TurnTo is turned on!

August 3, 2008 by George Eberstadt

With thanks to our core engineering team, Eric Pederson, John Rauchenberger, and Jan Vejsada, it gives me great pleasure to announce that TurnTo is live!

It’s also particularly great that our first partner is the Earthwatch Institute, where special thanks are due to Kathy Santos and John Jorgenson for making it happen.

It was about 10 months ago that I had some time on my hands and offered to design social features for the Earthwatch site.  Earthwatch is a fabulous organization that enables regular folks to assist environmental scientists with their field research.  After 37 years, Earthwatch has brought about 90,000 people on many hundreds of different research expeditions.  And I cooked up a variety of site features to connect these people with each other.  What proved harder was figuring out how to activate this group to promote Earthwatch to those who were thinking about an expedition but were not yet part of the community – and do this not on other sites, but on Earthwatch’s own site.

I was struck by how often, when I mentioned Earthwatch to people, they’d say, “I’ve been thinking about going on one of their expeditions for ages.  What’s it like?”  Turns out, lots of my friends – people I’d known for a long time – were interested in Earthwatch and just didn’t know that I was a potential source of information until I brought it up.  That’s when the first light bulb went off: what Earthwatch needed was a way to tell prospective volunteers who among their friends are past volunteers.  Then they’d naturally reach out and ask all those nagging questions. (Was the work hard?  Were the crocodiles dangerous?  Did you get to shower?…)  If we could make that connection happen at just the right moment – when the prospect was considering an expedition – we could have a big, positive impact on conversion rates.

The second light bulb followed soon after: Earthwatch isn’t the only organization that can use this – it’s every organization where word-of-mouth plays a role in sales (i.e. just about every one!).  And, in fact, if it’s structured as a unified network, the more organizations that use it, the more valuable it becomes for each of them.  Therefore it made much more sense to approach this as an ASP offering that Earthwatch and others could all subscribe to than to build a one-off, silo’d application just for Earthwatch.

So, since they provided the initial spark that led to TurnTo, it’s particularly satisfying and appropriate that Earthwatch should be our first live partner.  Thanks to Earthwatch, and Happy Birthday TurnTo!