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Laura Pevehouse Thomas

The Empire’s New Clothes: Why I don’t like Empire Avenue

| 14 Comments

“So the Emperor went in procession under the rich canopy, and every one in the streets said, “How incomparable are the Emperor’s new clothes! what a train he has to his mantle! how it fits him!” No one would let it be perceived that he could see nothing, for that would have shown that he was not fit for his office, or was very stupid.”The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen. (1805–1875)

I have to say it. I see nothing of value in Empire Avenue where the home page exclaims “Everyone’s For Sale!”

In this new social game, you earn a virtual currency called “Eaves” by buying other people and, in turn, you try to raise your own worth by getting other people to invest in you. Even if you look at it as just fun, I still don’t see it.

The site had crossed my radar before this week, but I didn’t expect it to pick up much steam. Then, on Monday I saw David Armano send out a tweet that he was for sale on it. I tweeted back asking…why? His response was, “yeah I have no idea. It’s kind of addicting like Twitter and Foursquare were.”

Steve Woodruff Tweet

His blog post later that day echoed much of that sentiment: “Like Twitter and Foursquare, the network makes very little sense to the first time participant. [...] First impressions? I’m not seeing a practical use but it’s a lot more fun in many regards than Facebook.”

Just couple of days later, though, Jeremiah Owyang is blogging about it. While admitting several risks and challenges to the site, he still believes it could be a threat to Klout, Peer Index and “Social Analytics firms that try to understand the engagement of social media accounts.”

Then, Scott Monty chimes in saying he thinks Empire Avenue is on to something: “Think of the value they could add by giving clients a dashboard in which they could actively participate rather than simply consume information about the influencers they’re trying to reach.”

And, I guess we can probably give credit to Robert Scoble’s interview with the game founder for creating the tipping point for all this activity, since the site itself has been around for a couple of years.

Maybe I’m being too sensitive about this, but putting a price on people seems wrong. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth in a day & age where there is still a need for Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign.

Maybe I’m uptight, though – it’s all just a game, right? Well, I don’t think it’s a good one. We don’t really need something else to feed the egos of the “internet famous” and there are already stock exchange games for those who just want to play at investing in companies.

Plenty of brands like Audi, Ford (Scott Monty’s employer), Sears and Oreo are getting on the shiny new object bandwagon, though. Caleb Storkey thinks this raises the possibility of companies being rewarded for good decisions, or being sold off after bad decisions – a sort of virtual shareholder vote. But, I find it hard to believe that even the most forward-thinking investor relations team that grasps the benefit of social media could take such action as serious as real shareholder feedback.

Storkey says that when he spoke with Owyang about it, Jeremiah said “this is special, this is something different.” But different does not mean good. I see no thread on the loom, no cloth with patterns and colors.

 “’But he has nothing on!’ a little child cried out at last.”

14 comments on “The Empire’s New Clothes: Why I don’t like Empire Avenue

  1. Laura – Thanks for this. Really enjoyed reading it.

    I think you raise some important questions. The language of the site ‘Everyones for Sale’ initially put me off, and the issue of people focusing on building their own egos is a good one to question. Think that has happened with FB, Twitter, LinkedIn as people publicly want to be seen to be popular/ influential etc.

    But (and the jury is very much out) – I think there is more to EA than this. At the moment the interaction on a conversational/relational level is what makes it exciting.

    The share price focus is a bit of a game, but you can take or leave that bit. The interaction and the ‘gamed motivation’ to connect with others and explore ideas is great. There is an ease of connection that I’ve not found through any other platform. That may be because it’s predominantly early adopters currently who are on there, or it may be because there’s an ease to connect around shared interests and share in public but then further the conversation in the chat rooms. The chat rooms are both stimulating and enjoyable!

    Shareholder meetings, with focus shown towards genuine feedback could be interesting; somewhat idealistic to see a companies turn around on policies and practices, but something I could foresee.

    I made reference to your question here-

    http://www.calebstorkey.net/2011/04/empire-avenue-business-benefits-a-conversation-with-robert-scoble-and-jeremiah-jowyang/

    I’d be fascinated to carry on the conversation as I’m grateful for your questioning and critique.

    All the best Laura, Caleb

  2. Hey Laura,

    Thanks for the thoughts… always good to have some critics/skeptics! :) The whole “ego feeding” thing is something that we constantly come up against, and while I can certainly understand the potential concerns, we’re definitely doing everything we can to assure that ego boosting isn’t the only reason to come to the site.

    As it stands, here are the reasons someone may want to join Empire Avenue… now, if these things don’t float your boat, that’s totally fine :) — I’m not sure there’s every been a company that’s appealed to absolutely everyone.

    SM measurement – If you’re a social media practitioner, PR rep, marketing exec or anyone else who cares about your performance on social networks, Empire Avenue can be of value. The Share Price is a measure not of how “popular” you are, but of how engaged you are across your networks. You can see, at a glance, your “network scores” to see where you may want to improve your efforts, and you can then also hit the “Stats” page to see more insights into activity and engagement. We’re going to continue to add to these metrics as we go forward. When we launched the site (it really only launched to the public last summer), we were positioning it as an influence-measurement service like Klout or PeerIndex…. but then we realized (late last year) that measuring influence means absolutely nothing — who’s influential to you today may not be influential to you tomorrow, or even 15 minutes from now — so ultimately a share price is a measure of your willingness to engage and the value of your network as a whole (we allow you to connect FB, FB pages, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs, Flickr and Twitter acccounts).

    Connecting with others – The share-purchase mechanism isn’t intended to feed the ego. It’s a way of showing your support for someone (or something), adding a subjective measurement to otherwise objective data (in a way, it’s an indicator of trust/reputation)… but it’s also a great icebreaker. We have a lot of users who’ve commented about how Empire Avenue has introduced them to new people they wouldn’t have otherwise met, or has connected them with people outside of the site who share their interests. It’s easy to find others on the site (just Search for an interest, a name, whatever) and by seeing their share price, you can judge how open they are to connecting and engaging with others.

    The game element is there for those who want to engage with it. Virtual goods could be branded by businesses and loaded with incentives/rewards. PR reps can search for “influencers” — or those who are open to engagement — and quickly establish a two-way, value-based relationship (you earn “dividends” of virtual cash from your investments, based on how active and engaged they are across their social networks). By establishing a “Community” brands or individuals can foster their own networks within the site.

    In the end, we’ve tried to build a platform that allows you to get as much or as little as you want out of it. You could just connect your accounts and go about your business on other networks, simply allowing users to show their support for you or your brand, perhaps checking in once in a while to gauge your SM efforts on various networks. Or dive right in and engage people on the site — search for interests or locations and meet new people. Or just play the game.

    We have grand plans, and every day is a learning experience for us. There are just five of us working on the site, and we’ve built a platform that can be pretty tough to dive right into… but we’re working on it. Definitely appreciate your feedback and can only ask that you keep an eye on it. We’re constantly improving the experience, improving our messaging and trying to get to a final product that we’re really happy with, which is useful to all sorts of people.

  3. Laura,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. What’s most interesting to me is why, all of a sudden, have so many big names been talking about Empire Avenue? I didn’t even realize it had been around for a couple years! Signed up last summer and still equate it to Farmville in many ways.

  4. Caleb – Thank you for adding your thoughts here! It is usually easier to connect in a new, smaller community, so I can certainly understand that appeal. I suppose the buy/sell portion was just a bit hard for me to get past to get to any real connection.

    Tom – I appreciate you taking the time to outline here the reasons your team sees for joining Empire Avenue. Maybe I’ve just become too jaded, but share price as a measure of willingness to engage seems a bit optimistic. :-) Still, as Caleb says, the jury is still out and I’m always willing to be proven wrong on my assessments.

    Tim – It is funny how leaders can come to seem like followers when so many of them begin to talk on the same topic at once, isn’t it? Then again, by that view, we’re thought leaders, too, because we’re talking about Empire Avenue – right? Cool. heheh

  5. If we said “Invest in people you trust and respect” instead of “Buy shares in people” would it seem more interesting to you? The way our algorithms are built, it really is all about engagement — if you’re not having others respond to you, comment on your FB posts, retweeting your content, etc. your share price won’t be as high as someone who does have that sort of engagement. It’ll all improve over time — we’ve only been around in a public form for about 9 or 10 months (not “years” I should note), and we’re constantly adjusting how we evaluate content. Our focus is on quality over quantity, and certainly in engaging rather than just spewing a message and expecting others to buy your shares :)

  6. Tom – that would help some, sure. it really is the concept of buying and selling people that puts me off – it reduces humans to objects and implies relationships can be bought. (BTW – I got the “years” from Jeremiah’s post which said you guys were founded in 2009)

  7. Ah yeah… we were founded in late 09, but launched the first “friends and family beta” (about 250 people) in Feb last year. Then opened to the public in… uhh..> I forget :) . Been a busy year hehe.

    As for the messaging… yeah, tough one! We’ve played around with various messages and will continue to tweak.

  8. It was not easy but I had Empire Avenue scrub me completely from the site. Why ? Because I had not ‘asked’ or been given the option to have my details traded in a mechanism that was google accesible. In short I had not ‘Opted In’ Even when connecting to the site, claiming my ID and marking it as private my details were still available to be traded inside the system.

    When did we reach the point in social networks when it was assumed that it was okay to include our friends and contacts in a website without first giving them the option to be involved ?

  9. I’m right there with you, Laura. I checked it out. I bought stock in a few people. I checked back a day or two later, found nothing of value, and haven’t really been back since. People can rave all they want, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

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  11. All of a sudden the cool kids have joined Quora a social-fueled QA service that has the pedigree of being started by ex-Facebook employees..So whats the appeal? You have to remember the high-tech world is always looking for the next thing so perhaps Quora has just become the latest obsession in the wake of anything else emerging..Keep in mind that Facebook has gone mainstream Twitter is getting there Tumblr is wavering between niche and edging towards mainstream and Foursquare is social medias emperor with no clothes even though many people really want to believe it has potential to be something whatever that something is..This brings us to Quora which has seen a spike in traffic over the past few months.

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