While frequenting a coffee shop called Wick’s, I sometimes run into Michelle Mollineaux, CEO and Co-Founder of KoolProjects. A fledgling social media platform, KoolProjects allows users to showcase projects in progress—whether that’s antique car repair or a painting or historical building preservation—through images and text. I e-mailed Michelle the following questions, and she sent me this response:
CH: Can you describe how you approached designing KoolProjects?
MM: Customer driven design – we wanted to make sure that we were capturing the core workflows of our users and then incrementally building/adding/changing as we grew the product. We didn’t want to spend a ton of money building out a huge application only to find out that we had captured the wrong workflows or worse, in the time it took us to get to market – the features we built were no longer relevant. So we spent a lot of time talking to our potential market, understanding how they approached their products, what were important to them, and how they wanted to do things and then we captured that as part of our website workflows. Obviously, it’s a work in progress and as we gain more users, we learn and build/adapt the product to ensure that we adapt with our customers.
CH: What are you hoping that KoolProjects will offer people that they cannot get elsewhere? What makes it stand out?
MM: With KoolProjects – the focus is on the project and how to showcase the project. Unlike other sites that allow you to upload pictures of a project as part of your personal activities or profiles – with KoolProjects – it’s about the project and not about the person behind the project. By focusing on the project, we allow people to build communities of interest around common topics that are driven around common subjects/hobbies. It doesn’t matter if you know the owner of the 1969 Mustang restoration project because you the common interest is around the 1969 Mustang and not the owner of it. Obviously, we know that having these common interest leads to building more social networks and strong social bonds but that is a secondary effect of KP. The primary effect is building a community around a common interest first and then from there building a social network/relationship
CH: What was the biggest challenge you had when you were designing or planning the platform, and how did you overcome that?
MM: The biggest challenge was understanding the various project owners workflows and how to create a common approach to their workflow from a design and development perspective. Everyone’s project is unique and they approach from a unique perspective – once we mapped out the workflows of the various target customers we were going after, we were able to identify the common workflows/behaviours and move beyond the project/subject specific terminology. After we mapped out the flows, we ran it by the various target users to see if they could complete the various tasks specific to their project and from there we approached it iteratively to make sure we were fine tuning as much as we could given our available time and resources
CH: What do you have in mind for KoolProjects in the next few months?
MM: Obviously the number one thing is to expose more people to KoolProjects and get them to show case their projects on the site. Beyond that, we want to continue to evolve the product by moving into the mobile space using the same methodology we did with the website to ensure that we were capturing the core customer workflows that they would do on a mobile device, understanding that the mobile and desktop and tablet experience will be different and optimizing for each device.
I was interested in two things in particular: the focus on studying workflows and the focus on project rather than person. A lot of the social media we’ve discussed in this class has been built around a certain social identity (Facebook and LinkedIn making this especially central to their platform); Michelle emphasized that KoolProjects is not headed in this direction. We met in person on 20 February so that I could ask some follow-up questions on these topics.
Michelle told me that what she thinks sets KoolProjects apart from competitors like Behance is the mix of text and image. Behance does not allow written descriptions of the project, relying entirely on visuals; further, Adobe has purchased Behance and has largely restructured it so that it is no longer as useful for traditional artists.* KoolProjects is hospitable to a number of media and also gives users space to describe their work in text, creating rapport with site visitors and explaining what makes this art significant. However, KoolProjects is still quite visually-oriented: Michelle says an author had asked if the platform would work for his novel, but she was skeptical. (I am remembering the conversations we’ve been having in this class about the Internet’s trend towards visual rather than textual content: this seems to help most people access that content better, but some people—Megan included, I think?—find it far easier to handle text.)
I asked about the focus on the project over the person behind it, and whether she thought that was a risk. Michelle had no qualms, though: KoolProjects gives people a place to showcase their passion, something desperately needed. Facebook requires that you know the person already in order to access their content. KoolProjects will allow you to search by project type, rather than the person behind it. (It has since occurred to me that if users are not using KoolProjects to convey personal information, the sort of security protocols associated with Facebook aren’t necessary; this means that KoolProjects, much like Flickr, doesn’t have the same issues with searchability that something like Facebook might.) Of course, once you have found a project, you can get to know the person behind it, she said. For instance, with a paid membership you can have multiple public projects all linked through your profile. The person isn’t irrelevant, then, but their projects are both the focus and the entry point.
In terms of revenue, KoolProjects is currently focused more on growing users than making profit; there is currently some advertising, and paid memberships confer certain options that free memberships do not. In the future, there will be options for buying and selling finished projects through the platform and ordering photobooks, both of which will contribute to KoolProjects’ revenue stream.
Thinking about the examples Michelle mentioned, I suggested that what counts as a “project” might be wider than she had been thinking. After all, users often find uses for social media that the designers hadn’t anticipated. That reminded Michelle of a grant agency that approached them; the agency is considering making KoolProjects a mandatory component of the grant recipients’ work, so that the agency can keep tabs that the restoration work is coming along rather than relying on infrequent scheduled updates. In general, KoolProjects could be helpful for users looking to keep themselves accountable, transparent, or communicative.
Besides more options for generating revenue, KoolProjects is also looking to develop a discussion section attached to projects over which the users have moderation privileges; Michelle says this should help generate engagement with the project and keep interest high.
Michelle has since informed me of the following:
KoolProjects has also built an enterprise solution for government, corporations and schools that have larger projects. KoolProjects has recently secured its first pilot project in collaboration with the Richmond School District 38, RMCP and Rick Hansen. This particular project will be private as it will be used for Grade 12 Students and is FOIPPA (Freedom Of Information and Privacy Act) compliant which allows schools, colleges and universities to use the platform for their students.
If you have any questions, you can contact KoolProjects directly or you can send the questions to me and I will pass them on to Michelle. Also, feel free to think out loud in the comments: I think there are lots of ways this platform intersects with some of the things we’ve discussed in class that I’ve barely touched on (identity, revenue, measures of success, unexpected affordances, emerging platforms).
I was not in any way paid to write this review, nor given any compensation by KoolProjects or its affiliates.
*Traditional artist is an industry term for people working in physical materials—paint, sculpture, etc.—as compared to a digital artist, who uses software like Photoshop to create images. At least, that’s how my brother and his friends, all professional artists, use the terms.
Mollineaux, Michelle. “Interview.” Message to the author. 20 February 2015. E-mail.
Mollineaux, Michelle. Personal interview. 20 February 2015.
Mollineaux, Michelle. “RE: KoolProjects – Blog.” Message to the author. 15 March 2014. E-mail.