward a different end than many similar sites.
For instance, Facebook and Skype have a partnership, but Houge noted that most people "converse" on Facebook either by commenting on others' status updates or through a text-based chat feature.
He said Fipeo's approach and the idea of actually talking to and seeing other people has gained traction. The animation explaining the site has been viewed in the U.S. and overseas, attracting particular attention in Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and India.
The waiting list includes not only Americans, but also prospective users in 75 countries.
And Fipeo is in the hunt for not only a substantial cash boost, but also a lot of exposure among an influential group with a strong showing in the Intel Innovators competition.
The computer chip maker invited people with fresh tech ideas to submit their proposals in November.
The top 20 ideas are on Intel's Facebook page (http://apps.facebook.com/intelinnovators/) for people to indicate which ideas they especially like.
Even though Fipeo was posted several weeks after the site went up, it's currently in fifth place in the competition -- and there's $100,000 at stake, half to be awarded by a panel of judges and the other half based on the number of "likes" the ideas get on Facebook.
For all that attention and potential, Fipeo had a rather modest beginning.
Houge, a National Merit Scholar who has put off college to work on the site, said he hit on the idea for Fipeo while sailing around the world last year during a University of Virginia "semester at sea" program.
At one point, he said, the students on the trip were talking about entrepreneurial ideas, and Houge and a friend, Jeff Lucas, were talking about the dozens of languages they had heard on their trip and how it was much easier to pick up a language by listening and watching people converse.
"There are more than a billion people trying to learn a language," Houge said, and thinking about how people do that intrigued him because he was always interested in how the brain worked. But he also realized that a site that allows people to find shared interests and converse with each other is more than a tool for learning a language.
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