MOLI's $30m privacy-based network de-cloaks in Dublin, then de-robes a new user

A lot of people this side of the Atlantic are sitting around scratching their heads as we learn that Ireland-based MOLI has – as if it were a Klingon starship in an episode of Star Trek – ‘de-cloaked’ in the middle of Dublin with a brand new kind of social network and almost 60 staff on its books. Who knew?

It turns out US-based Mainstream Technologies, which runs MOLI from its international headquarters in Dublin’s ‘Digital Hub’ area, raised almost €20.3m ($29.6m) from backers including the founder of the giant US Home Depot chain Bernard Marcus, and the chain’s co-founder, Kenneth Langone. They were joined by US hedge fund Vantis Capital Management, founded by Langone. Indeed GigaOm reports that founder Dr. Christos M. Cotsakos, former Chairman and CEO of E*TRADE and AC Nielsen, has already previously seeded the company with $20 million of his personal funds, plus $6 million from private investors. He has been busy.

So what is this innovative new business model? Annoyed with how Facebook only gives you one identity to manage friends, family and work? Well MOLI is designed to address the core issue of privacy. Users can create and manage diverse personal profiles via one user identity and a single, customised home page. In other words, mashup LinkedIn (work), Facebook (personal) and Musical tastes (MySpace) and then put some privacy controls in. That’s the theory at least.

There is no limit to the number of profiles, which are free with your first URL but further URLs cost $1.99. Cotsakos himself has 13 profiles, some personal, some work-related and some hidden. Users can decide which of their profiles are shared and to whom.

But this is not just a Facebook / LinkedIn mashup. MOLI is a social network aimed at “enterprising individuals above the age of 18 and small business owners”. These are people you probably know – people who have talent or a skill, often creatives or artists. So, for a mere $3.99 a month, you can have a retail site linked to a profile, which is in turn linked to a network you can, if you want, sell into. Think Facebook meets eBay or some other web store. So now you can sell your home-made wood carvings to your friends, while also pimping your hi-tech consultancy to your work network. Billing is by Google Checkout, or PayPal. MOLI also comes with an analytics engine, CoVibe Live, which MOLI has filed a patent for.

And there is more to MOLI – which stands for “money and living” – than meets the eye. Mainstream has three main operating subsidiaries in addition to MOLI: CoVibe TECH, Tertiary Productions and MOLI Kids. CoVibe TECH is the underlying MOLI platform which they plan to license to other businesses. Tertiary Productions provides original, high-definition video content. And MOLI Kids is an online destination under development for children ages five and older.

However, there could be an ice-burg heading MOLI’s way, and it is the heady but potentially dangerous blend of private, casual content with professional marketing and selling. Yes, you can pay $2.49 a month to make your experience ad-free, but what happens when your ‘friend’ flips into work mode and starts trying to sell stuff to you?

Furthermore, one Ireland-based blogger, initially thrilled at the news that an Irish startup had secured such backing for a what seems to be a pretty sophisticated and well designed social network, has instead highlighted a concern about the level of controls in place inside this new network. Internet marketer Sabrina Dent, blogs:

“For all the positioning and talk of “protecting your privacy” MOLI fails at the most basic hurdle. Because it doesn’t cloak new joins; in fact, it has to be displaying them somewhere, because within 15 minutes of joining, the spam started.”

She goes on to detail how the granular controls on profiles she expected did not appear to be in place (and has also had some over-enthusiastic MOLI employees trolling her blog, alas).

But for now, let us hope that MOLI can address these concerns in the weeks to come. In the meantime, it’s nice to see such a big project appear in Dublin.