NEWS

Innovative new site attracts record visits

About a year ago, Maria turned to her colleague at the next desk and asked, «What are you playing?» «Scrabble,» he replied, «I found it on a new site, zoo.gr. See for yourself.» That was it. The word was out on the new Greek website, and the news went around the office faster than the hottest gossip. Since then the game has become the antidote to boredom in downtime and the cause of not a few reprimands from bosses. Publicized through word of mouth, zoo.gr has become the most popular online meeting point in Greece in just two-and-a-half years. Last month more the site received more than 250,000 individual hits, a massive number for a Greek website. Recently, zoo.gr won first prize in its category at the 2006 Ermis Awards, which are organized every year by the Union of Advertising Communication Companies and are the leading prize for creativity in Greece. The award takes into account the content, originality, design and usefulness of the site. For those who are not familiar with it, zoo.gr is a communication platform along the lines of American networking sites, but it is not just a place to meet people. Once visitors log on, they can communicate for free with the rest of the community in eight different ways, from discussion forums and chat rooms to multiplayer games and dating. Each one is the most popular of its type in Greece and the chat service is the busiest Greek site on the Internet. In the summer of 2004, when Michalis Nafpliotis, Dimitris Banis and Costas Hadzikokolakis started up zoo.gr more as an experiment than as a business move, they had no idea how big it would get. Now, aged 35, 28 and 25 respectively, they can pride themselves on having created a highly successful and profitable enterprise. «We were all involved with the Internet [Banis and Hadzikokolakis are programmers and Nafpliotis has a physics degree], and we were keeping a close watch on international developments,» Nafpliotis told Kathimerini. «That was when the first social networking sites started up in the US. So we thought we could do something like that ourselves.» The preparation took nine months and their initial capital was no more than -20,000. «We created the site with our own work, our own ideas and knowledge. The capital all went on advertising,» he explained. «And that’s because to get such an endeavor going you need a critical mass of users from the outset. Then the visitors who were satisfied took over the advertising themselves.» Besides, the content of the site is provided by the visitors. «Basically the site has no content; the users create it. We make use of their collective brilliance and give them the opportunity to put their personal stamp on the site,» said Nafpliotis. A vital element in the success of zoo.gr is that it is the first Greek website to abolish the request-response model. Users communicate in real time, and they can run many applications simultaneously in a single environment. «In contrast with American sites, we tried to invest in simplicity. We created a ‘clean’ environment which is reminiscent of a computer desktop, so that each user can easily manage it. Yes, we closely follow developments on the international market, but we create applications in out own way,» Nafpliotis said. The site’s popularity has attracted the interest of advertisers, who now vie for space on it, but 75 percent of income derives from the subscriber services it offers. «Someone can search and play for free, but the key to success is that we have given users many degrees of freedom to use the services in their own way,» he said. Currently the most popular applications on zoo.gr are the games and the chat facility. That may change with the introduction of new services. «There will be new games, schoolmates applications (for connecting with old classmates and friends), blogs and more, and we are preparing version of zoo in other languages.»