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Group of Tampa Bay area natives start Quillt, a new social networking site

GAINESVILLE — Bay area natives Shane Mooney and Austin Cooley went to the University of Florida with big dreams, none of which included creating a social network run by a new company bankrolled by one of Facebook's founders.

But that's just what they've done.

The story began last March at an all-night food market in San Francisco where Cooley had a good time with friends. He wanted to post photos of the evening on Facebook and grew frustrated when he couldn't tag all his friends because he didn't have their contact information.

This led to the idea behind Quillt, a social network that allows users to stitch "quillts," small private groups for sharing experiences in the cloud. The user and up to five spectators can add photographs, audio, video or written posts to the quillt, which can be viewed and created on computers and smartphones.

The name Quillt, Cooley said, came from a combination of a quill pen and a quilt. It's writing and piecing together a life.

Now, Cooley, 25, Mooney, 24, and partner Niko Ralf Cunningham, 34, are focusing on mini-launches to see how Quillt thrives among different user environments. Before they release Quillt to the world, Cunningham said he wanted to see which groups of people would benefit best from the product, whether it's students, musicians, couples or others.

Currently, new Quillt users must be invited by someone already on the website. The venture's success over the next few months will determine how soon the site is opened to everyone.

In November, Quillt opened to students at UF, where Cooley and Mooney met and many of their investors called home.

Cooley graduated from UF in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. Mooney graduated from UF in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in computer science.

With the idea for Quillt in mind, Cooley recalled, they had called Facebook co-founder Andrew McCollum last April to get technical advice on creating and advertising a social network. An exchange of emails led to a video conference via Skype.

"That led to an awesome conversation, and at the end he's kind of like, 'Well, you know, would you guys mind if I put in some money?' " Cooley said. "We were okay with that."

Cooley would not reveal how much McCollum or other investors put into the new venture. McCollum still plays a role in the production in Quillt, and recently decided to double his investment based on the success of the product. More than that, Cooley said, McCollum was excited about the future of Quillt.

McCollum did not return calls seeking comment.

While quillts can be created for any subject, Cunningham suggested starting with events, such as a birthday party or a road trip.

One of the most appealing aspects is that quillts are private. Only creators and spectators can view them.

"The central theme is segmenting your lives into buckets," he said.

On one end of the social spectrum, Cooley said, text messages are intimate. On the other end is Facebook, a means of broadcasting to the world.

"Quillt is for people who are actually social," he said. "It's for people you engage with on a day-to-day basis and share experiences with."

In March, Cooley, Cunningham and Mooney are taking Quillt to the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, to market their creation to a group of independent musicians.

"We want to know if they would use Quillt to connect with fans in a more intimate space," Cunningham said. "It would be a group private Twitter."

Group of Tampa Bay area natives start Quillt, a new social networking site 02/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:59am]
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