Cruising for a bruising

The latest shiny object to catch the eye of today's digerati is Empire Avenue. The service markets itself as "The Social Media Exchange – buy and sell your friends and own anyone on the social web!"

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The concept of a virtual stock market assigning values to people and properties isn't new; a similar concept called the Hollywood Stock Exchange has been in operation since 1996. But just as multiple stock exchanges exist in real life – NYSE, NASDAQ, London, Tokyo, Deutsche Boerse – it makes sense for multiple virtual exchanges to exist and serve niche interests.

I don't think investing time into Empire Avenue right now makes sense for most brands or individuals. Make a small investment by claiming your favorite handle, but then set that investment aside while the market develops. Some people will emerge as market makers and your efforts are better spent on higher return investments.

Empire Avenue will ultimately fail, given its weak value proposition to businesses. 

  • Person-to-person networks for communication already exist with scale, i.e. Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Services for measuring influence are less mature but have momentum, e.g. Klout and network-specific metrics (like followers and fans).
  • Advertising dollars may materialize, but brands have better places to experiment with game mechanics, e.g. FourSquare and Gowalla.

As with all online services, the key question to ask is "why would users want to do this?" Ego indexes come and go, mainly because there's little that an ego score enables a person to do in real life. Picture this:

You're in New York and thirsty. You Yelp the closest and highest rated bar. When you get there, you check in on foursquare. You walk in and order a drink; while you're waiting, the person next to you looks familiar. Oh yeah, it's because s/he's checked in here too and you saw the fingernail-sized avatar. As you grab your drink, you lean towards that person and say, "hey, I noticed that you're checked in here. My stock price just hit a new high on Empire Avenue."

Really? Of course not, but Empire Ave must integrate with other services in order to make its currency worth anything. Until then, users are cruising for an ego bruising. It might be fun, however, to hear social media gurus hold shareholder meetings to try and explain their valuation fundamentals.

[For alternate takes on the service, here's what Joe ChernovJeremiah Owyang, David Armano, and Scott Monty think.]

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