Social Networking

Malleable social graphs and the need for a better a reputation system

I’ve been following the foursquare and gowalla hoopla for almost a year and to be quite frank, it made no sense to me. Why wound I want to ‘checkin’ when I’m at a coffee shop? Just to get points, win a badge and maybe be the ‘mayor’. Don’t get that. Scobles blog post today hit the head on the name with what is missing and has some useful suggestions on how to make this class of app useful. The idea is that your social graph should adjust based on what you are doing. And for this to happen, we need a more sophisticated reputation system.

First of all, I do believe location based services are going to be big. And foursquare and gowalla have gotten some things very right. Specifically, the idea of a checkin process is right on the money. No one wants to have their entire movements recoded and available on the internet (Google Lattitude, I’m looking at you). The user should decide when they want to advertise that they are in a location. What I think both of these services have not gotten right is the motivation for checkin in. People are going to do that because there is a benefit to them. Maybe they’ll get some good advice or tips about the place. In a restaurant, I want to know what’s really good on the menu. And what’s bad. If it’s a store, are there coupons I can use. Now to be fair, one of the problems with being the 1st app o the block, is that without a big user-base most of this doesn’t work. Hence why foursquare and gowalla use gaming techniques to get people to checkin more. I’ve heard businessmen talk about wanting to be the ‘mayor’ of a location on foursquare. Really! To be sure, gaming has allowed foursquare and gowalla to build that initial base. But gaming is not the end goal.

The issue I have is that a badge can’t be the real reward for checking in. These apps needs to give me a real return on my investment. And here is where Scoble’s post really makes sense. He talks about the malleable social graph. What he means by that is that your social graph adjusts based on what you are doing. He gave the example of going to Napa Valley winerys. If you are looking for advice on that topic, your social graph should be adjusted to only include people that have some knowledge of that topic. Maybe they live close by, maybe they are big wine buffs, etc. The point is, you are on a quest (to enjoy fine wine) and you want you social graph to aid in that goal. Right now most social graphs don’t have the ability to make those kind of adjustments.

One thing that Scoble didn’t talk about was the need for a much deeper reputation system on our social graphs. If I’m interested in wine (because I’m in Napa Valley), my social graph needs to know who knows about wine. If I’m struggling with a home repair, my social graph should know who is good at that kind of thing. One thing that foursqare and gowalla could easily do is make their badges meaningful. Have a badge for being a wine lover, another for being good a house repairs. While they are called badges, what they really are is the beginning of a deep reputation system. When I meet someone at a party, you spend the first few minutes getting to know each other. You are basically learning about their background, interests and skills. Wouldn’t it be great if you could immediately see a list of their interests and find out what you have in common. I’m sure I’ve met lots of people that I could have made great connections with if only I was able to find the common links. I remember telling someone I had just met how much I was enjoying watching the winter Olympics. Her response was that she didn’t like sports at all. If I had known a bit more about her, I could have talked about something that both of us would have found interesting.

Hats off to foursquare and gowalla for getting the ball rolling. They are making real inroads into location services. Buts we’re only in the early stages. As far as the technology goes, we have not crossed the chasm yet. Scoble’s thoughts provide some really good suggestions on where we should go next. I believe a deeper reputation system needs to be part of the solution. And the elephant in the room, Facebook, has yet to show its cards (I’ll be going to F8 next month to see if they have anything interesting to announce). Either way, with all the attention this area is getting, I’m sure that it won’t be too long before I start ‘checking in’ to places I visit.

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