There are two things you can count on, it seems, whenever a new social media platform emerges. First, the social media “A List” will flock to it, trying to get in early and claim bragging rights for having “discovered” it first (not to mention getting in early enough to build up followings so that by the time “everyone” catches up, they maintain their social media “player” status). Second, there will be a backlash from other corners of the social media world dismissing the platform as little more than a vehicle for A List narcissism and self-validation, and refusing to consider any possible benefit the platform might have beyond massaging some egos.

The latest platform to generate such passion in both directions is Empire Avenue. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either about to become the next significant social influence measuring tool or the latest shiny object to capture an increasingly ADD social media audience’s attention – and an ethically troublesome one at that.  The truth may lie somewhere in between.

There certainly is an element to Empire Avenue that would seem to encourage narcissism; your stock rises as people buy into you to increase the value of their portfolio. A steroid-enhanced ego playing Empire Avenue could easily be convinced that the game reinforces their own significance and importance, and I’m quite sure that some of the folks playing it do so because it’s just another place for people to see how famous they are. This is one of the negatives of the game. Overdeveloped egos are already overly abundant in the social media universe, and games like this that reward or encourage them will just contribute to a growing negative perception of social media among the unconverted.

On the other hand, a) It’s just a game. Let’s not take everything so seriously; b) One of the holy grails of social media is some sort of a tool that somehow manages to quantify influence, reach and relevance within the various networks without reducing people to follower counts and fans, so something like this could end up being a step in that direction, given enough time to develop; and c) Reflexively rejecting a new and potentially useful new tool just because of the perceived ego of some of its earliest adopters would be… well, just foolish. Lots of people dismissed Twitter in 2007 as a tool for narcissists and a waste of time. Four years on, it’s become a valuable tool for everything from brand awareness to customer service. Missing a similar opportunity simply out of distaste for early adopters would be a shame.

It’s possible that as Empire Avenue evolves it could end up being the most tangible way yet we have to chart not only someone’s network but the mutual value placed in various connections within that network.  More likely, it could end up being a place where emerging voices are found a little earlier, as watch lists and stock prices track the rising value placed in a particular individual. If I’ve never heard of Jane Smith, but suddenly lots of people I know are listing or investing in her and her stock rapidly increases in value, I’ll figure that there’s a reason people are placing that value in her and I’ll go check out her blog or follow her on Twitter. Surfacing new, talented voices can be challenging in the crowded and sometimes loud top of the social media world; any tool that makes it a little easier to do so is a more than welcome development.

One of the problems with the speed of change in the social media world is that people feel it moves so fast – and feel so much pressure to find the Next Big Thing before the competition does – that we often don’t give a nascent platform an opportunity to develop and grow into whatever it and its community can make it. There’s a pressure of sorts to pass judgment almost instantaneously and take sides. In the case of Empire Avenue, it’s less than a year old. It’s still developing. Maybe it’s the Next Big Thing. Maybe it’s the next Shiny Object. The rush to proclaim it either one obscures the fact that maybe, it’s just a game.