"A lot of big brands know they want to be publishers, but they also know that most of them suck at it."
That's the ever-blunt Paul Berry, former chief technology officer of The Huffington Post, setting up one problem he hopes to solve with his new publishing platform RebelMouse, backed with $500,000 from Lerer Ventures and $100,000 from Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti. The platform imports images, video and links that consumers or companies share on Twitter and Facebook, displaying them in a visually stimulating layout on a dedicated RebelMouse.com page that Mr. Berry refers to as a user's "social front page."
RebelMouse also makes it easy to add new blog posts and upload new videos and images directly on the platform. In the process, Mr. Berry believes he has created a technology that can help companies both easily curate and create content that 's compelling to their industry, customers and maybe even the general public.
One week into a limited introduction, RebelMouse seems to be modeling pieces of its platform after several young companies, including Flipboard, the mobile and tablet app that organizes content from your social streams into an appealing magazine-style layout; Tumblr, the microblogging platform; and Pinterest, the image-collection website. The design of RebelMouse isn't quite as aesthetically pleasing as Flipboard or Pinterest right now, though the company will offer customizable designs and more layout options in the coming months, Mr. Berry said.
A large part of RebelMouse's appeal is that users can sit back and let their RebelMouse pages update automatically with the content they share or retweet on social networks. But they can also edit headlines and descriptions after they're sucked onto a marketer's page, as well as drag and drop the various content boxes into new arrangements.
Users can publish images and links from around the web to their RebelMouse page by clicking a bookmarklet they can add to their browser toolbar. And if RebelMouse's engine is updating too quickly and threatening to bury important pieces of content -- say an especially appealing photo -- users can also freeze their pages.
Mr. Berry imagines most users will want to supplement the curated photos and articles on their pages with original blog posts, videos or photos not found elsewhere on the web, so RebelMouse offers those capabilities too. In this way, Mr. Berry envisions RebelMouse as a legitimate competitor to Tumblr, and even Wordpress.
"A lot of people and companies are pretty damn good on Twitter and Facebook and really embarrassed about their websites," Mr. Berry said. "But it shouldn't be that hard. So this is for individuals who have their own websites, companies and brands with their own blogs, who are struggling with a Tumblr or Wordpress type of operation."
RebelMouse is one of a whole host of startups trying to help brands get better at producing engaging editorial that speaks more directly with consumers on the social web. The technology from fellow Lerer Ventures portfolio company Percolate, for example, scours the social streams that brands follow to surface the most relevant news being shared in their circles. With that info, companies can add their own context before publishing it to their web properties. Then there's Contently, whose online marketplace matches brands with journalists who help them create original editorial.
Pages at RebelMouse.com are free right now, but the company plans to introduce a paid platform to populate and edit websites and blogs beyond its own site. It's setting the price low enough to entice, it hopes, plenty of new customers: $3 per month for individuals and $3 per week for companies.
In coming weeks, Mr. Berry said his team will also add the ability to create subpages that will appear in a navigation bar along the top of a page, which will organize content by topic or hashtag, adding depth that he hopes will spur more consumption. Users will soon be able to embed components of a RebelMouse page or the entire page altogether onto other sites. So Mr. Berry imagines, for example, news sites embedding its journalists' RebelMouse pages to create more visual writer bios.
"It's a much better view of who you really are," he said.
RebelMouse has its sights set on a few other revenue streams. It intends to add e-commerce capabilities by the early fall, enabling transactions in which RebelMouse will share revenue. Mr. Berry also envisions individual RebelMouse users with strong followings could attract opportunities for sponsored posts. One mainstay of the pre-social web that you shouldn't expect to encounter on RebelMouse? Traditional display advertising.