Helium delivers a civilized environment for constituents to share their perspectives and learn new viewpoints through online debate. We promote shared knowledge by providing a better understanding of the issues that are raised by our partners ... Our partners get a rich brand experience and all the benefits of a world-class online publishing business, including the visibility of millions. Partners can also receive charitable donations for their cause.
-- Mark Ranalli, in a Nov. 27, 2007, news release about its "charity partnership program."
Photo Linked From: http://blog.irent2u.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/img-1163102649.jpg
With a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Stanford University and an MBA from the Tuck School at Dartmouth College, Mark Ranalli was well qualified for a career on the Internet. Helium Inc., which was founded in 2007, is Mr. Ranalli's third internet startup company. He is currently president and CEO.
Helium is a site which allows members to post articles on various subjects, for a profit. The articles are rated by other Helium members, with the highest-rated articles rising to the top of the pack and earning the most compensation. "The end result is a quality experience," says Mr. Ranalli, who also says the site is "centered around empowering a community."
The site's content is not news, per say, according to Mr. Ranalli, but it is not a blogging or social-networking site either. The content of Helium spans politics, sports, video games and other topics, with many authors weighing in. "A blog is an individual's point of view, a diary of the day," says Mr. Ranalli, pointing out that Helium content is not personal. He says that Helium "augments the media." Mr. Ranalli says he's discussed one idea with public-television's Charlie Rose.
"I've proposed a relationship between Helium and public TV and public radio programs whereby Helium will power their listener / viewer write in activities," Mr. Ranalli said in an email to the Media Giraffe Project. "The concept is to actively invite listeners / viewers to participate in the news by sharing their insights on issues -- and by leveraging the Helium ranking engine - we offer a solution that scales. I'm confident that Helium has a clean solution for powering citizen journalism."
Mr. Ranalli is interested in Helium's technology as a teaching tool. He imagines that students doing a paper would upload it to the Helium site, where they could then read and rank/recommend eachother's papers, not only against their class peers, but against other papers written on a given topic, say, a book review. He sees this as a great way to extend collaboration and distance learning and an example of real-world competition.
He says Helium also provides a relevant vehicle for advertisers, allowing them to post ads on relevant content pages. "Economic success comes from doing something that provides value to consumers," says Mr. Ranalli, describing advertisers and Helium writers and readers as the site's consumers. "We think this model naturally serves."
Off the "target group" they speak to at Helium -- free-lance writers -- about 7% who come to the site actually register, Mr. Ranalli says. Of raw visits who come to the site, 1% end up registering.
Helium writers are rewarded for their content, receiving a portion of the advertising revenue for the site. Writers receive their payment once the revenue attributed to them reaches a $25 threshold, under a complex formula which Ranalli wants kept private so it can't be "gamed."
However, he said some factors include the popularity of the story, how well it is rated from a quality point of view by reader-raters, and also how "valuable it is to advertisers."
"I believe that we live in a society where people are rewarded for their efforts, and not to do so is weird," Mr. Ranalli explains. "We're not suggesting that we're asking people to quit their day jobs, [but] compensation is a form of reward."
According to Mr. Ranalli, Helium's content is what keeps his job interesting from day to day, and he says on his Helium page that neither of his previous start ups "have been as exciting as what we're doing here at Helium. Being a part of Helium is a wonderful experience."
Mr. Ranalli also says that because of his work with Helium, he is "constantly amazed by the quality and creativity of the world."
He said the private placement financing was arranged with the cooperation of Signature Capital. He declined to say how much Helium raised. He completed a 30-city investor roadshow and an SEC-approved private placement raising money from individuals, as little as $25K and as much as $3M.
Mr. Ranalli purchased a core patent and intellectual property behind Helium from an entrepreneur a couple of years ago. the patent involves the idea of side-by-side comparing of two articles and rating them for quality. He says Helium has filed a bunch of additional patent aps for things they've added to that core system, and have started another website, www.ourstage.com for rating independent music. He's considering creating a separate brand for news recommendations and ranking.
Mr. Ranalli is former president of Unify Communications. Prior to Unify, he held positions at Prudential Securities, Anderson Consulting and AT&T.