Internet mania is in full swing, and Williams graduates continue to be at the leading edge of the craze. Following in the footsteps of Steve Case ‘80, founder of America Online and Bo Peabody ’94, founder of Tripod is Peter Siniawer ’97 and his new website YourCompass.com.
Siniawer, who is president of YourCompass.com, along with classmate Paul Ham ’97, who is vice-president, are the company’s founders. The two are billing the site as “the world’s first truly personalized Internet hub, navigation tool and search engine.”
Siniawer has already set his sights on such internet heavyweights as Yahoo! which has established itself as one of the web’s leading portals. In a telephone interview he noted that “the difference between us and Yahoo! is that unlike Yahoo! where everything is very general, the idea behind YourCompass.com is that everything we do is personal.
“While other portals just throw links at you without much thought of who you are, YourCompass.com seeks out the places on the web that interest you as an individual,” he said.
Siniawer described the site’s personalization by saying, “As members use the site more and more, YourCompass.com learns about their individual interests and preferences, and uses that knowledge to make their experiences more dynamic, more interactive, and more tailored. We’re turning the one-way street of information that other portals have into a two-way street-true personalization.”
In their attempt to “reinvent the portal” by making it more personal, Siniawer and Ham have drawn upon several techniques.
Their first innovation is called YourLinks.
Ham explained YourLinks as working “based on your individual interests and how you interact with the site. YourLinks, as well as search results, will be different for every individual user.”
The second major personalization feature is the search engine.
“With Yahoo! you get the same stuff back whether or not you are a 75-year old man or a 23-year old female,” Siniawer explained. “There is no reason why two people searching for things on the web should necessarily get the same thing.”
Siniawer thinks that a personalized search engine will be a major advantage for users who are looking to do research on the web.
In response to how other search engines work for research, Siniawer said, “They don’t lead the user. They don’t give the user direction. The thing about YourCompass.com is that we help users find their direction.”
Siniawer is planning an aggressive ad campaign that will focus on Internet advertising in the short term and move to print advertising this summer.
The sight is being geared for the power-user as well as the novice. As well as offering YourLinks and personalized searches, it has topical navigation areas that currently include news, entertainment, business, education, sports, shopping, travel and health and science.
Along with these features, Siniawer hopes that YourCompass.com will foster an online community through its offerings of free e-mail, chat rooms and message boards. The site also has access to up-to-date information such as weather, daily horoscopes, movie listings, zip codes and white pages.
Before founding YourCompass.com, Siniawer worked for a year as a Mergers and Acquisitions Analyst at Lazard Freres and Ham continues to work as a programmer for Amazon.com. The two lived together for both their sophomore and senior years at Williams.
According to Siniawer, funding for the project has come from individual investors many of whom are Williams alums. “We were very successful with our first round of financing, and will be working on a larger, second round over the next few months that will hopefully take the company to the next level,” Siniawer said.
Siniawer is hoping that advertising will be the main source of revenue, but the two will also be looking at revenue sharing agreements with e-commerce companies and other, alternative, and not yet fully explored sources of revenue.
As far as how Williams helped shape this project, Siniawer said, “I think the experience overall at Williams helped me, and people that I work with, to really think, analyze and understand what is out there, what the problems are and what a product can do to address those issues.”
“The professors I had, the classes I took, whether it was Constitutional Law or Chemistry-all of them contributed to teaching me to analyze,” Siniawer said.