Fast Company

Barry Diller, IAC Launch Proust, A Social Network For Nostalgic Seniors

Most social networks are aimed at the young. Not so for Proust.com, a memory-sharing service that collects remembrances of things past.

Social networks are a dime a dozen these days--we have services for text-message sharing, photo sharing, location sharing, and more. But while social media sites typically go after a younger generation of early adopters, a new service out Tuesday is decidedly going after the opposite demographic.

Today, Barry Diller's IAC unveiled Proust.com, a memory-sharing service targeting nostalgic seniors heading into their twilight years. The private social network, named for French novelist Marcel Proust, is modeled after the "Proust Questionnaire," and designed to help family members and close friends tell their life stories. Like many services launching recently, such as Percolate, Proust tries to solve the age-old issue of writing in the blank white box. That is, Proust helps facilitate content creation from its users by creating topic prompts based on the "Proust Questionnaire." Rather than leave sharing in the hands of otherwise un- tech-savvy elders, Proust helps the process move along with questions: What is your most memorable birthday? When was your first kiss? And so on. It's like Quora, but for questions about your personal life. And you're the only expert.

The idea came to cofounder and CEO Tom Cortese after his grandmother passed away. "I had just lost [her]--we watched her battle dementia, and there, it was just this process of seeing memories go by the wayside," he recalls. "It was like, god dammit, there were so many stories I wish I knew about her life. What was it like growing up in Italy? What was it like going to an American school in the Bronx? When did you learn to drive? All these interesting tidbits that I wished I asked her [when she was alive]."

It's a unique twist on a ubiquitious technology. Sure we've all had access to memory-sharing services--Facebook, for one--but rarely have these services helped its users craft a status update or tweet or blog post.

"If you've ever had to write in a journal, you open it up and stare at blank pages--and then continue to stare at blank pages," Cortese says. "What we set out to do was come up with a way to actually help you tell your story."

But the real secret sauce of Proust is the various ways it enables users to tell their story. In addition to question-and-answer prompt feeds, Proust divides your life story into a series of chapters--a digital autobiography, if you will, called "Storybook View" that can be purchased by its users as an e-book or physical copy. The chapters can also be viewed on a map by location or on a timeline by milestones (first job, college graduation, etc.), offering a clever visual mechanism for telling one's life story.

Proust will inevitably have a social graph unlike any other social network--likely an older demographic, of course, but one with an incredibly intimate social fabric that taps into the irresistible feelings of nostolgia. Consider it the "Benjamin Button" of social networks.

[Image: Flickr user Caro Wallis]

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8 Comments

  • Doug Picirillo

    Proust.com is now something else - an a for an iOS game app called "Proust." What does anybody know about Diller's site and what has happened to the content that was onit?

  • Ann

    Folks, the company is Proust.com  (see article). You have to go there to fill in their story blanks. It's about as interesting as white bread but ymmv.  I suggest adding genetic testing to family history. See www.23andme.com to find relatives, lose them (genes don't lie), and add your genetic history to your memories. I'm a boomer but this site doesn't work for me. It's kindergarten on steroids method of asking q's is patronizing in my opinion.  Did anyone over the age of 35 design this? It sounds like a 20 something's idea of how to talk to people over 50, i.e. as if early onset dementia has set in.

  • Bette Boomer

    We like this! Proust is the Cliff Notes or Spark Notes of oral history! It’s
    important to gather stories about that pedigreed star or rogue on a limb of
    your family tree before it’s too late. On our website, we’ve reviewed
    storytelling and preserving life stories like Anita Hecht’s “Life History
    Services,” “Personal Historians” and “Family Search” for baby boomers, boomer
    kids and boomer parents to sleuth and preserve family stories. Proust sounds
    ideal to capture them on the National Day of Listening, the day after
    Thanksgiving when families gather together - or anytime.