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Interview: Julie Anne Quay of VFiles

The site's founder talks about the recent redesign and its user-generated editorial content

by Katie Olsen
on 29 March 2013

Since former executive editor of V Magazine Julie Anne Quay launched VFiles nearly a year ago, we have been intrigued by the site's successful merger of social media, sharp design and editorially-bent content. And now with recent redesign of the homepage, the true mission of the site—to serve as a barometer of what users are thinking, talking and caring about in the realm of fashion and culture—becomes much clearer. Also made clear is the way it comes about, by user-generated content instead of pre-planned editorial programming. To get a better sense of how algorithms support the slick presentation of topics, we sat down with Quay to learn the backstory and get a full walk-through of the online experience.

VFiles isn't blatantly designed to look like a social media platform. It's slick and totally content-focused. Was that a conscious decision?

See, the old landing page—for people who didn't know much about VFiles—you'd think "Oh, this is a content page." Most people think of social media as: you log in and you get taken through a series of steps and then you maybe find friends. So the difference with VFiles (when we changed the landing page) is that you can see—and this was the goal of the site from the start—it's like a fashion barometer. And the bigger that the site gets, the more apparent that will be. There's the hero page, where there are featured users and stuff you should know about and stuff in the store and bits and pieces like that, and then you have the "Most Popular Now" section, which is all algorithmically driven. That's the whole goal with VFiles; to be powered by users for users. For it to be a barometer of what's going on and be the fashion conversation.

The homepage genuinely depicts what is most popular according to algorithms and statistics—there's no editorial curating at all?
I think fashion is a two-way conversation and always has been. We've just been limited by the media that it existed in and you could never answer back.

None. The hero content; that's where we feature brands or users and we can call things out on the site, but everything else is not controlled by us at all. It's the whole thing of gamification and what's important, what's new. I think that's one of the reasons I wanted to make VFiles; because I wanted there to be a place you could see what everybody was talking about. I think fashion is a two-way conversation and always has been. We've just been limited by the media that it existed in (print and maybe television) and you could never answer back. You know, if Vogue was saying, "short skirts are this or that" and "lamb-skin and fur is what you should be wearing," but you're thinking, "I didn't really see that. I saw this, this and this." There was no dialogue for that, and that was just the most simple of fashion conversations. But for us it's all about what's new and what people are doing and I think that the next generation of fashion users are all curators, as opposed to absorbers and readers and followers. Everyone has an opinion.

Have the users been influencing the VFiles editors?

Oh, yes. Absolutely. And that's one thing I love. The Internet is all about statistics, right? And that's such a powerful tool. So, when you look at what's going on on the site and you see that, "Oh, no one cares about that vintage story from 1965," so we can say that since nobody's interested in that, we're not going to focus on that. You see what users are excited by and what they talk about. When I was at V magazine we used to have these crazy parties, and all these fantastic celebrities and models would be in the party, but then you'd go outside and every fashion fan was lined up around the block. That's what VFiles is for, the fashion fans. And fashion's not just clothing. Fashion is the way you live and what you say, what movie you watch—it's not just what you wear. It's how you present yourself to the world in so many different ways.

With VFiles the advantage seems to be that users automatically going to have access to a like-minded and engaged audience.

Right, exactly. And you know, the whole thing—it's supposed to be fun. It's not supposed to be over-thought. It's supposed to be a place where people can come together and check out what's going on.

So what progress and changes and tweaks are happening right now?

We're working on our app right now. It is the most basic thing: it's just basically a curated slideshow of images that you can comment on and like and share. And that's the other thing—as we get more and more digital, no-one reads these things! They just look! Anyway, I'm really looking forward to releasing the app, which we'll do in the next month. But again, it's all in Beta so we get lots of feedback and let me tell you, some of it is painful to hear, as a founder. But that's what being in business on the Internet is about, it's about the conversation.

So far what the users are sharing is solid. Do you believe it will be a site that grows because the audience will feed off each other?

I hope so. The Internet is all about sharing and you have to be prepared to share. The way we think is a bit like "Okay, let's go!" That's kind of the approach with VFiles. We thought, let's release it and see what happens rather than waiting and waiting and doing a launch. We'll be in Beta for a little longer because we're tweaking things on the site according to what people like and don't like. It's really a different approach to the traditional fashion approach, which is work and work on perfecting a product and releasing it. But that doesn't work with an Internet company because you have to be able to change and respond to statistics.

So you're essentially saying, sign up now to have a say in how the site ends up.

Yes. Exactly. Well put! Basically, try it out and let us know what you think.

Images courtesy of Vfiles

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