Chris Priebe returns my call from the back of an Uber car while shuttling between appointments in San Francisco.
“I’m trying to raise $5 million so I can continue on my quest to change the structure of the whole Internet,” said the 39-year-old CEO of Community Sift matter-of-factly.
Community Sift is a chat filter and moderation tool that can automatically check banter between video game players, conversations in chat rooms, comments on websites and messages through applications and social media.
“We’re all for free speech,” said Priebe.
“But the purpose of Community Sift is to stop bullying on the Internet and keep children safe. We pull out the most toxic messages and call out the author. Ninety per cent of offenders will voluntarily take down the message right away. Considering all the online use, only about one to two per cent of users are troublemakers.”
The programs featuring Community Sift automatically check four billion messages a day for hate, pornography, abuse, violence, bullying and threats of genocide.
That’s 80,000 messages per second checked by Community Sift filters.
“There’s a lot of kids online sending a lot of messages and making a lot of comments,” said Priebe by way of explaining the massive volume.
Individual Internet users can’t install Community Sift on their own devices.
Community Sift’s clients are video game producers, messanger applications, social media site and websites with comments and chat that want to keep language, bullying, hate, porn, violence and abuse in check.
While the number of messages checked is astounding, it does not include filtering or monitoring of the world’s biggest social media site – Facebook.
Priebe is coy when asked if one of his appointments in San Francisco is with Facebook.
He would only say he has his eye on Facebook as a future client.
Priebe grew up entrpreneurial in Invermere, shovelling snow and saving the money.
He became a youth pastor in Kamloops and was passionate about his work, but the pay was so poor, he couldn’t make ends meet.
So he moved to Kelowna in the 1990s and started to build websites with the now-defunct New Horizons for businesses like Western Star Trucks and John Deere farm equipment.
Priebe’s younger brother, Lance, also worked at New Horizon and at the same time was working on a little project called Club Penguin with a couple of other partners.
Club Penguin would, of course, become an online children’s playground blockbuster around the world and attract a $350-million buyer in Disney.
“I’d moved to Belize to teach school when Lance was launching Club Penguin and he asked me to come back to Kelowna to help build the safety system for Club Penguin,” said Priebe.
“After Disney bought it, I continued to work on all Disney sites to keep kids safe. It’s something Disney cares deeply about.”
Priebe said more and more companies are realizing filters and moderation tools to keep the its sites and users safe and free from bullying and hate is not just the right thing to do, but also improves corporate bottom lines.
Since starting Community Sift with little more than himself, Priebe has grown the company to 25 staff in offices in both Kelowna and Vancouver.
Filters and moderation tools are automatically at work in 10 languages around the world.
He expects to add 15 staff right away.
“We’ve grown 25 per cent already this year,” he said.
Priebe has kept his connections to religion and is the chairman of Ridgeview Church in Rutland.
He’s also challenging other tech companies to raise as much money as possible for the Kelowna Gospel Mission Walk in March that Community Sift is sponsoring.