August 15, 2011

TwitPic Founder Noah Everett Takes on Twitter

Brendan Kearney  /  Post and Courier

Daniel Islander's Heello aimed at 1-stop networking

Charleston tech entrepreneur Noah Everett's first big hit, the photo- sharing service Twitpic, explicitly cooperated with microblogging giant Twitter and garnered more than 25 million users. His company also has earned millions in advertising revenue, enough to bankroll his next project. Everett won't say it exactly, but instead of cooperating with Twitter this go-round, the 27-year-old Daniel Island resident seems more interested in competing – or surpassing.

In Everett's words, the idea is to take a service like Twitter and "evolve on it" by bringing together all the features people use on different sites, like publicizing where they are in real time and finding people with the same interests. "It's very confusing for users," Everett said Friday. "Like, why can't I do this from one single service?"

Say hello to Heello. For now, Heello has a strikingly similar user interface and functionality to Twitter. Like Twitter, Heello users communicate 140 characters at a time, either publicly or privately, and the record of their entries bits runs down the screen, alongside the profile of the author.

The main differences at this point appear superficial: entries are called "Pings" instead of "Tweets"; users "listen" to rather than "follow" each other and "Echo" each other's Pings instead of "Retweet" them; and Heello's look is even more basic than Twitter's famously stripped-down screen appearance.

The similarities have raised eyebrows this week among techies who have wondered if Heello is Everett's revenge – joke or serious – for Twitter's decision to create its own photo-sharing feature. That service, launched Tuesday, would compete with third-party applications like Twitpic.


Everett insists Heello is "for real" and disputes the revenge theory, saying he holds "no ill will toward Twitter."

"We understand whole-heartedly that they own the platform," he said. "The only part that was confusing to developers like us is that Twitter said they want to develop a healthy ecosystem for the developers. "We would've appreciated a little more of a heads-up," Everett said.

Heello and Twitter are "going in different directions," Everett said. To ensure they are different enough, Everett said he has consulted with attorneys along the way "to make sure we were making a unique product ... and they gave us the go ahead." Twitter did not return a request for comment last week.

Everett admits the service is pretty "bare bones" to start, but stay tuned, he says. "We've got a lot of stuff coming out very soon that will set this service apart from everything else out there."

The Heello team – which is the same as the Twitpic team for now, including Everett's parents – is working on an iPhone and an Android app, which will enable a "checking in" function. Such a feature, popularized by foursquare and Facebook, would allow a user to tell friends that he is at the Starbucks in Mount Pleasant, Everett said.

"Channels" is another feature Everett hopes to release this month.

The idea is a user would be able to go to, say,, and find all the Heello users who love dogs.

Whereas the Internet at large is like an "open fire hose" that inundates us with information every day, Everett said, channels on Heello "kind of categorize everything that's going on while cutting down on the noise."

New direction

The launch of Heello comes a year after the company of the same name was founded, and like Twitpic before it, what the service is or should be has changed over that period. Just a month ago, Everett Tweeted, "New direction for @Heello" and on August 1, he wrote, "The old Heello is no more, but the new Heello is coming soon..."

As of mid-Friday afternoon, Heello had more than 140,000 users and had reached 1 million Pings, Everett said (and then Pinged). The site has been gaining two or three users a second, Everett said, keeping him and his colleagues busy accommodating the growth.

When Twitpic launched in February 2008, it was a side project for Everett while he was working a full-time programming job. He enlisted his parents as employees and only went full-time himself the following February. While his parents also are involved in Heello, he has other help already and is looking for more.

"We're looking for a lot more engineers and customer service," he said.

Everett is eyeing regional tech-savvy cities like Charlotte and Atlanta for talent but said he would be open to Charleston employees, too. He's looking at office space on the peninsula and envisions interns from the College of Charleston.

Twitpic is still going strong, Everett said, with some 40,000 new users every day, and between $10 million and $20 million in annual revenue. Everett has resisted buyout offers so far but isn't entirely opposed to the idea.

Once he gets settled into managing his new major project, Heello, Everett said he wants to put some deeds behind his "nice guy" image.

"We want to give back to Charleston and the surrounding area," he said of his company and parents, who plan to move to the Lowcountry soon. Everett wants to set up a nonprofit arm of Heello that helps other nonprofits with technology. He also plans to use his money to find "needs and gaps around the area" and "be the glue in the middle."

All this is good news for Charleston, because Everett, who was born in North Carolina and spent most of his life to date in Oklahoma before moving back east in 2009 for the water and climate, plans on sticking around.

"This is home for good for me unless something drastic happens," he said.