Business News

Thinning Out the Noise

by Christiaan Mader

Lafayette-based web-developer Bizzuka Inc. looks to cancel out the noise in mobile communication, and diversify its skill set in the process.

With the exponential growth of traffic comes the exponential growth of noise. Such is a universal truth in city-planning, the sort that yields unsightly sound walls and gerrymandered freeways, but one that’s only recently become a confrontation in the intensifying congestion of the information superhighway. You don’t have to be terribly old to remember a time when even the web was a quieter place, the only dings and buzzes that grabbed your attention were the dings and buzzes you designated for the sole purpose of doing so.

You had an oven timer on so you didn’t burn the chicken. You had a doorbell to notify you of guests. Even the nomenclature of web (and now telecom) communications strike alarming tonalities: push notifications, Google alerts, tags. The noise can be deafening, unsettling and distracting — a fact only further exacerbated by the diversification of connective distraction made possible by mobile browsing and communicative apps. The tyranny of information technology. We made it to serve us. We elate at its beck and call. Skynet awaits.

John Munsell
Photo by Robin May

More than two years ago, Bizzuka Inc. CEO John Munsell was tired of the noise. Even running a small, tech-savvy operation like Bizzuka, employee surveys reported dismal reviews of intra-company communication. Channels were clogged with impertinent chatter. Eyes were glazed. Emails ignored. As a web development company, Bizzuka has a history of problem solving. Around 2000, it developed a site builder that allowed it to streamline the production of web content, rather than rely on any third party programs to deliver quality site construction for its clientele. When Munsell and his team looked at their communication problem, they knew they had to filter out the noise, and they had to do it themselves.

Bizzuka started development of Thinbox, a “relevant messaging app,” for that purpose in 2013 and began beta testing the following year. Still in “controlled public release” with an organically generated “beta” group of 1,200 users, the app looks to empower information recipients in their consumption of a geometrically expanding world of stimulus.

“We didn’t want a constant stream of top of the line babble. Our concept was ‘don’t follow people; follow content,’” says Munsell.

Munsell talks of channels and subscriptions, a minor rebellion against the real-time, two-way interaction data model that blows up your inboxes and touch screens by the minute. Where quantity of and unfettered access to information were once the touchstones of the information age, Munsell’s app gives users blinders in a near pre-historic kind of way, provided you believe the beginning of history to be the invention of the Internet.

As with any new-fangled device or application, the details can seem gnostic to the uninitiated. The gist of Thinbox is that you get to choose what information you see and how you see it. The model here is that of a customizable broadcast of information. A source produces content in a downstream fashion and limits, to some extent, the ability of recipients to respond upstream. That information is thus filtered out on a subscription basis. But users aren’t subscribing to content-providers so much as the content itself.

Once filtered, the path is paved for users to decide whether they want to be notified via text, desktop or app notification or email. Munsell uses it with his daughter’s soccer team, his company and his church. Each center-piece organization has a different subset of topics that individual users can subscribe to, ensuring they’re only bugged to see the content they pre-deemed necessary. Emergency channels for your soccer team alert you to rain-outs. A church social channel might tempt you with a pancake breakfast. On a paleo diet? Ignore the church social channel and pretend that cavemen wouldn’t eat pancakes. It puts a premium on the filtering of information on both the sender and receiver. Don’t wanna hear it? Don’t subscribe. Don’t want folks to ignore your posts? Don’t clutter your channel with gook.

Bizzuka has made substantial investment, in excess of $1 million, in Thinbox’s development. But Munsell notes with a guffaw that its initial beta rolled out around the same time as Slack, a financially flush Silicon Valley-based company that offers a similar functionality and platform to Thinbox. Like many tech businesses not near Palo Alto, Bizzuka watched as Slack garnered investment valuation in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “That’s the magic of being in Silicon Valley,” he says through a chuckle.

He doesn’t seem bothered by it; that’s the nature of the business, and he stills sees a slice of pie left on the table by way of niche industrial clients. Slack has limited content selectability; users can choose from streams of directly messaged content or content bounced around several different sources, meaning there’s a large swath of filtering left to be had. Munsell says Bizzuka’s attack on that gap is at this stage provisional, but one the company’s got a bead on. If it can crack the filtering code, he believes the app could be indispensable to large companies that operate teams in a variety of locations, or groups of on-duty and off-duty personnel. He mentions hospital staff and construction crews as frontrunner beneficiaries.

While the app is currently public, Munsell insists that it hasn’t really arrived. He tries to ensure that organizations that adopt the app have Bizzuka employees in their midst to train users and make note of feedback. That said, they’ve expanded outside of their direct oversight with current corporate clients including an electricity co-op in West Virginia and a donut chain in Texas. It may be promising for now, but Munsell acknowledges that the project could fail as a product, a run-of-the-mill peril in the tech development trade. He shrugs off that possibility despite the more than million-dollar investment because Thinbox’s development has not so much been about bringing a product to market as diversifying and equipping his company for the long-term. Bizzuka, he says, is not a web development company — it’s a communications company. The lessons learned and engines built while developing Thinbox will afford Bizzuka the agility to move with a turbulent industry while laptops and desktops wane as primary content interfaces. Custom-fitting Thinbox to company needs or even ground-up construction of company-specific communications apps are now services Bizzuka can offer through its experience making Thinbox. He mentions talks with a Louisiana company that may modify Thinbox to curate communications with millions of users. He’s not bothered that it’s not a native install of his branded application.

“We don’t need it to be known as Thinbox,” Munsell says. “We need it to solve a problem.”

The problem is noise. As The Buzzcocks said: noise annoys.

For more info on Thinbox or Bizzuka visit

Write Christiaan Mader at [email protected]