He served as CTO for a premier conference company and grew projects valued at up to $1 billion.

So why did Charles Thiede use paternity leave to quieten the Internet?

“Google+ has 400 million registered users,” he says. “Facebook has 1 billion users. The user is the product. I use these tools, get value from them for what they are, but they don’t necessary create value to my brain or my experience professionally. They don’t help me solve problems or collaborate on a challenging topic that resonates for me.”

“Knowledge without the noise”

Following his daughter’s birth, Thiede expanded upon a keynote speech from futurist Gerd Leonhard about the “walled garden concept.” Its premise held that user created content was now driving the Internet, but not adding its full value. Thiede aimed to build an online marketplace to offer industry experts their own blueprint platforms, where they can product great content in a space accessible to new and returning audiences.

Leonhard became one of the first “super geniuses” on Thiede’s new startup. Now beyond beta mode, Zapnito is a social platform run on “networked knowledge,” defined by Thiede as “delivering niche networks of knowledge on specific subjects and/or within specific communities of experts.”

On Zapnito, businesses and industry experts can create, share, and sell their knowledge using the site as a privately branded platform. This takes Zapnito beyond the publisher realm; it’s really a software-as-a-service provider, in talks with several brands about how to bring great content directly to those who seek certain expertise.

“We are speaking with a consultancy that focuses on outsourcing,” Thiede explains. “They want to use our privately branded platform to provide expertise through to their customers and potential customers. This is a very niche topic, but huge organizations need this information, and Zapnito gives this consultancy a global presence as well as more credibility in their market.”

Equal opportunity?

The concept of Zapnito is less about what users see on the site at present. Thiede says that will evolve as “geniuses” from Leonhard to companies like Deloitte create unique knowledge networks to communicate with customers and build their own marketplaces.

“Geniuses” on the “Super” and “Micro” levels must apply to be featured, and are categorized based on their followings. “Super Geniuses” like Leonhard are those who bring published books, paid keynote speeches, and several thousand online fans to Zapnito. “Micro Geniuses” are those who aren’t yet stars in their realms of expertise, but have useful knowledge to share with a target audience.

Screen Shot 2013 08 31 at 16.50.56 730x517 Niche networks: Why Zapnito wants to quieten the Web

When asked if the notion of niche networks and knowledge hierarchies is exclusionary, Thiede replies that each genius has control. Once accepted to be featured on Zapnito, geniuses control how many followers, or “apprentices,” can join their unique networks.

“We believe quality comes from having the right experts deliver their knowledge to people who want to consume that knowledge,” Thiede says. “So we aren’t like Quora where everyone asks a question and everyone answers it.”

“While some of the experts on the platform have large online followings, others are just starting to build their brand and presence online,” adds Dana Reeves, chief orchestrator at Cadenza Marketing Group . “Zapnito supports either scenario with features and tools that help the expert grow in a way that fits with their strategy.

“It also enables them to create smaller sub-groups of followers, building a closer-knit community around very niche areas. For example, a social media expert may have 25,000+ blog subscribers, and they could create a smaller niche space on Zapnito focused solely on using Pinterest in business.”

Business benefits

Reeves was introduced to Thiede through a colleague who thought she could grow Zapnito with her expertise. Her presence on Zapnito as a Marketing & Branding Strategist has done more than expand her business-it also offers UX perspective.

“[Zapnito has] challenged me to look at things not just from a marketing perspective, but from a user experience standpoint as well,” Reeves says. “My involvement has also resulted in some fascinating conversations about knowledge sharing and networking, and the importance of engaging with your audience on a regular basis.

“What I like most about Zapnito is that it is intentionally not like other platforms where you have to post with such high frequency and with a megaphone if you don’t want to get lost. I can be very niche and strategic with what I post on Zapnito.”

Mentorship megaphone

Mark Carter agrees. Well before digital storytelling arrived in current form, the Chicago entrepreneur used ONE80 to integrate storytelling into brand marketing . His work with ONE80 exudes passion for mentorship, and involves reaching a community that values it as well. He uses Zapnito to offer strategies for mentors and mentees alike, and joined due to how Reeves pitched it to him.

“[Zapnito is] all about sharing information online, creating connections, and helping other people find opportunities to mentor and be mentored,” Carter says. “The end result isn’t about closing sales and business development in a financial sense; it’s about the challenge and opportunity to create content that the Zapnito communities can use in their daily lives to grow professionally. Because people like the information-and can use it-readers reach out to me with business opportunities.”

Quality, not quantity

Thiede isn’t fussed by a hard number of geniuses or apprentices. He keeps the initial network small, focusing on people like Leonhard, Reeves, and Carter who have joined not for the exposure Zapnito will offer, but because they share Thiede’s value for networked knowledge. Sans banners, spam, and other advertising, Zapnito aims to give collective knowledge a boost by being the first social network to value it.

“[The growth of user content] is not a bad thing, but the noise level has become so high, and the web has lost its way a bit,” Thiede says. “We think the next exciting wave of the Internet will come from more and more collective intelligence-and Zapnito is a solution to get us there.”

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