Israeli web-venture helps you find – and rate – the perfect software

Beta Marker ‘has great potential to become the main site for anyone interested in tracking their favorite software or for discovering new software.’Maya Elhalal and her partner, Eyal Ya’akov admit they are quite astonished by the response to their new …

Beta Marker ‘has great potential to become the main site for anyone interested in tracking their favorite software or for discovering new software.’Maya Elhalal and her partner, Eyal Ya’akov admit they are quite astonished by the response to their new website, Beta Marker. Two and a half weeks after launching the software community website, 40,000 users have already signed up, 2,500 software versions have been submitted, and the site has been listed as one of the most popular sites by social bookmarking website del.icio.us.

“What we have achieved in this short time is a surprise even to us,” says 28-year-old Elhalal, the CEO and co-founder of Beta Marker. “We have already passed a few important Internet milestones and have actually had to upgrade our infrastructure servers to handle the traffic, something that we expected to do some three months after the launch. We have to operate really fast to handle the traffic. It is more demand than we could have imagined.”

Beta Marker is designed for software enthusiasts and software early adopters. It enables users to keep track of their favorite software by automatically sending out e-mail alerts whenever there is an update – what is otherwise a bothersome and time-consuming task, and also helps them discover great new software that might be of specific interest to them in the vast sea of new releases now issued daily.

Unlike traditional sites, like download.com, and CNet, Beta Marker users submit software to the site, and they also vote on it. If a sizeable number of users rate it highly, then the software will be promoted to the home page where it can be viewed by everyone. If no one votes for it, then it is dropped from the site.

“This revolutionizes software rating by shifting the power to the community of software lovers,” Elhalal told ISRAEL21c. “The site is completely user driven and the content displayed is at a level of pure democracy. The users control everything, from submitting the software – whether it’s a new software from Skype, or a great new software developed by a one-geek team – and the users vote on it. It’s true majority rule.”

At present sites like download.com rely heavily on sponsored listings. If you are looking for video conferencing software, for example, the software you see first on the list is sponsored. “It’s not necessarily the best software on the market, or the best value for money, or even rated the best by the user,” says Elhalal. “At Beta Marker, the screening is done for you. The software on our site is the best of the best.”

For example, the site encourages users to report any problems they experience with the software. If five users report problems with a specific software then it is automatically removed from the site. “We don’t regulate the content at all,” says Elhalal. “We feel the community of software enthusiasts can do the best job according to their needs and opinions.”

The site also includes a social networking platform, allowing members to contact people with similar interests, create a network of friends, and share information on software. “The more users who join it, and create networks of friends, the better the site is. You discover new software from friends who share the same interests and that you trust.

Unlike other sites, Beta Marker also welcomes software still at beta stage. “This really answers the needs of software early adopters,” says Elhalal. “No other site does this.”

Elhalal, who proudly calls herself a computer geek and admits she spends over 12 hours a day at the screen, has been working in the Internet sector since 2004, when she and Ya’akov founded a private company called Site on Spot.

The company’s first product was Spotfolio, which offers professional photographers a chance to build a great looking web site to display their pictures even if they have no technical knowledge themselves. Photographers pay for the sites on a monthly basis and edit the site themselves.

Next came Ad on Spot, which manages the advertising for highly trafficked web sites. The venture specializes in non-intrusive, highly targeted advertising. Today Site on Spot manages the advertising for a network of 10 million unique users per month, and has 100 million page views per month. The product has been profitable since the start.

Elhalal and Ya’akov, who is the company’s CTO, came up with the idea for Beta Marker while working on Ad on Spot. “We rely on software to perform our work in every space,” says Elhalal. “Today when new software is being introduced on a daily basis it has become impossible to track your favorite software through all its new versions. We wanted to create a site that would do that for us.”

Site on Spot began working on Beta Marker earlier this year. The site cost $50,000 to develop, money that came solely from the revenues of Ad on Spot. It took two and a half months to build and complete the site. “A larger company would have taken at least a year,” says Elhalal.

She credits the speed at which the site was built to the start-up spirit at Site on Spot, where she and Ya’akov often worked until 3 or 4am at night, and then passed the work on to a team of developers based in Vietnam, who began work at around 5am. “We used the whole 24 hours,” she explains.

The staff at Site on Spot is small – there are just two developers employed by the company. This is deliberate, says Elhalal. “We know our competitive edge is in being agile,” she says. “It’s not the big that ate the small, it’s the fast that ate the slow. We do everything we can to keep ourselves as agile as possible.”

Hence, the headquarters of Site on Spot are in Israel, but the design for Beta Marker was done in Belgium, development was carried out in Israel and Vietnam, and the site itself is being hosted on the West Coast of the US. “We outsource as much as possible, and go wherever we can to find the most cost-effective and fastest way,” says Elhalal.

The company plans to market Beta Marker through viral marketing – keeping costs low – and to make money through on site advertising. “We realize that what works best for both our users and advertisers is highly targeted and relevant advertising. This way the ad itself has added value and high conversion rates,” says Elhalal.

In addition to the betamarker.com site, Site on Spot, has also developed a new Chinese site, betamarker.cn, which offers both Chinese and English language software to the Chinese market.

It’s the first time that Elhalal and Ya’akov have approached China, but Elhalal says she is confident that it will do well. “There is great potential in the Chinese market,” she says, quoting figures released in June that show there are now 123 million Internet users in China, and the Internet penetration rate is less than 10%. In the US, for instance, there are 230 million Internet users, but penetration rates are 70%.

Site on Spot aims to share content from betamarker.com with betamarker.cn, and hopes that Chinese users will eventually start to translate English language software into Chinese. “We believe that software early adapters in China will enjoy our democratic model,” says Elhalal.

Elhalal has high hopes for the future of Beta Marker and believes it will reach break-even point within the next three months. “I think it’s really going to pick up within the community of software enthusiasts and users,” she says. “This has great potential to become the main site for anyone interested in tracking their favorite software or for discovering new software.”


About Nicky Blackburn

Editor and Israel Director, Nicky Blackburn has worked extensively as a journalist and editor both in Britain and Israel for a range of national and international publications including The Cambridge Evening News, London News, Travel Weekly, Israel High Tech Investor, and The Times of London. She was the Associate Editor at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine, and the High-Tech Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.