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The Rise of Thumb


An Interview with Thumb CEO Dan Kurani
Thumb App
Thumb Screenshot Courtesy © 2012 Opinionaided, Inc.
If you ask Dan Kurani about the birth of Thumb, the addictive and oft colorful opinion app for iPhone and Android, he might give you a five-minute jog through his years at Kurani Interactive, a user-experience design shop he launched in 2000 which helped the likes of Nike and Universal Studios. But, in the middle of the conversation, you’ll might also learn Thumb actually owes its existence to a ring finger.

While at work at his agency’s New York headquarters five years ago, a relative reached out via email for his opinion on a ring she was set to purchase. While Kurani answered right away ("because I’m always on" the computer, he quipped), he noticed the days it took before other family chimed in.

And thus in 2010, Thumb was born, then under its former moniker Opinionaided.

"The idea was to put this tool out there that would get the person mobile-based, real-time advice at the point of purchase," Kurani said, in a telephone interview with About.com. "But, suddenly the iPhone came out and we had to rethink the whole thing."

What resulted was an app in which users could ask both friends and the public for opinions on a multitude of subjects, resulting in comments and a thumbs up, down or neutral vote from users.

Opinionaided Grows, Surprises

Once the original iPhone app went live, an exciting, vibrant community grew, surprising Kurani and his team at the willingness of its base to share their opinions with complete strangers.

"We were shocked by a bunch of things when it came out," he said, adding, "One was the sheer volume that came in to these opinion-based questions. We weren’t even looking at a large user base. Almost right out of the gate we were seeing 50 to 100 responses per question. That shocked us, we couldn’t believe it."

Even more surprising, however, was the public nature of the app which was expected to allow people to ask for opinions from largely your own network. But, where the deluge of opinions was unexpected, the necessity for more social interaction was easy to embrace.

Adding a private instant messaging feature in version 2.0 of the app, Kurani said the community became more social with the ability to respond back to people and have a one-on-one conversation.

"[The user base] was much more social ranted and asking about certain interests," he said. "Do you like Green Day? Do you like Michael Jackson? It really embraced that whole social piece and how it is a one to many goes out, and then the ability to have these private one-on-one conversations anchored by the original question."

The Thumb Revolution

After a year as an app, Thumb users have now bypassed Tumblr and Pinterest and come in second to Facebook for average monthly usage, with the average user spending nearly 205 minutes each month on the mobile app.

In addition to embracing an updated Thumb for iPhone app, their enthusiastic user base saw the launch of a Thumb for Android app in October 2011.

While photography-oriented categories reign in the land of Thumb, including art, design and photography, style and fashion, in addition to home and garden, Kurani says it is the realism of people’s answers which have made the service rich and more valuable to others.

"It is such a gut and rapid response, we are finding that people are responding really naturally to issues," he said. "They are not shy about saying what they think on values and beliefs than on superficial things, like shared content."

Opinionaided users were not shy about sharing their opinion of the app’s new name, which was changed in December amid internal concern the name was too hard to spell, and thus, might be losing an opportunity to reach more users.

"We were a little afraid in early December, we thought we would get pretty big backlash, but within a week, we got very little pushback," Kurani said. "We were expecting a thousand or two thousand negative emails, and if we were expecting ten-out-of-ten (negative reaction-to-users), it was more like one-out-of-ten."

Opinionaiders, as they were formerly described themselves, were happy to become Thumbers, adhering stickers of the new brand across things they liked--and didn’t like--and taking to the Web to get others to join in.

"We are proud to tell people the company is called Thumb. It just feels right."

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